One Was Killed For Beauty, The Other One Was Shot, The Two Others Died Naturally

3/05 > 29/06
Opening on 3/05 – 19:00 > 21:00
Wednesday to Sunday – 11:00 > 18:00

The videos, drawings, and writings of Els Dietvorst explore anti-utopian themes such as social conflict and survival in the margins. A few years ago, this self-proclaimed ‘urban artist’ moved to the Irish village of Duncormick, where she has since lived and worked to the rhythm of the elements and the seasons. In 2014, at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Dietvorst presents a series of works on migration and altered living conditions. With Art-Coeur-Merci, the artist bids farewell to the city in which she lived and worked for years. This installation-performance describes the survival story of a young Cameroonian living as an outsider in Brussels. In the film The Rabbit and the Teasel, integrally shot in the Irish countryside, fiction and autobiographical elements are interwoven into a lyrical tale that drags the viewer into a world of beauty, death, and decay. Following its premiere at the Kaaitheater, the film can be seen at Argos, in parallel with an exhibition of new work. The performance, film, and exhibition together form a pathway between city and countryside, between centre and periphery.

A project by
Els Dietvorst

Performance by
Els Dietvorst & Angelique Willkie

Presentation (exhibition)
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Argos

Production (performance)

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The universal everydayness

In 2005 Els Dietvorst presented The Return of the Swallows in Brussels, a project that resulted in a series of short films, a feature film and a multimedia installation she had embarked on six year earlier in the Anneessens district near the Brussels South Station.

In 2012 she started the multimedia project The Black Lamb – a project in and about her everyday world. Like in all her Brussels works, in this instance too, she attempted to bring to life all aspects of living, working and dreaming in the Irish countryside with films, drawings, stories and sculptures. And like in The Return of the Swallows she does not resort to a romanticizing aestheticizing language, but departs from a strong personal involvement and constant interaction with her real and fictitious characters. Dietvorst seems above all fascinated by the question how people (and animals) interact with each other and with the surroundings, and how living/surviving is possible in an intrinsically hostile and unsuitable environment.

A voice of dissent without alternative

Both projects, which cover a fifteen-year time span, are related to each other in both their aim, method and scale and can be viewed together as a diptych. They are more than a subjective and artistic representation of a reality: the artist is looking for both everydayness and transcendence in more or less extreme situations (or at least in situations and living conditions that are considered extreme by the average person interested in contemporary art). As such, both projects are a metaphor for a human condition that transcends the individual stories that have been integrated in the projects.

This approach functions like a voice of dissent: the artist registers and shows a microreality that is at odds with the image of the ideal society we are fed every day in the media, news reports and advertising – a reality we all too often prefer to ignore instead of embracing. But the multitude of individual stories and images Dietvorst presents us transcends all clichés about this reality on the fringe of ours. The stories broaden our horizon and are more like an addition to than a correction of the prevailing view of society.

Yet Dietvorst goes even further. She does not present an alternative but shows things as they are. Things that are an integral part of the world we live in. She does neither create a utopian world view, nor a complete dystopia. Using the power of imagination and focusing on human stories, life and surviving, she creates a world that could be ours, in which we recognize ourselves and with which we can identify to a certain degree. She holds up a mirror in front of us. A mirror that reflects shared longings, strategies and stories.

Above all, Dietvorst’s work shows us images and stories from a space that cannot be compressed. She shows us things that play at a localmicrolevel. She does not zoom in on aspects that are part of our reality,in the way that a tree is an inherent part of the wood – she shows us adifferent space that is at the same time part of a larger whole, but thatalso seems to be entirely separate of it.

We could in fact see parallels here with the research Paul Vandenbroeck did for making the exhibition Azetta. For this project Vandenbroeck attempted to find a pure form of femininity. Due to the extreme isolation of women in the Berber tribes, Vandenbroeck discovered in the carpets he presented at the exhibition an almost pure female cultural product.

In her own work, Dietvorst precisely looks for pure forms of common humanity, for that which is everyday in an almost alienating manner. It could be argued that analogous to Vandenbroeck and his methodology, Dietvorst succeeds in finding the everyday in situations in which it features in extreme circumstances. In a world in which the farthest continent is just one telephone call away from us, Dietvorst’s work shows us that no matter how small the world becomes, we can always live somewhere, i.e. in one well-defined and defining place, a place that conditions how we relate to each other and reality.

In Dietvorst’s work, both the farmer and the homeless act and respond to the surroundings in a direct way in an attempt to appropriate them. This confronts us inevitably with the complexity of the here and now and also demonstrates that in a theoretical sense, globalization is never absolute.

Enumerating and collecting

Another striking feature is multiplicity. Though the drawings, films, stories and sculptures are autonomous works of art, they are inextricably linked with each other and they generate meaning through cross-referencing.

In his novel Life A User’s Manual, Georges Perec describes life in a large Parisian apartment block. A separate chapter is devoted to each room of the building and the reader is initiated in the details of everyday life, which are as it were enumerated. Like the title indicates, Perec wants to provide the reader with something to hold onto in an increasingly fragmented world, so that he or she is able to get a grip on reality and understand it. Perec’s strategy involves a detailed enumeration. The world as a whole is as such impossible to grasp today. Precisely by enumerating reality and turning it into language, or in the case of Els Dietvorst, into images, the artist succeeds in getting a grip on it again. The subjects Dietvorst describes in her work cannot be compressed into one single image. What is needed, is multiplicity, and only through this multiplicity the spectator will manage to get a grip again on the universal everyday.

For Dietvorst, the only way to describe something that actually eludes description, is through enumeration. She collects scraps and fragments of the world and models them, films them, draws them, tells their story in images. Not so much to point out certain abuses and even less to save the world through art, but above all to provide something to hold on to for herself and the spectator, to create order where there was chaos and through the enumerated reality to hold up a mirror that allows us to tune in to the universal everydayness, to the common, to that which in a mad world is increasingly considered uncommon.

Rolf Quaghebeur

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Els Dietvorst (b. 1964) studied at the Royal Academy Antwerp and graduated from Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design with a master’s degree in Fine Arts. Initially she expressed herself through sculpture and installation art, but gradually these mediums gave way to drawings, texts and above all video. The focus of her work is communication, inter-human relations and social conflict and anti-utopian themes like the human condition and the outsider. It often takes the form of long-term projects in which she works directly with her surroundings and those living there. Her projects The Return of the Swallows on the Anneessensplein in Brussels and Song for the Price of a Goat and her activities at the secure young offenders’ institution in Mol are good examples of this. Together with artist Orla Barry she set up her Firefly collective, a dynamic workplace for artists, of which she was the director for ten years. Her work has been shown at M HKA (Antwerp), Witte De With (Rotterdam), the Centre for Fine Arts (Brussels), Kunsthalle Exnergasse (Vienna), La source du lion (Casablanca), Gallery Danielle Arnaud (London) and Nicole Klagsbrun (New York). In 2009 she curated the Time Festival in Ghent with Dirk Braeckman. She is a visiting lecturer at IT Carlow-Wexford Campus, KUL (Leuven) and the KASK in Ghent. In 2010 she moved from Brussels to the coastal village of Ducormick in Ireland, where she has been working on a new long-term film project entitled The Black Lamb since 2012. In May 2014 she will be in Brussels for the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, showing a series of new work.

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