Lonnie Van Brummelen & Siebren De Haan
subi dura a rudibus
10.12.11 – 22.01.12
Dutch duo Lonnie van Brummelen & Siebren de Haan presents a projection of their film diptych Subi dura a rudibus (16mm film, 26’, 2010). This silent film’s inspiration and source material is a sixteenth-century series of tapestries depicting the 1535 conquest of Tunis by emperor Charles V. The tapestries were designed by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, a painter at the Habsburg court who was appointed an ‘embedded’ artist to accompany Charles’ troops and make drawings to report on the campaign. The result is generally considered the first example of a work of art of a documentary nature in which the artist depicts himself as part of the scene. As the back of the tapestry is in fact the front for the weaver, Vermeyen made his design drawings mirrorwise.
In this film diptych, images of the tapestries and of the ‘mirrored’ drawings are synchronously projected alongside each other. The resulting choreography of mirror images recalls the well-known abstract ink blotches of the psychological Rorschach test, making the role of the visitor’s own interpretation very tangible indeed. The viewer’s attention is focused on the discrepancies between the original drawings and the weaver’s translation in the finished tapestries. The tapestry report shows multiple perspectives, presenting both the emperor’s point of view and that of his opponents, and the painter himself is also depicted as part of the battle scene. As such, the diptych delineates a field of tension between what is to be considered interpretation, and what objective reality or truth.
The title of the film, Subi dura a rudibus is a palindrome that can be translated as “endure rough treatment from uncultured brutes”. Just like its title, the installation itself can also be read in two directions: who is the brute and who is on the ‘good side’? Van Brummelen and de Haan thus raise the question whether the painter in fact realized that, as an ‘embedded journalist’, he was incapable of representing an entirely objective perspective. In this light, the status of the tapestry, as a propaganda tool of its day, can be examined by comparing the sixteenth-century painter with a twenty-first-century war photographer, anthropologist or historian, who faces the same questions of representation. It is precisely part of the artists’ intention that such visual inversions and conceptual reasoning only gear more questions. In the aesthetic space of this work, they wish to introduce a larger area of research that is situated between politics, history and culture. This particular showing of the work at KIOSK places it in an apt geographical context: Charles V was born here in Ghent, and grew up in Malines, also the city where the tapestries were made.