In the ‘Domaine of Kerguéhennec’ (until the 11/04/18, in Brittany, France), the Dutch artist Levi Van Veluw (born in 1985) exhibits a multi-installation entitled “La Relativité de la Matière”. During my visit, and as time went by, I’ve been wondering about the provenance of these works. There are some artists who, for years, reenact the same works, sometimes with variations, sometimes without. Yet, it has seemed to me that there was something here which was part of an evolution : The exhibition “La Relativité de la Matière” was coming from anterior works which, I thought, had paved the way for the latter. Besides, since the exhibition leaflet tells us that ‘the artist nourrishes his work with personal questionings. He often refers to his childhood’, this was a first clue.
On Van Veluw website, we find a good deal of chronological works. If we confine ourselves with the installations — for Van Veluw is also a remarkable draughstman, for instance —, we can see that he started to work on his own head, neck and shoulders, transforming them into living, or still-life sculptures. He called ‘portraits’ these interventions. It must be noticed that this serie or ‘portraits’ is under the heading ‘older works’. Above, we find a link entitled ‘The Origin of the Beginning’, apparently the first installation of Van Veluw. An interview (readable on his website) learns us that, four years after graduating from the ArtEZ School (NL), Van Veluw began to produce some life size models (first three) of his bedroom, which he dubbed ‘youth bedroom’. Later, he build a fourth one, and invited his family to join the performance : ‘The room was dark and claustrophobic, and no one spoke. It was a visual representation of underlying tensions and emotions.’
We see below four reproductions of the installation-performance ‘Origin of the Beginning’. ‘Installation’, because these are life size constructions, and ‘performance’, because living bodies interact into them ; first Van Veluw’s, and in the fourth Levi Van Veluw with the four other members of his family. Nothing is virtual here, everything has been cut, glued, gathered, tailored (for the costumes). The attention to real things finds one of its explanation on a video (here) where Van Veluw says : ‘I think that it’s important that it’s real because the image is surreal as it is, so you really need something to keep it in balance, because if you make this into a computer, then it will just be an image — aesthetics —, and that’s not what I want. Aesthetics has to be inside the concept, and then, if you work it out, it will be good. That’s my idea about creating stuff’.
Van Veluw is very attached to the materiality of his works, and this is a really important point. Indeed, listening and reading (below in this article) the way in which Van Veluw envisions wood, one of the main material of his installations — which happen to be, de facto, sculptures —, we understand that this very material, although devitalized, still possesses a kind of life for him. And that’s the reason why he mentions the difference between the virtual image of the computer and the concreteness of the sculpture. This implies as well that the reproductions of his installations, films, photographs…, will not equally substitute themselves with the actuality of the performances (whereas the photographs attest of something that has passed). In a way, Van Veluw wishes that the visitor reenacts a kind of performance by passing through his installations, he hopes for us to be as much acting as actors.
Through the installations, we notice a growing homogenisation, in the biological or molecular sense, with the constitution of objects (alive and inert) : As such, the fourth bedroom seems being made of one and the same matter. In the interview above mentioned, we read this : ‘In this work [i.e. ‘The Relativity of Matter’], matter should become something different from reality, something new. I look for materials that aren’t immediately recognisable.’ Is it matter — in the classical sense of the term ? In the link above, Van Veluw says that ‘all these materials and structures have a reason, so the wooden blocks, it’s an organic material, I think it’s interesting to shape them in a symmetrical way, because then it will let itself organized, because it’s a square. And, by putting them one by one on the wall, and not using any tools to organize it, it’s a sort of struggle for me to organize everything around me.’
Even inert mattter is still able to organize itself. Of course such a saying cannot but come from an artist ; what looks dead to many and devoid of energy may still alive, but in a different meaning usually not understood by the non-artists.
Finally, the fact that Van Veluw designates his bedrooms as ‘youth bedroom’ would certainly leave much to wonder. Such a questioning would probably get us toward Van Veluw’s psyche, since the least that can be said is that the universe they (these bedrooms) offer is quite traumatic and obsessive. But we wouldn’t dare say more about that, since one must be aware of the limits of his own territory.
Although the first exhibition (‘Origin…’) is mimetic (the display and the biological entities look more and more alike, morphologically speaking, to the point of quasi fusioning), the second one, ‘The Collapse of Cohesion’, sets a generalized destabilization, yet suspended fragment of universe : Shelves are frozen in their fall, spheres are suspended in time and space. Chaos has came back and, curiously enough, human body does not show anymore. It seems that Van Veluw has — at last ?—, freed himself from the human, or rather from the familial and alienated human (?). But this does not mean that the new environments would, even so, be appeased…
In the exhibition ‘La Relativité de la Matière’ (for the first time shown in France), two retrofuturistic universes seem to clash into one another (Van Veluw is very fond of 50-60’s SF novels). We walk into what look like parallel worlds, unfamiliar universes to the current human being ; and at the same time emerges the impression of an already ancient future ; some kind of relics of an old futurible world ; we almost expect to see some dust on some pieces, and maybe have we seen some. The installation in total is quite big (350m2), and Van Veluw says that he worked on it for a year.
It seems to remind me that there were six rooms at Kerguéhennec, which happens to be the second site where Van Veluw deploys his all-inclusive space, the first one was the Marres House for Contemporary Culture (Maastricht). Van Veluw, in the abobe-mentioned interview, says he’s hoping that the visitor will be able to enter into his universe. We straigthaway are inside an architectural closed space, more or less obscure, depending on the rooms ; hence, from this point of view, Van Veluw’s wish is realized ; one cannot but penetrate into his universe. We are de facto, immersed, and then, more or less, snatched. In this regard, the piece below is certainly the most achieved from the point of view of immersion.
Here we are entering very cautiously in a very very dark space, we see nothing ahead, nor on the left side, but, on the right side, we gradually distinguish this huge elongated structure. A passage to something ? A fossil vortex ? This is a magnificent and impressive piece, very simple in its composition, but strong in its, as it were, ghostly but yet material presence. It seems to appeal toward the infinite — there are several ways to envisage the infinite, isn’t it ? ‘Filoteo : Or what could oppose to the fact that the implied infinite […] is not to be explained in its proper simulacrum, infinite and without term, eminently able to contain innumerable worlds ?’ (Giordano Bruno, On the Infinite, the Universe, and the Worlds).
Going backwards, we’re facing with a long and less obscure corridor ; translating from black to grey.
A library-universe of polyhedra ! The fear of chaos which haunted the young Van Veluw seems to have found its redemption. Walking along the shelves, we wish it wouldn’t stop. Also, advancing among these quiet entities, I thought about ‘The library of Babel’, by Jorge Luis Borges : ‘The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite number of hexagonal galleries. In the center of each gallery is a ventilation shaft, bounded by a low railing. From any hexagon one can see the floors above and below — one after another, endlessly. The arrangement of galleries is always the same…’ We might come to think that this Van Veluwian corridor is a sample of a greater and infinite part…
Remark : The elements used by Van Veluw are very simple, rudimentary, so to speak : wood. And it seems quite paradoxical that with such a poor material we can obtain some futurible impresssions. It looks to me even remarkable. Why ? Maybe because, typically, we expect to meet with technological materials, virtual spaces and so forth. Yet here, everything is man-made. This is the paradox, which reinforces the uchronic side of the piece and its atmosphere : something already passed, from which, of a more anterior future, we would be the visitors.
I am not going to depict all the installations, and will content myself with the appreciation of one or two others. Anyway, it is very difficult, indeed quite impossible, to obtain an idea of them from photographs, since the very immersive and dark characteristics of the installations add to the difficulty of depiction. On Van Veluw’s website we can have a more precise idea here and there.
The above-mentioned novella by Borges is included in the volume Fictions. Here we are…
The polyhedrons have been crushed. But it is unlikely that they have been destroyed inside the shelves. So what happened ? They self-disintegrated, since they were programmed to break up in case of intrusion. Why that ? Because one did not want them to be read. Indeed, if the polyhedra are a library, it’s because they conceal some data, hence they are interpretable, as any symbolic form.
Here below, in a room, we see, sinked into the ground, a chair and a desk on the surface of which debris of polyhedra are visible. We might suppose that, being isolated, the desk was used for further study, the Repertoire. Therefore, someone sat here and fragmented the polyhedra, so as to find some secrets (?). But, while the crushing was going on, chair and desk started, inexplicably but surely, to melt down into the ground. And at this very time the intruder swiftly took flight.