AutoCAD®, the popular technical drawing software, makes a distinction between model space and paper space. One of the consequences of this is that the same drawing is at all times present in two separate spaces simultaneously. Model space provides the user with endless empty space that can be filled as desired. One can do highly-detailed and purposive drawings in it, but it can also be used as a ‘sketchpad’ or a three-dimensional ‘modelling space’. Anything is possible. One might call model space the architect’s virtual studio. The drawing is refined and then transposed from the virtual studio (with its varying degrees of chaos) to an immaculate presentation provided with a frame: paper space. However advanced and versatile AutoCAD® may be, the basis remains an almost childishly simple and unavoidable production process: from model space to paper space, from creation to presentation, from studio to gallery, from model to work of art.
When critics take a closer look at Ronny Heiremans’ work, they tend to come up with all too obvious concepts. One of the most common of these is ‘architectural constructions’, referring above all to the fact that he builds these wooden structures himself. However, this label is rarely if ever developed any further in articles and reviews, so that the work is obscured rather than illuminated. Let us be quite clear; Ronny Heiremans does not build any sort of architecture, let alone constructional architecture. Conversely, however, he does make constructions – literally and figuratively – but they are constructions whose manner of composition means they actually cannot have anything to do with architecture. Purists would, however, easily be able to refute this last statement. After all, the word architecture comprises two etymological parts: arché (beginning, origin, primary cause) and tektonia (carpentry). The architect is literally the head carpenter. And strikingly enough much of Heireman’s work arises in the idiom of the head carpenter. But since its origins, architecture has undergone such a sociopolitical and economic evolution – one might say it had been emancipated – that every allusion to architecture can be understood as tendentious rather than fundamental.
In the titles of his works, Ronny Heiremans refers more than once to the notion of the model. Strictly speaking the model can be defined as an example – an ideal – on which basis a work (of art) is made. In his work, Heiremans seems deliberately not to want to make a work of art. He repeatedly builds-in deliberately contrary elements. His exploration of and fascination with the model stop him from reaching any kind of finality. As becomes a model, simulation and inconstancy in many cases reign supreme. The model does not in itself need any context. Since the model is an explicitly diagrammatic version of reality, it understands itself to be its own surroundings. It is enough for itself. The model embodies Heiremans’ unconditional choice of freedom. His control enables him to stop (or restrain himself) at the model, whereby the completion of the final work turns out to be an unnecessary luxury, an undesirable dystopia. In this way, Ronny Heiremans makes reality into a model, but also a model into reality. However, it remains an open question how ‘ideal’ the model still is in this radical approach, or to what extent the model still is a model.
The clear-cut choice of the model as a medium of exploration also implies the possibility of greater variations in scale. Nothing is what it seems. The way of construction, the choice of materials, the angle of view – all suggest a fascination with a form of scalelessness. With extreme efficiency they level down all notions of scale. Even Heiremans’ objects on a scale of 1:1 are not life-sized, but are shrunken versions – open formwork – of space. One does not find any referential element of scale anywhere, and one’s doubts only really start when ‘stairs’ or a ‘window’ seem to appear. In fact it is only the potential user who might bring any clarity to the situation, if it were not that Heiremans’ constructions do everything to discourage use. Everything has been converted into typology. Even the frequent references to the concept of the ‘model kit’ – something that can be put together time and time again – refers much more to the world of the scale model than to the reality of the world. This diffuse scaling is not characteristic only of Heiremans’ ‘constructional’ work – the video manipulations also display the same interest in the removal of scale. In Landscape (inverted), for example, the exploration of scaling is taken to extremes. The eye of the camera transforms an unsightly pile of rubbish into a hyper-image of a landscape (probably polar). The idyll is upset when visitors walk in front of the lens, and legs on the scale of Godzilla appear in the landscape, so that the panorama suddenly becomes a close-up. The image robs us of our orientation: a close-up of a hyper-image, a dimension in which it has become impossible to distance oneself, utter promiscuity between the eyes and what is observed.
Reconstruction & recycling
Ronny Heiremans’ unremitting urge for construction is a fine example of iteration, by both reconstruction and recycling. Everything returns transformed, that much is certain. It is not so much a question of forced economy, but much rather a matter of allusion to something different from what has gone before. Is Heiremans’ thereby still trying to escape the model? The emphasis on reconstruction and recycling can also be seen as a permit to convert missed chances into opportunities. Nothing is lost. A proactive optimism? construction #1 is a trial arrangement for the Tableaux Vivants in the Happark and Display (model) is part of an earlier unexecuted work. These partial iterations further undermine the status of the model – after all, is a model of a model still a model? Heiremans is here flirting with a tremendous spiral whose end-point still has to be determined. In any case, the objects, simulated landscapes, formwork and constructions oscillate back and forth between what is deliberately unfinished and inevitable destruction. These are places where the humbler senses are allotted a place of honour.
Heiremans’ work ultimately revolves round the disguised void: there are only partial floors, if any, walls are hollow and often transparent, and pilasters seem to float (in Sets of outside worlds). These constructions are apparently never finished, because they are too quickly demolished. The structures – even the sets for the videos – are invariably horizontal, parallel with the floor. The interaction of earth and battens and sometimes plastic means that the constructions take part in a continuous game of disappearance and appearance, in which it is unclear whether the landscape or the structure was there first, and whether it is an excavation or an overflowing mudstream. In addition to his solo explorations, Heiremans is increasingly collaborating with Katleen Vermeir. In this duo work his structures have less mimetic content. But here too there is a duplication of the model, perhaps even an inversion. It seems as if Heiremans is building ‘sets’ in which Vermeir stages her Tableaux Vivants. In their role as a stage set, Heiremans’ constructions are perhaps more works of art than ever. It is only when the recording of the Tableaux has taken place, and the structures remain seemingly as relics, that they once again assume their role of model. In this way Heiremans’ work evolves very quickly from model through cadavre exquis to model again, and then ultimately turns up somewhere else in recycled and/or reconstructed form. The use of one’s own work as the vital foundation for someone else’s shows a far-reaching sense of alterity, whereby the commonly solipsistic behaviour of ‘the artist’ is exposed. But the notion of alterity also appears more frequently in his solo explorations. In Temporary Display, Heiremans records someone else’s annual construction and demolition of a wooden passageway under the Niagara Falls. Construction and demolition are in reality widely separated in time. In Heiremans’ montage they merge seamlessly into one another to form a continuous ant-like activity without apparent aim or purpose. Apart from the fact that the wooden construction is a formal allusion to Heiremans’ own work, this observational exercise in objectified manipulation may lead to the artist gaining new insights for the development of his own work. A pleasant distance.