Thomas Raat / Kevin Rodgers / Stephanie Syjuco / Katsutoshi Yuasa


Thomas Raat / Kevin Rodgers / Stephanie Syjuco / Katsutoshi Yuasa
04.10.2015 > 15.11.2015

What is the value and position of artistic labour in the contemporary artist’s practice? Which attitude do different artists take with respect to traditional craftsmanship?

This exhibition opens up space for conversation on this topic with the presentation of the ‘work’ of four international artists. Each of them has recently carried out an individual workshop project at the FLACC working space for visual artists in Genk. All the works included in the exhibition arose out of the individual workshop projects and were produced completely or partially at and/or by FLACC. The exhibition poses all sorts of interesting questions that touch on the core of the debate of how an artistic working space should function and be used. This investigation into artistic labour is an important influencing factor in the policy of FLACC. The historical analysis of the artistic practice is the point of departure for the core question: is the artist’s working space in its traditional form still the most suitable means of supporting artistic production? The value of a working space for artists has been proved time and again; this is beyond debate. FLACC instead asks how this working space can align even better with the needs of artists working internationally. According to FLACC, it is reflection and development that should be the aim and advantage of the artistic working space. The artistic working space is not only a place where things are made, but where contemplation and creation come together. It is a place where a complex network of artistic and technical knowledge and craft are combined to give the artist an opportunity to reflect on, strengthen and expand their own work, position and working methods while carrying out a physical project.

Netwerk and FLACC assume a widely supportive role with respect to the artist’s working process, each drawing on its own strengths to offer the artist a chance to reach new milestones in his or her oeuvre. The two organisations share similar attitudes with respect to the artist, their complementary approaches and their research into making artistic labour accessible to a wider audience. In this exhibition, the central question is explored along four different lines representing different perspectives.

The work of Canadian artist Kevin Rodgers is centred on the diametric opposition between withdrawal (physical, spiritual, political, aesthetic) and action, and is informed by the theories of Hannah Arendt. He started his artistic project The Free Dependent in Genk in 2014. In this research, he uses the scanned book as the aesthetic form, with its traces of manual use and manipulation. He selects scanned PDFs from his extensive digital library of artist’s books, scientific literature and philosophy and with them creates meticulous montages. Black-and-white images are blown up and printed on ‘blueback’ paper. They are then stuck directly to the wall. At first glance, they appear as if they could be read in order. However, although the layout may appear coherent, details such as dates, library stamps and markings betray the hand of the maker in his creation of an intentional composition. The simultaneous presentation of disassociated information facilitates the creation of associative connections and the birth of new ideas. The thought process is recorded in material form and this object in turn grants access to the public. Here Kevin Rodgers refers to the artwork as an ‘imagined object’ and thus reintroduces the physical object into the conceptual practice.

How does the artist relate to the labour of another maker when he works with existing objects? At FLACC, the Dutch artist Thomas Raat set out to strip various second-hand chairs – mass-produced variations on high-end design pieces – of all traces of usage, until only the bare essence of the object remained. He then gave each chair a stylish refurbishment. The strict use of colour in this process returned the chairs to a common group. Raat opens up a discussion about the position of the pieces of furniture through the process of modestly adapting them by hand. They change from mass products to unique works. Given that they are reworked by an artist, it may seem obvious that they are to be considered works of art. Raat leaves this intentionally open, however. Underlying this work is the artist’s research into the spread of modernistic visual language. This experimental visual language, originating from a small circle of avant garde artists, became conventional in the fifties after being adopted by many artists and designers. An art-historical grey area of successive movements and applications was thus created. This grey area, which encompasses everything from furniture to book cover design, is taken by Raat as his point of departure. Using a combination of reference and imitation, Raat creates authentic-looking, ‘modernistic’ sculptures that seem to be positioned at a turning point: the moment the experimental character of a radical, new visual language becomes conventional, the moment the avant garde becomes domestic.

Katsutoshi Yuasa attempts to breathe new life into the Japanese ‘Ukiyo-e’ style of woodblock printing – long looked down upon as inferior – and to bring this fossilised medium into the digital age. He meticulously dissects and analyses the printing process, from the transfer of the image to a carrier, to the exploration of the medium’s absolute limits. His artistic research into mechanisms for the transfer of meaning gives this medium a new dimension. The experimental approach adopted by the artist opens up new perspectives through the combination of traditional woodblock printing, a contemporary visual language and digital representation. The Japanese artist is working on a series of prints at FLACC with which he is attempting to record the destructive power of the Japanese tsunami of 2011. He adds an aesthetic, symbolic dimension that not only focuses on the catastrophe itself but also the way in which such disasters are represented in the media. He collected images online of Japan’s coastline before the disaster and photographed the devastated area from the same perspective. The pair of images is transferred to two different woodblocks in the traditional way. The two images, each coloured with a single colour, are then overlaid by Yuasa, reconciling past and present and
reflecting an uncertain view of the future. The process is all carried out completely by hand. The woodblocks are cut out with a chisel and the printing is done by rubbing the ink onto the wooden plate – also by hand. Yuasa’s aesthetic and technical finesse are evidenced in We lost something but we don’t know what we lost. The wafer-thin paper is soaked to its maximum absorptive capacity in ink and passion for the magic of woodblock printing. The artist has a metaphor for the uncontrollability of the final phase of the process; he describes the printing as being ‘like a walk in the forest at night’.

Stephanie Syjuco has long been interested in the politics of industry and traditional craftsmanship and their relationship to globalisation and capitalism. In the project Empire/Other, she continues her exploration of the apparent contradiction between the handmade and the virtual in order to learn how society might deal with the conflict of history in our contemporary world. The project utilises 3D modelling, scanning technologies, digital animation and ceramics techniques and generates a multimedia oeuvre that crosses traditions of craftsmanship with the politics of trade routes and forced cultural overlap. Syjuco seeks to create hybrid forms based on objects from European colonies and objects that are the product of European craft industries. Early twentieth-century pottery from the Belgian Congo combined with Art Nouveau ceramics from the same period, for example. She scans the museum pieces using 3D scanners and creates hybrid combinations of them with the use of digital algorithms. During the process, the digital translation of the hybrid forms goes ‘wrong’, or rather: the computer interprets the information in its own inscrutable manner. Syjuco makes the conscious decision to permit this ‘ghost in the machine’ effect in her work. She has the resulting renders of whimsical objects reproduced in clay by FLACC. In the presentation, they are hidden from view by sheets on which the image is printed crisply and clearly. Stephanie Syjuco received a prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship Award for this project.