House of Electronic Arts in Basel opens an exhibition of works by the Belgian artist Emmanuel Van der Auwera
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House of Electronic Arts in Basel opens an exhibition of works by the Belgian artist Emmanuel Van der Auwera
Emmanuel Van der Auwera: The Sky is on Fire, 2019. HD Video, 15:21 min, Still. Courtesy Emmanuel Van der Auwera and Harlan Levey Projects. © Emmanuel Van der Auwera.

BASEL.- The Belgian artist Emmanuel Van der Auwera is more than just an attentive observer of our time. «Seeing is Revealing»—seeing as revealing, as uncovering something underlying runs like a thread through his work. In his expansive video installations, Van der Auwera devotes himself to questions of perception—from the mediated experience of a world seen through a smartphone to the images that come from intelligent machines. He often refers to real events, uses existing material from the internet, which he re-sorts, deconstructs for its meaning and transforms into impressive aesthetic image tableaus. For his first solo exhibition in Switzerland, Van der Auwera created three new works that are on view at HEK for the first time. The exhibition offers a representative overview of the artist’s work.

With a formal rigour and reduction to the essential, Van der Auwera dissects and analyses the meaning of images—how they depict reality but also construct it at the same time. He finds his material in the rampant image production of a global screen culture and the imaging processes of new technologies, including artificial intelligence. From this flood of images of our digitalised world, he creates expansive, immersive installations of enigmatic appeal and aesthetic strength. In his works, he reduces his documentary source material to a minimum in a very poetic way, delicate and fragile. He thus generates aesthetic experiences that make the underlying socio-critical questions accessible as a sensual experience in a fascinating and compelling way.

In his works, the artist devotes himself to current media events, directs his gaze to tragedies and taboos of our mediatised world or to topics related to developments in social media. He collects confessional video streams on streaming platforms, or material from news channels and the image databases of commercial providers. Like a chronologist, he collects in order to create his visual worlds from such observations of our present. In his narratives, he skillfully combines the genres of documentation, reconstruction, and fiction to make their constructedness clear through the recontextualisation of images. In doing so, he negotiates the most pressing issues of our time, ranging from the dwindling freedom of the press to the expansion of the surveillance state, driven by the «search for the collective human experience», as he himself writes.

The screen itself becomes material in Van der Auwera's video sculptures, and here, too, he is interested in revealing how the technical device works. A few years ago, Van der Auwera began manipulating LCD screens, cutting up their imaging polarising filters. Eventually, he removed them altogether, exposing their underlying mechanics. The screen, which is usually our window to world events, now offers only a blank view to the human eye. The images only become visible again through dark glass plates placed in the room on tripods or on the floor. Only the movement in the room and the right angle of view reveal the initially invisible flood of images to the viewers. The artist turns them into active participants.

Curator: Sabine Himmelsbach

Emmanuel Van der Auwera (*1982) lives and works in Brussels, Belgium. In 2015, he was a laureate of the Ghent University of Fine Arts (HISK) as well as receiving the Langui Prize for Young Belgian Art. His work has been shown in numerous exhibitions, such as WIELS (Brussels, Belgium), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci (Prato, Italy), Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria), Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain (Luxembourg, and Mu.ZEE (Ostend, Belgium). Van der Auwera’s work has been acquitted by various renowned collections such as the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas, TX, USA), KANAL Centre – Pompidou (Brussels, Belgium), Mu.ZEE (Ostend, Belgium), and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (Eugene, OR, USA). In 2019, the artist had his first solo show in the United States entitled White Noise at 214 Projects (Dallas, TX), followed by two solo exhibitions in Brussels at Harlan Levey Projects and Botanique in September 2019.

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