Magazine article Artforum International

Jos De Gruyter and Harald Thys

Magazine article Artforum International

Jos De Gruyter and Harald Thys

Article excerpt

FOR ALMOST A DECADE, Jos de Gruyter worked at Ten Weyngaert, a Brussels community center that began as a Utopian experiment in the 1980s. Intended as a place that citizens could visit in order to freely express their creativity--a latter-day Esalen--the center is now frequented, de Gruyter says, by disaffected individuals: failed artists, retired yoga instructors, and so on. These denizens often partake in art therapy programs there; when invited to access their imaginative inner worlds through such sessions, they often become confused, angry, or depressed, and the ensuing atmosphere of silence and estrangement affects the stewards as well. "After working there for nine years," de Gruyter says, "I became catatonic too."

It is this kind of empathetic experience that de Gruyter and his collaborative partner, Harald Thys, bring to their sustained ruminations on inwardness and the psychological lives of others. At the beginning of the twenty-six-minute film Ten Weyngaert (In the Vineyard), 2007, the Flemish artists(1) burlesque of daily life at the center, five habitues of the place and two sadistic, boilersuited "helpers" (named Tim and Tom) line up against a wall. We hear gunshots, and each, in turn, falls to the ground. When we see these characters next, however, they're not dead--just somehow removed, asocial, trancelike. Long takes depict the center's guests, their expressions somewhere between serenity and trauma, staring into space; watching one character, we hear an internal monologue about a man who becomes sexually aroused by pinching black mice to death in his trouser pockets. Others communicate on perverse preverbal levels, such as choking one another. Intercut, meanwhile, are dimly lit scenarios wherein Tim and Tom (who, in this work's dream economy, might be considered emblematic of bullying figures in society as a whole) push the visitors about or inveigle them into silent, abject theatrical scenarios: elliptical, queasy narratives featuring bearded women, men in blackface, and ritual mockery. The last shot shows a deserted room, toppled furniture, and a window open onto darkest night. An escape, but--as the sound track of an ugly, itchy sine wave suggests--a fate perhaps even worse than containment.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Like all de Gruyter and Thys's filmic works, Ten Weyngaert features as its cast a stock company of family and friends, indicating the intimate scale of their practice. The artists met at the Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design in 1987, initially united by their shared rejection of the teaching methods in the film and video program there; they have been collaborators ever since. Only recently, however--via showings at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen in Belgium, the Fifth Berlin Biennial, and Manifesta 7--have they come to wider international attention. A resurgent interest in theatrically inflected art is surely a factor here. So, too, is the fact that the artists' 2007-2008 trilogy of films set in therapeutic institutions--beginning with Ten Weyngaert, continuing in Der Schlamm von Branst (The Clay from Branst), 2008, and concluding with Het Fregate (The Frigate), 2008--made their elliptical vision more pointed, while cloaking it in increasingly cinematic production values. Yet throughout the years, de Gruyter and Thys's focus has remained consistent: characters that live, mutely and intently, in their own heads.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

At first, the pair reacted to their immediate surroundings. The black-and-white student video Mime in the Video Studio, 1988, is a five-minute essay in calculated grotesquerie sound-tracked with Europop. It features Thys, spindly in his underwear, performing amateurish mimes and manipulating items belonging to the ex-priest who ran the school's video studio (and who, de Gruyter says, stashed pornographic U-matic videos there; both artists, he adds, had discomfiting religious upbringings). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.