My first real encounter with Herman van Ingelgem's work was different from what I had expected. What I saw at first seemed to have nothing to do with the large scale, architectural sculptures that I had noticed before, and actually were the reason for meeting up to talk about a possible collaboration.
It took a minor mental shift to get adjusted to Van Ingelgem's new modus operandi - in fact it wasn't all that new, the next day I encountered a small elastic hairband (Karate Kid, 2010, collection S.M.A.K.), which had still some hairs attached to it, at the collection presentation of museum for contemporary art in Ghent - consisting of works that stand out in their being extremely inconspicuous. Or rather: awkward.
REMOVE/DISPLACE (Annie Gentils Gallery, Antwerp, 2010) at first sight seemed to be a rather random combination of uninteresting objects, oddly arranged across the gallery space. One room was filled with a gathering of cheap looking, used tables, making it almost impossible to enter. Yet the title of the work (Please Stay!) modestly invited me to take my time and actually make myself comfortable. Another piece (X-ray Moment) was nothing more than a suitcase that had been stripped bare of its upholstery and thereby presented itself as being a mere structure; a seemingly simple adjustment to a found object that had become rich in meaning on many different levels. Surely that of sculpture, considering volume, the in-between space and suggestion of movement. Surely also that of the readymade (either adjusted or not) that is presented to become something other than itself. Obviously some aesthetic decisions had been made as well: a careful consideration of what should remain and what was taken away. And it could also be perceived as some kind of metaphor; a comment on how privacy is sacrificed to accommodate our so-called freedom & security on a everyday basis. Having said that (and not dismissing any of it) one of the most interesting aspects of Van Ingelgem's work for me lies in what I would call his transgressive attitude towards the real. As was rightfully remarked in the press release for the exhibition: " " My work makes clear that we are not merely active participants in our own particular reality, but also active spectators. Experience and representation occur virtually simultaneously and enter into a permanent mutually influencing interaction. " As a consequence what we see becomes more real and more present in the mind's eye. It is not so much the thought-enriched nudity of the ready-made or altered objet trouvée but something that is as purposefully innocent, as revealing and naked as amateur porn.
Van Ingelgem's objects are strangely performative and animated, acting on their own account and yet willingly inviting you as a spectator. Things are rubbing and grinding against each other, against the space that they occupy, touching or even penetrating it. At P/////AKT this notion was more openly addressed. Shuffle (2011) focused on the possibility of products and objects to commute between one reality and another. Especially those that are generally perceived as banal or in themselves rather unattractive, uninteresting, imperfect or worn out, turned out to be surprisingly flexible and adventurous about their status and meaning when introduced to another context. For example a slice of cheese reclining against the wall like an inexperienced wannabe diva, slightly exhausted and sweaty (which, I have to admit, was my fault completely; it was supposed to be replaced on time). But this is now bordering on some kind of fetishism, which is -perhaps not altogether- the opposite of how I perceive the work. Van Ingelgem's practice on the one hand seems to be dealing with the (familiar) shift in status: from insignificant object into an artwork with certain formal and conceptual qualities. But there is more to consider. Van Ingelgem expects more from his objects than simply to be present as ready-mades. Or rather, it is precisely our supposed familiarity with these things that he wishes to address: "These objects are unpretentious. They have made themselves utterly known in the course of time and their relation to us seems pure and straightforward. This creates an opening to generate meaning in an alternative way. By shifting from one reality into another they are able to make certain themes sensible."
And this is where the connection between his current and previous practice takes place: it's still about architecture, but rather than an architecture dealing with structures and space it's an architecture of the things that surround us, the stuff that our daily lives is made of, that has as much to do with our physical relation to the world as with its economies and strategies and that we are only marginally aware of. If architecture is related to the body, the objects that Van Ingelgem uses as architecture are even more so, in a casual, slight of hand manner. They are our co -inhibitors, the things we see, touch and use without giving them much thought: a table, a rubber boot, a string of sausages. They're specifically designed and produced, to perform a market-driven function, and therefore easily become extensions of our selves. Or at least things to be used or consumed, easily discarded. Noteworthy in this aspect is a recurring piece consisting of one centimetre of the artist's sparse hair that has been cut off (One Centimetre, different locations, 2011) and displayed in conjunction with a broom that was purchased in a one pound shop. It's referring to production and product, a continuous process of growth, result and waste, as well as something that is very private and vulnerable. As is the work of art in general; subject to personal interpretation, (historical, economic or aesthetic) evaluation and its capacity to "communicate". So yes, a potato has the potential to become a Henry Moore. And vice versa (Henry is a… ANDOR, 2011).
What Van Ingelgem gives us is a reintroduction to these objects; a form of hyperrealism that shows them as they are, yet more themselves than we usually perceive them, or more independently so. The seemingly simple gesture of putting a standard-size plate of mdf on its side, supported by a bicycle support makes us look at the reality of a plate of wood in a whole new way, but also transforms it into a quintessential door and thereby evokes thoughts on what a door actually is on a physical and metaphorical level (Wait, Annie Gentils Gallery, 2010).
Can it be this easy? The overarch do-it-yourself quality of it all is actually suggestive of the idea that it can. And it takes commitment, surrender and a will to be exposed like that. Van Ingelgem's objects are skimpy… and they don't mind. He has made slight alterations, put them in a spotlight where they become excessively real and therefore quite beautiful. They are looking back at you, not to be idealized, but to be themselves at their best and worst: overexposed in their radically awkward reality.
At the beginning of this year Van Ingelgem had his most recent solo exhibition until now, again at his Antwerp gallery. What seemed to be the leading lady of the show, with a space all to herself, was an unsightly, dirty and obviously cheap white plastic plant stand (Some Moments Never Sleep, Annie Gentils Gallery, 2014). She had managed to position herself in a strategically central position, against a backdrop of black and white posters of various similar objects (such as a stationary holder and a parasol stand), all beautifully photographed in the same stance. Different from Walter Benjamin's famous theory, these cheap objects actually add to their aura through this process of reproduction. The fact that they have been thus photographed is making them more desirable and potentially valuable. The white plant stand is only waiting for her moment to arrive.In amateur porn everybody is a star.