BARBED ART

Dorothee Cappelle

 

 

Sarah & Charles’s

Intelligent Oeuvre

The summer of 2009 saw the first edition of the renewed Art Festival in the Belgian town of Watou. Amongst the work shown was that of a few recent graduates of the Higher Institute for Fine Arts in Ghent (HISK), including the laureates of 2007: the young duo Sarah & Charles, Brussels born and raised, who were there to present their enthralling installation Ominous View. Although applicable, the title could not yet refer to the dark clouds hanging over the festival since the last Flemish subsidiary round. Enthrall, however, was what Ominous View did from the get-go. Presented was a space within another space; a window to a world that could not be found outside of it. The installation played with reality and illusion. It put up for discussion what we, modern day screen junkies, tend to take for granted: inside and outside, light and darkness, reality and fantasy. As a spectator, you were misled for just a second, before quickly discovering the mechanisms behind your own perception. What you thought you saw was not real; it was merely an interpretation of reality. In this sense, Ominous View can be seen as representative for the wayward duo’s entire oeuvre. In that West-Flemish border town one could see the first steps toward what would become exceptional poetics, extremely consistent with calling into question...well, everything.

 

By now, the Brusselians have been working on their intriguing oeuvre for over a decade. Talking about the work of Sarah & Charles is referring to Plato’s cave (what else?). And rightly so. But there is much more to their art than just that. First and foremost, the duo produces art with barbs. It gets its hooks into the physical world that surrounds us, into our thinking, but into the complete history of art as well: from film (Godard, Fellini, Truffaut) and theatre (Beckett, the fourth wall), through literary principles, to the traditional visual arts of painting and sculpture (relief, perspective). Established values are turned on their heads. Everything is artfully deconstructed, and what is left is used to create interesting ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. These artworks can often

be seen as series, where one work refers to another, dissects it and builds on it.

Throughout the winter of 2015-2016 Sarah & Charles’s work was displayed in Nest (The Hague) and in Network (Aalst) as part of the Flemish-Dutch ‘Best Neighbours’ program.1 In October 2016 their film A day will come my future will be your past was shown by the Kortrijk Arts Centre BUDA, followed by an exposition in the Rotterdam gallery Cinnnamon.2


Sarah & Charles’s art is multidisciplinary. It incorporates installations, sculptures, film, performances, soundscapes, photography and scenographic projects, such as the recent They Might Be Giants with dancer Jan Martens.3 The duo collaborates with artists including dancer-choreographer Siet Raeymaekers, musician and composer Lieven Dousselaere, cinematographer Hans Bruch Jr. and others. Clearly, Sarah & Charles have a finger in just about every artistic pie. However, this does not mean their work is a hodgepodge of different disciplines, nor does it require you to have read half a library to understand what they are trying to say. The duo has an extensive knowledge of culture, are analytical and present their ideas in a comprehensible and stripped down manner.

To do so, they make increasingly emphatic use of narrative techniques from film, theatre and literature.

In texts about their previous exhibitions, parallels between their work and the seventh art are freely drawn. These parallels are rather obvious, since the duo is active in cinematography as well. This type of analysis may, however, be too simple, and does not bring enough honour to the multilayered work. Further likeness could actually be found in postmodern literature: the use of metafiction, paradox, irony, different narrative perspectives and intertextuality; the lack of chronology and the fading of boundaries between fiction and reality. Though postmodern literature may be past its heyday, that does not mean it is no longer interesting; something we are beauti-

fully reminded of by Sarah & Charles’s oeuvre. One could describe the duo as the ‘visual’ grandchildren of author Willem Brakman (1922-2008). 

If Brakman made a character walk out of an artwork to participate in (fictional) reality, the exact opposite happens in The Storage (2013).4 As a visitor you feel as though you ended up somewhere you shouldn’t be, a storage or studio where work is still in progress. Nothing could be further from the truth. The spectator walks out of his own reality and into the art world, but not as you know it. What is usually hidden behind the scenes is now purposefully brought to the front, including the worn out curator in the corner. The artists describe The Storage as a “warehouse for props”, with new props as well as ones that were used for other artistic undertakings, such as the short films from the series Props for Drama: Suspension of Disbelief, Sounds (where cinematographic sound effects are rendered in textual form), Plan, Study for Plot Hole, The Stand-In and Plan Layout. The installation offers us a glimpse into the duo’s internal kitchen. It’s presented as an artwork in and of itself and simultaneously invites the visitor to dream up his own personal film or theatre set. This use of layering is pushed even further in the recent A day will come my future will be your past (2015). The film shows two young women who meet on a slow day in an idyllic park. They

Sarah & Charles, Vein Viewer II, Cinnnamon,
Rotterdam 2016
© Noortje Knulst

NOTES


1. Moving a Brick Trough Water, Nest, Den Haag, September 20 2015 – November 1 2015 and An Unbelievable Truth, Netwerk, Aalst, December 6 2015 – March 6 2016.

2. Vein Viewer II, Cinnamon Gallery, Rotterdam, October 29 2016 – December 17 2016.
3.
https://www.charlessarah.com/giants
4. https://www.charlessarah.com/thestorage

Sarah & Charles, An Unbelievable Truth, Netwerk, Aalst, 2015 © Kristof Vrancken

Sarah & Charles, An Unbelievable Truth, Netwerk, Aalst, 2015 © Kristof Vrancken

have a philosophical conversation about time, transience, memory and illusion. The story isn’t told chronologically or causally; rather we get to see and hear only fragments. It is left up to the viewer to reconstruct the story. At the same time, the bubble of illusion is pricked, amongst other things by prominently showing the voice actresses dubbing dialogue in the studio. But also by hooking in with other works of art of the corresponding exposition in Aalst, An Unbelievable Truth, to every aspect of the filmic tale: sound becomes image, solid matter like brick turns out to be fake, etc. Sarah & Charles use their art to create a space where we can wander through reality, fiction and all the (thinking) worlds between these opposites. Their artworks give you handles to grab onto, but no solid ground beneath your feet - which is enough, as long as you are unafraid to look. Once you’ve let yourself be submerged in their universe, the world won’t be the same again.

translation by Charlotte Demedts

Sarah & Charles make increasingly emphatic use of narrative techniques from film, theatre and literature. In texts about their previous exhibitions, parallels between their work and the seventh art are freely drawn