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Astridvan Installation: de "snoepzakmaakmachine" / "automatic-candy-bag-filling-machine"
Designed & Executed by Astrid Vander Auwera
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There is nothing to report since my previous update of March 2018. I could have stopped here, but I didn’t and kept going. So, in case anybody would be interested, here we go.

This post is more a snapshot in time, of a period when nothing must or should. Where there are no more bosses, managers, and no deadlines. When time flows like the water of a slow river in its bedding. When there is time to be aware of the silence of the house when the family is still sleeping. When you start noticing the little sounds that break apparent silence. When there is time to notice the growth of the corn on the fields and the grass on the lawn.

hans op de beek

"The bed a raft, the room the sea, and then I laughed some gloom in me." 
Life sized sculpture © Hans Op de Beeck 2018 @ Galleria Continua in Art Basel.

The corporate jacket became too small to thrive; I needed the sort of freedom that Venkatesh Rao recently described in his post:

“Freedom lies in the privilege of being able to solve a problem for aliveness, rather than money”

Although problem solving is not good enough. As Nora Batenson wrote:

“The problem with problem-solving is the idea that a solution is an endpoint.”

Problem solving is reactive; creating what you want is pro-active.

It feels like I am pivoting. When time flows well, I create interventions, interruptions and provocations that lead to higher states of alertness and aliveness. Formats can be artwork, installations, performances, immersive learning experiences, writings, soundscapes, recordings, documentaries, or just casual conversations.

I feel privileged to create what I want to create, and to be able to apply the A.F.E.A.R. principles at will.

Family

It’s almost a year now since we settled in our new house, including my little art studio. And it still feels it was the right thing to do.

On May 1, 2018 we celebrated our 25 years of marriage. We went out for dinner with our parents to thank them for giving us birth, care and opportunities. Thank you Mieke for your endless patience with this always-unpredictable guy, your care, and your encouragements when doubt creeps in.

Astrid is doing very well at school. And she is starting to show first signs of her puberty, especially developing her little character 😉

She made this nice little paper rabbit and greeting card for my father’s day:

paper rabbitfront fathers day croppedtext fathers day cropped

The Artschool Project

The 2017-2018 Art Academy year has come to an end, and I already blogged about my latest work in The Story of 4 Paintings.

curieuze

On March 31, 2018 I also participated for the first time in my life in a pre-selection of an art competition. The competition was called “De Curieuze Collectie” (The Strange Collection). My coaches had encouraged all students to participate. Only a few did.

Philippe Van Cauteren

Philippe Van Cauteren – Artistic Director S.M.A.K.

The jury was a quite eclectic mix, and included some people you normally don’t have access to like for example the Artistic Director of S.M.A.K. (Museum for modern art in Ghent). So I though why not, let’s give it a go.

This year’s theme of the collection was “Vox Populi – Populism in times of social media”. I presented some of my “Hot Dogs Tonight – Prison Window” work.

To make a long story short: I did not make it to the last 10 finalists. But it was a good experience to present in front of a select jury and a very diverse group of artists and locals. With hindsight, I feel that I tried to say too much, tried too hard not to be obvious: some level of vanity, which shows also in the background text I submitted to the jury (and a bit embarrassed now…)

“Hot Dogs Tonight” depicts a social media based panopticon, where the citizens are subject to continuous surveillance by governments, organisations and institutions. Attacked in their privacy, the citizen only sees the familiarity of her own cell. The convenience of the social media leads to an illusion of options, limited by the populist discourse of political demagogues. The Vox Populi becomes a Vox Populistus, a myopic view of reality, a fragmentation of time and identity. This lack of protection and security causes eventually a loss of personal leadership, courage and risk.

On June 12, 2018 I presented my Jan-June work for year-end evaluation at the academy: the latest work of The Story of 4 Paintings and some of my “Hot Dogs Tonight – Prison Window” work, especially the World Clock installation (physical version).

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Petervan Artwork © 2018 – World Clock – 7 time zones 
Acryl on canvas 7x20x20cm

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Petervan Artwork © 2018 – Prison Window project – Acryl on Canvas – 20x20cm

I am happy to report that I passed. Even better, two of my works(the Garden and the Blue Boat) were selected for the year end exposition of the academy on 23 & 24 June 2018 in Ghent.

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Next year, I will probably do some sort of specialisation or crossover, as I very much enjoyed the combination of digital and canvas this year.

About Silence

Some years ago I was diagnosed with auditory hypersensitivity, which in laymen terms means I hear extremely well. I hear for example the blood streaming through my veins in my head. It’s a soft rustling, but not very disturbing, no worries. On the other hand, I can’t stand television sets playing too loud, or the sound of the highway in the distance, or the crowds in subway stations. But I do like a loud rock concert or performance. “Functional loudness” if you want. So let’s say I am hypersensitive to noise pollution.

It dawned to me only recently that I could actually do something with this sensitivity. I started recording silence. Or rather, I started recording the noise pollutions that are disturbing a wonderful silence. Like the sound from a small motorcycle in the distance, passing by, and Doppler effect disappearing on the other end. Same with planes, trains, bicycles, voices, the list goes on.

Like in painting, it feels that this is also about managing contrasts and the spectrum of contrasts: loud/soft conversations, light/dark, calm/wild,….

Some of these recordings include video, some not. I plan to use some of these “silence-scapes” in my upcoming performances and/or installations as well. It’s a bit weird. I may get myself a GoPro camera and some decent audio gear, although my iPhone 6s captures it quite well. For the video below, I was just holding my iPhone in my hand when driving. Simple.

Biking noise and silence. 
An 8-minute raw non-edited capture of a bike tour 
in the area of Aalst (Belgium), illustrating sound and silence
To be used in some upcoming performances. 

 

About time

My tempo has become so slow and peaceful that it starts to be incompatible and dysfunctional with the rat race of so called “normal” life of deadlines, busyness, and fragmentation of everything.

That’s what I wrote a while ago as some reflections on this theme.

Jan Fabre

Jan Fabre self-portrait - Part of series "Promises of a Face"

The first occasion where this dysfunction hit me was during a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, where my cousin is senior curator. He just had curated and opened an exposition confronting contemporary multidisciplinary artist Jan Fabre with the (mainly Flemish Primitives) classic artists (see also below). He gave me a quick-guided tour on the latest at the museum. I could not follow him (mentally). In one-hour time he gave me so much information, it seemed to me that I couldn’t process it all anymore, I needed more time to let it fully come in.

Around the same period, I was picking up again my Ableton skills ànd reading Venkatesh Rao’s “Tempo: Timing, Tactics and Strategy in narrative-driven decision making”, describing virtuoso how “tempo” is an always present but less outspoken aspect of our relationships between people, corporations, etc

In that book, he categorised some archetypes of tempo synchronisation. Some examples look very much like Gantt Charts.

Tempo archetypes

Extract book "Tempo" by Venkatesh Rao

 

The tempo intervals made me associate immediately the visual metaphor of the “Venkatesh Gannt Charts” with the user interface of the music composition software Ableton Live (that I use to compose soundscape for my performances).

Especially the Ableton “session and arrangement view” visualizes in a very similar way the bars, tones, pitches, rhythms, tempos, velocities, automations, and quantizations of an arrangement or musical composition.

ableton interface

Ableton Live music software – arrangement view

One also hears intuitively when the score is right or not so right. When the beats are too digital and lack human variation. Life is more than bits and bites and rhythms in an arrangement…

Again, like in painting, it feels more and more that my work is about managing contrasts and the spectrum of contrasts: loud/soft conversations, light/dark, calm/wild,….

Exhibitions

Still trying to visit an art exhibition once/twice every month. During the last 3 months, I went to see:

 

John Kotter cropped

John Korner – Running Problems

 

  • “My Queens” by multi-disciplinary artist Jan Fabre, honoring the 8 important women in his life in a dialogue with the Flemish artistic tradition (curated by my cousin Joost Vander Auwera). I was very impressed by the monumental Carrara marble bas-reliefs with incredible detail

My Queen

Detail of Carrara marble bas-relief by Jan Fabre

 

 

 

Upcoming performance

I am very excited to have been invited again to do a performance at the Finnovista Summit in Mexico-City on 12-13 Sep 2018. I was invited last year, but the event needed to be cancelled halfway due to the 7,4 magnitude earthquake on 19 Sep 2017. So the organisers were so kind to invite me again.

The theme of this year’s event is “Listen, Learn, Lead”. Manoeuvring through this theme, I will make a new performance, recuperating some material from last year, but also with new elements from my artwork series “Prison Window” and other metaphors capturing my reflections and insights of the last year. This time, and in addition of the multi-media approach, I plan to include props on stage, possibly a life camera feed, even some vestimentary attributes, and a lightning script for the light technician.

centro cultural

The venue is indeed fantastic: it is the main concert hall of the Centro Cultural Roberto Cantoral, a real theatre stage with all the audio/lightning whistles and bells one can dream of.

The working title of the performance is “Get out of the prison cell! – An artistic reflection on listening, learning, and leading”

Chickens and Pigs Project

A nickname for our garden and chicken farm.

The chickens are doing fine, thank you. Normally 2-3 fresh eggs everyday, but recently – because of the warm pre-summer here in Flanders – one of my hens is broody. I told you, I have nothing to report 😉

The garden is developing well. We now have different salads, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, carrots, paprika, berries and raspberries. And the trees in the orchard start developing apples, pears, cherries, and prunes.

garden1garden2

Petervan Vegetables © 2018 - Lettuce still free of snails – June 2018

 That was just in the garden. Small stuff compared to what my uncle Hubert and son David are doing. They are professional farmers cultivating several hectares of land and keeping a livestock of about 250 cows and sheep.

One of my long time bucket list items – driving a tractor through Flanders’ Fields – finally became true. It is an almost Zen-like experience to make nice straight lines in open fields, with just the sound of the tractor and the warm wind blowing through the open window of the machine.

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Farmer Petervan on tractor of uncle Hubert, Aspelare, Belgium June 2018

I was impressed by the technology on board of these modern tractors. They have a joystick, auto speed control, airco, etc. and some of them even have GPS to make really straight lines, or to ensure no part of the land is sprayed twice, a matter of efficiency and cost control. Also the seats are awesome, better than in most cars.

I also learned a lot about nature: when cows keep their tail up, it means there’s thunderstorm underway, and when swallows fly low over the pasture, there is a good chance of rain coming. We also saw a lot of hares, and even a fox.

What’s next?

Besides the obvious year-end resolutions (renewed every quarter or so), the plan for July – Sep 2018 is to work on:

  • V1 of “Casual Conversations” aka Studio Oxygen
  • Make and publish some more Silence-recordings
  • Create 1 painting every 2 weeks > 6 paintings in 3 months
  • Write 1 blogpost per month
  • Mexico Sep 2018: make and rehearse the new performance

Looks like I am running out of time 😉 So, that’s it for this edition. If there is something worth reporting, next update is for Sep 2018.

Warmest,

 

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The 2017-2018 Art Academy year is coming to an end, and on June 12, 2018 I will present some of my works for the year-end evaluation. Good that I kept a logfile of the evolution of most of my paintings; it helps me reflect on sources of inspiration, different stages of decisions, and lessons learned. Some friends encouraged me to share these stories, for some reason they find them interesting.

So here is the story of 4 paintings:

Painting 1: Watercarriers

This is actually a series of paintings. The inspiration was a 2007 newspaper picture of children carrying water to the refugee camp in Tsjaad (I have a file of “interesting” pictures that I keep somewhere in a drawer and/or electronic file).

Watercarriers group of 2

On the left the picture, on the right the very first sketch on A4 paper. This was one of the first big lessons learned this academy year: my coach Chris told me “and now, never look back at the original picture, and base your work on the sketch, on the memory of that picture”. In other words, it was not so important to create a realistic reproduction of the picture, it was more important to transmit the impression.

Watercarriers group of 5

During that time, we also got some basic training in making grey tones of colours, and I made a series of those (read from left to right). The sketch on the left is on A4 paper, the one next to it is on paper A2 format, and the others are on canvas about some A2 size.

Painting 2: Blue Boat

Inspiration this time from the on-line coastal sciences and societies Hakai Magazine: an article titled “The secret language of ships” got my attention. Many great pictures that could be used as basis for a painting, but I took this one:

7-tanker-reading-ships-1200x800

I started out with the lesson from painting #1 in mind: “and now, never look back at the original picture…”

Boat group of 5

First iteration on the left. I was quite happy with the sky, and had some fun by turning the canvas 90° and dripping paint to get some fluid effect. The very first version of the tugboats also appeared in this version, happy to see that with just a couple if lines it is possible to create the impression of a boat.

My coaches are too gentle, but the main feedback was that it all felt a bit too busy, and I should try to get rid of that sky and make it much more neutral. So I made it grey-white. Next, I added some white line on the body of the big tanker to improve the perspective effect. In the fourth picture you will see I tried to calm down also the sea surface. And at the far right (and below) the final result with purple sky, better tugboats and reflections in the water.

Boat final cropped

Big lessons learned:

  • A couple of lines are enough to create an impression
  • Calm down, avoid gimmicks, don’t distract but create calm by big surfaces
  • Create calm (repeat)

Painting 3: Cowbow Henk in his Garden

Inspiration was this picture of a person in a rather large garden

Garden inspiration picture

I started out as usual with some solid general structure foundations (first picture on the upper left below):

Garden group of 9

Then, I tried – within my basic skills – to do some impressionistic representation of reality (2nd picture). The feedback from my coaches was consistent: “EVERYTHING screams!”. So the first step I took was to “neutralise” the lawn. By pure accident – I did not see it at first, it was Frieda, a co-student – I got some sort of “Trompe l’Oeuil”: it was as if the lawn rolled out in infinity in the front of the painting.

In the second row, first picture, I painted over the back and sides with a calming light-greenish colour. A mix of brush and spatel. And added the black border line. Then I tried to remember principle #1: bring some rest in your work! Something important happened in third row, first picture from the left.

I started playing with digital. I imported my last result into Sketchbook Pro and tried different alternatives, using multiple layers and turning them off/on until I had a result that I somewhat liked. You see that result below in the picture on the left. The I tried to apply the digital design onto the canvas with real brushes and paint. The end result is on the right below.

Garden group of 2

I named the painting “Cowboy Henk in his Garden”. If you do not know Cowboy Henk, he is a strip character by Kamagurka and Herr Seele, two absurdists from Absurdistan, in good neo-Magritte surrealism. Check out for more background here. To be honest, I don’t think it’s Cowboy Henk in his garden, but his brother Dikke Billie Walker – the anti-hero of Henk – or another absurd family member…

Lessons learned:

  • don’t scream all over the place
  • create calm (repeat)

Painting 4: Trampoline

Good example of a painting that makes sense at the start, but alienates the audience when it is truly finished.

The source inspiration was a picture of my daughter laying on a trampoline, wrapped in white linen sheet, during a warm summer day two years ago.

Astrid Trampoline

You can easily follow from left to right, row after row, how this painting evolved.

 

Trampoline group of 12

Important steps IMO are:

  • Row 1, step 3: adding of a solid green trampoline border
  • Row 2, step 2: draping a real white sheet on top of the painting to see/study the shape and shadows of the blanket
  • Row 2, step 3: adding the folds in zinc white. After that step, I did not touch the painting for about 5 months. Then, suddenly, I painted over the white with some red’ish folds, and put some green-yellow accents above/below the mummie, which I painted over right away in the next session
  • Row 3, step 2 is a digital mix. Again, I imported the previous image in Sketchbook, and experimented with a lot of variations, including feathers on the head of the mummie (not shown below), but in the end I liked the result below:

Trampoline group of 2

On the left the digital composition, on the right the real painting on physical canvas. So, digitally, I adjusted the two green backgrounds, added a dark shadow around the mummie, got an extra red line, and finally, drew the white line around.

So, this was the end-result. Like most paintings above, all is acryl on canvas, and the format is 120x100cm, except when mentioned otherwise.

Trampoline final cropped

Lesson learned:

  • Feel free to experiment with digital
  • create calm (repeat)

With sincere thanks to my academy coaches Chris, Pieter, Koen, Inge, Marie-Ange, and Annick

Warm regards to all of you,

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Trampoline final cropped

Petervan Artwork © 2018 - "Trampoline" - Acryl on canvas - 120x100cm

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Woorden maken me moe

De stilte ontwaakt me

Het bombast verveelt, vervelt

Kwetsbaarheid heelt

Traagheid verdiept

Het banale en marginale

Dragers van schoonheid in lelijkheid

Dan nog liever

De verse bloesem in de hoge kruin

De geur van gegrild vlees

De liefde van merrie en veulen

De drang naar zorgvuldigheid

De kracht van eenvoud

Zuiverheid, Alertheid en coherentie

Allen verleiden ze me

 

+++ rough translation +++

Words make me tired

Silence awakens

Bombast bores and peels

Healing vulnerability

Deepening Slowness

Banality and frugality

Carriers of beauty in utter ugliness

Then rather

The fresh blossom in the treetop

The smell of grilled meat

The love of mare and foal

The craving for careful

The power of simplicity

Purity, alertness and coherence

They all seduce me

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My tempo has become so slow and peaceful that it starts to be incompatible and dysfunctional with the rat race of so called “normal” life of deadlines, busyness, and fragmentation of everything, especially time.

So it’s about time I write something about time.

Baby swaddling

Baby Swaddling photo series © Sharon Ann Burnston 2005

“Swaddling bands white as snow are wound around the newborn baby. The womb will have been such a snug fit, so the nurse binds the body tight, to mitigate the shock of its abrupt projection into limitlessness. Person who begins only now to breathe, a first filling-up of the lungs. Person who does not know who they are, where they are, what has just begun. The most helpless of all young animals, more defenceless even than a newborn chick.”

 From Han Kang’s “The White Book”

the white book

About a year ago, I visited an exhibition about Chronos/Kairos and synchronicity in the 13th century castle of Gaasbeek, in the heart of the “Pajottenland” – sometimes also referred as Breughel-land, because Breughel painted a lot of his paintings here – a region west of Brussels, where I spent the first 25 years of my life.

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Pieter Breughel the Elder
The parable of the Blind Leading the Blind – 1568

The little chapel at the horizon still exists and it is the chapel of Sint-Anna-Pede, a hamlet of the little village Itterbeek, west of Brussels. During my early twenties, I literally lived 100 meters away from this chapel.

In the instruction for the book about the aforementioned exhibition “Kairos Castle”, Luc Vanackere, the director of the castle, writes (my rough free translation):

“Some time ago, I read a an interesting text by Joke Hermsen about “waiting”. She mentioned Heidegger, who said that “asking means being prepared to wait”. Waiting is not easy in an era where everything has to move fast. We suffer from a collective shortage of time and seem to be chased by Chronos, the god of the measurable, linear time. TicTac, busy busy. Mandatory deadlines, continuously buzzing smartphones, traffic jams and too slow computers. Everyday frustrations, all well recognisable.

Much longer ago, I was in primary school. When the big holiday period started in July, it looked so endless. A sea of time, immense literately. A broad intermezzo, a “time-in-between” when nothing should or must, but where everything could, where boredom settled in as a not so unpleasant feeling. A listlessness creating space for sharp observations. A slow motion where the tumult of time quieted everything down and small things got enlarged….

“Time-in-between”, the time of the right moment when new insights are born and epiphanies are possible. The “Kairotic intermezzo” breaks radically through the dictatorship of Chronos, and stands for transformation, inspiration, passion, and creativity.

This is about that mysterious moment when our soul is unguarded and spreads out its wings. Kairos manoeuvres virtuoso between two worlds: the measurable and the immeasurable, the known and the un-known, backing out of our knowledge, covertly showing us a glimpse of the possible”

moulin de l oubli

Le moulin de l'oubli – art photography by Gilbert Garcin - 1999

In the trailer of last year’s film https://www.driesfilm.com/ the Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten  says:

“The word fashion I don’t like, because “fashion” means something which is over after 6 months. I would like to find a word which is more time-less”.

And during the film there was a sequence about the difference between art and the fashion industry, basically suggesting that (the art) industry has finality, in the sense that if your product/collection does not sell you can close shop.  It is a subtle balance in such a time-full context to create artistic tensions that sell.

And then, last week, I finally got to read the book “Tempo: Timing, Tactics and Strategy in Narrative-Driven Decision-Making” by Venkatesh Rao

tempo cover

A deep read – quite sure I only grasped half or less of it – adding the dimension of “Tempo” that Rao defines as:

“the set of characteristic rhythms of decision-making in the subjective life of an individual or organisation, coloured by associated patterns of emotion and energy”

He talks about calculative rationality vs. narratives rationality, about archetypes and doctrines, situational awareness, and much more.

In my opinion, he is looking at a Kairotic dimension of patrimony (about which I wrote already several times on this blog) and in that sense the book helped me to better articulate the concept of patrimony to include:

  • Models of archetypes
  • Models of tempo
  • Models of doctrine
  • Models of stories, narratives
  • Externalization of narratives
  • The legibility of the patrimony as an externalisation

All this is about narrative-driven decision-making, and the sentence that brings it all home is:

“All our choices are among life stories that end with our individual deaths.”

Many different life stories, often constructed confabulated after the facts to make sense of our own life, cascading one after the other, in hopefully an upwards learning spiral, but with 100% certainly always ending in the ultimate entropy of death.

Rao makes reference to the Double Freytag Triangle and the Freytag Staircase:

double freytag triangle

Freytag staircase

That’s why – 60 years into my staircase – I believe it is important to externalise some of these learning, stories, narrative, insights, interruptions, provocations, and interventions in physical artefacts, and store this information beyond death for future generations.

For sure, the new-born baby at the start of this post did not know she was at the bottom left of the Freytag Staircase, and indeed did not know who she was, where she was, and what had just begun, and that in the end she needed to create artefacts.

 

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Blue Boat Final

Petervan Artwork © 2018 "Blue Boat" - Acryl on canvas - 100x120cm

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