Hans Op De Beeck: The power of an irreversible harmony

«Wabi» is the Japanese word used to identify the natural and delicate attention for simple and elusive things, for a beauty that is both evasive and elegant. It describes an incredibly poetic concept which suits perfectly the work of Belgian artist and polymath Hans Op de Beeck, an explorer of traditional artistic techniques such as watercolors, sculpture and photography, and versatile and multimedia or interactive expressive resources, from video installations to theater, including cinematography and screenplay writing.

Hans op De Beeck / Loss, Video Installation, 11′, 2004 © Studio Hans op De Beeck

Hans Op de Beeck forces us to pay attention to what changes imperceptibly but at the same time deeply, as it happens in Loss, a video installation made in 2004 which starts with a frame revealing the historic archetypal image of a window, through which we can see late 1800s architecture until it displays the bare coastal landscapes of Belgium just after the first world war. The vision is accompanied by constantly fading sounds, we can hear crickets chirping, a sweet melody interrupted by words, silence, disturbing squeaking and rustling, agitated flapping of wings, and frantic breathing, heavy steps and gusting violent wind. What dominates the atmosphere though is always the quiet which is particularly loved by the artist.

Hans Op de Beeck / Table (1), Sculptural Installation, 2006 © Studio Hans Op de Beeck

Also the theme of the vanitas and memento mori is a subject covered in his sculptures on several occasions and it is defined in a softened manner, tamed by the immobile silence of the abstraction, in what doesn’t seem to be a simulation but more of an invocation. The reality is what it appears to be but it is also something different, as in Table (1) (2006), where Hans plays with the proportions of the objects. And the fact that all these works are made with monochrome shades is not a coincidence since they bring back humans and objects to their authentic dimension; gray becomes magnetic and unreal space, although still physical, a place to go back to, a liminal space where time stops, letting us think or making us disappear seraphically.

Hans Op de Beeck / The Collector’s House, Sculptural Installation, 2016.© Studio Hans Op de Beeck

Hans Op de Beeck / (Still) Staging Silence (2) Video, 20’48”, 2013 © Studio Hans Op de Beeck

The installation Collector’s house (2016) is in this sense the most emblematic example of his research: the setting «is all in gray, as if we are looking at a Collector’s house after many years; it’s a bit like Pompeii, where everything turns into stone».  Seen through a collector’s eye, reality in all its aspects and objects becomes an interesting subject and the general sensation felt by who walks in this house is to be in a place that is «silent and serious». In Staging silence (2013), Hans is ironic and brilliant: in a video which is just over 20 minutes long he shows us, with his usual ruthless tenderness, the manipulation of places that look like thoughts. Four mysterious hands begin to build landscapes and environments: just by stretching out a clean film on a table it is possible to obtain a shimmering sea full of waves and reflections, and by turning bottles and plastic containers upside down, and the convenient use of light, an urban nightscape comes to life, made of solid skyscrapers which look over our subjectivity.

Hans Op de Beeck / “OUT OF THE ORDINARY” © Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Photo: Marek Kruszewski

His aesthetics are made of sweet fiction, farce, artifices, seen in a positive light as means to achieve infinite possibilities through a new vision of the ordinary. Everything is mounted and dismantled with calm ease, and the artist works like an experienced craftsman who complies to the desire and need for peace of mankind. In his works there’s a sensation of irreversible harmony, like in the sculptures of the Gestures series (2014).

Hans Op de Beeck / Gesture (soap bubble), Gestures, Series of 2 Sculptures, 2016 © Studio Hans Op de Beeck

The space is both a container and content itself, an emotional questioning place, gentle home for our mix of feelings and memories both experienced or just imagined. And the human being disappears, absorbed by its subconscious and by the atmospheres so indefinitely intimate, like those in The Garden Room, in Out of the Ordinary (2017), in Amusement Park (2015), or the animated watercolors in Night Time (2015).

Lorenza Zampa

All images > © Hans Op de Beeck / Studio Hans Op de Beeck