Dirk Braeckman: M - MUSEUM LEUVEN/ZENO X GALLERY
Van den Bergh, Jos, Artforum International
Recently a Swedish curator told me that he learned a lot about Belgium by looking at Dirk Braeckman's work. If this is the case, there must be something rotten in the state of Belgium. His dark, gloomy photographs provoke an uncanny feeling. It is almost never clear what it is you sec in the gray murk, and if you think you do know, a split second later you'll start to doubt it. With shows in I.euven and Antwerp and the publication of a vast monograph on his work, Braeckman seemed to be Belgium's unavoidable artist this autumn. And that's more than justified, since he is one of the very few who has created his own style with a recognizable signature. Me refuses to use photography as a medium to capture or interpret reality. Although his subjects or models come straight out of his environment, the result seems totally unfamiliar.
Braeckman credits Luc Same's book Evidence (1992), with its pictures of crime scenes taken by the New York police department between 1914 and 1918, with inspiring him to find or purify his own style. Like the nearly century-old photos Sante collected, Braeckman's images seem to tell more about what you don't see than they do about what is depicted. The titles he gives them don't help either, since they often feature only initials and the year in which the photo was taken. A rather dreary image of an empty bed, B.E.-H.O.-96, is framed against a striped wall in such a way that it becomes macabre. Likewise, in what seems to be an empty or deserted hotel room, R.O.-S.R-02, the curtains are closed, yet a ray of sun is shining on the blanket and we can sec a rather ugly, old-fashioned bed of carved wood. Braeckman succeeds in imbuing apparently empty, meaningless spaces with a subtle sense of drama. …