A conversation between Bram van Damme and Heide Hinrichs on the day after the opening

When was Vincent van Gogh born ?
Do you have to ask me that ? Do you know it ?
Yes the year and the day.
I don’t know it.
On the 30th of March 1853.
I am curious, I organized the exhibition in Ieper, where you were showing your pedestals. I think in the beginning there were a few things I didn’t realise, for example the circus metaphor and I am curious how the circus metaphor has developed since Ieper up to now in your work.

I wasn’t aware of this connection, but for sure the circus is here and was present before, but the origin of the figure here is a completely different from the origins of the work I showed in Ieper. But still it is playing with similar elements. In Ieper the focus lay much more on presentation and now it is on the movement against a structure. Also the medium is a different one: here it is video, and performance and I’m dealing with the limitation of space. In Ieper there were very small horses standing on white and red patterned pedestals, there was much more irony. But the reversal is interesting: then the scaled down horses on top of the pedestals, now the introverted video projection, but both are a kind of criticism of presentation.

The clown is a subversive figure, who makes things visible and is showing a lot despite his limitations and has the possibility and the role of stepping over boundaries and to cross borders.

You know the title of the work: The Librarian, the Clown and the Astronomer: Part One.

What is the story about the book?*, I am very interested in that; it is like a not really visible red thread through your work. What kind of role does this book play in your work or literature in general?

The book is something like a reference, a point of departure, the figures (clown, astronomer and librarian) have their origins in the book, although they don’t feature as characters, but as buildings. What I am trying to do is to find a kind of translation of the writing into the third dimension, if you can say it like that, I’m trying to carry/translate/convey elements of form in the writing.

Literature is always a kind of description, realism is not possible in literature, it is impossible to describe things precisely and for that reason archetypal figures are used. I think of paper as melancholic, that literature sometimes can construct a world.

I guess I am doing that somehow in this attempt at translation, by dealing with the construction of spaces, that are more than single objects, and become a hint at these literary spaces.

And you can do this with these finite objects?

It is more a description of a whole space, but constructed with just a few, simple and fragile mediums.

It reminds me much more of theatre than architecture. There are two reasons: the title makes me thinking of the Commedia dell’ Arte, where you also have these archetypal figures such as the Arlecchino and the individual elements make me think of drops – they are more than decoration almost symbolic elements, like a bed on a stage to present a whole bedroom. And there is no pedestal anymore, this installation is almost a stage, a set.

Yes the box is too big for a pedestal, but it has a strong connection to the space around, it becomes almost like architecture, but is functioning as stage, both as a surface and an inner space (room, capacity).

This theatre, maybe theatre is not a good word.

I don’t know, this comparison between the objects and stage props has already been made. They might have similar characteristics. They are built to be temporary, fragile and light. But I believe, that these objects are much more focused on themselves, that they are more concentrated or focused on themsel ves than stage props. I always resisted this compari son, it feels like a valuation. Basically I understand the objects as objects for action, which can be used, as medium for something, as carrier of thoughts.

Maybe the connection towards the arts of thea tre is not the one you like most, because it doesn’t recall the best examples of good art. Let’s talk about this beautiful bird.

There is another one inside the box. They are looking at each other.

Is he swimming?

It is not clear where he is coming from, it is just a hint of an animal and for that it is enough. There is no need for a complete body. In the beginning I wanted to use a real goose in the video.

Animals as different bearers of knowledge — that is somehow similar to the archetypal characters and the method of narration in literature. And then I think about the pedestals, you have a whole history of them, a hierarchy, a tradition of pedestal thinking. There are some sculptors, who are only dealing with pedestals. But in this case I have the impression the question of hierarchy is not important to you. The dimensions depend not only on the architecture, they are relaying to an inner power, to the clown inside, so that the feeling comes up that the pedestal is growing and growing through that what is happening inside.

Indeed the pedestal has two functions, the upper side, the outside, and then the inner and it is dealing exactly with that, to include a kind of life factor. The growing is connected to the sound, the rhythm, that is created through the steps and you can find the same idea in the plants. Of course you can find also the idea of dimensions in your work, you are playing with proportions, objects that are too small or too large and I asked myself if this is a certain way of thinking.

I think most of my works are related in their size to the human body and reference a human scale. But I think it is something more, it is way to direct the spectator into a specific world. Even when the objects are objects, it becomes a transition. I see them much more as a landscape than as single sculptures. It is connected to the idea of models, or houses seen from a bird’s eye view. Is this meant as a criticism of the hierarchical object?

I don’t see the lemon as a single piece, I see them all together with each other and with the space in between them. The main focus is the interspace (the space between).

And the objects are also in the interspace. The objects are in the same time ephemeral and like bombs, like flowers and missiles. It is a similar form to a flower, but in fact it is the underside of an old kind of missile which is almost like organic form. Is there a war story in the book ?

It is the story of a Prague Jew, who has been sent as a child to England to be protected from the terror of national socialism. It is about loss, mourning, remembering, the generation of memory. It is not about violence, but about the healing of wounds.

The grenades have become lemons. I thought something like that, the lemons are also grenades, but you are soon realising that these are friendly bombs and not dangerous fruits.

*W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz, 2002

in barrack, Gent 2007, pages 77–80