Belgium’s photography graduates: Lisa Spilliaert

Brought up in both Belgium and Japan, KASK graduate Lisa Spilliaert draws the curtain on our photography series. The young photographer, whose end-of-year project included the print installation Tussenbalans 1 and 2, introduces the physical presence of the viewer into the core of her highly personal search.


What’s the idea behind your graduation project?

It’s all about making that one ultimate choice that really doesn’t exist.

Does it reflect a personal idea or aesthetic?

I have always felt driven by my background. My father is Belgian and my mother is Japanese and I dwell constantly between these two places. The earthquake that struck Japan two years ago is very much symbolic to me, as I since then became strongly aware of the personal (non-)choices that I seem to make constantly between Belgium and Japan, between two places of emotional attachment. I prefer a state where no choice exists. Photography is a means for me to evoke this state and at the same time seek a balance in its merging with photographic (non-)choices.

Could you elaborate on what Tussenbalans 1 and 2 mean to you?

All the images belong together, and come together in a spacial installation that contains two different books on stands, accompanied with some panoramic prints. The images are constantly referring to each other.The books are 60 x 80 centimetres and each is constructed as a multi-triptych: every image can be seen in different confined combinations with other ones. As you browse through the pages you’re making physical choices between the images. The books become interactive objects in the installation.

From an outsider’s point of view, the overall theme in your series is less outspoken than what we are used to.  Is that intentional?

What interests me most about photography is the actual “choice-making” in its various processes. I tried to emphasise this. It was a way for me to involve my daily situations where I’m positively aware of constant “choice-making” in gradation of emotions and I believe this in itself is very photographic.

Why photography?

The choice of photography as a medium is to evoke the photographic (non-)choices which constitute the personal (non-)choices I make. Photography poses various intriguing phases of choice-making in its process and I assume my thoughts gradually come about based on those. I used film for the work I did together with my sister ‘Hotel Red Shoes’, but in that case it’s more about outlining an act of absolute choice.

Looking back at your college years, what piece of advice will stick with you and who gave it to you?

After each conversation with Annelies De Mey, I got into this positive mood of being self-reflective and optimistic at the same time. This state of mind has allowed me to move ahead.

It is sometimes said that after graduating, the hard part is actually still ahead. What are your plans for the future?

I’m currently exploring the possibility of a stay in Minnesota, for a new textual work I’ve been working on.

Self-publishing and special editions seem to be becoming increasingly important. How do you feel about them?

This topic has became kind of controversial. Although I absolutely enjoy finding and looking into books made by artists, in my opinion a work should not be overpowered by its accompanying book’s form or design.

Is self-publishing/self-promotion the way forward for you or are you more interested in the usual gallery-route? 

I opt for both, although I’ve had no experience with galleries yet.

Which photographers have been a major influence on you?

There are many; Chris Marker, Leslie Thornton, Hito Steyerl and Chantal Akerman, among others.

What do you do when you’re not thinking photography?

In a way I’m thinking photography at any given time, even when I’m sleeping.  You might even call it a nightmare.