8. The Body Recast: The Sculpture of Berlinde de Bruyckere
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184 Interrupted Resemblances Recurring themes in the work of Belgian artist Berlinde de Bruyckere (1964–) are the fragility of the human body, its mortality and suffering, and such states as loneliness and intimacy.1 She is also known for her sculptures made out of the taxidermied bodies of horses, usually without heads and rendered into unnatural and deformed shapes. De Bruyckere is inspired and influenced by a variety of visual sources, from images circulated in contemporary mass media to religious art. On several occasions she has shown her sculptures together with a painting that has inspired her. In the spring of 2011, she was invited to make an intervention in the Venetian and Flemish Masters collection on exhibit at Bozar (Palais des Beaux-Arts/Centre for Fine Arts) in Brussels. She responded with two pieces: Pieta, 2010, and Lingam, 2010, which were juxtaposed to two paintings by Giovanni Bellini, Mother and Child, 1500, and Pieta: Dead Christ Supported by the Madonna and St John, 1455. Prior to this, her work was shown in dialogue with two paintings by Luca Giordano, Saint Barc h a p t e r 8 The Body Recast The Sculpture of Berlinde de Bruyckere The Sculpture of Berlinde de Bruyckere 185 tholomew and Prometheus Bound, ca. 1660, at Hauser and Wirth, London. On another occasion she was invited to create and show works in dialogue with paintings of Lucas Cranach and Pier Paolo Pasolini at the Kunstmuseum , Bern.2 In De Bruyckere’s work the human figure is rendered as a transformable , fluid entity. She is particularly aware of the history of representing bodies in art, and much of her art refers to and problematizes the practice of image-making. The figurative power of morbid, vulnerable figures coexists with an interest in making visible the very operations of producing the sculptures, and a particular awareness of the procedures of their presentation . Arguably, the focus of her work is not so much on the traumatic moment as on the constellation of elements that produce and support the image as an artifice, a work of art. In 2005, a group of sculptures De Bruyckere produced in 2002–04, built of casts of body parts in colored wax, was shown at the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art in Tilburg, Netherlands. Such works as Aanéén-genaaid, 2003; Aanéén, 2003–04; Wezen, 2003–04; La Femme sans Tête, 2004; and Jelle Luipaard, 2004, show incomplete or distorted human figures, while 14 September, 2003; Limb, 2004; and San S., 2004, are casts of feet, legs, or a hand shown separately.3 As a material for her sculptures she uses wax, wood, and horsehair, and she colors the wax in such a way that it resembles the natural color of the human body, including showing how it is structured with blood vessels under the skin. The traces of grey, green, and blue in the wax suggest the blood vessels beneath the skin and simultaneously make the flesh of the figures look as though it were decomposing. The constellations of casts of body parts, which De Bruyckere puts together to form many of the sculptures, do not reproduce the normal shape of a human body. They are severely distorted, and some of them appear as if they are melting. Most of the figures have openings on their surface that reveal that they are hollow inside, and look like skin unsupported by a bone structure. None of the sculptures shows a face—either the head is covered or there is no head at all. In addition, the figures lack any clear indication of gender, though the body structure and proportions might suggest a male body or a female body. The artist usually combines her figures with different objects: pedestals, tables, showcases, or stools, and old blankets. Some of the sculptures are displayed in glass showcases, as is La Femme sans Tête, 2003, while others are placed on small pieces of furniture covered with folded blankets, or are hanging on supporting structures attached to the wall, as is Jelle Luipaard, 2004 (Figure 20). 186 The Sculpture of Berlinde de Bruyckere Jelle Luipaard is made of wax casts of body parts assembled to form a figure that hangs on an iron hook attached to the wall of the exhibition space. There is a wooden bar inserted in it in such a way that it looks as if the flesh of this disfigured body is melting over it. The separate...