Horror 56 / Steve Schepens & Robert Crumb
Horror is a running project that Belgian artist Steve Schepens has been developing since 2003. In this sense, it is a very conceptual work dealing with traditions, scientific investigation, an eye for detail and a deadpan slapstick sense of humor. Like the best jokes, it twists the serious into the silly and uses absurd horror to gesture towards a better to laugh than cry sort of pragmatics.
The range of work is this series changes. It could be a performance, a minimalist interruption or a large-scale installation. On this occasion his work was rather classically presented through 4 pieces. Three of them were present in the gallery: A video of what could be a defunct glory-hole, portrait photography as a performance souvenir and a stainless steel sculpture that speaks both of fierce jaws and floppy cardboard fences.
The fourth piece was a textual intervention that came in the shape of the invitation. The title of the exhibition was: The Vocabulary of Captain Haddock. For those who don’t recognize Captain Archibald Haddock, he was the sincere soul in need of sincere reformation that allowed Belgian artist Herge to add layers to Tintin that the young man couldn’t carry on his own. A sidekick to juxtapose Tintin’s dog, Haddock was prone to outbursts, and while this is easily attributed to booze, his character appears as one of those rare adults unable to flatten out the sort of tick’s inherent to Tourrette’s syndrome.
The vocabulary of Haddock is the politics of the outburst – the statement that is flung like a jag edged faux pas, the uncalculated emotional response, a place for passion and failure in dialogue. In claiming that only people suffering from Tourrette’s will be able to see the work, Schepens makes a plea to the art world to loosen up and let their responses fly before there is time to think them through and place the spit, polish or spin around them.
It is a rather cheeky claim that isn’t afraid of being attacked for mocking those with Tourrette’s or further abusing good old Haddock, but instead successfully drops the audience into the framework of the Horror series.
Without the crutch of a long explanation, this thought is enough to make you reconsider the limp cock as it headbangs or how a 20th century fireman ended up in a World War 1 cemetery (which incidentally, was an unplanned encounter during Schepen’s performance in De Panne).
The stainless steel sculpture is the least obvious of the threesome and speaks of boundaries, which Schepens is constantly overturning in his practice. 9 years ago, a recycled cardboard box became the authoritative fence that would always fail to keep people on one side of the line or another. Referential to his own oeuvre, the piece also offers some homage to a line the artist follows, which we can trace through the work of Duchamp, the minimalist architecture of the 60’s and Bruce Nauman slinging coffee on his floor: Strip away the object, allow for open spaces and signifiers, and become aware that once you assume the life of an artist, each action is part of your process and therefore work.
In other words, don’t be scared to flap your dick in the wind, dive into whatever jaws are on the other side of the fence and when a century old fireman appears at a cemetery with a giant Belgian flag over his head, continue to be amazed that some days just happen to be like that.
All four pieces worked for me. Each was horrifying in a way, without using blood, guts, splatter, gore or other base elements that usually result in horror, while at the same time each was able to produce some laughter as I observed guests to the gallery.
It was a very fitting project room piece to parallel an exhibition of Robert Crumb, who is clearly a character that makes Haddock look like a mute Belgian monk. Crumb’s vocabulary of course, with its meaty thighs and puss leaking lines, is far from that of the occasional outburst or inappropriate remark. It is scarred and scholarly and brutally honest. Of course we can admire his technique and style, but what makes Crumb’s work so poignant is how it horrifies through identification, exaggeration and the sort of laughter a comic like Bill Hicks demanded: the type where the laughter masks the origin of the tears and all the artist is doing is testifying to his own observations of life on earth.
The exhibition at the Baronian Francey in Brussels will run until December 23.