Jan Vercruysse

Studio Trisorio Roma

Consistent with an artistic journey that now spans several decades, Jan Vercruysse’s new series “PLACES,” 2004–2005, refers back to some earlier series, particularly the “Tombeaux,” 1987–94, and “M,” 1992–98. The guiding images are the figures from playing cards: hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds, cut from steel and hung on the wall (“PLACES [I]”) or incised into steel and set on the floor (“PLACES [II]”). Those on the wall displayed two winning poker combinations: a full house and two pairs. The edging, obviously machine-made with a die, results in a clear, dry, and precise silhouette, and the works consequently bring to mind banners, heraldic coats of arms, or medieval emblems. Since the iconographic source belongs to the realm of games, clearly there is also the idea of chance or risk. We are presented with something that causes us to stop in our steps and pushes us to reflect, to meditate, on memory, both collective and personal—a monument of sorts, to the contradiction between the presumed futility of the “game” (the cards) and the meditative seriousness to which, by cultural definition, the works’ formal incarnation seems to refer.

PLACES (II.2), 2005, installed on the floor, is a rectangular shape in black steel whose surface is carved with figures corresponding to the six of clubs. In archaeological sites and churches, we often encounter tombstones bearing engraved writing and images, and if we aren’t careful, we might tread on them, since in fact these tombs are inserted into the floor. They may contain the remains of bishops, cardinals, and other important political and religious figures. It is the power of the past—with its names, dates, and now-vanished hierarchies—that strikes us, reminding us that we are part of a tradition, and precisely because it has disappeared, that world, that past, has made way for our world and our present.

Using playing-card figures in place of funerary inscriptions, Vercruysse reinforces the sense and connotation of heraldic insignia. But it is clear that here the artist is questioning, in a philosophical sense, the term that has given the title to this entire series of works, namely “place.” This is by no means simply identical to a mathematically determined portion of space. The concept of place can never be separated from a sense of identity, of belonging to a land, a tradition, and a community; in other words a sense of being rooted historically, culturally, and geographically—thus, from a memory sacred in origin but on which man independently constructs. And it is this profound, stratified, mythical-sacred significance that is totally lost within the technical-scientific homogenization of space that is typical of modernity. Vercruysse’s work aims to revive the desire to safeguard memory as a living source of the present. We live in a globalized and thus delocalized world, a world where we pass from one nonplace to another. Probably, as Vercruysse’s new works imply, art is the terrain on which we can maintain the memory of a difference, of a world oriented in another way, of a horizon that is not closed off.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.