Video artist Koen Theys exhibition

This video is about two exhibitions in the S.M.A.K. museum in Ghent, Belgium. First, about Koen Theys’ exhibition. Then, about the exhibition ENSEMBLEMATIC.

I have already written on this blog about one part of the present exhibition by Belgian video artist Koen Theys in Ghent: about Theys’ video, composed of many YouTube videos, of the song The Final Countdown played on many kinds of instruments.

I saw that exhibition on 7 July.

The S.M.A.K. museum writes about the exhibition:

HOME-MADE VICTORIES at S.M.A.K. is the first major retrospective of the work of Koen Theys (Brussels, 1963), a pioneer of Belgian video art. The exhibition is conceived as a cross-section of Theys’ oeuvre from the early 1980s to the present.

His first videos are closely linked to the punk movement and are related to the work of Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler. In parallel with punk, these artists show that violence can no longer be pictured in a traditional way. They criticise the prevailing power structures in images that are sometimes extremely violent. Theys’ work too displays an extremely critical view of society, art and culture. Using humour and irony, he sheds light on the contradictions he finds and experiences as a contemporary artist.

In the 1990s he made monumental photo-collages on the subject of the characteristically human inner conflict between ‘wanting to be unique’ and ‘wanting to belong to the group’. His formal idiom came to comprise inversions, distortions, duplications, mirror images and repetitions. This exhibition circuit also contains reflections and visual echoes to accentuate this typical feature of Theys’ oeuvre.

When digital images started to open up new possibilities in the late 1990s, the artist returned to his old love: video art. They still contained the sense of drama found in his early videos, but now they had a more brazen, comical touch. Theys’ fascination with ‘mass ornamentation’ – e.g. water ballets or Chinese mass choreography – became increasingly evident. This was to be seen in long, monumental films that move very slowly. The artist explored phenomena from mass culture, the Internet and show business, adding a hint of humour. His latest work also refers explicitly to art history: he not only comments on tradition but at the same time also gives it a new twist by means of the relatively recent medium of video art.

This is a Koen Theys video about militarism and police repression, called Patria.

Koen Theys’ site says about his video Diana, from 1984:

In another home movie by Adolf Hitler, one can see Eva Brown playing naked in a lake near a waterfall. This video is inspired by those images.

Diana is the Greek-Roman goddess of fertility and war, but also known as the goddess of the hunt. She runs naked through the dunes with her bow. Her sensual body appears above violent hunting-scenes, processions of boys and sacred rituals in which the purity of Diana is glorified. These images are mixed with found-footage of the second world war. Already a classic tape about eroticism, violence and religion.

The Koen Theys site says about the video The Vanitas Record:

Vanitas is Latin for vanity. A Vanitas painting is a form of a still life consisting of a collection of objects that symbolise the brevity of human life and the transience of earthly pleasures and achievements. Vanitas paintings were most popular in the Netherlands of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Most recurrent objects in the gouaches and oil paintings from painters by the likes of Frans Hals, Willem van Aelst, or Harmen Steenwijck are skulls, candles, hour-glasses and clocks, overturned vessels, books and (fading) flowers. Those objects act as a reminder of the inevitability of death, and the pointlessness of earthly ambitions and achievements. For the exhibition LocusLoppen, the artist Koen Theys built a gigantic installation.

‘The Vanitas Record’ was a three dimensional still life that measured 15 x 20 meters. In the setting of amongst others skulls, books, alarm clocks and candles, Theys placed 20.000 living snails. In the first part of the same titled video The Vanitas Record – not a documentation of the installation, but a work on itself with different added contextual layers – the camera travels initially along the installation, showing in detail the books, crawling snails, buzzing (alarm) clocks and extinguishing candles.

Slowly, Theys adds a second layer of (self) relativity and (self) irony, inserting pieces from radio and television interviews he had on the occasion of building this ‘record’. In the second part, the ‘Vanitas Record’ turns almost into grand guignol, as Theys blows up the already large press and public attention at the opening of his installation to the proportions of a mass event where visitors and press are leading to roaring applause and a bombing of flash sounds.

In 1945, Dutch artist Jan Wolkers already had revived the vanitas subject: in one smallish painting, not in a big installation or video.

In Theys’ twenty-first century work, many computer monitor screens play an important role. Of course, that is a difference with seventeenth century vanitas paintings, and with Wolkers’ 1945 work.


2 thoughts on “Video artist Koen Theys exhibition

  1. Pingback: Spanish king ‘insulted’, rapper flees to Belgium | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Workers’ general strike in Belgium | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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