Jan Vercruysse


Jan Vercruysse is one of Belgium’s most distinguished artists. In his works as in his biography, the artistic concerns of the ’70s and the ’80s are joined in a very personal way A natural heir to Marcel Broodthaers (whom he happened to befriend), Vercruysse is not in the least derivative in his work. On a formal level, his art seems to deal with architecture and sculpture as constructive/deconstructive processes or units. This may be the reason for its superficial for-mal affiliations with the sculpture of some younger German and French artists. Once the specificity of his work is recognized, such formal analogies become immediately obsolete.

Vercruysse’s “Chambres” (Chambers, 1983–86) are large spatial constructions that employ physical space as medium and content. Without ignoring the formal lines that extend from Donald Judd’s “Boxes,” 1965, to Walter de Maria’s Suicide, 1966–67, and from Richard Artschwager’s Tower, 1964, to Bruce Nauman’s “Corridors,” 1970–71, these works nonetheless exist in a manner closer to a 17th-century Dutch still life or vanitas, or an Italian pittura metafisica of the ’20s. Stillness and emptiness do not represent an exclusion content but a strong metaphysical dimension, and time is not linear, or narrative, but ideal: stopped, fixed, grasped in a most essential way. These chambers are open to art because any other form of expression is closed, concluded and exclusive, beyond any theatricality. Neither stages nor settings, they symbolically enclose set representational processes in order to point out a possible content beyond formal conventions. Paradoxically, the strongest convention, the one that legitimizes and controls space within a formal or representational process, is the one that here grasps time and space as a fixed image, uncanny and present, consolidating the work and one’s experience of it into a concise metaphysical unit. The void becomes a fixed time and space, a frame that neither includes nor excludes. This time/space confrontation does not unveil an organic flux,just as it does not state an abstract principle; interrupting any emotive flux and disturbing any cognitive fixation, it becomes a “real thing,” a chamber caught between movement and rest: not a place but a thing, as Vercruysse’s “Atopies” (“Atopias,” 1986) will make clear.

An “atopia” is a negation of place and, by these means, a negation of any possible articulation or junction of time and space. With their suspended images, useless objects, irrecuperable fragments of reality, and disconnected viewpoints, Vercruysse’s “Atopies” coexist with a fundamental dislocation of reality. Closed circuits where all possible modes of existence, language, and convention circulate, rigorously following rules that are neither autonomous nor heteronomous but only inevitable, these works are simply there, free from any contamination but open to any interference. They are beyond place, though, because any human interjection, instead of transforming what exists within them, becomes itself obscene, an intrusive image instead of a validating presence. Anyone who entered these chambers would suddenly look like a banana in a Giorgio de Chirico landscape.

Denys Zacharopoulos