Jakob Van den Broucke
Art as idiosyncratic schooling
De mentaliteit is van plastiek, a first artist publication by Jakob Van den Broucke, was published in 2018. On the occasion of his first solo exhibition at KIOSK, Learning how to swim + reading a treatise on swimming = ?, Simon Delobel and Els Roelandt visited the artist's studio in Ghent on 26 August 2021.
ER & SD: How old are you?
JVdB: 28 years old
ER & SD: Where were you born?
JVdB: Strictly speaking in Borgerhout but I grew up in Meerhout.
ER & SD: Where are we now?
JVdB: In Ghent, in my studio, close to my house, close to my work. I work, live and have my studio in the same neighborhood.
ER & SD: What do you do for a living?
JVdB: I work half-time for a poverty organization, my job is to have conversations with people who come to our food support and based on this communicate with policy makers in the effort to improve policies.
ER & SD: What have you studied?
JVdB: Sociology, Conflict and Development Studies, one year of philosophy, and a course in librarianship. While working on my final thesis, I noticed that the academic language form was not the way I could or wanted to articulate things. Realizing this, I went through a crisis from which an artistic practice has flowed. Now I make things that I reflect upon and that I think are worth making. I try to react to incoming information and transform this reaction into something material. This will also be reflected in my show at KIOSK, art as a kind of idiosyncratic learning experience. For example, this summer I made a work that is partly composed of a compost pile. Now I'm learning to compost myself. Apparently I need this kind of detour sometimes. Similarly, I learned to sew because I wanted to make a work that needed to be sewn. Often I learn things because I first have an idea to make something and then it becomes part of my daily life.
ER & SD: Are you a do-it-yourselfer?
ER & SD: What do you read in the morning and evening?
JVdB: At the moment I read De Witte Raaf in the morning and later in the day I switch to self-help books. These books are made for restless people anyway, you can't read in them for long, so they are ideal books to read in between. For a while I read a lot of art catalogs, now I read mainly in function of my KIOSK exhibition. I also still read theory, especially sociology. I make diagrams of the theories I read and look for connections. I will show those diagrams in KIOSK. Reading the self-help books made me reflect on the consequences of pervasive individualism such as person cult, relativism, conspiracy thinking, burnout and the like. We see that the common idea that everyone has their own truth is running into its limits and is dangerous for our society. That's what I read about, try to think about.
ER & SD: Who do you make your works for?
JVdB: I have the feeling that I have to make them, the sense of urgency is very important to me before proceeding to the actual making. There is always the underlying belief that you do what you do for others. But the reaction of that concrete other is often disappointing, people rarely go deep into works. Having a companion to discuss problems with, like Kasper Demeulemeester, an artist from Brussels whom I am working with on a regular base, is therefore very important to me. With him I can always converse about my and his pursuits and besognes. It's not easy to put things simply. My job often requires me to look for a clear formulation of problems or ideas. Accessibility is therefore always in the back of my mind and I definitely see a parallel between my paid job and the creation and bringing into the world of my artwork. In essence, both are about translation.
ER & SD: Will this exhibition at KIOSK be your first solo exhibition?
JVdB: No, the second one: my first artistic manifestation was also a solo exhibition so this will be the second, which is exciting. This is also the first one on a different level, in a different world. Usually, I take the initiative to show or make something myself.
ER & SD: Does the exhibition already have a title?
JVdB: Learning how to swim + reading a treatise on swimming = ?. That title comes initially from a book by Hanne Darboven (1) in which she refers to a statement by Heidegger from the text ‘Was Heisst Denken?’ (2). In a series of lectures Heidegger examines what it means to think. At one point he says: One does not learn how to swim by reading a treatise on swimming, or in other words: To learn how to swim one must first jump into the water. This is the impetus to phenomenology. The thought exercise Heidegger cites applies to many things I create. Putting something into the world as a matter of thinking and doing. I often use written language as an intermediate step in creating a work, which is why the title is mathematically formulated and therefore functions best in written form. Having a step-by-step plan is important but at a certain point you also have to be able to leave it behind, do things, bend the rules and allow the unexpected. For me, making work is always a search for the desired balance between conceptuality and spontaneity.
ER & SD: Do you find it difficult to accept an invitation made by an institution?
JVdB: No, I do work more by myself at the moment. Before, I have been working a lot with Kasper. Together we can solve a lot of problems by talking about them and that's less the case now. Preparing an exhibition is also shaping your own universe. The works I'm making now come each from a kind of step-by-step plan. Shaping a step-by-step plan helps me to make choices, to build in formal constraints during the process of creation. The idea sometimes arises fleetingly, but the execution takes a lot of time. For example, I read books that have the word "how" in the title. The idea arose from a fascination with How To Win Friends and Influence People, a book that circulated for a while within my circle of friends and is one of the most widely read books in America (3). These books range between self-help and do-it-yourself books and I want to present them as a sculpture. I wonder how these kinds of books insert themselves into lived life, how the words turn into actions? On top of the pile of books comes a heavy weight, after all, the books exert pressure on us as individuals, they can be seen as a sign of the excessive individualism inherent to our time.
ER & SD: Will the expo also take the form of a book?
JVdB: No, but there will be an edition of one book in the expo that will bear the title of the sentence by Heidegger that I just mentioned: One does not learn how to swim by reading a treatise on swimming ... The book itself will only have a cover and title, it is otherwise empty.
ER & SD: Have you already made an artist's book?
JVdB: Yes, my first book De mentaliteit is van plastiek is an artist book (4). Recently I made two more books: De Tocht (5) and De Verderzetting (6). In an interview about De mentaliteit is van plastiek I explained that I wanted to do something that relates to the Kempen, the place where I grew up. I mentioned my phone number in the interview and received a message from Kasper Demeulemeester, an artist from Brussels who has family ties in the Kempen. We emailed each other for 4 months about the Kempen and work we could maybe make. Later we walked together to Meerhout, he started in Brussels and I in Ghent. From this four-day walk and the eventual meeting with Kasper, two books and exhibitions have emerged. This project is always evolving, we are looking for people who relate to a place in a different way. We try to do that fairly openly. Kasper and I have our own network, but we are opening it up more and more. Other people can join as well, by now 23 artists are part of the project.
ER & SD: Are you going to be a curator?
JVdB: I would rather not see it that way. Collaborations are very important though. I also have the feeling that our project in the Kempen is getting out of hand, it's getting too big.
ER & SD: How would you rather define yourself?
JVdB: As an initiator, Kasper and I attach great importance to the conversation, to talking to people. We email extensively about projects, there is some direction in terms of content, but always stemming from dialogue.
ER & SD: Are you also a photographer?
JVdB: Yes, photography is always present, but I wouldn't define myself as a photographer, photography is an important tool to document, to explore my visual preferences, to respond to what I see.
ER & SD: Are you a collector?
JVdB: Yes, but I collect very consciously: when something enters my universe, it has to have a place, I don't want to have too much. My studio is a space where I can control things and organize the world.
ER & SD: Are you a skater?
JVdB: Always have been, through skating I got to know the work of Ed Templeton and from there I became interested in art.
ER & SD: Is skating cool?
JVdB: I can't stand that cool and macho behavior anymore, after two minutes at a skatepark it's clear who is the 'coolest'. Cool is often an obstacle to the accessibility of art, cool often gets in the way of content. The drive I used to experience in skating I now find in art.
ER & SD: Do you have your own pantheon, who inspires you?
JVdB: Various Artists and Jef Geys I find fascinating, both because you can never fully know their work and person.
ER & SD: What will we never know about you?
JVdB: Difficult question, I do not know, I am an open book.
1° Okwui Enwezor, Rein Wolfs (eds.), Hanne Darboven: Enlightment – Time Histories. A Retrospective, Haus der Kunst, München, Prestel, 2015
2° Martin Heidegger, Was Heisst Denken?, Freiburg, 1952
3° Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends And Influence People, New York, 1936
4° Jakob Van den Broucke, De mentaliteit is van plastiek, Gent, Topo Copy, 2018
5° Jakob Van den Broucke, De Tocht, De Kempische Bocht, Meerhout, 2020
6° Jakob Van den Broucke, De Verderzetting, De Kempische Bocht, Meerhout, 2021