Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys
curated by Anne-Claire Schmitz
Biennale Arte 2019 Special mention as National Partecipation
MONDO CANE presents itself as a local folkloric museum that displays the human figure. Silent, pale and frightened, the pavilion’s inhabitants appear as aestheticized shells, stuck in a loop of formal activity that the visitor perceives as odd and out of touch with contemporary reality. The exhibition contains some twenty dolls, most of them automated; a series of large illustrations depicting silent nature; and steel bars that fence off the pavilion’s lateral recesses. At the centre of the building there are artisans - such as a potter, a knife-grinder and a spinner who, true to themselves, ply their respective trades. The side rooms of the pavilion are a parallel world peopled by louts, zombies, poets, psychotics, the insane, and the marginalized. These two worlds exist in the same space, but they seem to be entirely unaware of one another. They do not interact. The separation is clear. The universe of the pavilion does not shock: it is itself traumatized. The gestures of the dolls are mechanical and awkward. The sounds and movements alternate and are activated by the visitors’ presence. The space is imbued with songs, plaintive cries and labour. The dolls’ heads are modelled both on fictive characters that have already appeared in the work of Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys and on real people. We enter the pavilion as we were entering a wonderland. Full of beauty and ugliness. In accordance with an age-old tradition, spectators allow themselves to be drawn by the promise of seeing wonderful things at an exhibition: “A show well worth the while of parents and their children!” The Belgian Pavilion offers a real promenade, akin to a touristic or anthropological experience, reminiscent of an old Europe.
Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys have the habit of distilling fictions out of a reality that is, sometimes, “too real.” Both willingly concede that they feel attracted to the psychotic state of contemporary societies, a state that they simultaneously dread and disseminate in their work. MONDO CANE is in every way a continuation of this practice. Without ever falling into cynicism or moralism, the artists deftly and wittily transform that which resembles fear or a latent state into something willed, critical and counter to the status quo.
Courtesy and copyright of the artists and the Belgian Pavilion
Image Nick Ash