HORROR 1.1, Performance photo- cibachrome, 79 x 119 cm.
I first met Steve Schepens about a year ago, when I wrote a review of one his HORROR shows for Artpulse Magazine. I love works that deal with space, so inevitably I was fascinated with Steve’s works and performances. Space as impenetrable and the invisible are main subjects of his work. For the occasion of his current show at Galerie Baronian_Francey in Brussels, I had a conversation with Steve about his work and a controversial performance that mixes in Tourette’s Syndrome. Read on!
Carla Acevedo: Steve, it’s a great pleasure to speak with you about your work and your upcoming projects. Since my first encounter with your work, I’ve been fascinated with the way you title your works. They are always titled HORROR with a specific number or subtitle attached to them. This adds a sense of theatricality to your work, that together with your installations and performances, conveys to spectators a sense of disquieting apprehensiveness. Can you further explain this choice and the ways the etymological weight of this word plays on your work and creative process?
Steve Schepens: Carla, the pleasure is all mine! I’ve been using the HORROR title since 2002 when I stopped painting, as I felt that this medium didn’t transmit my concepts any more. Then the first HORROR-Fences were made, which form a basis for the whole HORROR period. Since then I work with signs and icons of contemporary society. My oeuvre indicates the subjectivity, emptiness and fragility of these signs and thus the instability of seemingly stiff social systems, which causes to anxiety and HORROR of a contemporary man.
HORROR 59. Detail of a drawing, pencil on paper, 42 x 29 cm , 2010.
CA: Your work often deals with the opening and closing of space in a physical but also metaphorical way. For instance, you often construct fences to close space or use the casting process to reveal the void or non-space. Can you tell me more about the ways you approach space in your installations and sculptures?
SS: For me invisible is as important as visible, if not more. As the invisible contains secrets which make a viewer anxious either to disclose them or to escape. The installations treat space in an architectural way, the sculptures function rather as objects. But both give new perspectives on the space were they exist. Casts of boxes make invisible inexistent matter solid and opaque, fences and large site-specific installations make formerly visible and free closed and unapproachable.
CA: Your first works were mainly constructed with cardboard and makeshift materials, now you are using glass and steel. Can you tell me more about this shift in materials?
SS: I want to show how the meaning of the sign does or doesn’t change with a new material. I used cardboard as a non-colour, glass – because of its transparency and polished stainless steel as a mirror. I also use mirrors for some sculptures in combination with TL-Lights. All the works – despite seemingly fragile materials – function as insurmountable barriers.
HORROR 30, site-specific installation, variable measurements. Stage elements, scaffold, cardboard, lightning, wood. Performance with Kru Agre and guests.
CA: Many of your installations, including HORROR 30, are constructed as stages. This obviously ties in with your performative work. Can you talk about the ways you incorporate the performative into your installations/objects and vice versa?
SS: Most of my performances are also invisible. Either filmed in my studio or happen live hidden in the installation. The studio ones are solo performances with cardboard boxes; the live ones are amplified by e.g. a metal band, reguetón performer or classic musician. The live-performances are filmed and later silk-prints of video-stills are made on the original cardboard of the installation. Like this something ephemeral becomes an object.
HORROR XX, Performance with Reguetón Singer (5 mirrors, cardboard, lipstick), San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2008.
CA: It’s true! You did come down to Puerto Rico a few years back and did a piece with a reguetón performer. How was that experience? Tell me more about the project?
SS: I was in San Juan in 2008 on invitation by curator Paco Barragan at the Circa art fair with my German gallery. However I was also participating in a group show initiated by a friend and colleague Charles Juhasz Alvarado. The exhibition took place in a neighbourhood known for transvestite prostitution. I made an in-situ work: perspective drawings of reflection of the rooms on all mirrors in the house in lipstick. During the vernissage of the exhibition I invited a reguetón performer to reflect upon this work and sing about it looking at himself and the audience in the mirror, while I was greeting the guests with a lipstick kiss. I very much liked Puerto Rico, the people and its art scene, looking forward to go back there and sip fresh juice on the market.
CA: You have an upcoming exhibition titled HORROR 56 at Galerie Baronian_Francey in Brussels, where you will be doing a performance which will only be available for viewing to people with Tourette Syndrome. Why close the performative space to a specific medical demographic? Can you explain the performance?
SS: You know, Carla, in this case the invitation is already the performance. So I appropriate the visitors’ minds – during the exhibition they have to think that they are missing something and that they would have to perform to be able to see it.
Robert Crumb, Untitled (“The Playful Attitude of the Model”), Ink & correction fluid on paper.
CA: That’s interesting, it seems that here the performative as invisible, as opposed to just being physically hidden from the viewer, is taken to a purely psychological level. Roles are reversed, as the viewer becomes the performance and the artist the spectator. Isn’t it a little frightening to think that someone would pretend to have Tourette’s to see a performance? Are you curious to find out what happens? What are your expectations?
SS: The artist is always the first spectator of his own work. The art work, be it performance, sculpture, painting, etc, also performs. Thus in art roles are constantly reversed. Fear is an emotion which artists use, and so is boredom or horror. HORROR 56 functions as a framework for my exhibition. And of course the invisible is very present in my oeuvre. It was exciting to see how people would react to this work, although my expectations were not high concerning the participation of the spectator, in contrast to let’s say people attending performances in the 60s and 70s. However, talking to you now, after the opening of the exhibition last Saturday, I can acknowledge that the work had a lot of influence. The subtitle of the work was ‘The vocabulary of Captain Haddock’, a famous character from the Tintin comics by Belgian author Herge. Captain Haddock is kind of suffering from Tourette syndrome, however one can also appreciate his attitude and the plasticity of his outburst. Herge invents a completely new language for Haddocks curses and body gestures. Rewarding enough, after the opening I ended up at a birthday party of one art professional whose father was best friends with Herge and he showed me some incredible collector’s item albums. And not to forget, my exhibition was parallel to the exhibition of Robert Crumb, the cult comic author, at Baronian_Francey Gallery. Another good example of cartoons showing excessive language and figures. My work around Tourette is thus an attitude which could be the solution for Art.
CA: Thank you so much Steve! And much success!