Each year, Weils puts on a major exhibition of a Belgian artist whose current stature earns him or her the chance to engage in an ambitious solo project employing several rooms on multiple floors of the Brussels art space. Curators emphasize that while this comes in the guise of a kind of ‘mid-career’ retrospective, the objective is not to retrace an artist’s oeuvre chronologically, or thematically. Rather, the aim is to offer artists space and carte blanche, to push further the boundaries of their practice: juggle things around, put something together that draws on years of work while adding a further dimension to their artistic trajectory. This year it’s Joëlle Tuerlinckx’s turn and she’s delivered an impressive show encompassing video, sculpture, and installation-type work, blurring the distinctions between media, confusing the notion of the exhibition itself and generally asking us to relinquish (or at least question—see title) our preconceived notions of object, space, and museum experience.
I won’t lie: I just didn’t get it and I’ve since been trying to make peace with the fact. I have pondered frustratingly at the nature of my own shortcomings. I know better than to offend my ego by resigning to my inability to see something in this conceptual jargon that others appear to relish. Rather than yield to this fatal blow, I have embarked on a personal crusade, and will endeavour to get to the bottom of it.
I’ve been tracing back my steps… perhaps the solution resides in my initial attitude. I admit that I wasn’t impressed with the title. World in Progress? Work in Progress? Conjuring ongoing processes rather than dead-end conclusions. Fascinating, I guess. But that title… I found it a little too easy, somewhat flat—no—decidedly contrived. Pretention disguised as understated nonchalance. Could this be the seed of all successive discord? Could all ensuing judgment have been obfuscated by my initial inkling of disapproval?
True to her title, Tuerlinkckx, who has a reputation for being stubbornly particular about the arrangement of works in her shows, has staged what seems like a very loose, quasi-amateurish hang that effectively rejects the 'fixity' imposed through typical museum displays. Instead, she trades this for a more seemingly spontaneous and organic experience. She drives home the notion of a work 'in progress': we might feel as if we are wandering amidst the uncurated works in a studio. Numbers and hand-written notes index the pieces, and if you feel so inclined, you can make use of the glossary-type catalogue of the works found at the entrance to the exhibition. But don’t think you will find any clues as to the works’ tangible meaning there. If you are baffled enough as it is, leave it at that. The index only adds a further level of metaphysical complexity, which personally left me cold.
To her credit, the show feels substantial. Although some pieces fail to convince, I do appreciate that there is rigor here; it feels sincere. The display is eclectic, and includes various sculptural works exploring essential forms: lines, dots, cubes. Sol LeWitt is an obvious inspiration, particularly in a series of three cubes made up of bent metal wire, which looks suspiciously like his 1968 Three-Part-Set. Tuerlinckx’s cubes however, are placed on a large sheet of paper that has been printed to appear like a life-size fabric. I found this an engaging detail, having realized only on second glance that the nondescript cloth wasn’t 'real'. This trompe l’oeil of fabric textures on paper is a recurring device that allows her to question the boundaries between matter and illusion. It’s a simple but powerful conceit, and a conceptual key to much of her work.
On the upper floor, I encountered a sculpture comprising minute strings stretched from one portion on the gallery floor to the top of one of the room’s walls. Once again, the element of surprise is what had me hooked, for the strings are so thin they’re nearly invisible at first. Once you notice them however, the piece beckons you to step closer and try to unpick its geometry: are the strings parallel or do they follow some other formal grammar? The exhibition ends with a series of collages, which run across the final room’s walls, juxtaposing words with newspaper cuttings and geometric shapes. I was lost again. There are also works that span and link the two floors of the exhibition, such as a large cloth, which hangs from the upper floor and drapes its way down to the first through a small hole pierced between the two. Then there are the pendulum pieces, which comprise a tear-like metallic mold hung from the gallery ceiling so that the tip of the contraption just grazes the floor. The effect recalls divination practices, where fortune-tellers make use of pendulums as guides. Which reminds me of LeWitt’s claim that “Conceptual Artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.” Perhaps that’s my problem… or maybe not.
(All images: Installation view of the exhibition Joëlle Tuerlinckx: WOR(LD)K IN PROGRESS at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels; Photo by Filip Vanzieleghem. © Joëlle Tuerlinckx & WIELS.)