Jan Fabre

De Selby

Before Jan Fabre made his name as a performer and theater director, he was known as a draftsman. He made the transition from one to the other eight years ago, when he had himself locked up in a barren room, which he covered entirely with scribbles of ink from a ballpoint pen. His Robert Wilson-like performances—in particular, his obsession with creating a European counterversion to the American master’s “theater of long duration”—showed clearly his preoccupation with the world of visual arts. And, in fact, the only work in this exhibition was a large wooden wardrobe that took up almost the whole gallery space. One door ajar, the wardrobe is covered both inside and outside with the blue scribbles that Fabre calls “moving blue.” They are made by different assistants who can be recognized by the different character of their line. Involuntarily, the slight differences in pressure, direction, and drawing style make this work even more personal than if Fabre had covered the wardrobe by himself, as he did in his first ballpoint-pen projects. The paradox in Fabre’s work is that, exactly when you expect him as an artist to disappear behind the signatures of the nameless artists who made the work, he emerges irresistibly from the blue wash. Threatening to drown in the activities of his assistants, he finally reappears even more strongly.

In his blue projects, Fabre dissolves the boundaries between drawing and sculpture. One is immediately struck by the connection with his compatriot Jan Vercruysse, and with countless others who have formulated their sculptural impressions through furniture and other household objects. However, it is the surprising continuity of the scribbling, drawing, and handling of the ballpoint pens that gives Fabre’s project its credibility. This is doubtless reinforced by the simple, radiating character of the blue. Although an obvious comparison may be made with Yves Klein’s blue, the latter seems almost classical when compared with the impetuous movement of Fabre’s work. Here we see an industrial blue with nuances of red and green. It seems to represent the moment before sunrise when night animals take shelter and day animals return to life: the blue of the hour when everything happens.

Fabre’s poetic dream conjures up associations that are strong enough to keep our attention. And if the first glimpse of dawn already has so many implications, it can only awaken one’s curiosity about the long day following these first few minutes.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Ruth Füglistaller