Dimitri Vangrunderbeek


Dealing with Ordinary Form


Dealing with Ordinary Form
29.03 > 13.06.2015

In his artistic research, Dimitri Vangrunderbeek (°1964 Brussels) investigates the transformation of everyday objects into autonomous artworks and explores how such objects might relate to their environment. The subject of his practice-based PhD at Melbourne’s RMIT University is an extension of this interest. His presentation at Netwerk can be summarised as an integral installation that addresses the spacial quality of objects, new possible readings of these objects and the momentum by which autonomy can arise. Dealing with Ordinary Form has a double character. The presentation serves as a public exhibition but will also form the academic-artistic landscape underpinning Vangrunderbeek’s PhD defence.

Netwerk (NW): How has your PhD research influenced the development of your work? Did it create fertile ground for the production of new works? Has the process of reflection in your research substantially changed your work or did it rather serve to deepen your insight into it?

Dimitri Vangrunderbeek (DV): The PhD gave me the chance to gain more insight into my own work and new work gradually followed as a result. In the reflection phase I pieced together a ‘cloud of meaning’ with photos, drawings and objects to be able to make links with previous works. Using this, I was able to reflect on the purely formal, visual qualities of the work. This reflective tool allowed me to identify specific mechanisms and qualities in my artistic practice. Central to all of this is my research into the process whereby ordinary objects become autonomous sculptures and into the role of the action in this process. For me the important thing is the relationship between two- and three-dimensionality, the interaction between form and space, and the role of the sketch.
New possibilities were opened up with regard to communicating about my work and further exploring these points. In the discipline of architecture, this subjective approach is apparently an unusual way of looking back on one’s own work, but it brought me personally to a repositioning with respect to how I approach my work.

Sketch of the overall installation
Dimitri Vangrunderbeek puts a number of second-hand tables together in three adjoining atelier spaces, covering the tabletops with cardboard and drawing paper. He then places old mirrors and glass sheets on the paper in order to initiate the interaction with the space. He traces the contours of the mirrors on the paper in pencil. He places mirrors over the lines and partially cuts them out in order to intensify the connection with the space and the drawing. With the paper cut out, the cardboard becomes visible. When he continues the cutting into the tabletops, the floor of the atelier appears in the spacial drawing. A number of objects and sculptures from the atelier determine the composition and form of the different cut-outs. This is an intentional gesture on the part of the artist to accentuate the essence of their formal and material qualities.

NW: Another way of looking back on previous work was using the video camera. Did this method lead to new video work for this presentation?

DV: Looking back at previous work using a video camera led to the creation of new work which took this reflection on the inherent qualities of my work as its subject. That is indeed important in this exhibition. I was very selective in how I worked on the video being shown at Netwerk. I selected three video works that were not negatively affected by my lack of video skills. On the screen is the video work Painting the Space of my Studio in which I look back on work from 15 years ago, making connections through a sequence of recordings. I created that work out of an awareness that, for me, the atelier is a mental space. In line with the ‘cloud of meaning’, I orchestrated the scene in the atelier and started to make connections. You see sequences of contrasting tableaux that accentuate aspects such as the creation of lines, layeredness and materiality.

NW: In the video work Putting Chair (white lacquered) on a Table, are you using your work to explore the aspect of time?

DV: I was never actually aware of the dimension of time in my work, but during my doctoral research it became clear. In that video work you see how I construct a pile of wooden blocks by hand. The parts that roll away are the remains of a wooden chair that I sawed into pieces 20 years ago. Here I’m investigating the relationship between ordinary objects and the abstract, looking at autonomy. It’s that central question: ‘When does an object become an artwork?’
The aspect of time also comes into play in a different way because I’m mainly creating spatial experiences and not so much object-based work. The viewer needs time to experience my works.

NW: A third video is being shown, Tracing Form in Netwerk / center for contemporary art, that examines the mental space of the sketch. A key element in your oeuvre. Can you say something about that?

DV: In reflecting on my work I investigate the role of the sketch or drawing in the process where ordinary objects are transformed into sculptures and installations. In this, the translation of the sketch as a mental space is important, as is the act of creating lines.

NW: There’s also an auditive element to this work. What role does this aspect play in your work?

DV: In the context of this presentation, I didn’t use paper for the installation’s preparative sketches. Before the engraving I drew directly on multiplex. This produces a scraping, scratching sound, which adds another layer to the work. This layeredness is important in constructing my scenes. Drawing on paper, then on wood, then engraving, then setting everything up in the space and making the connection with the context. I search until the construction ‘works’ in the sense that something interesting starts to happen with all the elements when they come together in a composition. Composition is one of my strengths.

NW: The importance of the drawing and its spatial translation also comes up in Benches for Words for the City of Brussels (1999-2015).

Benches for Words for the City of Brussels
The robust, wooden back supports are the remains of a work that the artist once installed in a square in Brussels. People could take the engraved words with them as thoughts that then continue to work on their imagination. Marred by vandalism, the benches were removed from the public space and the wood kept in the artist’s atelier to be reactivated at some time in the future.

DV: At a given moment I started to realise that I have a particular interest in surfaces — which is also linked to my interest in tables — as a sort of mental space or landscape. Another insight was that for me it always starts with a sketch or the drawing paper. Drawing represents an act in the mental space. What invariably follows is the act of translating the drawing into a spatial element, to have the drawing materialise. Folding the paper is a way of having a drawing materialise. Folding it conveys the relationship between two- and three-dimensionality. Bench for Words for the City of Brussels is the result of that movement. Another important part of that work — and by extension my entire oeuvre — is the taking up of space or the defining of a place by positioning a mass within it.

NW: Speaking of taking up space, it is very striking that your acts are on a human scale. Which insights have you gained from your research in relation to this?

DV: Reflecting on the presence of the human scale in my sculptures and installations, I established that this has to do with working with furniture. Working intensively with everyday, functional objects such as furniture has given my work a certain scale and has also determined how my work occupies a space. I also look very intentionally at form. Second-hand pieces of furniture inspire me to research their formal and material qualities and to explore their sculptural potential.

NW: What is the origin of your fascination for the poetry in everyday objects, their sculptural potential and the articulation of that in a spatial composition? Is this interest rooted in your personal family history?

DV: Indeed, this fascination is ultimately rooted in my family history. Modernity as I experienced it growing up with my parents, going along with development and progress, and the negation or erasing of their own origin. In contrast with the static feeling of hidden tradition that I experienced with my grandparents. From a time when a cabinet or table was still passed down from generation to generation. In modern life, the climbing of the social ladder and the new possibilities that arise from this can be related to the purchase of new furniture. The throwing out of the old and the creation of a new profile. This duality is my point of departure. On the one hand, a slowness and, on the other, the erased absence of genuine tradition. The PhD granted my work an additional dimension in which that sort of ‘unconscious knowledge’ of my practice became visible. My work is about raising very ordinary, simple objects to a level where they are autonomous and artistic, and I do that based on my personal interest in form, mass and structure.