Since 2008 Hedwig Brouckaert has been expanding her drawings into the virtual space of digitalization—and from there, bringing them in turn into real space. The digitalization has considerably broadened the repertory of her possibilities as a drawer, enabling her to treat the pictorial language of the advertising and entertainment media in such a way that hidden dimensions come to light. The simple means of inversion, i.e. exchanging the values of light and dark makes her figures appear even more ghostly, like pale, bodiless, spooky figures in the darkness.

Instead of starting with the white paper, Brouckaert begins at the computer, working directly with the magazine covers she has photographed or scanned in. Next, she digitally prints them on paper and then works further by drawing imagery of the specific magazine (with transfer paper) on top of these. Subsequently, she scans these ‘print-drawings’ again and manipulates them digitally, enlarging details, shifting proportions, using inversions, etc. She repeats these processes of photography, digital reworking, printing and drawing numerous times on a single work. The result is a highly interesting combination of media, already significant in itself: Transfer paper, an invention of the 19th century, which still transports an air of the inherent stringency of venerable old law firms, meets the world of the digital picture, which turns all information, once fed into the system, into something we call “free-floating signifiers” in post-structuralist jargon.

A good example of the expanded possibilities for drawing that opened up to Brouckaert as a result of digital processing is the series of print-drawings called Bilateria. What we see in the work Bilateria – Cosmopolitan Nov.’09, Jan., Feb., March, April 2010 is a tangle of black and white lines, scarcely to be unraveled, which have been traced from the magazine and then mirror-imaged digitally. We are suggestively pulled into the mirror or bilaterally symmetrical set-up of the drawing. This also explains “Bilateria” as an addition to the title. This term is used in biology to designate the widely-ramified group of “bi-lateral” animals with their mirror-symmetrical forms, to which mammals, and thus, man, also belong. Perhaps it has to do with the age-old motif of bilateral symmetry deeply rooted in the history of evolution that we react to such forms in an unusually associative and emotional manner. Bilaterally symmetrical forms are easily recognizable as organisms, as living creatures, as faces, but often they are also perceived as eerie or even hostile. We need only think of the well-known Rorschach tables, used in psychological testing or of the spots on the wall in the opening titles of David Cronenberg’s film Spider (2002), which, in mirror image, mutate to horrifying insect beings. In Brouckaert’s Bilateria works, the mirroring has the effect that the lines of the drawing become objectively illegible, joining together to become extremely effective forms. These forms unleash very different associations from viewer to viewer, and a multitude of emotional reactions ranging between fascination and intimidation. The artist herself speaks of “a raw force, a sort of primitive power in the images.”

The person who looks very closely will discover a further interesting detail. It is possible to identify fragments of the heading “What he thinks during sex”. It is striking that Brouckaert has selected precisely this line from the redundant, sexualized gab of the magazine as it leads to the core of psychoanalytical understanding of sexual fantasy as described by Slavoj Žižek: “The Freudian notion of fantasy points in exactly this direction: The problem is not what we are thinking when we do other, ordinary things but what we are thinking (fantasizing) when we actually are doing that—the Lacanian notion that ‘there is no sexual relationship’ ultimately means that while we are engaged in the sexual act itself, we have to think (fantasize) about something else.“ As soon as we have noticed the words in Brouckaert’s Bilateria - Cosmopolitan work, it is inevitable that we interpret the pictures as an illustration of what “he” (whoever that is) thinks during the act. With her forms that oscillate between the erotic and monstrous, she is certainly much more “realistic” than the good-humored sex columns and the “Cosmopolitan” cover girls with their perma-smiles could ever be.

With this fact in mind, the Bilateria works point to something special that applies to all of Hedwig Brouckaert’s works: In doing nothing other than propagate familiar, popular picture material, they manage to expose their repressed cause at the same time. It is the fact that our corporeal existence is something we will never totally comprehend, a mystery that can never be wholly solved and at whose core the horrors of ugliness, vulnerability, illness, and death lie, which causes this need for pictures of wholesome bodies in the first place. The magazine and advertising pictures have to suppress what is real about the body using digital retouching and a tunnel vision geared to youth and beauty, which gives them latently violent characteristics. The fact that, due to their widespread circulation, they pursue us into all the nooks and crannies of our everyday life doubles this violence. Hedwig Brouckaert’s works do not simply make a theme of the return of what has been suppressed—this would be a superficial criticism of the media in terms of contents—rather, they function in a much more refined and subtle manner, namely structurally, because, by a mere rearrangement of the media images, they break up and penetrate the surface of these images and press forward into emotional regions that lie beyond the defense system of commercialized images of bodies. The fact that in doing this—so to speak, automatically—mysterious forms of strange beauty come about, which may not be defined in customary categories, attests to their artistic quality.

Excerpt from the COSMO.SYS catalogue essay: “Breakthrough to the Real: Hedwig Brouckaert’s Drawings” by Peter Lodermeyer.

COSMO.SYS Hedwig Brouckaert
80p color catalogue
With essays by Peter Lodermeyer and Jan Van Woensel
Graphic Design by Raf Vancampenhoudt
Published by GlobalArt Affairs
Distributed by Cornerhouse Publications www.cornerhouse.org/books
ISBN: 978-3-941763-07-4 / Price: 17€
32 (0)477/43.77.94 / jan.dhaese@telenet.be
www.jandhaese.be / www.hedwigbrouckaert.net

by Peter Lodermeyer

Essay for book