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Exhibition serves as a separate chapter discussing various functions that art can assume
Jorge Pardo, Untitled (beige-grey-orange-yellow-petroleum blue teal), 1995.

GHENT.- Each of the four rooms in this exhibition serves as a separate chapter discussing various functions that art can assume. Artworks can define and position the human body in its environment, ranging from the museum space to the landscape. They can also reveal movements and activities within the (urban) environment, in the form of prototypical architectures, for example. Or they create situations in which the visitor is given an essential role to play and in which his participation is questioned. The artworks on display here cover various historical periods over the last 50 years. The exhibition ranges from the minimal and post-minimal tendencies, through Conceptual Art and Land Art, to issues illustrative of Relational Art. Most of the artworks are part of the collection, but S.M.A.K. additionally invited several guest artists, like LIAM GILLICK en FRANZ-ERHARD WALTHER.

Since the 1970s the conceptual artist STANLEY BROUWN (Paramaribo, 1935) has used his own stride as a unit of measurement to represent distances. By contrasting these body measurements (‘Brouwn measurements’) with standard physical measurements, he makes a link between our need for generally applicable means of communication and our individual experience. In SPACE FRAGMENT (1998) he suggests that this wooden corner object is part of a larger space that only unfolds in the viewer’s imagination. This brings about a concrete awareness of time, space and movement.

On the basis of existing photographic or film material, in his video work DAVID CLAERBOUT (Kortrijk, 1969) examines the boundaries between still and moving images. He creates miniature stories in an urban setting, in which such themes as the observant view of the surroundings and the workings of the visual memory play a major part. This is also the case in THE STACK (2000), where a sleeping homeless person has taken shelter under the concrete bridges of a road inter-section. The passing of time is tellingly embodied by the slowly fading sunlight. In the lingering, advancing interplay of light and shade, the viewer becomes aware of the eternal movement of time.

Since 1973 HAMISH FULTON (London, 1946) has considered himself a ‘walking artist’. He sees walking as an artistic and intrinsically existential action. He focuses both on the physical and the mental, step by step, and on the crossing of the boundaries of time and space. One of the important elements of his work is the perception of his surround-dings and his own movements, while being compelled to adapt to the rhythm of nature. His series of photos entitled WORLD WITHIN A WORLD (1973) represents a concentrated impression of Fulton’s experiences on his first walk in 1973, a 47-day trip from Duncansby Head in Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall.

RICHARD LONG (Bristol, 1945) is a pioneer of European Land Art. He was one of the first artists to use nature itself as a new sculptural material. His artistic practice is characterised by fragile interventions in nature, such as the trail of a walker in a grassy landscape. Since these small-scale actions do not usually last, Long records them in photos and/or drawings, as here in A WALK BY ALL ROADS AND LANES TOUCHING OR CROSSING AN IMAGINARY CIRCLE, SOMERSET ENGLAND (1977). This visual material only has documentary value, however, as the real work of art is the activity – the walk – itself.

DENNIS OPPENHEIM (Washington, 1938 – New York, 2011) was one of the pioneers of Land Art, which first appeared in America at the end of the 1960s as an artistic protest against prevailing sculptural aesthetics and the relentless commercialisation of art. Many practitioners of Land Art rejected museums and galleries as locations for artistic activity and developed monumental landscape projects beyond the reach of traditional sculpture and the art market. The SCALE MODELS (1967 -68) shown here reveal Oppenheim’s affinity with this way of thinking. But they are also scale models of how the surroundings might look, balancing on the line between reality and imaginary creation. The human hand is an emphatic presence in the virginal natural landscape.

JORGE PARDO (Havana, 1963) cautiously probes the thin line between art and design and in his work transforms the museum accommodation into a furnished room rather than a place for installation art. With the aid of objects from his everyday surroundings he creates a highly individual visual world that tries to establish itself harmoniously in the institutional framework of the museum. On the one hand the colorful cotton cushions in UNTITLED (BEIGE-GREY-ORANGE-YELLOW-PETROLEUM BLUE TEAL) (1995) contrast sharply with the cool setting, and on the other they provide the viewer with a pleasant and comfortable place of rest.

In his sculptures, ROYDEN RABINOWITCH (Toronto, 1943) seeks a new, abstract experience of space, based primarily on an intuitive approach to form. His early piece UNIVERSAL PLUMB BOB (1963) was an early foretaste of these ideas. This plumb bob is hung in the room geometrically so that all the vertical lines in its architectural surround-dings have to measure themselves against this absolute standard. We can imagine that this plumb bob, subject to gravity as it is, acts as a small-scale variant on the automatically turning pendulum many meters long which, in 1850, Foucault used to prove that the earth revolves around its axis.

NIELE TORONI (Locarno-Muralto, 1937) sees painting as an act of meditative labour. Using an ‘impersonal’ technique he reduces painting to a sober essence with uncompromising repetitions. Partly because of the lack of exuberant colours, Toroni creates an art form that is highly conceptual. This is clearly apparent in the work with the all-revealing title of TRAVAIL/PEINTURE EMPREINTES DE PINCEAU N° 50 REPETEES A INTERVALLES REGULIERS (30 CM), which consists of minimal but forceful paint marks applied to a roll of paper using brush no. 50 at regular intervals of 30 cm. In this way the artist establishes an individual yet universal system counter to the specific measurements of the exhibition room.

The work of LOIS WEINBERGER (Stams, 1947) is largely determined by his interest in unfinished, growing processes. He creates ‘provisional places’, always leaving room for ‘non-intervention’ in nature. The series of photos exhibited here, which includes BRANDENBURGER TOR, BERLIN (1994), display Weinberger’s preference for peripheral wastelands scattered with wildly rampant weeds. With what is often a minimal, artificial intervention, he harmonises the nomadic and the urban, the ordered and the chaotic, into an artistic and poetic world.

One of the core ideas in the work of LAWRENCE WEINER (New York, 1940), a key figure in Conceptual Art, is his notion that any language construction can act as a fully-fledged sculpture. His visual-linguistic structures are an invitation to reflect on how we relate to the world. By not putting forward any compulsory meaning, Weiner gives the viewer the freedom to give shape to his own imaginary interpretations. This is also the case in ABOVE BELOW THE LEVEL OF WATER WITH A PROBABILITY OF FLOODING (I.E. A DIKE) (1977); in a seemingly paradoxical sentence he suggests both an indeterminate threat and the possibility of holding it back.

The post-conceptualist HEIMO ZOBERNIG (Mauthen, 1958) sees art as a communication system that is not concerned with the production of works and the ultimate truth, but rather with social relations between people and things. He always calls his works ‘Untitled’ and the materials he uses – cardboard, plywood and expanded polystyrene – are simple and perishable. Zobernig analyses the mutual relationships between the artwork, the place, and the position of the viewer. In this series of three monochrome painted works (UNTITLED RED, BLUE and WHITE, 1995), which continue a number of 20th-century artistic traditions, he seeks sophisticated and geometric abstraction which in its turn enters into dialogue with the museum room.

LILI DUJOURIE (°Roeselare, 1941) works in materials including steel, lead, marble, ceramics, velvet and papier-maché, but she has also built up an innovative and highly personal oeuvre as a video artist. The iron wall-sculpture ZONDER TITEL made in 1969 shows the struggle between painting and sculpture, balance and gravity, and body and environment that was specific to that period. Although the untreated steel sheet is reminiscent of her better-known work AMERIKAANS IMPERIALISME (1972), this work is smaller: it hardly takes up any room and leans against the wall, looking fragile and discrete, in a seemingly hazardous balance. Yet there is also a certain energy concentrated in this work, because the acute angles and asymmetrical forms bring about an inner tension.

JAMES LEE BYARS (Detroit, 1932 - Cairo, 1997) turned his whole life into a mysterious, almost ceremonial performance, a frivolous game without rules. His work was an entirely personal blend of baroque and zen, the theatrical and the meditative. He moved in the same circles as Fluxus and the conceptual artists, with whom he shared an affinity for a more philosophical, text-based and communicative art. Throughout his life he wrote thousands of poetic, mystical letters to artist friends that were often difficult to read. BEAUTY GOES AVANT-GARDE (1987) is written in his characteristic (usually red) hand, in which the angles of each letter are overgrown with little stars. Byars turned writing (and reading) into an Orientally-inspired, delicate and highly aesthetic ritual.

ALEKSANDRA MIR (°Lubin, 1967) takes her projects all over the world as a means of studying the local socio-cultural dynamics. For her performative work THE BIG UMBRELLA (2003-4) she took a huge, surrealistically magnified umbrella through the streets of six cities, starting in Paris in 2003 and then going on to London, Dresden, Copenhagen, Martinique and New York. Along the way she invited passers-by to come under this specially designed umbrella; it is twice as big as the largest umbrella on the market, and sixteen people can shelter under it. This project too shows how individuals deal with each other and with factors in their surroundings – in this case the weather. Mir has documented her walks in six photos per location. The series shown here is a report of her stay in Martinique.

FRANZ ERHARD WALTHER (Fulda, 1939) has already been studying the spatial, tactile and time-based dimensions of minimalist forms, mostly geometrical, for many decades. But the physical interaction between body and object also plays a crucial part in his artistic practice: his work only shows itself when it is activated by the viewer. The interactive, sewn cotton sculptures that Walther has been making since the 1970s are instruments which, in accordance with the artist’s own principles, can be folded, unpacked, rolled up, carried or pressed flat. In this way they evoke a social intimacy and spatial sensation. BERHAUPT (1984-85), which is composed of pieces of thick cotton in bordeaux and earth colours, looks like a sort of lean-to roof, a soft shelter that seems to accentuate the links between architecture and the human form.

The conceptual artist LIAM GILLICK (Buckinghamshire, 1964) does not attach so much importance to the aesthetics of his work as to the effect it has on the public. So his work is often labeled as ‘relational art’. UNTITLED (REINSTATED TEST BENCH + ORIGINAL CINNAMON TEST RIG) (2011) too suggests a potential practical value. A brightly coloured bench, as are found in museums, invites one to contemplate: from here the visitor can take in an abstract structure on the wall. Both objects are related somewhat questionably to sculpture, furniture and the architectural surroundings.

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