Gerard Herman


The Aalst dialect dictionary, or ‘Oilsjtersen diksjoneir’, defines kalisj as: 1. To be blind drunk. 2. To be knocked out.

This sampling of the rich Aalst dialect gets straight to the heart of the exhibition. During preparations for the exhibition, Gerard Herman won an online contest – headed up by Aalst heritage expert Jan Louies – by giving the right word for tripe in the Aalst dialect. He organized a road trip to a local butcher to pick up the grand prize with a wheelbarrow. The grand prize – four kilos of tripe (trippen) – will be cooked during the opening event and shared out among those in attendance. The Aalst TV report of the wheelbarrow expedition is shown on a television in the Galerie, setting the tone of the exhibition, which comes together as an integrated whole. The exhibition can be seen as an experimental, sensory field guide, presenting visitors with a candid, natural study of the city of Aalst. The artist works as a kind of informal natural scientist, determining the unique spirit of the city in his own inimitable way. As an integrated whole, Kalisj speaks of the collaboration or meeting of local figures, the artist’s impressions of which were gradually woven into new works as they were created.

New work is shown in Kalisj, albeit not always ‘shown’ in the strictest sense of the word. You have probably noticed the pervasive, sickly sweet aroma hanging in the air of the exhibition space. In the quietly simmering installation Amylum, the artist’s own recipe invokes the aroma of glucose that is so familiar in Aalst. A sensory foreshadowing of what the heritage value could be of the last city centre factory in 21st Century Europe.

The Eternally Obvious subtly alludes to Carnaval, the annual three-day phenomenon during which the cultural identity of Aalst is literally paraded through the city. The image touches upon a possible associative-poetic link between the world of fine arts and that of the Carnaval festivities, but does not fall back on an archetypal typecasting of the city. It could be said that it was a prophetic performance when the artist, at the age of ten, dressed up as Magritte and headed for the school carnival in high spirits.

A large part of Gerard Herman’s work is rooted in the fertile soil of a keen and genuine fascination for nature, the animal kingdom and people, as well as the intertwined habitats of the latter two. Testament to this are his weekly radio show The Birds of the Field (De Vogelen des Velds) on Radio Centraal and the work The Capital of Nature, which came about following a cycle tour in Iran this past summer. The images presented serve to aid reflection upon the schism between nature and culture and the different cultural approaches to these, seen via both the perspective of the traveller and the interpretation of the citizen respectively. The grasshopper excursion organised by the artist in the run-up to the exhibition also forms a part of Kalisj. The visual remnants of this expedition in the outer perimeter of the Osbroek nature reserve are accompanied by several drawings. These drawings were inspired by two sorts of grasshoppers, using the Belgian flag as a characteristic motif. A little further along, an anagram of the neighbouring municipality of Erpe-Mere alludes to two other municipalities in Belgium – surely no coincidence!

The exhibition swells even further, ultimately reaching its silent yet dramatic peak in the documentary triptych City symphony (Stadssymfonie). Together with cameraman Stijn Grupping, Gerard Herman set off with a state-of-the-art steadycam and filmed slices of daily life at three locations in Aalst: Aalst-Rechteroever at the Bolleweg, the city park and the municipality of Erembodegem. The work is keenly evocative of Dziga Vertov’s ‘Man with a Movie Camera’.

In Kalisj, the glue that binds the various works and escapades of Gerard Herman’s practice becomes visible. The imagination of the artist forms a solid axis around which ingenious finds and resourceful creations fan out in all directions. The centrifugal force emanating from the unique personality of the artist gives weight to these exceptional works, whose consequent momentum grants them a certain autonomy in the outside world. This gives an immediate answer to the question of what a grasshopper excursion, city symphony and sensory installation have to do with one another.

The slogan emblazoned on the flag at the front of the Netwerk building – roughly translated as ‘you all think what you all think’ (denken jullie daar maar dat van jullie van) – is a play on a familiar expression in Dutch and thus hints at both the idiosyncrasy of the artist’s work as well as the unruly character of the inhabitants of Aalst. Before you conclude your visit, be sure to pass by the Netwerk Café, where the work Solo Slim alludes to a custom practised by players of the card game ‘kleurenwiezen’ that was thought lost by many but which appears to still be alive today in certain corners of Aalst.

The versatile artist Gerard Herman (°1989) has been a guest at Netwerk several times in recent years, in various capacities. In 2010, he participated as a bright new talent in the group exhibition Rafa the Magician and in 2011, following the publication of Children’s book. A book for children. (Kinderboek. Een boek voor kinderen.), he put on a show for the youngest attendees of the event Fin de Saison. He has made other visits to Network as a musician, including as a participant in the event Smoke on the Water (at the invitation of artist Joris van de Moortel) and as a member of the excellent Antwerp-based improv/free-jazz trio Sheldon Siegel with Gino Coomans and Erik Heestermans. Gerard Herman will return with the latter two companions on Sunday 5 October. For this occasion, World Animal Day, he is organising a grand spectacle to mark the unveiling of the Monument For All Unnamed Deceased Animals of the World. This solemn moment will be accompanied by fitting music, introduced by a local fanfare and, indeed, flowers and wreaths courtesy of a children’s workshop organised by Netwerk.