Vaast Colson .A Retrospective

08.05 until 20.06.2004

On the other hand, the art world apparently presents itself as a realm of unbounded possibilities, in which the artist is free (or doomed) to determine for himself what art and being an artist mean to him. Inevitably, it is in this unlimited freedom and ultimate boundlessness that the origin of Colson’s artisthood lies, and of his need to act and create. In constantly changing configurations, Colson tries to mark out boundaries and take up positions. In performances and the installations connected with them, he focuses on the birth of the image, the methodology of visual language and the role of art and the artist. In an often playful and lucid manner, he shatters the constructions that artistic predecessors or art history have built across ‘the abyss’, and in the same movement produces his own artistic artefacts, roles and identities. These of necessity belong to the order of fantasy and myth and, when they are capable of charming a public, of magic too. One moment he aims for mystification and the next he is the first to undermine the illusion. Since there are no permanent – let alone universal – truths to act as a starting point, each of Colson’s performances or installations develops out of the specific situation in which it arises. He prefers working with a live public and lets his work take shape under real conditions. Despite this improvisational, instantaneous aspect, every action is nevertheless prepared and executed down to the finest detail and verges on the obsessive. The restrictions and possibilities of the context, the limits and boundaries of the given time and space are meticulously and maximally explored, sounded out and incorporated. Colson uses these contextual elements as a powerful lever for the design of his acts. In addition, personification, physical effort and confrontation with a public are elements that define the form. The care with which Colson carries out his actions introduces a tension into his acts and sometimes even gives them a spiritual dimension.

On the other hand, the many roles the artist allots himself have nothing to do with the heroic deeds of the heyday of modernism. In one of his installations the slogan ‘No more super-heroes’ appeared on a skateboard, taken from the Stranglers LP No more heroes, issued in 1977, the notorious year of punk. The roles he plays are neither tragic nor problematic. Some acts are redolent with boredom or have a certain silliness, lacking a clear scenario for the ‘performance’ of ‘artist hood’. Despite his dedication it is not always clear where Colson’s acts are leading, and a successful outcome does not count for much. Here we see the artist as a loser, as the mythical antihero. For Vaast Colson the celebration of SMAK’s fifth anniversary is the perfect context in which to resolve his obsessions. Since it is his first museum exhibition, and in addition the museum is taking a festive look back at its first five years and the directorship of Jan Hoet, he has named his exhibition A Retrospective. This title is not only an ironic reference to the usual retrospective exhibitions dedicated to celebrated artists at the end of their career, but also to the fact that, in a museum, art is not only displayed but as far as possible is also conserved for eternity. Since the process aspect and the encounter with a public are so essential to this artist, the immobility of an exhibition is rather a problem – certainly when compared to the directness and rapidity of the concerts he, as a guitarist, occasionally enjoys. He himself also questions the residue of his previous acts and installations. The long, high Kunst nu hall acts as a sort of stockroom for these props and remnants. In response to the festivities at SMAK, Colson will perform acts in his installation on three successive days (7, 8 & 9 May). To this end he is constructing a wooden platform on top of the remains of his previous installations and performances, which to a certain extent gives the stockroom the appearance of an archaeological site. In addition, this construction enables the artist to mark off his own private space in the exhibition hall, and thus establish a distance between himself and the spectator.

During the festivities the artist will after all approach the public as a group, a mass of spectators zapping from one happening to the next. This consequently requires that the action be efficiently directed and designed so as to achieve an effect and wrest magic from the situation. The artist wants to spend a lot of time in his installation after the festivities too, and reserves the right to transform the space at any time. In this case he will approach the spectator as an individual and will be able to hang about informally amongst the remnants of his activities. This position is much more personal and down to earth. In this atmosphere he will also receive various artists with whom he feels an affinity or whom he admires. He will invite them to do something with the collected material entirely according to their own insight, inspiration and desires. Vaast Colson’s artistic attitude implies that, as soon as an action generates the fixed pattern of a routine, or of a certain craftsmanship, he immediately opts for an alternative method. The construction over the abyss must never take on the air of a fort. Again and again the artist chooses to grope in the dark. This brings its own risks, of course. The Kunst nu space is a personal haven for experimentation.

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