DaWire presents once more a conversation with Berlin-based artist Steve Schepens on the occasion of his solo show at Galerie Van de Weghe in Antwerp. A performance that involves smashing an octopus on a sculpture provoked our curiosity. Read on to find out more.
Carla Acevedo-Yates: Hi Steve, it’s a pleasure to speak with you once again! During our last interview, we spoke about the reasons that lead you to depart from painting and move to other mediums such as sculpture and performance. Since 2002, you have titled these works HORROR, but your recent work marks another departure with different and more complex titles, even though they also convey a sense of mystery and irony. Can you explain the reasons for this choice?
Steve Schepens: Dear Carla, the pleasure is completely mine!
Indeed, the HORROR works form a very important and vast cluster within my oeuvre, also the new titles are rooted in there. The sculpture THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE IS A FRAUD which was first presented at the Art in the City exhibition during the ARTBRUSSELS art fair in April and the exhibition BLUE MUSSEL BINGE DRINKING at Marianne Friis Gallery in Copenhagen in June both mark the start of the new period. The art-works can be seen as anchors for future creations.
CAY: The show you have up right now in Galerie Van de Weghe in ANTWERP is titled The Bermuda Triangle is a Fraud. Tell me more about your interest in this popular culture legend and how you came up with the idea for the show.
SS: It started with the performances I’ve been working on during three years, between 2007 and 2009. I flew over the Bermuda Triangle, starting from a different angle each time, and returned. These actions were photographed and recorded; all the documentary materials were destroyed after the project was finished. The only photograph that still exists is the one taken just before take-off from Puerto Rico in 2008.
The legend of the Bermuda Triangle is not just a myth or a lie, it has several perspectives. For me, the invisible is just as important as the visible in an artwork, you can see it in the performances with the box on my head or in the performances within the sculptures and installations, etc. I use performance and even traditional sculpture techniques to represent the emptiness of the art object. I work with signs and icons of contemporary society. One of these icons is the Bermuda triangle. In my works, and also in THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE IS A FRAUD, I point out the subjectivity, emptiness and fragility of these signs and show the instability of a seemingly stiff society and the connected HORROR state of contemporary man. You see, since around 1945, the mysterious disappearances of planes and ships and their crews, are numbering in the hundreds. These have been attributed to the alien power of this stretch of water. Other voices however state the CIA was involved and again others say electro-magnetic pulses are the actual cause. The main point is for me, however, that they vanish or are believed to be vanished in this exact point for some mysterious reasons.
CAY: The performance videos included in the show, both Nemo and Tables and Chairs, are quite distressful to watch. Previous performances such as HORROR 56 also play upon the viewer’s emotions and expectations, creating an air of suspense, and well, horror. How do you envision the evolution of your performance work? What are your current interests?
SS: Since my first video performances THRILLER 1 and 2 that were recorded in my previous studio in Ghent, Belgium, wittiness and the aggressive are important ingredients. In these first videos I am slamming my head with a cardboard box on against the studio wall. Tanguy Eeckhout, curator of Museum Dhondt Dhaenens in Deurle, Belgium, stated that my “(…) performances are a mix between horror and slapstick, between destructive rattans and laughing tics.”
The performance HORROR 56, which you mention, is a situation which is created by a sentence on the invitation card, it read:” the exhibition HORROR 56 can only been seen by people with Tourette syndrome.” The uneasiness of the onlooker is similar to that caused by the stainless steel Bermuda sculpture where three doors open to the inside of a triangular space, one can glance in but the entrance stays blocked.
Tables and Chairs with its lucid action, refers to the studio based performances, instead here the kitchen is the studio. This transparent performance was shown parallel to the live performance I’ve done with the Danish star chef Bo Bech at Mariane Friis Gallery in Copenhagen, where we were serving a specially created blue mussel dish.
My most recent performance at Galerie Van De Weghe in Antwerp, where I slam a 4 kg heavy octopus onto the Bermuda sculpture is rather contextual, conceptual, art historical, political and even auto-biographical. There are different kinds of performances all existing parallel to each other with similar ingredients.
CAY: In Nemo, you violently smash an octupus against your sculpture The Bermuda Triangle is a Fraud. Can you tell me more about the visual references and subcontexts present in this performance.
SS: The octopus is another example of the vanishing. It spreads ink and poison to protect and hide itself, but also to attack. In this way, it is a perfect metaphor for the artist. Another reference for me is the A dream of Fisherman’s Wife, a woodcut by Hokusai, where a woman is in a ecstatic embracement with two octopi. The Bermuda sculpture I am slamming the beast at, is the monolith of meaning.
CAY: In The Party, you construct a petrified pyramid of champagne glasses that mocks this celebratory act. Visually, the sculpture echoes the fraudulent Bermuda Triangle. How do think this idea of deception plays into popular culture and rituals?
SS: I believe, there’s and there should be a Hrundi V. Bakshi on every party. You know that unbeatable character of Peter Sellers in the movie The Party from 1968. The exclusiveness of whatever highbrow event, the eventual fossilized spirit of both the champagne and the ideas and also the superficiality of talks and meetings are part of life and of the arts. So if there is no Hrundi, my sculpture should be the memento mori.
CAY: Thanks Steve!