Antwerp’s Frederic Geurts (1965) is famed for his grand, geometric installations of a delicate fragility; an obvious element being the carefully calculated constructivism of his work. From an inherent spatial awareness to a playful fascination with light, Geurts is no stranger when it comes to public art – as is evident from his numerous teaching experiences. His collaborative work with German visual artist Reinhard Doubrawa – entitled Zwischenebenen – is on display at Gallery Sofie Van De Velde’s Groen Kwartier address until the 19th of August.
At its core, what is your work about? What is its starting point and statement?
If you could reduce it to one word: context. Context is everything. It’s something essential for my work – I can’t work in a void. On the contrary, I need to interact with my surroundings: both the spatial realm, and the significance of space in this respect. Through this, I also question the idea of autonomy in art.
Another element besides context – and of the same importance – is the ambition to touch upon more existential issues, like vulnerability for example.
Can you talk to us about your approach in general? What characterizes your work? How do you actually work on a piece, from start to finish?
Precisely because context is that important to me, my work begins with a thorough analysis of the location where the next project will be taking place, before creating anything at all. Even for the show Zwischenebenen currently running at Gallery Sofie Van De Velde, Reinhard Doubrawa and I first measured the space and the garden, and made scale models to better understand the location. In the preparation for larger installations I also like to make multiple collages in Photoshop to see how an artwork could behave in its surroundings. So most of the decisions are already made before the realisation actually starts.
Even though every situation demands a different kind of work, there are of course certain themes which characterise most of my work. The quest to go to the edge of lightness for example. By doing so, precariousness comes into the picture, because it reflects something so fundamentally human, like vulnerability. But besides this existentialist aspect, my work simultaneously has a more playful side: a boy-ish fascination for extreme light constructions and techniques.
Precariousness comes into the picture, because it reflects something so fundamentally human, like vulnerability.
Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice?
Philosophers like Heidegger or Bataille, some teachers, and most of all a lot of intense collaborations with fellow artists like Reinhard Doubrawa.
What are the challenges you face as an artist working in Belgium today?
I feel privileged that I’m able to live off of my work as an artist, and that I’m represented by ambitious galleries such as Sofie Van De Velde. I hope that in the future I can continue to combine permanent interventions in the public space with more experimental projects here and abroad.
Unfortunately we are in a period where fine, adventurous art spaces like Voorkamer in Lier have had to close their doors, or reduce their activities due to government cuts.
I also hope that in the future – even if the means are limited – that art spaces, cities, curators and so on come to appreciate and respect that artists can’t work for free. Some do understand, and I think there is a transformation taking place, but too many still consider giving exposure to an artist is enough compensation.
Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?
Fellow artists and friends are very important to me: I don’t believe isolation creates much authenticity. Like I mentioned already, I believe very much in collaborations; in making a show together – even to a point where authorship might become vague. In the past I worked closely with Christoph Fink, Kris Van Dessel, Ophrit Kinar, Peter Morrens and others. Working together is of course not without its risks: egos can come in the way. But the intensity of the process, the discussions, a challenging partner are things I wouldn’t avoid for the world. It’s helped me a lot in evolving as an artist. Besides these collaborations I have some friends like John Van Oers, and not to forget my partner and artist Ilse Van Roy who I can always rely on for feedback on new ideas, and vice versa.
In the past, art spaces like Netwerk in Aalst and Voorkamer were also terribly important to me. Not only for their choice of art, but also because they were spaces for reflection with other fellow artists who would later become good friends, like Johan De Wilde and Rik De Boe.
What does success look like to you?
Solitude, I think.
I don’t believe isolation creates much authenticity.
To you, what role should contemporary art occupy in the community?
To question autonomy in art is to also question the position of art in our society. I’m still unsure as to what role contemporary art should take: in a temple/museum/white box, without first having to pass through a gift shop? So that a minority of art lovers can contemplate on it in “perfect conditions”? Why not?
On the other hand art could be the other; that which is truly different in the public space. Because it has no direct functionality, it disturbs us in the public arena. It can therefore be at best a reminder that finally, what’s really important doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with functionality.
It’s a fine line: before you know it, art in public space becomes a sort of freak show or a circus. Look at what the Pinault foundation is doing in Venice, for example.
Which Belgian artists do you follow, look at for inspiration? Either from the past or the present.
The artists I mentioned above in the first place. Others are Joëlle Tuerlinckx, Dirk Braeckman, Ann Veronica Janssens, Luc Tuymans, Ante Timmermans, Peter Buggenhout, Adriaan Verwée, Léon Vrancken, Caroline Coolen, Pieter Vermeersch, Geert Goiris, Valérie Mannaerts, Gert Robijns, Stefaan Dheedene and many more.