Berlinde De Bruyckere

Kunsthal Aarhus and European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017 present the solo exhibition Embalmed by Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere.

In addition to the two existing works No Life Lost I, 2015 (2015) and No Life Lost II, 2015 (2015) the exhibition includes the new commission Embalmed – Twins, 2017 (2017) created for Kunsthal Aarhus.

Traditions of the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting from the 16th century have exerted a profound influence upon Berlinde De Bruyckere’s art. Drawing from the legacies of the European Old Masters and Christian iconography, as well as mythology and cultural lore, the artist layers existing histories with new narratives suggested by contemporary world events to create a psychological terrain of pathos, tenderness and repulsion. De Bruyckere creates sculptural environments using casts made of wax, animal skins, hair, textiles, metal and wood, she renders haunting distortions of organic forms. De Bruyckere’s sculptures have a dual uncanny appearance of representing and embracing the poetic, beauty and elegance, and at the same time the decay, horror and fragility. In Kunsthal Aarhus’ three upper galleries De Bruyckere takes the viewer on a powerful journey of transformation, and haunting mutuality.

The work No Life Lost II, 2015 (2015) manifests the recurring theme in De Bruyckere’s oeuvre; the vulnerable, suffering body. In a large glass vitrine lie three shining horse bodies heavily stacked one on top of the other, bound and blindfolded, creating associations to mistreatment and torture as well as shelter and safekeeping. The beautiful lifeless creatures are staged in a fragile glass prison, creating a strong dualistic statement of beauty and horror, strength and vulnerability in a thought-provoking monument of mankind’s approach of all living beings.

Embalmed – Twins, 2017 (2017) is a monumental installation of two fallen trees, cast in wax, lying on the floor like crippled giants. The large trunks with their amputated branches are of an unusual smoothness: they are stripped bare, naked. Using wax, iron, blankets and rags, De Bruyckere has created hauntingly life-like trees with distorted human features. The surface, pigmented in a light coloured palette of wax, conjures a vivid likeness to the human flesh. We are looking at two giant bodies, bandaged with rags and covered with mouldy blankets. They seem to cover parts of enormous relics, furnished with large handles, to be carried to their place of purpose. The strength of the trees appears to have given way to fragility – suggesting the dualities of the human condition – as animated creatures frozen in a process of transformation between flesh and tree, between life and death.

No Life Lost I, 2015 (2015), a sculptural formation of draped animal skins, cast in wax, is hanging down from the ceiling fixed on iron bars. The elongated hides are realistic and figurative in their direct correspondence with reality, yet also amorphous and abstract due to their indefinable nature. No Life Lost I, 2015 (2015) is installed in Kunsthal Aarhus’ octagonal space with the skylight as the main source of light. During the Danish winter months the natural light is grey and dimmed, which adds an underlit dramatic setting for the sculptural relics – like a non-figurative and universal ‘memento mori’ reminding us of the transience of life.

The exhibition is realised in collaboration with European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017 and supported by Beckett-Fonden, the Embassy of Belgium in Denmark, Brussels Airlines, and Hauser & Wirth.

Exhibition period: 10 November 2017 – 21 January 2018

Photos: Mirjam Devriendt. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth.