The drawings of Belgian artist Wouter Vanhaelemeesch (1980) explicitly refer to the engravings of Renaissance-and Baroque-era Europe. In their relation towards history these images affirm the historicity of the myths of the present and the contemporary perspective of our view of the past. History is not a series of events which we then are able to study and contemplate, but is something that haunts us, and lets us look at itself while being steeped in its own tracks. The work of Vanhaelemeesch involves the historicity of our fascination: subjectivity, desire, power relations, as well as iconography, scene, and the imaginary space of our gaze – our knowing, grasping, contemplative, fascinated, detached, modern gaze. Through strategies such as collage and recontextualization his work attempts to let “history speak in its generality,” to explore its horizon, while commenting on it at the same time. Comments and criticism don’t come from an indifferent, knowing subject (which stays aloof) but have their spectral origin in the subject being gripped and fascinated, and as such the place from which this history is written and rewritten is uprooted and scattered.
Into these drawings our gaze is drawn: on the one hand the calculated, measured, abstracting quality of the central perspective produces a rhetoric of presence and representation–“here you can see everything; there is no need for an ‘outside’ here”–on the other hand meaning can only arise when the image is repeated and supplemented by other representations, an “outside.” The gaze swings between rhetoric and meaning-effect, and shift. In the work of Vanhaelemeesch this tension is maximized by shifting the “writing” (meaning the combination of his method of drawing and collage technique) as a place where fascination – and thus history – can play its game and be articulated.
“Abstraction” is to be understood as the movement that is working in the heart of this articulation. The work is somewhat saturated and excessive: the dense lines and crosshatchings that are always referring to each other, the resumptions, echoes, doubles, and resonances (also between the drawings) create a work that always refers to yet something else, and that snatches away from itself any possible specific image (“of something”) in a permanent act of appearance and self-effacement. His drawings frequently appear as LP covers, for his own imprint audioMER as well as Jozef van Wissem’s Incunabulum label. In this case music and image engage in a relationship coming from a strong autonomy, a tension that may be enhanced by a self-conscious relation to production conventions. In collaboration with Jozef van Wissem that relationship is naturally very striking, cause of their similar progressive artistic commitment to the historicity of their medium. In the past he provided covers for some of Jozef van Wissem’s solo albums and more recently for his collaborations with Jim Jarmush, Smegma, James Blackshaw and United Bible Studies. Next to that he also provided LP covers for people like Robbie Basho, Jack Rose, Graveyards, Cian Nugent and Second Family Band. (text by Jan Op de Beeck)