Forlorn photography and brutalist structures: Max Kesteloot’s House Van Wassenhove residency

During the month of January, Max Kesteloot (1990) was living and working in the 70s brutalist gem House Van Wassenhove, designed by the Belgian architect Juliaan Lampens and located in the outskirts of Sint-Martens-Latem. As part of the contemporary art centre’s Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens residency programme, we visit the artist in the comfort of his new address to discuss his artistic practice and how to inhabit such a space.

Photographer Carlos Álvarez Clemente (c)

How would you describe your artistic practice?

Calling myself an artist was a big step for me. Basically, I do lots of stuff: writing, filming, photographing, painting… A bit of everything, really. I would say that everything I make deals with places or atmospheres; not only with beauty but with the things that surround us. Studying or working in architecture makes you look at spaces in a certain way – but I believe that at a certain point you just need to learn to look around again. For example, residing in House Van Wassenhove is amazing and is a treat for any artist or architect. Yet at some point I started to feel attracted to the things I see in my vicinity – for instance, the iron swing in the neighbours’ garden. I believe this also a part of being in this house; observing what’s in its surroundings.

Can you describe your work from an everyday perspective?

Besides my artistic practice I also teach and collaborate with an architecture studio, which means that I don’t have  much free time, so I really try to focus and use it wisely. I commute a lot between Ghent and Ostend, which means two hours of my day are spent in the car. I listen to some music and think about everything I still want or need to do, and this usually helps me to put things clear in my mind. By the time I’m sitting in my studio, I’ve already considered what I’m about to do.

I’m a really energetic person and can never sit still. I produce a lot of work and only show a small part of it – pieces I don’t like go straight into the bin! I guess this mainly comes from a fixed idea that I can’t predict if a work is going to turn out nice if I didn’t see it first. Apart from that, I’m a morning guy. I get up early so I have a few hours in which I can work in the studio without being distracted. I also spend a lot of time preparing material before working, and then cleaning the whole studio in the evening once everything is done, even if I’m going to be using the same tools again the next day. A bit neurotic perhaps.

What kind of projects are you developing during your residency here?

Because it’s quite a short residency, I won’t be able to do a complete project here. I’m trying to make the most of my days: I ordered a huge amount of prints and am making big tests from the images, using the space of the house to try out different arrangements.

What’s the main different between working here and in your studio?

The space and lighting are different. I also like the possibility of looking at the pictures from a higher point, instead of looking at it vertically placed onto the wall – it suddenly creates a different relation to the image. I was already familiar with the place since former resident Jonathan Muecke’s presentation in 2016 in collaboration with MANIERA. In that sense, I already knew what I was in for, and was looking forward to working with this spatial configuration. The first thing I did when entering the house was to place a work of mine against the wall, to feel like I belong. In my studio, I write on the walls. It’s somehow reminiscent of when I got into graffiti years ago; there’s something about making a space yours.

It’s interesting because if you look at photographs from when Albert Van Wassenhove, the original owner, lived here, the House was full of furniture and objects. It’s emptied out now, and I believe the space is made to be full. So that’s another reason why I brought so many works with me; I wanted to be surrounded by them. However, this is all very new to me. I don’t live in my studio, so now for the first time I work where I sleep. It’s ok to experiment how to live together for a week; it’s like going on a holiday with your girlfriend for the first time.

Besides working here, how does it feel to live in this house?

I feel like this rich guy from the 70s living in a bachelor pad in the woods. It reminds me of John Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein House, filmed in The Big Lebowski. Think of the scenes with the rich guy in a beatiful residence, and of course, The Dude who just doesn’t belong there. It’s like me here!

In my studio, I write on the walls. It’s somehow reminiscent of when I got into graffiti years ago; there’s something about making a space yours.

I suppose being in a new, weird context allows you to discover things about yourself.

Yes, you need to be out of your comfort zone. That’s why I love to travel, and maybe that’s also why I moved from Ghent to Ostend, just for a change of scenery. Once you fit in a place, you get used to it – and then you don’t notice things anymore.

In my work I use images of places I’ve visited; I don’t take so many pictures in Belgium. Maybe it’s because when you’re travelling you have the time to really look at things. For example, I’m currently working with an image I took of a really tropical atmosphere in London. Could you imagine palm trees in London?

If you could choose any other place in the world to do another residency after this, where would it be?

I wouldn’t mind doing a “residency” in my own studio in Ostend, and spending even more time in the studio. Though I enjoy travelling and taking pictures in bold outdoor spaces, I always need to return to my calm, familiar and quiet studio. There’s this huge difference between what I like about my studio and what I like about the places external to that. Both are essential.

What are the biggest challenges an artist of your generation faces today?

I think finding the time is the biggest problem. You can produce a lot and post everything directly online; it’s a very fast world right now. But you also need to be able to spend time on the works. In my eyes, time is a very crucial factor in the life of an artist: it creates a certain relation to a work, which in turn is necessary to determine whether something is good, bad or unfinished. Money is also relevant of course, but I would much rather have lots of time than lots of money.

What is next in the Max Kesteloot universe?

Last Saturday I participated in a trio show alongside Simons Laureyns and Yoann Van Parys, curated by Els Wuyts for Ostend’s Salon Blanc. I showed, amongst others, my latest film SPOT SPOTS – Prologue due to circumstances. I’m also currently exhibiting at RIOT’s grand group show Neighbours Vol.8, which is running until late April. Besides that, I’m constantly working on new material, and am in the middle of producing a new film which will be released this spring at 019.