Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven

About a year ago, it was reported that Swiss-based scientists had succeeded in creating antimatter, the mirror image of matter—purportedly an important breakthrough inasmuch as this could explain, or at least tell us more about, the big bang. This news item was the starting point for Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven’s latest project, “Anti-Sade.” Paraphrasing the news report but changing terms like “the standard model of physics” and “antimatter” into “the standard model of moral philosophy” and “anti-Sade,” the content acquired at times a subversive, allusive, and above all ironic tone.

According to the artist, the contemporary fascination with the Marquis de Sade lies in our deep-rooted fear of nature and its laws, which we misuse, abuse, and try to tame but in fact do nothing but pervert. What does all of this have to do with art? A self-appointed “HeadNurse” whose art is meant to heal the aberrations in today’s society, all and everything, Van Kerckhoven attempts to create works that refuse the idea of art as something negative, dealing or even flirting with cruelty, cynicism, or decay—even if this refusal strikes some as indicative of a rather naive, me-against-the-world attitude.

The heart of the show was a video installation, Deeper, 2003, which follows the life of a man as he sits, thinks, eats, gazes. It’s divided into nineteen scenes, a choice that isn’t casual but refers to an old legend according to which it takes that many stages to transform lead into gold. The movie, if that’s an appropriate word for what better could be described as a fluid succession of alienating scenes, follows this numerical path and produces, like a chemical formula, a portrait of an archetypal modern Western man. Desolate and unattached, this character, played by the acclaimed dancer Marc Vanrunxt, moves through a life where nothing seems to happen, everything just takes place. One projection was screened on the wall while a second one glided and turned in a circular movement through space, sucking the viewer into this bizarre but altogether recognizable trip as not just a voyeur but a participant. On the wall, the projected image encountered a mirror and two black surfaces where it disappeared, as if sucked into a black hole. The sound track, with noises from city life, quotes from Gilles Deleuze, industrial music, and so on, provoked and intensified the feeling of alienation. But the sum of all this was pure alchemy. Deeper doesn’t serve a one-track idea but takes the viewer on a fascinating zigzag trip with a man in search of his place and meaning in society.

“Anti-Sade” also included a series of manipulated, constructed images of interiors referring to cultural icons like Baudelaire, Freud, and, again, Deleuze. Immersed in the vitriolic colors of these modernistic assemblages one felt as if the artist herself were inviting us to join her in inhabiting the ideas of the various writers and thinkers. One of these works is called Houellebecq, 2001, after the notorious literary provocateur. To dissect society, showing it a mirror, as the author did in Les Particules élémentaires (The Elementary Particles, 1998), is also the strategy Van Kerckhoven used in “Anti-Sade.” Anyone who has read Houellebecq’s novel knows that art can blow your mind; Van Kerckhoven’s piece, by contrast, just might help get your mind back on track.

Jos Van den Bergh