Silence is So Accurate
More than seven decades ago, sculptor Hans Arp warned for an increasingly mechanized world that distracts humanity from ‘the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.’ Today, in a world where one is surrounded by a noisy torrent of technology, digital communication and speed, these predictions may seem more accurate than ever.
Throughout recent art history, the quest for silence took on many different forms with John Cage’s 4’33” as one of its most famous examples. The artist framed silence in three quiet movements, forcing the audience to listen to the mere sounds of their immediate surroundings. By doing so, he showed how silence – despite the fact that it is formally defined as the complete cessation of all sounds – inescapably remains an element of dialogue. The exhibition aims to open this dialogue by consciously introducing a pause without providing any obvious or fixed conventional meanings. Lines, shapes, rhythm, or (the absence of) colour, create serenity, stillness or timeless content. Immersed, we encounter various forms of silence as a refreshing contrast to the flux of impressions, images and sounds peculiar to contemporary day society.
Entering the Antwerp gallery, a monumental in situ installation by Nika Neelova promptly captures ones attention, imposing an immediate and overwhelming silence. The largely scaled repetitive pattern of raw wood (coming from the tar bottom of hardwood parquet floor, salvaged from an art gallery in Leeds) draws the viewer into the work, as if it functions as a portal to a place unknown. Its monumental size and rhythmic grid interacts with the paper grilles of Lucia Bru , which is softly placed on the floor in front of the work. The human-scale grid in a seemingly fragile material, shows the artist’s fascination for ‘an almost’ abstract geometry. The uneven geometrical forms create a poetic rhythm, returning in the architectural framework of the gallery and in the gradual transitions in the painting of Pieter Vermeersch, placed on the adjacent wall.
Moving to the light and open space of the bonbonnière, the paintings of Per Kesselmar, Anna-Eva Bergman and Matthew Feyld relate to each other in terms of illuminating lightning, creating a sublime experience which determines the whole room. Born in Sweden but raised in Norway, the shimmering abstractions of Anna-Eva Bergman, are inspired by remote landscapes and the unique Nordic light. Using metal foils, Bergman is able to capture the cool and brilliant shining of the moon, represented as a celestial sphere looming at the bottom of the canvas. Although they are from different generations, one can see similarities in a fascination for light in the two monumental paintings by Swedish artist Per Kesselmar. Painting various rectangles of thin oil paint on a metal or steel surface, Per Kesselmar creates a sublime feeling of quietness by capturing an infinite glow that intensifies the longer one looks. To conclude, the small tondo of Matthew Feyld (a key-work in the show since it served as one of the main inspirational sources for this exhibition) has the same effect on a smaller scale. Painting layer over layer, the painterly process becomes soothingly meditative and results in a coloristic complexity with rounded edges that almost seem to vibrate with light. Each of these works has the ability to disconnect the viewer from narrative and actual time, forcing to slow down; something playfully announced before entering the room by the work Silenzio by Marco De Sanctis. The work is part of the triptych Silenzio, di notte, ho toccato un fiore, in which each part of the poem refers to the image at the ‘back’ of the painting.
The ‘white’ room finds its counterpart at the other side of the gallery. In a smaller, more intimate room a dialogue takes place between three works that impart a dark silent power while reflecting on the notion of time – formally as well as conceptually. Günter Umberg paints hundreds of layers of medium and pure pigments on an almost squared surface over a long period of time, which causes the work never to be truly finished. The painting, placed at eye-level, evokes a completely different experience from the works described above, pulling one’s gaze into its deep and penetrating darkness. The shape of the painting interacts with the small-scale sculpture of Christoph Weber, placed on the floor of the opposite wall. The work seems to have lost the brutal power of the material it is made of. The cracked concrete is lying softly against a steel bar, which provides the work with a vulnerable impression of being frozen in time. The third piece, a monumental painting by Ayan Farah, is determined by location and time. Using an 18th century textile, woven in France, Farah individually dyed each patch by means of several working processes using colours derived from rust, gained from collecting metal objects found around her house, from carob found in Essaouria (Morocco) and Indian ink.
In between these two opposite rooms two works determine the central space of the gallery. Placed above the chimney, the work of Matthew Allen is granted an almost sacral effect. The polished graphite surface shifts throughout the day, depending on the light but also on the position of the viewer, forcing him to move around the work to fully grasp its dynamic complexity. Across the room, the monumental sculpture of Benjamin Sabatier interacts with the painting in terms of formal verticality. The combination of wood and brutal concrete is united by a degrade of black soot. The work gives the impression of an eruption, silenced in time and eventually turned to stone. To conclude, Franscesco De Prezzo approaches silence in a more conceptual manner. The black surface overwrites a preexisting image of the artist’s studio, literally silencing the image and transforming the canvas into an open space.
The office space, which is fully part of the exhibition, forms the ideal setting for the marble piece by Pieter Vermeersch. The gradual painted square collides with the busy marble surface, as if it silences the material. Across the room the soft-hued painting by John Zurier connects to the impenetrable depth in the work of Umberg. Bathing in an atmospheric blue, the quietness of this work can be found in its soothing colours, which reflects in the work of Jean-Baptiste Besançon and reminds of natural elements such as the open sea or the sky.
As Cage showed with his controversial piece 4’33”, silence has the ability to make us pay attention to the world around us, observing what has not been observed before. Each room illustrates how silence can take upon many forms and how it inevitably remains an element of dialogue, imposing a fullness that can only be sensitized in dialogue to its opposite. The sensorial saturation caused by tumultuous impressions of our contemporary society calls for art that demands an enduring gaze, disconnecting the viewer from actual time and place while proving how silence can truly be ‘so accurate’ - as Mark Rothko stated more than six decades ago.