In her line drawings, digital prints and animated videos, artist Hedwig Brouckaert creates tension between the recognizable and the abstract. Geared towards the ultimate creation of complex, multi-layered and abstract images, these artworks are based on garment patterns and magazine images of fashion models in this season’s new clothing. Mass-produced and mass-distributed mail-order catalogs and other forms of advertisements speak a specific, albeit generic language. Their medium is diverse and always designed to appeal, catch one’s eye and provide; their message is unambiguous and straightforward: buy now! Although the artist doesn’t overtly criticize the ethics and the applied psychological strategies of how (through magazines and ads) big corporations coerce us to spend our money on their goods, Hedwig Brouckaert is a key example of a contemporary artist who deconstructs their image, message, context and goal.
Spending her time between Ghent and New York, Brouckaert finds inspiration in magazines such as The Weekend Knack, The New Yorker, People Weekly, Country Life and the catalogues of Victoria’s Secret and L.L. Bean. By tracing and redrawing each image from an entire magazine, she recycles the magazine’s content and transforms it into hybrid masses of figures, silhouettes, lines, patterns and shapes. These drawings are like x-rays going from black to blacker the more the lines layer. These drawings exit the figurative and enter a whole new time-space dimension that’s alien to its original context of fashion and commerce. Brouckaert’s drawings are uncompromising processes of time, slow time and gradual darkness. This process literally draws a stark contrast between the fast-paced world of advertisement, where everything has to be surprisingly new, bright and inventive and where thirty seconds of commercial airtime cost three million dollars, and the artist’s undecipherable line drawings that sometimes require a period of twelve months for completion and have low production costs. Hedwig Brouckaert’s artworks can be called anadvertisement. They don’t advertise anything valuable beyond themselves; they have no other goal but being self-representational and their existence is not subjected to the public opinion or the pressure of profit. They are what they are; syntheses, storages, archives, transfers of data, processes of time and traces of physical and mental perseverance. Their initial source of inspiration, well-known magazines and popular mail order catalogues, is not visually important anymore. They still remain present in the titles of the drawings, but they are merely another form of data registration. There’s no hierarchy in the work of Hedwig Brouckaert. All information, all data and all images are treated equally.
The artist talks in two different ways about her work. The first uncompromisingly excludes all possible metaphysical and existential interpretations about the drawings and talks about the demystification of abstract art generally. The second admits the spiritual nature of the drawing process and is more interpretational and visionary concerning the artworks’ aesthetic identity. This dichotomy is not abnormal. Hedwig Brouckaert’s work is articulately characterized by such tensions. There is tension between the figurative and the abstract, the mass-produced and the unique, the conceptual and the experiential and the unemotional and the sentimental. Brouckaert’s almost entirely scientific registrations of figures, devotedly layered on top of each other, don’t purport to be anything else. They are handmade notations of shapes and time. Titles like “Magazine Figures, Jan – May 2008” and “Magazine Figures, The New Yorker, 2004 – 2006” indicate the subject, time span and origin of the drawings. This complementary tautological aspect of the work, the title and the image describing the same thing, reveals the artist’s conceptual context in her works. There’s a sense of an all-encompassing playful strictness that is often recognizable in rule-based art practices. However, even within this concept of the objective registration of data following a set of rules, Brouckaert appends a poetic element. For instance, there’s the poetry of experimentation that infiltrates the artist’s practice: inverting images, projecting digital animations and creating site-specific interventions on windows. There’s also the poetry of thinking about what these works resemble beyond being the physical results of stored data. In this respect, the artist talks about black holes: the astronomical absorbents of all mass and all light. Something can be said about the imagined relationship between Brouckaert’s drawings and the phenomenon of black holes. Many if not all of her drawings have one or more black centers around which crowding activity occurs, much alike the event horizon of a black hole. Hence, there’s a possible sense of horror vacui or cenophobia present in the work that easily reminds us of the aesthetics of apocalyptic scenes in popular movies and contemporary art. For some, black holes are dominated by an apocalyptic fear, with the paranoia of a gigantic and extremely powerful black hole sucking up the entire planet. These associations of the apocalypse, cenophobia and black holes are in line with the poetic and neurotic calligraphy of Brouckaert’s drawings. The endless scribbling of lines is more than artistic devotion. It is critical; it is emergency; it is the urge to deform information into something uninforming, unexplainable and infinite. It is the performance of data, as a systematic structure and organization of life, and the ultimate distortion of data.
Hedwig Brouckaert finds comfort in how a complex image is created out of trivial elements that she borrows from daily life. The artist refers to the banal character of her source materials in an attempt to eliminate mystical concepts or connotations about her work. But with her intention to demystify the mystical qualities of abstract art, Brouckaert actually mystifies the demystification. For example, she talks about how when she was a teenager she fantasized about painting all billboards black. Though more time consuming, her artworks are not very different from this fantasy. Through the tracing, redrawing, transferring, layering and processing of each image from each page of a magazine or a mail order catalogue, Brouckaert ultimately creates black billboards. These abstracted fields of lines are in se mystifications. They transform something known into something unknown, something that’s familiar into something alien. These tensions characterize Hedwig Brouckaert’s work. The artist’s restless explorations of both the intellectual and the pragmatic lay the foundation of her fascinating and growing oeuvre.
Jan Van Woensel is an independent curator, art critic and scholar based in New York and San Francisco. In 2007 he was nominated as the 3rd Curatorial Fellowship at Art in General and Bloomberg LP in New York City. He curates at ISCP, Envoy Gallery, Silverman Gallery, the Chelsea Art Museum, American University Museum and PS1. He teaches in CCA's Curatorial Practice and Fine Arts Programs in San Francisco, Otis College in Los Angeles, and NYU's department of Art and Art Professions in New York. Info: http://icpabackstage.blogspot.com
This text was commissioned by Gallery Jan Dhaese in Ghent (Belgium) for the exhibition ‘Mass Storage /01-09’ with work of Hedwig Brouckaert in January ‘09. The show was supported by Anderson Ranch (CO) & the National Endowment for the Arts (USA) and the Flemish Community.
by Jan Van Woensel
Essay for book