Jos De Gruyter & Harald Thys

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Kunsthalle Basel (CH)
16 January – 14 March 2010

For Kunsthalle Basel, de Gruyter and Thys came up with a display structure that not only keeps the outside world at a distance, but also viewers themselves. Consisting of a large number of wooden partitions in regular arrangements throughout the galleries, the structure is conceived as a labyrinth that effectively blocks the visitors’ view of each other while they stroll around. On these panels, de Gruyter and Thys display approximately 500 new drawings on paper. The origins of these drawings lie in a ‘dirty dark mix of found images of everything and nothing’, from airplanes, openings, amateur theatre, and animals to buildings, pots and pans, sunglasses and dishes. The artists meticulously and painstakingly traced these images like monks to create an idiosyncratic visual encyclopaedia: a time-consuming project the exhibition title PROJEKT 13 refers to. De Gruyter and Thys describe it as ‘a project of an indefinable group of technocrats, a higher instance that looks back on earthly existence and traces everything it comes across’.

In this staged world, the colour white prevails, neutralising difference. All images are treated in the same way, traced with the same soft pencil onto white paper. Similarly, the white enigmatic male heads are characterized by neutrality. Set on white high pedestals towering over the display of drawings, they stare onto the white exhibition walls with a petrified, eternal gaze. These are two variations on “De Drie Wijsneuzen van Erembodegem” (The Three Wise-Noses of Erembodegem), originally conceived as a proposal for a roundabout sculpture near the village Erembodegem in Flanders. These sculptural heads also observe the visitors of the exhibition, who not only find their gazes returned by them but also by the figures in some of the drawings. This focus on the act of looking is a recurrent element in the artists’ work, which takes on different forms and is equally present in people, animals and things: passive, aggressive, inward, outward, threatening, frightening.

The exhibition leads the visitors towards a film in the last room, presented in a specially constructed auditorium with an enormous beamer, a huge screen and rows of benches, similar to those used in Protestant churches. The monstrous beamer, elevated above the visitor, becomes animated and is not unlike the sculptural heads in the other rooms. The film is a study of the relationship between the real world and the parallel world and how they influence each other. The film supports the hypothetical tendency to visualise this parallel world as one-dimensional. It is a world where time and space are of a different order, a one-dimensional white world without light or dark.