18401 is the title of Anthony Duffeleer's gallery debut in Art Gallery De Wael 15. That number is not random, but the number of days Duffeleer has been alive until the opening of the expo. At the exhibition, the well-known architect and designer is showing work from the past 20 years for the first time. Duffeleer makes sculptures and assemblages with found or bargain objects. His motto is that dedication is necessary, but artistry should by no means hold the artist hostage.
Where is your studio and what does it look like?
"My studio is at home and has three rooms: my workshop, my desk and my mind. I sometimes work in Murs in Provence with nothing more than pen and paper."
What are the requirements for a studio space for you? You work in different disciplines, so I can imagine you have different needs than, for example, someone who only paints.
"A studio is a tool to concretely convert thoughts into tangible work. I have some tools, lots of closets with objects, lots of books and an iMac. Tools should facilitate, nothing more and nothing less. An interesting conversation does that as well, and at that moment, my studio is not tangible."
The studio of Anthony Duffeleer
Your first solo exhibition is called 18401, a sequence of numbers that seems random, but is anything but. It is the number of days from your birth to the exhibition preview. That end point seems to cast a shadow on all 18400 days leading up to it. Do you consider all previous days a prelude to your solo show or work as an artist?
"It’s actually the number of days I've been alive, including my birthday. The first day of the expo is 18401 and the last 18437, so it’s always progressing, just like my work. A bit like a video still, but then live."
Before this, you have been, among other things, an architect, goldsmith, designer and entrepreneur, and have developed your practice as an artist. What can you express through your art that you can’t express in your other work?
"The parallel is always there since after all, I am still active in various disciplines. I don't consider being an artist a way to get rid of something, but rather a means to start interacting with the viewer and by extension, with society. That interaction is nurtured by what I come into contact with in that multidisciplinary process, a luxury of multiplicity."
Anthony Duffeleer, 18437, 2023, Art Gallery De Wael 15
The press release accompanying the exhibition states that you are convinced that dedication is necessary, but that artistry should by no means hold the artist hostage. Is that partly the reason why, after 18401 days, you are now going public with your work?
"That undoubtedly has something to do with it. Things sometimes have to mature and once they are ripe, they can be tasted. I also sometimes let the viewer taste it. I like to test works, such as a prototype of a car or a medical device. I do that by showing them, resulting in interaction, which is a tool to continue to progress, to refine."
The interventions you make and assemblages sometimes seem minimal, giving your images an intuitive and playful edge. At the same time, they have a cheerful kind of dark humour. Is that deliberate or does it come naturally?
"A work is the result of a process. During such a process, all sorts of things creep in, not always immediately or with forethought. They are the result of layers that arise. The final layer is applied by the viewer, or better yet, the viewer is allowed to peel the layers of the work. I think humour is important, but also arrogance or stigma, as it says something about how we are and think as human beings."
Your work often consists of found objects. Where do you get these from?
"I usually buy them, though sometimes they are given to me, very intuitively and usually not out of forethought. Sometimes, they are not used until years after the purchase, sometimes immediately, as with The Anticpant I."
Anthony Duffeleer, AUTOREPLY, 2020, Art Gallery De Wael 15
The titles of the works seem to be an integral part of them, giving the works an extra dimension, like Mental Inertia for a bag of rubber bands. You also sometimes modify the titles of the works once they have been shown or sold. Why?
"I don't make work for eternity. My view of things is influenced by many parameters and is dynamic. Works can evolve over time, both in terms of their physical appearance and how they can be read and interpreted, including the title. The title is a tool, like your thumb to peel an orange. I make the notch in the skin, the rest you have to discover yourself."
If money were no object, what project would you like to carry out? I can imagine that with your background as a goldsmith, you would know what to do with a carte blanche.
"Money is an important factor in our world and I am well aware of that. Nevertheless, it is not the catalyst for making a particular work. Art allows for sharing, for freedom of speech so to speak. Money, which equates to power in our Western thinking, should be used to safeguard this."
Anthony Duffeleer, DANN I, 2023, Art Gallery De Wael 15
What are you currently working on?
"That’s the most difficult question. I am working on everything and nothing at the same time. Things are constantly being initiated, though the outcome is not always predetermined. Everything is structured: my tools, my objects, even my thoughts (which I usually catalogue when they occur), which generates space in that part of my studio and in my mind. The moment I make a work, it is actually already finished. The 'making' is the last step and only necessary to be able to show it. In addition, we are working on a book, not an overview work, but an intuitive compilation and the preview is slated for the finissage."