Berlinde De Bruyckere at Hof van Busleyden

“I mould and cut out large petal shapes that correspond to the size of my body and carefully mount them on the oak frame. I repeat this process until the ‘lily’ appears. The warm petals weigh heavily upon each other. Outstretched and melted together: they enforce their final shape: it almost seemed a lily […] I connect the petals to the lilies to images of skin, flesh; their fragrance to lust and pleasure; their unsavoury smell while wilting to ephemerality and pain” Berlinde de Bruyckere.

In a remarkable exhibition staged at the Hof van Busleyden until 12th May, Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere looks at  the fragile beauty of sixteenth-century reliquary altarpieces and inserts her work within the religious conceptual framework and symbolism of hortus conclusus, “the enclosed garden”.

According to De Bruyckere, the fallen petals are very similar to the delicate human skin, a recurrent theme in the works on view which the artist started in 2017. The lily has many religious connotations and is often used as a metaphor in Greek mythology. De Bruyckere also examined the myth of Apollo and Hyacinth in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and referenced it in the title of this show.

It almost seemed a lily features thirty-one works ranging from assemblages, sculptures to drawings by the artist, juxtaposed with enclosed gardens loaned from the permanent collection De Beata Vita Foundation. Textural materials resembling skins and human flesh are mounted on large abstract panels or wrapped in several layers of monochromatic textile pieces protected by transparent glass cloches.

In this sombre exhibition, the artist questions ideas of fragmentation, vulnerability and the fragility of man. Working with casts made of wax, animal skins, hair, metal, mirrors, and wood, Berlinde De Bruyckere renders haunting deformations of natural organisms through various cabinets of curiosities. The suffering body – both human and animal – and the overwhelming power of organic form are some of the central themes of De Bruyckere’s exhibition at Hof van Busleyden.

The selection of textile, iron and wax sculptures on view are framed with eighteenth-century oak floor boards from the artist’s home, which bear the marks of the many feet that walked across them in the past centuries. All the elements in De Bruyckere’s cabinets are infused with a meaning which relates to ideas of history, nostalgia and decay.

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Images: Berlinde De Bruyckere, ‘It almost seemed a lily IV, 2017-2018‘, 2018 © Berlinde De Bruyckere. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth