Focus Presentation #2: Berlinde De Bruyckere takes Onschuld kan een hel zijn (1995) as its starting point: a unique portfolio of archive material that Berlinde de Bruyckere (Ghent, 1964) put together in preparation for her exhibition of that title at the Middelheim Museum
in 1995. The presentation in the collection pavilion offers an insight into the thinking process of the artist. Two monumental works were (re) installed in the Braem Pavilion and in the art park.
Onschuld kan een hel zijn, 1995 (archive portfolio)
In 1995, the Middelheim Museum presented the first major solo exhibition by Berlinde de Bruyckere: Onschuld kan een hel zijn (Innocence can be a hell). Now, 25 years later, the archive portfolio with the same title offers us a unique view of a specific part of the artists work process: the development of an exhibition. What we find there are drawings, working photos and written project proposals made by the artist to give shape to her ideas and to discuss them with the museum.
The drawings vary from designs for an installation to impressions of what the work would look like. They are not artworks, but nor are they plain technical drawings. The paper is often yellowed and brittle, and the drawings are in pencil, felt-tip, ink and watercolour. We also see how the artist painstakingly communicates, among other things about the difference between working titles and definitive titles, and about the ideas behind the works. These notes are handwritten or typed. The photos are studies of the places in the museum where she would like to work, or else they show prototypes, illustrations or sources of inspiration. The portfolio is also accompanied by two blankets that are part of a work in the exhibition which is now for the first time being set up again in the place for which it was created: the Braem Pavilion.
The work process
Focus Presentation #2 situates the sketches, photos and writings from the archive portfolio in a broader collection of drawings, photos and newspaper cuttings that De Bruyckere assembled with great care. She surrounds herself with images that inspire her, drawings and photos that document her work process and in their turn inspire new works. As an entity, this stream of images gives us an insight into her work process. Not the physical process of making moulds and sewing blankets, but that of amassing inspiration, developing ideas, expanding on themes, asking questions, looking for forms, telling stories. De Bruyckere invites us to look at this process and shares with us her quest as an artist.
These images demonstrate her interest in art, the human body, and the tragedy of being human. We see images of art and history, often with a focus on the body and on suffering and mortality. We see images of current events, from refugees on the road or stranded somewhere, of people struck by disaster. We see images of bodies, human and animal, living and dead, beautiful and distorted, dancing and posing.
Anyone who is even a little familiar with De Bruyckeres work will recognise much of this. But there is more: you can see how a wide variety of sources, meanings and artworks become interwoven in a creative process. In the film made for this presentation, the artist gives us more explanation of these connections. We see and hear how everything is connected together in her mind and how she consistently makes links between past and present, recent and early works, inspiration and artwork, art and society.
The artworks: Onschuld kan een hel zijn, 1993 and Onschuld kan een hel zijn, 1995/2020
So Berlinde De Bruyckeres artworks form part of a complex system of connections, meanings, intentions and choices. They are the result of a process, but this often remains hidden from the viewer. In the film, the artist looks specifically at the genesis, interweaving, context and present relevance of the two monumental sculptures that you can also see in the museum. A work from the 1995 exhibition is temporarily being installed again in the Braem Pavilion: Innocence Can Be a Hell, 1995/2020. And visitors can see Onschuld kan een hel zijn, 1993 in the art park. This work was purchased for the Middelheim collection recently with the aid of the Middelheim Promotors and the artist herself.
These two artworks look completely different and were not made at the same time, nor have they ever been shown together. Yet they are related to one another in more than one way: by their titles, by the combination of innocence and violence, by such themes as mortality and suffering, and by a timeless and at the same time currently relevant commentary on man and society. The fact that they both contain the seeds of recent works by De Bruyckere also connects them to each other and to the present day.