Lieven De Boeck

It’s said that Mies van der Rohe always carried a small Paul Klee painting in his suitcase. Whenever he stayed in a hotel, he hung it in place of the paintings that decorated his room, transforming the space—albeit only temporarily and partially—into a room of his own. Even the godfather of modern architecture seemingly needed a personal belonging to feel at home in a hotel room, a space that epitomizes the nomadic existence that modernity initiated and that his later colleagues would experience at length. Charming as it may be, the story points to the irresolvable question of being and belonging in the modern era. Although modernity promises possibility, encourages mobility over stability, promotes difference as the stimulus for novelty, and prefers the dynamism of change, the desire remains to safeguard one’s “proper place.”

In his most recent show at Netwerk, a small but lively art center in Aalst, young Belgian artist Lieven De Boeck subtly played upon two different faces of this relentless quandary: nationalism and domesticity. The first work in the show consisted of a remake of the infamous cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed. For The Danish Cartoons, 2006, De Boeck redrew the controversial drawings with whiteout. The cartoons were not erased, but blanched of their hostile temper—a subtle play on the call to freedom of speech that was the pretext for their publication.

The color white pervaded the show. For The White Flags, 2006, De Boeck remade the flags of 190 member states of the United Nations, substituting different sheets of thin white paper for the original colors and cutting out the designs, reducing their colorful variety to a bland uniformity, although they remain identifiable. Avoiding the standard alphabetical order of the countries, De Boeck positioned the flags according to a formal arrangement: stripes first, then crosses, stars, moons, circles—stressing once more the relative distinction and equality between all the nations that the global association unites.

The final piece in the show was The Typology House, 2004, a full-scale conceptual model of De Boeck’s own proposed dwelling. The work, first shown as the central piece of his solo show Making Things Public at Witte de With in Rotterdam in 2004, came out of the research for his artist’s book, Housing, published the previous year. De Boeck explored the physical and emotional experience of inhabiting and organizing a space for private use and took his parents’ house—for a long time the only fixed place in his peripatetic life as an artist and the place where he stored his belongings—as his primary point of reference. He ultimately developed an architectural structure that functions as an ideal storage system. The installation, consisting of a number of apparently standardized cupboards and racks, can be condensed into a solid cube or opened up into a spatial structure—producing living space as the remainder of storage. Not unlike Absalon’s Cells or Andrea Zittel’s Living Units, The Typology House does not offer a traditional form of domesticity, but neither does it deny the desire to enjoy one’s own private dwelling. It conveys the idea that, in the end, home comes with your belongings.

Wouter Davidts