The sculptures of the Belgian artist Koenraad Dedobbeleer (born 1975) work like simulacra of functional present-day objects. Because they are placed in an exhibition context and hence freed from their useful function, they exist as ambiguous supports that are made available for interpretation. Each piece is presented as both an everyday object, belonging to the domestic sphere (a piece of furniture, utensil, tool), and an esthetic object, corresponding to the criteria that obtain in design and sculpture. Tables, stools or columns are excessively enlarged, for example, or taken apart and rebuilt differently.
This is the case for The Subject of Matter (For WS) (2010), a piece that is something between a column and a fountain, both massive and portable, and doubly paradoxical; or Tradition is Never Given, Always Constructed (2012), a monumental reproduction of the tubular feet of stools imbued with great banality, painted in delicate pink and off-white tones, like so many ironic shifts that make the pieces waver between the status of ornamental furniture and that of works of art. The warmth of a stove, the flame of a gas ring (Political Economy of the Commodified Sign, 2012), the water of a fountain, a shrub trimmed into a topiary, these suggest an appropriation of nature through pleasure, while manufactured objects are broken up to be converted to a wild state.
With a great heaping of irony, the artists objects seem undecided, provoking multiple associations of ideas; Dedobbeleer creates dysfunctional sculptures, snares laid for our perception that invite us to re-evaluate our own criteria for understanding forms and their cultural origins.
Travaux pour amateurs
Workmanship of Certainty is the second in a trilogy of shows that began in St. Gallen (and ends in Middelburg).* While the selection of works and their arrangement is specific to each venue, the project is a global one in fact, whose common starting point is the artists book OEuvre sculpté, travaux pour amateurs (Roma Publications, 2012). A kind of nonchronological visual version of a wordchain game, this publication brings together images of artworks, furniture and architectural elements to form a sort of repertoire of historical references, a manual of practices and uses for day-to-day objects, which serve as keys for reading these three shows.
As always in Dedobbeleers work, the titles of pieces and exhibitions have no direct connection with the object or objects they cover. Taking the form of extremely pompous, absurd aphorisms or theoretical considerations touching on art and culture, they shed no light in fact on our understanding of the works. On the contrary, Dedobbeleer humorously plays with our reflex of wanting to explain the object through the text.
Yet the title of the show at Crédac
tells us something about the artists concerns. The turn of phrase Workmanship of Certainty (defies translation, offers a number of meanings at one and the same time) seems to draw an analogy between manual skill, which is necessary to achieve form, and knowledge. As the artist points out in an inscription on an earlier work, Reflection is manual activity and a concrete labour; in other words, the production process is a mechanism of culture.
For Dedobbeleer, works of art are always inextricably bound up with where and how they are exhibited. They are thought out as tools for reading the space, and their design, selection and arrangement are heavily influenced by the weight of the history and architecture of the venue. By turns connecting two spaces, underscoring a volume, lending structure to zones where people are passing by (like the screen of Too Quick to Dismiss Aesthetic Autonomy as Retrograde, 2012), or creating areas for rest and interaction (the artists many seats, benches and stools), Dedobbeleers works desanctify the expected function of an exhibition venue. By attributing possible uses to it (on the order of domestic use or leisure), they throw into question the modernist project of the institution as a neutral space outside the world.
While reworking in a tragicomic vein the great concerns of modernism (the drive to unite functionality and esthetics), Koenraad Dedobbeleers works also display a materialist, antiheroic rereading of minimalist and conceptual sculpture. Rejecting any exclusive, unequivocal interpretation, the artists vocabulary, formal above all, examines the connections between an object, its aspect and its use, and in doing so scrutinizes the links between public, private and exhibition spaces.