The inaugural exhibition of the series creates original links between objects and both recent and existing works of art. Its approach goes beyond the traditional hierarchies that govern craft and art, foregrounding magical and therapeutic practices: from artisanal stained glass celebrating Mamadou, the healer of Roubaix, to the cathartic and therapeutic dance of Anna Halprin; from Raymonde Arcier’s feminist dolls to Aline Ribière’s symbolic and organic garments and the shamanic effigies of Harald Thys and Jos de Gruyter. Many of the artists whose work features in the exhibition share a common interest in reconceiving modes of material production and usage by emphasising attention and care. Through their ideas and their gestures, they point to the possibility of a shift in perspective that might allow the world to regain its enchantment.
Visitors to the first exhibition in the series will have noticed the maquettes of Camille Blatrix’s sculptures: a paradoxical choice for an artist who elsewhere seeks to obscure the traces of his physical and gestural interventions. These maquettes offered a foretaste of the themes and atmosphere that permeate this artist’s solo exhibition, curated by Guillaume Désanges and on view at La Verrière from September 5, 2019 as part of the “Matters of Concern| Matières à panser” series. The exhibition’s title, “Les Barrières de l’antique”, evokes the unparalleled virtuosity of the artisans of the past. Camille Blatrix (b. 1984, Paris) here explores the ambiguities of his own relationship to craft through a labyrinthine installation punctuated by objects, marquetry and drawings, as well as interventions by the artist’s father, himself a painter turned shipwright. Infused with the artist’s skill and executed in a quest for perfection, the works on view here subtly elicit unexpected emotions.
The pared-down aesthetic of Camille Blatrix gives way to the exuberance of Babi Badalov in “Soul Mobilisation”, the second solo exhibition presented at La Verrière as part of the “Matters of Concern / Matières à panser” series. Intensely and generously, Badalov’s work invests the whole exhibition space with obsessional calligraphic forms that condense his poetic relationship to language as well as his singular trajectory: he was born in Azerbaijan in 1959, and lived in Russia before emigrating to France, where in 2011 he obtained political refugee status. As a citizen of the world, Badalov offers an oeuvre that is universal in its very essence and intelligible to all, economy of means adding force to its politically engaged tone. With its scrolls and arabesques, at times applied directly to the walls, this work – as verbose as its materials are simple – invites visitors to La Verrière to confront the torment of our world, a welcome “matter of concern”.
The third artist invited by Guillaume Désanges as part of the “Matters of Concern | Matières à panser” series is Minia Biabiany. Her exhibition “Musa Nuit” offers a reflection on the sexuality of contemporary Guadeloupean and Caribbean women and the ways in which history has imprinted itself upon their subconscious. In the Brussels exhibition space, Biabiany presents a sensual, metaphoric journey in which handcrafted objects, sculptures and banana flowers (the titular “musa”) serve to reactivate repressed memories. Born on the French Carribean island of Guadeloupe in 1988, Biabiany views her exhibition as a ritual, allowing her to engage with the question of identity in ways that are both poetic and political.
Political and social issues also inform the work of Barbara Chase-Riboud, whose exhibition “Avatars” opens at La Verrière in September 2020. American by birth, Barbara Chase-Riboud has lived in Paris since 1960. At La Verrière, she presents a selection of monumental sculptures alongside small-format drawings, collages and installations. Their titles – always decided retrospectively by the artist according to her intuition – reveal the extent to which her explorations of form are rooted in the tragic history of the African diaspora, from the transatlantic slave trade to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Between work from her corpus and new pieces, this exhibition reveals the power of an oeuvre that has, despite a degree of critical recognition, remained somewhat marginalised within contemporary conceptual art. With its total engagement, at once physical and sensitive, Barbara Chase-Riboud’s work on matter constitutes an uncompromising fourth instalment of the “Matters of Concern | Matières à panser” series curated by Guillaume Désanges.
At the start of 2021, the series continues with an exhibition dedicated to the work of Gianni Pettena, a major figure of the Radical Architecture movement of the 1960s, which worked to counter the rigid conventions that dominated the field at the time. Born in 1940, Pettena is not only an architect but a designer, critic, historian, curator and teacher. He is also an ecological pioneer, having always paid close attention to nature in his work. At La Verrière, the exhibition “Forgiven by Nature” surveys his transversal and resolutely free practice that took him off the beaten track and towards humble materials and a patient, lucid observation of the world. For this ambitious exhibition, La Verrière presents a selection of works and archival documents, as well as a monumental installation created through a collective performance that can be seen at the Institut Supérieur pour l’étude du Langage Plastique (ISELP), a few steps from the main exhibition space. Across these two sites, this exhibition curated by Guillaume Désanges invites the public to (literally) immerse themselves in the visionary practice of Pettena, who defines himself as an “anarchitect” – reflecting his defiance of disciplinary boundaries.
For the seventh exhibition in the series “Matters of Concern | Matières à panser”, La Verrière welcomes French artist duo mountaincutters, who have lived and worked in Brussels since 2015. For their first exhibition in the Belgian capital, the artists present a new body of work based on a site-specific scenography that takes into account the dimensions and the qualities – the height, the form, the lighting – of the exhibition space. Their works, whose hybrid nature lends itself to a certain destabilisation of the viewer, use transitory situations and incomplete forms to shape strange compositions endowed with a savage beauty. Amongst the modified materials and organic fragments that make up their work, carefully handcrafted elements create a subtle tension, to which drawings, films and texts arranged throughout the space also contribute. Through this exhibition and its poetic title, “Les Indices de la respiration primitive” (“Signs of primal breath”), mountaincutters offer an original perspective on the place of humans within the world and its elements, both living and inert.
Another kind of poetry altogether can be found in the exhibition “A Stitch in Times”, which is dedicated to the delicate work of Majd Abdel Hamid. Shifting in scale, this exhibition presents small-format embroidery works, often abstract and colourful, which curator Guillaume Désanges describes as “sculptures of time itself rather than virtuoso demonstrations of skill”. These pieces, created stitch by stitch, allow the artist to distance himself from the turbulence of current events: rejecting a posture of reaction, Hamid – a Palestinian citizen born in exile in Syria, who now lives between Beirut and Ramallah – focuses on longer time scales, his repeated gestures gradually allowing forms to emerge. This meticulous and inherently fragile graphic work paradoxically gives rise to an unexpected power in the face of a chaotic and unpredictable world. While this practice, by necessity, demands resilience – a characteristic that resonates with the “Matters of Concern | Matières à panser” series – the totality of this work can be understood as an act of resistance, whose apparent modesty in no way diminishes the poetic determination of the artist’s gestures.
Finally, La Verrière is transformed into a vast trompe l’oeil covering all its walls, orchestrated by Scottish artist Lucy McKenzie. Her solo exhibition “Buildings in Belgium, Buildings in Oil, Buildings in Silk” immerses visitors in a monumental historical panorama dedicated to the history of fashion and to evolving perceptions of the female body. The artist, who has her own fashion label as part of a duo, shares her original take on this creative field, in which she works in parallel to her practice as a visual artist. Executed by hand, her mural landscape presents key figures from the history of fashion and icons of modernity amidst a host of aesthetic references that invite both contemplation and investigation. With this immersive, total gesture, Lucy McKenzie brings to a close the cycle “Matters of Concern | Matières à panser” inaugurated by Guillaume Désanges in spring 2019 and dedicated to artists who delve deeply into materials and ecological practices as part of their creative process of interpreting the world. This vast yet sophisticated pictorial intervention constitutes the finale of this rich series of exhibitions.