“I look at life with an urge to understand its shape and core”: Elke Andreas Boon’s gaze at the brutal and vulnerable

Nothing holds contemporary artist Elke Andreas Boon back as she unflinchingly tackles thorny questions on belonging and survival, pain and empathy in her wide-ranging oeuvre. Strikingly, the Ghent native studies society’s boundaries that torment and restrain creativity, and therefore the way that art can open up possibilities for expression. For her, every drawing, painting, sculpture, video and photograph is a window into her perspective on life and hopes for the human condition.

Boon’s solo exhibiton On a mangé tout le chocolat is currently on display at the Antwerp-based Galerie Annie Gentils since Sunday. In a parallel life she is also Mati Le Dee, one half of the avant-garde pop duo G A U S S, whose debut album will be released with a release concert at Ghent’s Charlatan on the 8th of February.

At its core, what is your work about?

I try to connect what’s happening all around us at a macro-level to the more intimate micro-cosmoses of the human being.

What is its starting point and statement?

I look at the world and seek the constraints of our systems of belief, traditions and dogmas – how they simultaneously organise, restrain and torment us. In my work and music, this feeling is paramount and becomes the force that guides me through my analysis of political, religious, economic and societal relationships. It challenges me to resist these strange expectations; to reform and to rebel. I look at life with an urge to understand its shape and core.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

I need a peaceful distance between myself and the world – to feel a kind of longing to understand something in the first place. Like when your lover has left for the weekend. It’s somehow empty but also constitutes a space in itself.

What characterises your work?

Even though I can feel somewhat rebellious, I don’t necessarily feel the need to provoke controversy. It’s not about that. In both my artand music, I want to refer back to the friendly and comforting familiarity of classical beauty.

How do you actually work on a piece, from start to finish?

As a contemporary artist, I work mostly in solitude and start creating from an established thought process. As a musician, I write lyrics and sketch the music, sounds and beats. These sketches are sent off to collaborators Pieter-Jan De Waele and producer Frederik Segers, kicking off a back-and-forth process. Their feedback is always extremely pertinent for me. When performing, we play with Simon Raman on drums, and we have visuals on display to match. In my visual oeuvres, I work with different media – drawings, embroilment, photography, videography – to externalise what I can not express verbally. It takes me time to get to know and fully understand  a piece, song, or drawing – freedom ought to have no boundaries in my work. To let the work determine what needs to be communicated, through trial and error, until something appears and I recognise the work like a long-lost love refound. It’s like I don’t matter anymore, like it all happens without me.

I look at life with an urge to understand its shape and core.

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice?

Life, in general. And of course, the close friends who constantly support me. In terms of heroes, I don’t have just one – there are a lot of works and tracks that are essential to me:

David Bowie’s Station to Station. Yoko Ono’s Yes piece. Decordier’s Grand Nada. Fever Ray’s When I Grow Up. Major Lazor’s Get Free. Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and its majestic soundtrack. Tracey Emin’s My Bed. Doris Ulmann’s portraits. Monet’s Water Lilies. Augusta Savage’s Portrait of a Baby. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

I can also remember my very first encounter with contemporary art: a very large sheet hanging in a museum. It was a piece by Jan Fabre, entirely coloured with ballpoint pens. I imagined the dedication it must’ve took to make this vast colorful cloth. As a young child, I couldn’t see a purpose for it at the time – though I know now that it must have had a deeper intention unbeknownst to me.

What are the challenges you face as an artist working in Belgium today?

Artists are “made”, in a sense. The contemporary art industry has developed an intricate signaling process where the approval of a handful of galleries, collectors and museums determines what’s “good” and “valuable”. There’s little attention to actual artistic value, focusing more on the money aspect instead. It’s a complex game in which you need to be critically aware and artistically confident. I need to safeguard my identity as an artist – even if easy wins can be tempting. My challenge is to persevere in such an environment, and to find my stamina in stubbornness.

Even though I can feel somewhat rebellious, I don’t necessarily feel the need to provoke controversy. It’s not about that.

As an artist, it often takes years to develop your language. There will be highs and lows – but failure is the mother of success. A gallery should be able to keep supporting you as you explore different aspects of your artistic expression. But they’d sometimes rather drop an artist than provide them the time and space to mature, because it might send out a negative impression on the credibility of the gallery. Same goes for the government, with cultural budgets constantly hacked at.

How do you see yourself fit into the country’s contemporary art scene?

I feel people know my name but not the extent of my work. I’m part of it but then again, not really.

Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?

I don’t really care for scenes: I’d rather connect with individual artists, musicians, thinkers. Like Bart Baele, for instance, whose dark and emotional paintings – although detached and ironic – are highly fascinating. Or my friend Nathalie Nijs, who’s writing a book on her experiences of living with chronic fatigue syndrome. Ghent, where I live, is ruled by young photography students like Alexander Deprez, Viktor Van Hoof and Zeno Spyropoulos. Incidentally, they’ll be featuring in my band G A U S S’ next music video. And I also get really inspired by today’s new wave of young entrepreneurs: the start-up-all-kind-of-things-people thinking about the future, cityfarming, co-working… Finally, I don’t really look to other artists for inspiration – but I do have my gods. Like Thierry Decordier or Leon Spilliaert. They can make me very quiet.

What does success look like to you?

To be able to work and produce what I want, and for as long as I want. To be able to collaborate and perform with other musicians, producers and film-makers. To provide for me and my boyfriend. To travel the world.

To you, what role should contemporary art occupy in the community?

To guard the sanity of the human race.

As an artist, it often takes years to develop your language. There will be highs and lows. Failure is the mother of success.

On a more personal note, how does your everyday inform your work?

Personal experiences raise questions about the “bigger picture”: sexism, racism, ageism, nature versus nurture, the socioeconomic expectations to procreate, empathy… All recurring themes in my work.

What you are up to in the months to come?

Besides my recently launched solo show On a mangé tout le chocolat currently on display at Antwerp’s Gallerie Annie Gentils, I’m also part of Roger Raveelmuseum’s Provinciale Prijs Beeldende Kunst 1997-2017 in Machelen-Zulte, and the Ecce Homo group exhibition scattered around Antwerp. I’ll be giving an Artist Talk at M HKA this Thursday, too. Finally on the 8th of February, I’ll be playing the release show for G A U S S’ first album, Biometrical Love.

Wounded uniforms (performance)

Sunday 21st January – Saturday 18th March
Peter Benoitstraat 40 (2018)