Hedwig Brouckaert’s work as an artist starts with everyday, mass-produced, picture material from the various print media: photographs from women’s magazines, specialist magazines, fashion books, advertising leaflets, mail-order catalogs, etc. But because the artist takes tracing paper and selects all the figures (or motifs such as fabric patterns) from the individual publications, copying and superimposing them according to certain rules, or else intuitively, she completely alters the characteristics of her models, however. Glossy photos are transformed into dense black (sometimes also blue or red) bundles of lines; the figurative motifs are dissolved by the superimpositions and become unrecognizable aside from a few vestiges; the unmistakable messages of the mass media (the customarily blatant or hidden appeal to buy certain products) disappear in favor of a multi-faceted, ambiguous presence that is difficult to express in language.

In her more recent works, Hedwig Brouckaert has repeatedly dealt with hair as a motif, which is always the object of much attention in the mass media. For men and women alike, hair and hair-dos are frequently connected with a myriad of underlying, often subliminal, meanings. The long and loosely flowing hair of women is a recurrent theme in advertising, being used as a cliché for beauty, youth, good health, and sexiness. With hair-dos we can distinguish memberships in certain social groups, and differences in hair styling indicate different cultural or religious contexts. By tracing all of the hair motifs from selected magazines and putting them on paper in large, sweeping compositions drifting in all directions, Brouckaert liberates them from their iconic functions. For example, a large format, three-part work bears the fitting title “Uprooted”, since the motifs, removed from their original contexts, may thus be charged with entirely new and unexpected meanings. Like islands or clouds, the swirling, rampant forms float across the surface and produce in our imagination a strange, surreal poetry of fictitious landscape spaces.

Using technical means, Hedwig Brouckaert has repeatedly expanded her works beyond the boundaries of pure drawing. For instance, she executed the large-format “digital drawings” by first stacking scanned magazine pages and drawings on top of one another, next reprocessing them at the computer, and then in a final step attaching to these an original drawing done with tracing paper. The works in the “Bilateria” series are impressive examples for this multilayered differentiation of the medium of drawing. The title comes to us from biology and designates the group of animals that displays an axially symmetrical form. As a matter of fact, the “Bilateria” drawings, whose pictorial effect is determined by the digital mirroring of the motifs, are strongly charged with organic and (sometimes latently sexual) associations and connotations.

Hedwig Brouckaert manages to expand the drawing into real space with her vinyl foil window installations, made using digital enlargements of her drawings as a model. Her largest work to date in this technique, prepared with the help of FLACC, was realized in the entry area to the Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens in Deurle in connection with the exhibition “Re/pro/ducing Complexity” (October 23 to January 8, 2012). A number of small-format drawings, whose motifs Hedwig Brouckaert combined with one another – in greatly enlarged form, served as the basis of this work, in which the aforementioned motif of (for the most part) female hair plays a decisive role. Not only the motif, but also the material itself, etching foil, plotted and printed, turns out to be very complex. The black lines appear upon a shining, silvery ground; depending on the light conditions, time of day, and the vantage point of the viewer, the appearance of the installation is subject to permanent change due to reflections, transparency and shadows.

With the vinyl decals, Hedwig Brouckaert uses a medium that is typical for the advertising industry, in keeping with her motifs, which stem from the same context. However, using the artistic means of abstraction and layering, she makes the quiet terror of the redundancy inherent to the mass media “implode”, gleaning from the material she starts with unexpected, heretofore unseen, qualities and nuances of meanings that extend to the depths of consciousness.

by Peter Lodermeyer

Essay for FLACC Yearbook 2011
FLACC Workplace for Visual Artists