First of all, the gateway. Visitors have to use quite a bit of force to open it, or at least that’s how massive that big steel door looks. For his first solo exhibition in the Netherlands Cascade the Antwerp visual artist Filip Vervaet (1973) designed a massive looking portico made of aluminium, wood and steel. Brings (2021) is at the same time the gateway and the first sculpture of the exhibition. Vervaet took inspiration from the heavy doors that discotheques often have: “a kind of gate that leads you to a parallel world.”
It is certainly an alternative reality, which Vervaet presents you in the theater of Flemish Cultuurhuis De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam. The exhibition has only been open for a week due to the lockdown and will not reopen again. There is, however, a video tour of the exhibition, which can be seen on the website of the Brakke Grond.
In the four-hundred-square-foot space, he dumped an enormous amount of black sand onto the floor. The space is darkened, theater lamps from above illuminate futuristic-looking sculptures, they often hang on the wall in colored glass display cases – which creates special reflections on the floor. Vervaet’s hyper-aesthetic total installation is reminiscent of an ambitious film set for contemporary science-fiction films such as Blade Runner 2049 of Dune.
The idea of a parallel world is also the theme in one of the first works you come across. Through a window in the wall you look at a cave-like landscape, which is lit purple, blue and green. The title, Plato’s cave, refers to the idea that beyond the perishable world we perceive, there is another imperishable realm of ideas. The cave, I read later, is the inside of a mold for the statue The Thinker from Rodin. Can the image be seen outside the room? What kind of reality are we in here?
Man is missing
People are completely absent from Vervaet’s parallel world, but their traces are everywhere. For example in the mysterious wall reliefs – works made of plaster, silicone or bronze, in which hand prints are clearly visible. But also in the sand on the floor, there you can see the footsteps of visitors who have been before you. The sand slows down your own stride, making you aware of your own body in this strange space.
Vervaet carefully directs your experience, but the emphasis on that total experience does make some of the wall reliefs – sculptures made of plaster, silicone in which all kinds of abstract and concrete figures or natural landscapes can be discovered – look somewhat soulless. As if they are mainly there as an element of decor, as if they are not worth it in themselves (they often are!).
Fortunately, there are plenty of works of art that rise above the show. Setting (2021), for example, is a mysterious, modernist pavilion that is reminiscent of buildings by Gerrit Rietveld or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Inside are a silver branch and a strange-shaped vase, shadows and reflections in the glass again double reality.
The highlight is Medusa (2019), an apparently simple work of a man-sized stone, over which a piece of silk is draped. It flutters in the wind from two fans, making the colors in the silk sparkle in all directions. At the same time light as a feather and heavy as stone. The reference to the Greek myth (according to the story anyone who looked at Medusa would petrify on the spot) made that you again discover a trace of humanity in this strange, disturbing space.