Bringing Dada into the digital: Koenraad Dedobbeleer’s Kunststoff at WIELS

Halle native and Brussels-based Koenraad Dedobbeleer (1975) is a visual artist and researcher, whose art takes numerous forms, incorporating household objects, sculptures, photographs, books and a slide projection into his extensive portfolio. His current exhibition at WIELS, Kunststoff – Gallery of Material Culture introduces 15 new works and 30 pieces made since 2003. The first room is a self-professed “indoor sculpture park or architectural promenade” – part gallery, part playground.

The Word Radio will be hosting our second music takeover at WIELS this Sunday, with The Hope and Poxcat handling the decks. The perfect opportunity to check out Dedobbeleer’s show, and with any luck we’ll be back on the rooftop.

Visuals WIELS (c)

Koenraad Dedobbeleer’s brand new show works up from the idea of art as a raw material. One prefaced annotation reads “this exhibition contains nuts”, and so begins a wavering between the sincere and the satirical. The space is filled over two floors with an overbearing amount of objects in different colours and forms, from different points in art history, reworked and placed as a jumbled montage next to one another. There are remnants of Duchamp, Dada, and even Roman and Greek mythology.

The marriage of high and low culture could seem like a well-worn trope in post-pop artwork, but the implicit references and playfulness of the exhibition transforms it into an original and intellectually invigorating experience.

This sensory overstimulation hints at and yet does not explicitly reference changes to aesthetic experience and image production in the digital world. The work somehow satisfies the viewer’s eye (one accustomed to scrolling) without actually incorporating the digital. One piece is titled Something Exists In the World That Is Not Mankind (2015), and consists of a small pebble being held up by an angular wire: a natural object shaped like a selfie stick. In suggesting functional objects to his audience but not actually representing them, Dedobbeleer consistently masters the art of allusion. The exhibition forces us to recalibrate our own relationship to functional objects, both in our experience of art and as consumers.

At first I found it hard to appreciate the density of sculptures in the space, but then I figured this might be the point of the exhibition. There’s so much that could be missed if you walk too fast. The placement of objects seems as integral as the objects themselves – I had a sense that in this exhibition, the artist is the curator.

In suggesting functional objects to his audience but not actually representing them, Koenraad Dedobbeleer consistently masters the art of allusion.

Dedobbeleer’s work possesses a humour that pokes fun at conventional gallery spacse and the viewer themselves. The first object one encounters when walking into the space is a gigantic piece of plywood painted “blonde”, with an ovular shape cut out in the centre. Through the hole the visitor glimpses themselves in a giant hand mirror made from shined steel. There are reflective surfaces everywhere in the first room: a small Jeff Koons-like sculpture hanging on a rope, a bulbous mirror that allows us to see ourselves and everyone else in the room in one concentrated shape.

The artist cleverly interrogates our expectations of a museum and quips on the conventions of how we should behave as viewers. I see myself in reflections so many times that I write in my notebook, “Am I an object in this exhibition? I feel like a garden gnome!”

One large sculpture has handlebars. On the entrance to the second level, letters on the floor read Do Not Touch. Inside the room we encounter benches painted the same colour as one art object. One visitor has placed her bag and coat on the bench, and at first I wonder whether this is part of the exhibition. The visitor is successfully confused; we are told not to touch, but are conversely integrated into the space, invited by handlebars and tactile, multi-sensory objects.

Kunststoff – Gallery of Material Culture is well worth a visit if you take an interest in early 20th century avant-gardism of Dada assemblages, or in Joseph Kosuth’s questioning of artistic forms. Everywhere you might see in the space subtle doubles of similar objects, a sense of the uncanny and a sense of your own place in the installation. The experience of Dedobbeleer’s work is one where looking is thoroughly an experiment and a form of play.

Koenraad Dedobbeleer’s Kunststoff – Gallery of Material Culture runs until 6th January 2019 at WIELS in Brussels.
The Word Radio will be taking over WIELS this Sunday, too. See you there.