Joëlle Tuerlinckx

A robust building designed by the late Leon Stynen, one of Belgium’s few modernist architects, deSingel doesn’t include a proper exhibition space. It was conceived first and foremost as a cultural center with a concert hall and a theater. Its solid program of architectural exhibitions over the last two decades has been forced to occupy the circulation spaces that lead to and around these halls, resulting in a highly diverse range of display strategies developed by the selected architects. Since the appointment of Swiss curator Moritz Küng in 2003, each year a contemporary artist—always with an “affinity for architecture”—has been invited to produce a show within this remarkable context as well. Following magnificent shows by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Aglaia Konrad, Belgian artist Joëlle Tuerlinckx occupied the assorted spaces of deSingel with the equally compelling show “After Architecture After.”

Throughout fifteen spaces within the public areas of the building, Tuerlinckx dispersed over one hundred works and interventions. All of these could be found thanks to a checklist with a plan of the building on which all the locations were indicated by tiny diagonal crosses. The diagonal cross, in fact, turned out to be the central “figure” of the show, both in graphic and conceptual terms. Crosses of different sorts appeared on various surfaces, supports, and elements of the building, applied in multiple ways: on flat-screen monitors amid the daily program, painted on three flags flying in the front parking lot, drawn in chalk on the floor mats at the entrance, appearing as paint or colored tape on the windows overlooking a patio, drawn on the glass covering posters, spray-painted on a found paving stone, or embodied by the negative space created by a grid of four found floor tiles on the terrace facing the highway.

Apparently, a drawing of two diagonals that had lain in Tuerlinckx’ studio for twelve years suddenly resurfaced during the preparation of the show and served as a starting point for the different interventions. Reading the drawing “as the formulation of a future (architectural) development,” Tuerlinckx not only used the cross as a compelling graphic motif but also brilliantly played out its particular character as a spatial signifier. A cross does not produce significance in and of itself. It doesn’t reveal anything specific about the spot or site it marks; it simply draws attention to it, producing a virtual space for consideration or intervention. Thus, none of the particular crosses stood out as noteworthy in themselves. Tuerlinckx’s singular approach lay in their sheer accumulation, her almost maniacal persistence in marking out specific sites or elements.

In a recent interview, she affirmed that the practices of such artists as Daniel Buren and Michael Asher still serve as a major reference for her work. But “After Architecture” proves that she does not merely replay their familiar strategies. Her work is no longer marked by the aspiration to expose architecture’s institutional ideologies and mechanisms, its delineation and delimitation of both space and possibility. Rather, through delicate interactions—by merely touching, marking, inscribing, or highlighting—it draws out architecture’s paradoxical nature: Only through demarcation and exclusion do buildings emerge as sites of potential. This is why deSingel, a site that frustrates all conventional exhibition strategies, can serve as one of the most exciting exhibition spaces—but only on the condition that both artist and curator willfully acknowledge and engage its highly contingent and singular disposition.

Wouter Davidts