Aline Bouvy & John Gillis [Belgium]


location: fasade of 42 a hall, Gdansk Shipyard (entrance possible only with the Narracje guide)

Collage has come to define the work of Belgian artists Aline Bouvy and John Gillis, from the materials they employ, to the images they reference, to the very nature of their partnership and collaboration. Imagining the future of man through paradoxically, but purposefully lo-fi means, they meld video animation, assemblage and installation into a surreal visual language. The ensuing escapades are lush tapestries of glittery spectacle and sensorial stimulation, shaping the dense fodder of contemporary image culture into Gillis’ belief that, “You can lie with collage, and you can feel with it.” This marriage of tactility and delusion is especially prevalent in the fashion industry – a field the artists’ mine as a reflection of societal ideals related to beauty, the body, and desire. In this elevation of glossy magazine girls into contemporary gods, Bouvy & Gillis marry transcendence and transgression: gazing at tomorrow through the lens of a distant, pagan past. With a retro version/vision of sci-fi futurism, the artists characterize their works as “celebrations… equivalent to a sort of primitive oath of disaster and evil spirits.” In an arena of obscene poses, grotesque glamour and fetish-like actions – where divinities and totems from another time float into 21st century being – Bouvy explains that the works are “enigmatic and surreal, mystical and psychologically loaded, yet they also simply comment on the human body today using eroticism, beauty, violence and extravagance.”

Venus is the venerated Roman goddess of love, beauty, fertility, prosperity and victory – making her central to many religious festivals and an enduring icon of female sexuality. Born of sea foam and idolized for her seductive charms, she simultaneously protects prostitutes and elevates sex from vice to virtue. Venus also lends her name to the small Italian city Venusia (or Venosa), and her shame to the decadence and debauchery that led to the Roman Empire’s eventual decay. All of these legacies shimmer in this kaleidoscopic video collage (influenced by the 1960s French photographer and stylist Serge Lutens) – collaging a dark, but opulent future where a 21st century Venus takes shape. The animation itself is crafted from hundreds of clippings from high gloss fashion magazines: orchestrating bodies, beasts and baubles to the haunting score of electro-compo-ser Johnston Sheard. On this baroque stage, Bouvy and Gillis introduce the first act as such: “Lured by a pearl necklace, like a fish by bait, a woman bites into it. Seduced by the desire for splendor and the Venusian promise of beauty, she incorporates the pearls, hides herself behind polished fingernails, and appears in the nude, yet masked.” Before and behind this yawning blue totem, eyes emerge as an important motif in Venusia’s carnivalesque cosmos – orbiting, observing, and searching for a soul to reveal. Reminiscent of the Robot Woman in Fritz Lang’s famed 1927 film Metropolis, the mask expands to a full-body vessel where – in the final scenes of this animation – hundreds of faces and body parts flash by in the pursuit of unity, and identity. It never reaches fruition, but along the way we float through surreal worlds and starry boutiques – exercising fancy and flight in the search for components that will bring this mechanical doll to life.

As a projection screen on which the lives, dreams and desires that have moved through history pass, this 21st century Venusia becomes the embodiment of the Gdansk Shipyard – nervously awaiting its future identity. Born too of sea-foam and the water’s siren call, the Shipyard’s collection of empty containers have become subject to the fashions of industry and economic development. Long past its once proud status as the jewel of Gdansk’s prosperity, this tattered terrain is consequently forced to consider life as “New Town” – replete with the shops, lights and urban amenities that will attract an updated cult of the young and beautiful. A blue door, like a blue mask, anticipates its new face.