INSIGHTS | Conversation with artist Emmanuel Van der Auwera

Harlan Levey Projects won the 2017 DISCOVERY Prize at Art Brussels with a presentation of works by Emmanuel Van der Auwera. In 2019, Harlan Levey mounted a SOLO presentation by the same artist. Emmanuel Van der Auwera currently has solo exhibitions at Botanique (4 September-3 November) and Harlan Levey Projects (5 September-14 December), and is included in the Open Skies show at WIELS, from 27 September through 5 January 2020. As part of Art Brussels Insights, we caught up with him to discuss these projects. Emmanuel Van der Auwera is the laureate of the first edition of the Goldwasser Prize, launched in September 2019.

Interview with the artist Emmanuel Van der Auwera
By Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte.

You currently have two solo exhibitions on view in Brussels, The Death of K9-cigo at Harlan Levey Projects and The Sky is on Fire at Botanique. Can you give us an insight into both exhibitions and how they relate to each other?
The two exhibitions encompass an investigation I conducted in the course of a year and a half in Miami, during the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman shooting in Parkland, Florida, in early 2018. This tragedy, which cost the lives of 17 people and injured many more, became the starting point of a social media movement that called for gun reform in the United States. The situation quickly morphed into a bitter political and ideological battle, as is all too often the case in our hyper-connected and tribal world. It is now an almost forgotten chapter of the 2018 Trump era, and since then other atrocities have taken centre stage.
The diptych investigates topics that have been present in my work in recent years: a critical reflection on media, the blurring lines between actor and spectator and between emitter and receiver in the age of hyper-mediatized phenomena, the performativity of horror and disaster and the human tendency for rites and storytelling (history being the most notable one) as substitutes for something that needs to remain hidden from view.
The two exhibitions feature two film installations, both of which were made with a smartphone as a starting point. The Death of K9-Cigo at Harlan Levey Projects follows the trails and the spreading of the disaster during a year in the communities that live and interact in the area through a social media app called Periscope. The Sky is on Fire at Botanique presents a hypothetical digital ruin of that same area, a virtual street of Miami captured with an app that turns 2D images into 3D shapes. This lifeless world resonates with the monologue of a Miami resident who reflects on the desire for immortality that drives our need to capture everything into an image.

How does the artistic community in Brussels inspire or influence you?
Brussels has this really vibrant art community and it’s impossible not to feel that there’s always something happening at any given time! It’s very stimulating, but you need to keep it in check! I have found the right balance between isolating myself in order to work (which is a very important part of an artist’s life) and reaching out to these incredibly active surroundings. I’ve made some great new friends in the art community in Brussels with whom I’m interacting a lot on ideas and work. They have a profound impact on what I do and on what influences me. With Harlan, I have an exceptional relationship. We work together at a different level than what you might define as an artist/gallerist relationship. He has a very critical eye, and we discuss the work deeply, from an aesthetic and a philosophical perspective. I value his vision a lot.

You were part of the presentation that won Harlan Levey Projects the DISCOVERY Prize at Art Brussels in 2017, and in 2019 they presented a solo of your work at the fair. What does Art Brussels mean to you?
I have been present in Harlan’s booths since 2016, so Art Brussels has become a yearly meeting place for me and a privileged moment to meet our friends and partners. A year is quite short if you think about it, and you don’t succeed in keeping in touch with many people as much as you want. For me, Art Brussels is the moment where everybody shows up, and it really gives a chance to catch up on what everybody is doing. It’s very gratifying to come back each year with a new statement and to meet so many people in such a short time! The DISCOVERY Prize was great recognition for the gallery and its artists, and the solo show was an important moment for me this year. A moment that clearly helped my work to obtain greater visibility and touch a new audience. The work I showed at the fair, Videosculpture XX, has since been selected to be part of Open Skies at WIELS.

One of your works was recently acquired by Kanal – Centre Pompidou in Brussels. Can you tell more about that work and what it meant for you to become part of this collection?
Entering the collection of a museum is always a special moment, because it marks a recognition of the work and places it on a different scale. The work acquired by Kanal is a piece from the VideoSculpture series entitled Shudder. It’s a video installation that twists a certain technical specificity of LCD screens to “hide” and subsequently reveal a film through the use of a black lacquered glass plate, making it appear as a reflection on the other side of this mirror-like surface. I’m grateful to Kanal that they decided to start the collection with emerging artists. The Kanal collection has just been born and will certainly have a long and enduring history. I feel privileged for being part of that.

Do you have some favourite local places in Brussels?
To be honest, I end up at the Parvis in Saint-Gilles almost daily. It has become some sort of Axis 0 on my Brussels mental map. I love how Louise morphs into Matonge in the course of a few streets, which in its turn transforms into the European neighbourhood. This city is very diverse, while being compact at the same time. It’s a tiny “world city” where sometimes I feel like I’m living in a space station hovering above the old troubled Europe. Of course, it’s an illusion, as we are in the eye of the storm.

What projects are coming up for you?
I am working with Harlan Levey Projects on my first monograph, which will hopefully be out this year. It’s very exciting and I feel that the timing is right. The last couple of years have been very intense and it is now a defining moment for me to look back at the work and articulate it into a book. There are many other interesting projects that are starting to take shape. I will be having an exhibition at the London-based gallery Edel Assanti next year. They also work with Marcin Dudek, another Harlan Levey artist. I’m looking forward to collaborating with them on my first solo in the United Kingdom, if it will still be called that then!


Emmanuel Van der Auwera (b. 1982, Belgium) lives and works in Brussels. Through filmmaking, video sculpture, theatre, printmaking and other media, Van der Auwera sets up encounters with found images that provoke a questioning of our visual literacy: How do images of contemporary mass media operate on various audiences, and to what end? With the formal rigor of a logician, the artist dissects how images are engineered, mastering specialized industry techniques and intervening in their protocol. In so doing, Van der Auwera brings us no closer to a monolithic truth, but constructs new paradigms for reading images and understanding our relationships with them.
Van der Auwera is a 2015 laureate of the Higher Institute for Fine Arts (HISK) post-academic programme in Ghent and a 2015 Langui Award recipient of the Young Belgian Art Prize. His work has recently been featured in exhibitions at WIELS (Brussels), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci (Prato, IT), Ars Electronica (Linz, AT), Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain (Luxembourg City, Luxembourg), and Mu.ZEE (Ostend, BE), among others. His work was recently acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas, TX, USA) and Kanal – Centre Pompidou (Brussels), Mu.ZEE (Ostend, Belgium) and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (Eugene, OR, USA). He recently debuted in the US with a solo show entitled White Noise at 214 Projects (Dallas).

Images in order of appearance:
Emmanuel Van der Auwera, The Death of K9-CIGO, installation view, Harlan Levey Projects, 2019, Copyright Emmanuel Van der Auwera & Harlan Levey Projects, Courtesy Harlan Levey Projects
Emmanuel Van der Auwera, The Death of K9-CIGO, installation view, Harlan Levey Projects, 2019, Copyright Emmanuel Van der Auwera & Harlan Levey Projects, Courtesy Harlan Levey Projects
Emmanuel Van der Auwera, The Sky is on Fire, installation view, Botanique, 2019. Photo credit Gilles Ribero, Copyright Emmanuel Van der Auwera & Harlan Levey Projects, Courtesy Harlan Levey Projects
Emmanuel Van der Auwera, The Sky is on Fire, installation view, Botanique, 2019. Photo credit Gilles Ribero, Copyright Emmanuel Van der Auwera & Harlan Levey Projects, Courtesy Harlan Levey Projects
Emmanuel Van der Auwera, VideoSculpture XIV (Shudder), 2017, HD Video, LCD Screens, black glass, 206 x 117 x 3 cm, Collection KANAL Centre Pompidou, Copyright Emmanuel Van der Auwera & Harlan Levey Projects, Courtesy Harlan Levey Projects
View of Harlan Levey Projects booth at Art Brussels 2019

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