Bordering on the functional and the staged, Adriaan Verwee’s (1975) work gravitates around site-specific installations constructed in wood, plaster and abstract geometrical shapes then arranged into the space with everyday object that seem slightly out of place, creating somewhat of a tension between both with a practice he describes as ‘demystifying’. With a solo exhibition running until 3rd December at Marion de Cannière gallery in Antwerp, we sit down with the Ghent-based artist for a talk on local art scenes, childhood influences and precarious moments.
At its core, what is your work about?
What is its starting point and statement?
Having some sort of job, which generates time to take on subjects that I find personally worthwhile to think about. In the end, I try to communicate them as materialised results.
Can you talk to us about your approach in general? What characterises your work? How do you actually work on a piece from start to finish?
Working on exhibitions over the years, I’ve acquired some sort of modus operandi that creates individual works. My previous solo show at Emergent gallery carried the title ‘come se niente fosse’ and was entirely composed of objects and images that weren’t initially planned to be autonomous pieces, or even pieces at all. The title of the show originates from the Italian word sprezzatura which can be translated as ‘doing something in a seemingly effortless way’. This slightly palaverous word can historically be connected with the Renaissance but is really rooted in the arte povera movement, when it was probably used as a one liner to underscore the genius of the artist. So, taking this featherweight idea as a starting point I made an installation that urged a debate with the spectator on how he or she reads or experiences an object within the context of the gallery space. The show was a sort of a boutade addressing the mythology of creation. Additionally, I like to think it is important where and how pieces are exposed. Over the years I have had some shows in rather challenging settings that were the antonym of the white cube. Still, I always enjoyed working in these improvised situations, because there isn’t a dramatic change of scenery from the studio to these sorts of venues. In many cases, this evolved into stretching the boundaries between the studio and the exhibition space. A lot of the photography I’m doing now directly evolves from this juxtaposing of pieces with their surroundings. These photographs are literally like side notes for the actual pieces and function as a sort of aide-mémoire.
Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice?
The park, the Museum of Fine Arts and the botanical gardens near my parents’ house in Ghent. I had free access to these as a child. There were no crowded rooms and nobody seemed to care. I really started appreciating art as something that was near and accessible. At the time it was less instrumental and maybe more casual for me, though. One of the paintings I was especially drawn to in the museum, it must have been somewhere in the mid-1980s, was Jesus in the desert by Gustave Van de Woestyne. This painting is a sort of void, with in its center a life-size figure, strange and surreal, and in my opinion not very religious looking. In this same museum, Jan Hoet housed MHK, the then museum of contemporary art, and for me this was probably instrumental in shaping my artistic practice.
What are the challenges you face as an artist working in Belgium today?
Exhibit abroad, return, survive.
How do you see yourself fit into the country’s contemporary art scene?
I suppose some people like my work, while others don’t, and that’s ok!
Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?
Ghent doesn’t have an art scene like Antwerp or Brussels has. Maybe it’s because of the town’s size, but I have the impression that it’s more about individuals over here. Although I should mention that there many fresh initiatives for this relatively small place.
What does success look like to you?
At this moment, it’s bypassing precarious moments.
To you, what role should contemporary art occupy in the community?
Art shouldn’t occupy anything. Maybe one can see it as a reassuring thought that there is something else than, let’s say, elevator music. In my view a good community takes care of its art even if that community doesn’t like it a lot, right? On the other hand, if local authorities are convinced they should invest in promoting art that already gained a certain prestige, consolidating what is already there, that’s also fine by me. However, refraining from investing seriously in tomorrow’s generation isn’t a very intelligent choice. This is not a problem that only the art world faces, but it is a phenomenon apparent throughout society as a whole, and it will undoubtedly have consequences in the future. That’s why I don’t believe that a further liberalisation of culture is the right way to proceed. Or as Don Delillo has said ‘we’re all one beat away from becoming elevator music’.