Berlinde De Bruyckere, Aletheia, on-vergeten (Aletheia, Unforgotten), 2019, mixed media. Installation view.

Berlinde De Bruyckere, Aletheia, on-vergeten (Aletheia, Unforgotten), 2019, mixed media. Installation view.

Berlinde De Bruyckere

Within the minimalist architecture of the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Berlinde De Bruyckere’s solo exhibition “Aletheia” offers an extraordinary progression, beginning with the artist’s formidable sculptural technique in wax, before taking a clear step in the direction of immersive and environmental installation.

Drawing its title from the Greek word for truth or disclosure, the exhibition derives its formal vocabulary from a skin traders’ workshop the artist visited in Anderlecht, Belgium. The show commences in the hallway, with Nijvel I <em>and Nijvel II</em>, both 2019 (and titled after the Belgian town known in English as Nivelles), two wax casts of fragments of animal skins compressed into solid blocks, mounted onto bronze casts of ordinary wooden pallets. When piled up, the headless pelts bring to mind geological stratifications of rock, perhaps a reference to the passage of time and to the continual, apparently chaotic and inevitable superimposition of events.

Visitors then proceed to the main room, where, with Aletheia, on-vergeten (Aletheia, Unforgotten), 2019, the artist has restaged aspects of the Belgian skin traders’ workshop, where freshly flayed skins, which arrive daily directly from the slaughterhouse, are stretched out and coated with salt. De Bruyckere makes wax casts of these proccessed pelts, which she then piles onto wooden pallets. The resulting installation offers a powerful metaphor for the drama of the present-day political climate and for human existence as a whole. Simultaneously seductive and disturbing, the mounds of wax pelts lend the scene incredible formal delicacy and multisensory—tactile, olfactory, visual, and acoustic—intensity.

Fragile and heavy, the skins are tinted with appealing faint hues, ranging from gray to a pastel pink reminiscent of human flesh. There is barely a trace of blood red. The floor is coated with salt and appears to be the same shade of white as the walls, creating a perceptual glitch that transports viewers to a metaphysical dimension. Animal fur is visible in places, both as an accidental remnant of the casting process and as an intentional element grafted on by the artist, who carefully shapes her creations to achieve a disconcerting verisimilitude. The odor of the wax, however, betrays the visual illusion.

Crime and violence are hidden by the allure of the setting, and we are confronted with what has transpired only when a larger sense of history breathes down our necks. As if in a flashback, skins heaped on wooden pallets, sometimes stacked two by two, appear as mass graves, as if they have lain there for who knows how long. The salt is no longer salt, but rather snow that crunches beneath the soles of one’s shoes and covers up the atrocities that have been carried out. In silence, it softens memories and distances grief.

What is created, then, is a space of suspended judgment, where it is possible to encounter one’s deepest fears. Viewers are left with space for a possible redemption. Returning to the solitude of the hallway, they are greeted by three wax casts of skins (Anderlecht, Anderlecht II, and Anderlecht III, all 2018), carefully folded like warm, clean blankets.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.