Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Ohne Titel, 2008
Courtesy the artists & Gallery Dépendance Brussels; Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin
Kunsthalle Basel is pleased to present the first major exhibition of the Belgian artists Jos de Gruyter (*1965, Geel) and Harald Thys (*1966, Wilrijk) in Switzerland, entitled PROJEKT 13.
Collaborating since the end of the 1980s, they have developed an intriguing body of work, in which the menacing absurdity of the world we live in is scrutinized and the power that we as human individuals have to do something about it is questioned. Life is presented as an endless circle of mechanized daily activities, in which humans are equal to or even ruled by the things around them. Entrapped in bizarre, perverted interactions, the portrayed subjects live in a constant state of anxiety and are no longer capable of expressing their emotions. Following some of the classical tropes of surrealism, the artists consider the silent gaze of inanimate matter and the stubborn presence of man-made things to be as meaningful as feelings of living creatures.
De Gruyter and Thys use films, photographs and drawings as parts in atmospheric installations that combine various types of exhibition display, taking inspiration from commercial fairs, public commissioned monuments, modes of presentation of amateur or 'naïve' art and stage design concepts. In these settings, the notion of closed systems and their inability to tolerate outside influence - a central concern in de Gruyter and Thys' work - is sometimes physically explicit. At Le Plateau in Paris (2007), the artists had the whole exhibition space painted grey, including the windows, isolating the viewer from the outside. Similarly, for the 5th berlin biennial (2008) the artists mounted industrial doors in the cellar where their video could be seen in order to emphasize the separation from the rest of the exhibition.
For Kunsthalle Basel, de Gruyter and Thys came up with an exhibition concept that stages a world in its own right. Upon entering the main gallery of the five spaces on the ground floor in which their show takes place, the door will automatically close behind the visitor. One will find oneself imprisoned in a 'World Fair of the year 3000' or a 'Fair to celebrate the life in the parallel world', to quote the artists. Not only the outside world is kept at a safe distance, which is further accentuated by the windows covered up with wooden panels, but also (most of) the other viewers. The display structure made of a large number of wooden partitions in regular arrangements throughout the galleries is conceived as a labyrinth that effectively blocks the visitors' view onto each other while they stroll around. The idea to use architectural structures typical of a fair was inspired by the proportions of Kunsthalle's large day-lit spaces, which reminded the artists of archival photographs from the World Fair in Brussels in 1897, but also by the fact that Basel is known as city of fairs, most notably the art fair and the watch and jewellery fair.
In their own Basel fair, de Gruyter and Thys will display around 500 new drawings on paper, depicting the banal and horrifying events of our daily life. The origins of these drawings lie in a 'dirty dark mix of found images of everything and nothing', from planes, openings, amateur theatre, animals to buildings, pots and pans, sunglasses and dishes. The artists meticulously and painstakingly traced these images, allowing themselves some interpreting along the way. The exhibition title PROJEKT 13 refers to this time-consuming project. De Gruyter and Thys describe it as 'a project of an indefinable group of technocrats, a higher instance that looks back on earthly existence and traces everything it comes across'. Honoré de Balzac's 'La Comédie Humaine' comes to mind. This realistic portrayal of French society in the first half of the 19th century in 137 volumes was meant to question the petty bourgeois and capitalism.
The work of de Gruyter and Thys can be seen as a portrayal of society at this moment in time. A recurring element is the focus on the act of looking, which takes on different forms and is equally present in people, animals and things: passive, aggressive, inward, outward, threatening, frightening. The viewer is not only actively looking at the work, but the works of de Gruyter and Thys return the gaze: from the walls of the booths and from above, as three enigmatic male heads set on high pedestals towering over the partitioning exhibition panels look down on the visitor in two different exhibition spaces. These are two variations on "De Drie Wijsneuzen van Erembodegem" (The Three Wise-Noses of Erembodegem), originally conceived as a proposal for a roundabout sculpture near the village Erembodegem in Flanders.
The whole 'fair' will lead the visitors towards the new film in the last room of the show that will be presented in a specially constructed auditorium with a huge screen and rows of benches, similar to those used in churches. The film will be a culmination of the parcours - a spiritual experience, involving abstract images and a narrated story, that will elevate and bring together the various lines of thought present in the exhibition.
In-kind sponsorship support has been provided by Vidi-Square
Friday, January 22, 2010, 10pm
The Problem - performance by Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys in the frame of the Museumsnacht
Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys recently had solo shows at Culturgest, Lisbon; Kaleidoscope, Milan; Pro Choice, Vienna; Dépendance, Brussels (all 2009); Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin (2008); Frac Ile-de-France/le Plateau (duo exhibition with François Curlet), Paris (2007); Middelheim Museum, Antwerp (2002). They participated in numerous group exhibitions, including: The Filmic Conventions, FormContent, London; All That is Solid Melts into Air/The Thing, MUHKA, Antwerp; Un scene, Wiels; The Invisible Hand, Sommer Contemporary Art project space, Tel Aviv; Künstlerhaus Stuttgart (all 2009); Manifesta 7, Trento; When Things Cast No Shadow - the 5th berlin biennial for contemporary art, Berlin (both 2008); The Go-Between, de Appel, Amsterdam (2007); La Belgique Visionaire, Bozar Brussels (2005); Marking the Territory, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2001).