Gert Robijns

Z33 Center for Contemporary Art and Design

An amusing double-sided poster announced Belgian artist Gert Robijns’s first large solo exhibition, “Never Left Right.” The front showed a young boy winking with his right eye; the back, the same boy winking with his left eye. The poster played on one of the strongest binary oppositions that structure our daily existence: the difference between left and right. But this was just one of many elementary opposites, such as above/below, front/back, and inside/outside, as well as more coded dichotomies such as original/ replica, true/false, and real/unreal, played out in the show.

Robijns subtly displaces, alters, and replicates everyday objects and builds extensive spatial installations, often incorporating sound or projected images. Here, he not only reinstalled existing works along with new ones, but rearranged and integrated them into new compositions and installations. In the first and most powerful room of the exhibition, one encountered Even Ademhalen (Take a Short Breath), 2005, a series of everyday objects—a chair, a broom, a bucket, and a shelf holding a few books and some office material—gently leaning against the wall, seemingly “taking a breath.” When the work was shown earlier this year in Antwerp, the objects were rather feebly lined up against a single wall; this time they were scattered along various walls throughout the space. Additionally, a complete kitchen unit (Vanboven [At the Top], 2004) was placed at the high end of the right wall—an everyday version of an El Lissitzky Proun. Botsbal (Bouncing Ball), 2001, made the sound of a bouncing ball reverberate throughout the space at regular intervals. Visual equivalents of that sound could be seen in a flickering light bulb, on the one hand, and the pattern of circles—like a representation of sound waves—carved into a wooden platform, on the other. This platform in turn was intersected by a large fence (Untitled, 2004) that made its way from the inner garden of the museum into the exhibition space, disrupting the border between interior and exterior. Only Ondertussen (In the Meantime), 2004, a makeshift table with a double tabletop of wooden plates with a bunch of oranges compressed between them, stood as a solitary sculpture in the center of the space, nonetheless formally resonating with the other objects. The outcome was a room-size installation that subtly displaced perception, not only on a visual but also on a multisensory and cognitive level.

This perceptual dislocation was extended upstairs. Otherwise accurate replicas of familiar objects, including pool, Ping-Pong, and foosball tables, were deprived of their colors and details and mostly painted dark gray, thus becoming rather numb sculptures. While the playful displacement of the objects downstairs granted them a new and unusual life, these replicas were divested of it, thereby obtaining a ghostly and unreal presence. This dreamy transformation of objects indisputably reached its climax in the room with Close 2, 2001, a film installation originally made for an exhibition in Porto. A film of a window curtain slightly fluttering in a breeze was projected on an identically sized curtain that covered a closed wall of the exhibition room. Reality and image suddenly traded places.

Robijns’s works effect more than a mere displacement or a momentarily surprising operation. They reveal that the numerous binary oppositions governing our lives are less the product of clear contrast than of delicate equilibrium. And thus they require, above all, a good sense of humor and some wit, at least if you want to play with them over and over again, day after day.

Wouter Davidts