Naked existence


Johan Deschuymer (b. 1965) is intrigued by the world of manipulation and reproduction of living beings. 

The sculptures are a criticism of the achievements of science and technology, especially in the field of cloning living beings. They do not deny the progress that this represents for our biological legacy, but look ahead to the future and attempt to make us more conscious of it.

From the end of the eighties until recently Deschuymer worked together with Koen Wastijn. They participated in numerous exhibitions as an artistic duo, Wastijn & Deschuymer. Using a xerox they made prints of animals or parts of the body. Numerous full-scale models of dead animals, reptiles and skulls taken from natural history museums were modelled in brightly coloured plastic or bronze. The bodies of dead animals were appropriated and transmuted in a colourful and attractive material. Johan Deschuymer has gone his own way for the last two years. For his first project he paid a daily visit to the abattoirs in Anderlecht where he made his own casts of the jaws of cows that had been slaughtered. He has been working in hospitals and natural history museums since the beginning of 2000. They are all interesting depots of dead animals and people. He makes casts of this ‘dead material’ in lead (the gravity of death) or wax (tangible, attractive), and labels each with a file number. At present the series of ‘foetuses’ consists of about thirty small sculptures. All of them are life-size human foetuses at different stages of development and are done in wax. The visual element is very important to Deschuymer, and he pays a great deal of attention to details such as the proper dosage of pigment and the material that is used. Johan Deschuymer describes his work as ‘clones’, ‘forms that impose themselves on you freely and naturally’. Our observation of them is a combination of disgust and fascination. By modelling foetuses, the artist refers to genetic manipulation, the numerous aids used in procreation, and the helplessness of these small bodies. Their eyes are closed, they are isolated and have become an anonymous file number, they have not had the time to acquire an identity, and are excluded from our society. They are young and yet extremely old. Each work is an isolation, a confrontation with what is ‘sculpturally’ the closest approach to our earliest memories. They ask us to take them with us in our minds, they lodge themselves inside our heads. SMAK is displaying a small sculpture that is part of the ‘het naakt bestaan’ (naked existence) series (2000). The model is a 1938 male foetus from the Royal Natural Science Museum in Brussels and was executed in synthetic wax (height 20 cm).

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