Taking time for that crap that nobody wants
This interview took place during the preparation of Kaïn Walgrave's one-day exhibition at KIOSK on January 14, 2023: Hallo ik zoek een normale salontafel voor een vrouw .
Simon Delobel: When did you start this project?
Kaïn Walgrave: I started collecting photos in 2014.
SD: Did you have a concrete plan in mind right away, a concept?
KW: No, I was always surfing GIFT pages that you find on Facebook. In those groups I rarely went to collect an object myself, but I kept returning to them. Later I started collecting the pictures I found there.
SD: You picked them?
KW: Yes, picking. I have no idea why I like to keep certain pictures.
SD: How does the picking happen? You just have one folder on your computer where you collect everything?
KW: I have one folder on my cellphone and one on my computer. Every so often I delete a third or half of the files, which then come into the next folder. It's a bit of a waterfall, and at the end you have a puddle.
SD: And do you sometimes delete images that turn out not to be that interesting?
KW: Yes, so the first selection is really a gut feeling: everything that appeals to me in a certain way I keep and then I make a first selection, then a selection that I print.
SD: You have the digital file and then you have an analogue, a printed version?
KW: I print about two-thirds. I do that at Kruidvat.
SD: So, it does cost you a little bit?
KW: Yes, but it’s really very cheap. For 100 euros you can print 600 photos there.
SD: How many photos have you printed since 2014?
KW: A few thousand?
SD: Do you have a sorting system?
SD: Not at all? Then how do you find photos?
KW: On my desk, right, that’s where pictures are in piles. And I do know which pictures are in those piles.
SD: Based on those pictures you make paintings?
SD: How many paintings have you made like that?
KW: In total, good and bad together? One hundred and fifty or so. I started it two years back. Of those hundred and fifty, maybe twenty, no, eighteen or nineteen have been given away. I think another fifty or so will be given away later. What remains I paint over.
SD: So, you never destroy a work?
KW: Destroy in the sense of burning?
SD: Yes—just throwing it away in the dumpster or something?
KW: No, that’s a good usable canvas so I almost never throw it away. I try to reuse everything as much as possible.
SD: So, you started this two years ago. How did you get started?
KW: I was planning to make a photo book. But the longer I thought about it the worse that photo book became in my mind. I was afraid it would become a kind of sad coffee-table book about poor Flanders. I didn't like that. Until then I had never painted figuratively, so it was a big step for me to start, especially since I only painted in black and white. I’m not a very good painter.
SD: What is a good painter, in your eyes?
KW: I’m not very good at painting technically. I’m not very good at completely copying a picture.
SD: Photorealistic painting would never succeed, you mean?
KW: Probably not, and so I don’t try to.
SD: Why do you think it’s important to paint those things?
KW: Taking time for that crap that nobody wants anymore is important to me. Attention, for example, to a broken shoe. It’s a gesture toward that object. Nobody wants it anymore, not even for free—they don’t even take a decent picture of it. And then you take the time to spend a few days with it, to make an oil painting of it, which I think is a nice act towards that object. It’s a kind of final tribute or something, and so I do think it’s important that I paint that.
SD: So you’re making a portrait of our society, of what our society no longer considers important?
KW: I just think the fact of GIFT combined with Facebook says a lot about our society. The mass of objects, stuff that people no longer want, the massive number of images, how people interact with each other in those groups, how friendly or unfriendly people are. The objects are free, but the pictures can only be used by Facebook and the owners...
SD: You don’t do anything with the text information? You don’t process it in the title or anything?
KW: I kept one text, which immediately became the title of the whole project: “Hello, I'm looking for a normal coffee table for a woman.” I thought that was a very beautiful sentence.
SD: Whence your fascination with the idea of the gift?
KW: I don’t know. I’m fascinated by how that group of people works, and why certain things are worth something in one context and nothing at all in another. I like the idea of it too—I often get happy when things are free. But when people buy an artwork, the other artworks become more valuable to those who get one for free. That’s why I offer the paintings that are not taken for free to people who can and want to pay for them: the leftovers are for sale. But the first choice is always free.
SD: Do you expect anything from the people who take a painting home? That they send a picture to you, for example?
KW: Yes, I hope so. But it stays at that. In any case, the painting becomes theirs.
SD: So, in the end it really is an exchange: you get something in return, a picture.
KW: Yes, an exchange. At best. First, they get the work. If they don't send me a picture, that’s perfect, but the work is theirs, so in that sense it’s not an exchange. But at best, I get a picture back.
SD: What do you do with those photos you receive?
KW: Eventually I would like to make a photo exhibition with them. But I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I need more photos, so I need to give away a lot more paintings first.
SD: Do you feel the project will ever be finished, or is it a project that is always in progress?
KW: I have trouble imagining anything being finished.
SD: How important is your relationship with people who pick up a work? Do you want to meet them?
KW: Yes, of course, that’s very important. I can be quite nervous about it, too.
SD: Have you ever befriended people that way? Or have you developed a specific relationship with them?
KW: Yes, there is a man from Geraardsbergen, for example, who still sends me text messages and pictures.
SD: Art becomes a meeting point between people who at first glance have nothing in common?
KW: Yes, just like the group that is part of GIFT, which includes different people: people with money, with no money, from different ethnic or social backgrounds ... all mixed together.
At the exhibitions you have a mix of people who are involved in art and others who just want to pick up something to go with their wallpaper. They all come together at the exhibition, which is nice. Some people who come to pick up a painting for free never went to an exhibition before.
SD: So, you have a diverse audience?
KW: Yes. There’s a guy from Iran who had just arrived in Belgium and took a painting, but he lost it later. He had given the painting to his girlfriend who then broke up with him, and now he doesn't know where the painting or his ex-girlfriend is. I quite liked that.
SD: What should I imagine about these paintings? Are they signed? Are they dated? Do people get a certificate? How does it work?
KW: They don’t get a certificate. I wouldn't know how to start with that. But when I finish a painting, I date it and when people come to get it I sign it for them, on the back.
SD: So they see you signing the work?
SD: There’s really a ritual in passing the work around?
KW: They arrive, I receive them, I explain the project.
SD: And do you notice a preference among the audience for certain types of painting: abstract, colorful, figurative?
KW: I can’t really draw a line in it yet. The reactions are rarely what I expect.
SD: Would you ever ask all of them to show the works you have given them in one exhibition?
KW: I’ve fantasized about that, but I really think it would be very difficult.
SD: Because you don't have their contact information? You respect their anonymity, in a way?
KW: Yes. In a way I do. I ask them if they want to send a picture of the work when it’s at their house, which is already quite invasive. I don’t think there’s any chance of me ever getting the works all back together. The project is also about the journey a painting takes after I make it—what else can it become? Some people keep their painting, others give it away, break it, lose it, put it in the attic, or paint over it. The work still has a whole life ahead of it without being inhibited by the thought that it was an expensive painting. The important thing is that I communicate the project to part of the public as an exhibition and to another part I just ask them to come and pick up a painting on a certain day, as if it were a donation.
SD: Nice, thank you.
KW: You are welcome.