Eluding Detection: Roeland Tweelinckx and the barely visible
Even in the most pared down art gallery, the blankness of the architectural model of the white cube is disturbed. Openings such as doors and windows, the texture and colour of the floor, walls and ceiling, electrical equipment including radiators or air vents interrupt the space. By convention these mundane impurities of geometric and pristine neutrality are visually dismissed. When in 1976 Brian O’Doherty set out to examine the ‘inside [of] the white cube’ in order to investigate ‘the ideology of the gallery space’, conceptual practices had paved the way for unprecedented interferences with this material container of art. Spectacular gestures – such as Michael Asher knocking down an entire wall of the Claire Copley Gallery in Los Angeles in 1974 – had significantly contributed to developing a critique of the architectural (and institutional) framework for the presentation of art. Interventions relating to the physical features of exhibition spaces have since taken various forms, not all so brutal or dramatic. In fact, it is not uncommon for artworks to use or point to banal domestic hardware that usually do not receive much attention. In the 1990s, Robert Gober pierced holes in walls in order to insert drains into them, thus challenging the inert nature of the walls. More recently, Elmgreen and Dragset joined the pipes of two sinks in the men’s toilets of the Hayward Gallery in London in order to form an intricate knot invested with sexual tension. Drawing as much on the legacy of conceptualism as on the minimalist apprehension of space, Belgian artist Roeland Tweelinckx excels at appropriating architectural features and elements of domestic settings. His own contribution to dysfunctional plumbing consists of a pipe that runs along the edge of the ceiling and descends the wall to form the spout of a watering can placed on the floor (Registration – Hesitation). Other practical objects he has used include plugs, electric cables, shelf brackets, heaters and tables. All these objects share an unassuming character that gives the exhibition Borders and Perception its distinctiveness. In the former ironmonger shop Quincaillerie Vander Eycken, many of Tweelinckx’s interventions are so inconspicuous that they might literally pass unnoticed. Early on in his career, Tweelinckx realised that he was less interested in the paintings he was making than in the walls on which they hung. He has since resolved the problem by using walls themselves, among other architectural features, not as a support or a frame for his art, but as one of its components. A reminder of these early concerns with the picture plane and its environment are found in Composition with Folded Paper, made up of two pieces of white paper defining geometric forms on the white wall, as well as in Compulsive Reflex. The latter, a rectangular sheet of white paper that seems to be peeling off the wall, evokes a blank poster which has been partly pulled down. This ‘poster’ only exposes its fluorescent yellow side, hidden at the back, through reflection on the wall. Such discretion in the appropriation of the wall as a blank plane is characteristic of Tweelinckx’s inclination towards unobtrusive gestures, only detectable after a second glance. In fact, he does not hesitate to play in the margin of the invisible. The work Replacement, made of wedges inserted into the thin gap cut in the shape of a rectangle into the floor of an otherwise empty space, points to the weight and texture of the floor, with the result that its materiality appears extremely prominent. The work has minimal, though powerful, visual impact. The key factor of Tweelinckx’s strategy lies in interventions being barely visible. Our eyes roam around a space devoid of clear signs of art, a prelude to a sharpening of both visual and mental acuity. An extreme expression of art which eludes immediate detection, Architectural Intervention 001 (conceived for the St Lucas project space in Antwerp in 2011) was based on the subtle disappearance of material. Intense observation was required to notice that the pillars dividing the large room did not reach the floor, leaving a small gap of a few inches between their base and the floor. What is first seen reflexively as supporting the structural elements of the building suddenly appears as long white blocks hanging from the ceiling, punctuating the empty space through sheer materiality. What is at play here, is the discrepancy between what one knows and what one sees: the artistic intervention is only perceived once the preconceived idea of a pillar is distinguished from what is actually seen. The artist’s interventions are akin t.o. decoys luring the spectator into the apparent absence of art before the interventions are possibly noticed. It is only after close inspection, for instance, that Repositioned, a blinking light switch confined to one corner of a room, reveals itself as a tiny video projection quietly calling for attention. Another strategy developed by Tweelinckx can be located in works which, far for being on the verge of being visually perceivable, are clearly visible but claim to be barely noticeable. In a subtle visual and conceptual twist, sculptures from manufactured objects are placed in locations in such a way as to give the impression they had always been there. Invited, in 2012, to make a work within an artist studio complex in Breda, in the Netherlands, the artist gently curved one end of a steel beam and placed it outside the building, leaning against a wall. Somewhat deceptively, he then heaped small fragments of wood, bricks, broken pottery and other detritus around the bottom of the sculpture. The work was entitled Adaptability of an Abandoned Steel Beam (Part 001). Because it is not immediately perceptible as an artwork, the beam provokes a moment of uncertainty and doubt. Upon reflection, it seems in the wrong place, exposed leaning against a wall when it is meant to be inside it, hidden in the masonry. The evocative power of an altered beam only slightly different from a functional, straight one, led the artist to use other beams the same year. Also curved, and also roughly the size of a human being, but this time placed inside a building, Forgotten Steel Girder (Part 002) was displayed in the corner of a room, again with small items of detritus found on the premises. As a result it looked less out of place than (as the title suggests) ‘forgotten’, thus conveying a feeling not dissimilar to the one expressed by the other, ‘abandoned’ beam sculpture. These two beams, along with Small Beam, 47.244094 inches, displayed in a corner at the Quincaillerie Vander Eycken, are separated from the network of structural parts to which they should attach to serve their function. All of them are found at the periphery of the exhibition spaces. As such, bent as if casually resting on the walls instead of supporting them, they express an unsettling sense of inadequacy. The inability of objects to fit perfectly with their intended conventional purpose is crucial. In conjunction with their troubled visibility, a distinguishing trait of many of Tweelinckx’s interventions lies in their sense of malfunction or misuse. Walls peel, pillars do not touch the floor, beams bend against straight walls and a watering can’s spout is extended by a pipe heading upwards. A smoothly curved radiator (Curved Heating) seems to have melted through its own heat, and a tube meant to contain wires (Electric Tube Knot) has been inexplicably tangled. More than the objects themselves, it is their seemingly illogical use that catches one’s attention. With Support Carriers, it is only after the spectator looks up that they notice two shelf brackets fixed at the very top of a wall and are struck by the very unrealistic claim, implicitly made by these frail pieces of metal, that they support the ceiling. With Bypass, it is only after looking down that the viewer discovers a power cable with, at each end, a plug entering a wall socket. As there is no equipment attached to the cable, the cable appears to transmit electricity to nothing but the plugs themselves. This act of poetic redundance is echoed in the geometrically arranged cabinets forming Composition with Electric Cabinets. Through Tweelinckx’s interventions, functional processes are not suppressed altogether but taken in less rational directions; the flux of energy is not interrupted or annihilated but diverted. Non-visible forces such asgravity and electricity gain full evocative power through improper use. Indeed, counterproductivity appears as a determining drive in Tweelinckx’s manipulation of objects. In his hands, an ordinary radiator ends up fixed to a wall but, unexpectedly, to a wall outdoors. It is, perhaps, symptomatic that such a gesture is given the title Counterproductive. Tweelinckx’s manipulations might not lead to functional results, but their strength lies in their ability to reverse forces and dynamics, to bring what is peripheral to the centre of attention, to defeat expectations of what we consider worthy and worthless. Who, after all, will benefit from a radiator in the open air? The answer is as elusive, invisible and transformative as heat itself.
Pierre Saurisse, 2013