I had to break down a part of the ceiling of the Royal Palace because there was something growing out of it. Wood, plaster, metal, armor of juwel beetle, silicon 5,6 x 9,6 x 10,4 m. Installation view 1st floor. Photo: Markus Tretter © Jan Fabre/VBK, Wien, 2008, Kunsthaus Bregenz
VENICE.- Jan Fabre's new work series "From the Cellar to the Attic - From the Feet to the Brain," which he elaborated for the Kunsthaus Bregenz in 2008, represented an important step in his work development. With five room-filling sculptural tableaus, Fabre created a mythical world of horror, beauty, and metamorphosis that was hardly conceivable inconventional artistic terms and constantly alternated between reality and dream. The installation followed the layout of the human body. Five exhibition levels with metaphoric titles borrowed from different zones of the body - starting with the feet in the basement and ending with the brain on the upper level - created a gesamtkunstwerk of mysterious complexity. Thanks to the cooperation of the Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo (GAMeC), Studio Fabre, the Kunsthaus Bregenz and the support of Linda and Guy Pieters, Jan Fabre will be installing his five sculptural tableaus at the 53rd Venice Biennale, giving a broad international art audience the chance to rediscover this gesamtkunstwerk.
With the installation "From the Feet to the Brain," Fabre ponders the artistic rules of his work and the bounds of his previous artistic practice. His basic principles can be broken down as follows: 1. the awareness of the power of the images of the real that was discovered in the Flemish Primitives, further developed through the visual force of performances and theater, and finally emerged in the form of sculptural tableaus; 2. the extreme concentration on the body as the crystallization point between life and death, agony and fulfillment; 3. the fascination for the insect as a symbol of metamorphosis, as the subject of intense investigations, and as an important material for rawings, objects, and wall and room-filling installations; 4. the constant application of the mechanical, self-driven principle in all artistic activities, a principle that originates from the discovery of the body and the behavior of insects; 5. the fascination for mirroring and doubling, which is the point of departure for many works.
"The Feet," "The Sex," "The Belly," "The Heart," and "The Brain" - these five elements, each in its own way visually overwhelming, will be presented anew in the halls of the Arsenale Novissimo. Never before has Jan Fabre so radically made the human body the main motif of both the overall composition and the individual parts of a work. At the Kunsthaus Bregenz the tableaus were arranged vertically; here, they are set up horizontally. With the pictorial interpretation of the theme, Fabre exhausts all the aesthetic freedoms introduced in his work and at the same time focuses on perhaps the most dominant theme of his oeuvre: his own body. "From the Feet to the Brain" shows us the artist's ideal vision of life and more clearly than ever before reveals the consciously chosen artistic anachronism that constitutes his specific and sometimes also misunderstood artistic uniqueness.
In 1978, Jan Fabre (*1958 in Antwerp/Belgium) erected a tent on his parents' property, which was to serve as his bedroom, laboratory, studio, retreat, and private universe for a long time to come. This work called "De Neus/Neuslaboratorium" (The Nose/Nose Lab) can be considered the nucleus of his oeuvre. Three tent poles, a blanket thrown over them, a flat desk, a blue leather satchel, an assortment of bottles containing tinctures and insects, and a microscope make up the laboratory. Inside there is just enough room for one person. Inspired by the passion of his great- grandfather, the famous entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre, everything seemed to revolve around the systematic method of investigation, killing, pinning, preserving, and categorizing insects, at first.
The tent soon became a small studio. The territory through which Jan Fabre has moved from then on is the black area of the extinguished, an abstraction under which instinct is free to play out ist obsessions. The tent not only stands for a protective space but is also an archetype of risk, threat, and loss, embodying the artist's loneliness. If looking outward fails to sharpen one's perception for the things of this world, there is always the parallel path into the fathomless inner pool of dreams and visions one can resort to. In these years, Jan Fabre completed a number of drawings, which he published in his "Book of Insects" in 1990. One drawing hints at the direction Fabre's work would take. The DIN A5 sheet of paper is blacked out with only a small window left open in whichthere is the word "L'instinct." In the upper margin, "zwarte neon in nachtelijk grondgebied" (black neon in nocturnal territory) has been written by hand. In the bottom third of the sheet are two noses that form a kind of tent, "tentje van neuzen voor nachtelijk grondgebied" (little tent of noses for nocturnal territory). The black extinguishes what has been, making room for instinct and dream to take effect. Significantly, the tent consists of two noses - if you can no longer trust your eyes alone, you rely on your nose.
Two years before erecting his tent, Jan Fabre had gone to Bruges, where he discovered the Flemish masters for himself. Fabre did not regard their paintings as works upon which one has only to gaze long enough in order to be able to understand all their secrets. Rather, he experienced a reversal of the usual relationship between the work and the viewer: that not only does he gaze at the work, but the work also gazes at him. Fabre was so moved by the Flemish masters' directness in displaying the body, suffering, and torture that, as he puts it, body art and performance became the main elements of his work from then on.
This concept of the body associated with subjecting the physical self to danger and ultimately with death, is juxtaposed by Fabre, particularly in his theater pieces, against the idea of a body consisting of muscles, effort, and concentration and controlled by willpower. Like insects flying again and again toward a source of light until they grow weary and collapse, the dancers in his theater cover the hermetic box-like space of the stage with the regular staccato of their movements.