by Dieter Debruyne

Urbanautica Institute, in collaboration with mi*GALERIE, presents during next Foire internationale de photographie d’art - PARIS PHOTO the exhibition ‘Tiny Tears (les belges)’, featuring Aurore Dal Mas, Katlijn Blanchaert and Peter Waterschoot. Their melancholic oeuvres, personal stories of dark thoughts and solitude match together extremely well. The trio takes you into a dusk universe: the smudged personae non grata, the soulsearching notes and also time’s querks. 'Polvere', 'Limen' and 'Ikebana Blues' are very different approaches in sensing, exploring and reframing one’s midsts. Here is a short conversation I had with the 3 Belgian artists.

Aurore tell me about your project 'Polvere'.

Aurore Dal Mas: It started by "accident" in 2013 when I was trying to make a red portrait of a girl I used to know. But immediately I turned it black and dirty. I then started to look for ragged things all around me and during various trips I did. The series, to me, is like a mirror that distorts places and people to make them look a bit dismembered, a bit more nasty and darker of course but not necessarily less attractive - as you would be attracted by a soft black hole. It's a vision of our broken human condition, with little hope I guess, a weird irony and though there is this little thing that doesn't want to die, that resists. It's embodied in the faces and the eyes of the people represented. We never see them, but we feel that they are watching us anyway. Everything is in solid ruins and so dark that there is no way it could quickly disappear. So we have to bare that, as viewers, in its physical but also in its metaphyisical dimension.

© Aurore Dal Mas from the series 'Polvere'

The subjects in your photographs, they don't communicate with the audience ; i call them 'personae non grata'. Why the fascination for those anonymous persons?

Aurore Dal Mas: Though faces are hidden, we still feel they're watching us but we just have no access to their emotions. It can be an uncomfortable presence. Heads disappear so they are only bodies, useless bodies. Because of that, it’s as if they were not totally there anymore. And that's completely what photography is about. By hiding faces, the viewer faces only himself. He’s the one who’s really naked and observed, maybe without even fully knowing it. Besides that, in my pictures, I don't want the "real" people. I'm not interested in making a portrait. I have to say that I use people, including myself in case of self-portraits, to serve my ideas -people become images. 

© Aurore Dal Mas from the series 'Polvere'

Could you describe the series as stream of consciousness where as the pictures follow one after another and how do you define your selection of final images?

Aurore Dal Mas: There is no narrative, no preconceived order in the pictures, so it's indeed like a stream, snippets that, put all together, create a feeling. And I'm quite open in the way people can interpret the series. I don't want to give all the elements but rather to suggest. The selection is not really final either, I can continue to shoot from time to time and make that form evolve. The only thing that I try to keep in mind is the balance between pictures of places and people. There must be a balance, but not a definitive one, for the moment.

© Aurore Dal Mas from the series 'Polvere'

Peter could you introduce us your project 'Ikebana Blues'?

Peter Waterschoot 'Ikebana Blues' is something of a sweet 'mock' title, it will become the title for an upcoming bookpublication, but it doesn't have a real explicit meaning. Unless we would start talking about things like arranging colors and forms, trying to work with detail, oriental inspiration found in non-dualistic thinking and meditation, japanese literature, 19th century decadent writing, etc. The title is nothing but a nonsensical maybe semiotic mindfuck. As far as that, there is no such thing as 'a project' since I don't work with ' titled projects' in fact. The oeuvre is step by step evolving, and gradually taking shape as a whole. I work with ideas, I let the results rest and then select or unselect them, they need to fit into the big puzzle of the slowly growing oeuvre. Up to now, it has taken 5 years.

Traveling in Japan has allowed me to finally completely cut loose from 'interpretational theorising and photographical dogmas'. I always tried to be a good boy and explain what I was doing; so I have been talking a while about 'a mental documentary on disappearing postwar architecture, texture, and interiors'. (* After the nineties the world started to change into one big airspace very rapidly. I was looking for the feeling of the past century without being nostalgic). And all of these ideas with which I set out were probably true, but, while working on this topic and while residing in this divide between past and future, I became very very aware of how everybody experiences time in a different way, since it is connected to our feelings, perception, thought and memory. This insight allowed me to turn the oeuvre into real fiction in which past and future become interchangeable, and, in which many little stories can be spun in sub-plots by combining and recombining the images. Marina Luz, (partner of Todd Hido) once said about my photowork in a Paris masterclass that 'photography is not really fit to register a disappearing world, so the result is that my images show a world which even doesn’t seem to exist at all, the works seem to be a registration of a dream'; I think this summarizes it quite well.

© Peter Waterschoot from the series 'Ikebana Blues'

Japan also opened up my color palette; the color study is very important, it is what drives me forth. I investigate and distinguish myself in this. So, 'my' colors of now vary from Deepblue, mossgreen, winered, pitchblack and goldenbrown up to violet and pink. This way I am building a rainbow of 'appropriated' colors, but, they are rather abject colors; hence my tongue in cheek reference to Ikebana.

© Peter Waterschoot from the series 'Ikebana Blues'

I suppose that the pictures are rather a result of a kind of performance you undertake in those hotelrooms?

Peter Waterschoot: I always try to reside for a number of days in the same location while trying to undertake as little outside action as possible. Often I don't go out. I remember e.g. Hamburg, where I stayed 48 hours alone in the same brothel-like-room of a rendez vous place, only going out for the same Meerrettich schnitzel and beer in the same nearby café. It was all I needed at that time.

I picked up the idea from 'the Art of Travel' by Alain de Botton. I recognised myself in his idea preferring just 'being in complete rest and alone in a room' a kind of 'inner home' in a city abroad, rather than running about like a tourist, feeling the urge to see every corner of that very same city. You know, I am already happy with just packing a bag, flying over and checking in.

At the same time I was going through a period of personal inward queste and transition. I felt that this "retreat approach" was just what I needed to do to explore my photographical possibilities. To be honest, I don't do well with too much impulse, I am a lousy street photographer. The prolonged stay and the prolonged attention towards the room and towards my inner self almost always allow me to come up with some kind of "secondary decisive moment". You know; the moment that just would not have been there If I had not done this in the same way, undergoing that specific mental exercise of reclusion, if I had not done this; I sure wouldn't have built up the same necessary hyperfocus and attention span in non stop looking for detail in these habitats. So I started calling it 'method photography' referring to method acting. Getting in the character as deep as possible.

I then come home with hundreds of pictures from the same spaces, It needn't per sé be hotelrooms, it can be any kind of space where I can meditate and photograph. Sometimes the "meditation" also involves a very specific music-playlist, some alcohol and books. This is mainly solitary emotional work, but, sometimes, rather exceptional in fact, I am joined by a model who is well briefed about my approach and who understands what I need to do there and who doesn't mind doing the same exercise of spending time in a secluded place. It leads to stronger mental connection with the model and a more accurate observation of the model, which allows me to also discover this secundary moment décisif in portraits. In the end, the interiors become mental landscapes and the models become protagonists dwelling in lucid dreams.

© Peter Waterschoot from the series 'Ikebana Blues'

I notice that the series is always evolving from something explainable to maybe a lucid dreamlike series. How do you select and combine the pictures for the wall as for a book?

Peter Waterschoot: Yes the dream state is very important. I bring myself into a kind of trance to get to hold of that point in time where everything becomes everything. I recently discovered Michel Leiris who wrote a great book on lucid dreaming called 'night as day', I really love the surreal aspect, the trying to get hold of something which is bigger than life, the 'knowing that you will never know, the ultimate being in not being there by just being there'.

Both approaches in selection, book and show, interact very much. One thing is certain, it takes years and years to get it right. It constantly keep evolving. This body of work stays alive as long as I keep adding images. New images change the sense of stream of the narrative, as well as the underlying feeling, in the sense that the oeuvre gets more and more layering in different emotions.

Hey, listen, I am already talking about a book for about 5 years! Luckiy I haven't been able to finish it yet, just because of the fact the oeuvre keeps/kept evolving. I think I have reached the point now where I can deliver. Every precious previous exhibition gave me more insight in the potential of the images, wether they stand alone or communicate in combinations. Same goes for experimenting with the book -make many dummies - the book sequencing sinks into wall presentations and the other way round as well, sometimes I try out a in a show-section as an imaginary a book sequencing. So, although show and book have a totally different "grammar" I would still say yes; in my case there is a strong vice versa flow of ideas between 'bookmaking' and shows!

Katlijn what is 'Limen'?

Katlijn Blanchaert: The title refers to the middle phase in a ritual where one finds himself between past and future identities, wandering around in a no man’s land, having to act without knowing how. Not only I thought this was interesting, also I could relate to that.
 'Limen' is the result of the need to make photos that somehow represented my troubled state of mind these last few years.

© Katlijn Blanchaert from the series 'Limen'

'Limen' is as personal as it gets! How do you cope with the final results? Doesn't it feel like you're playing with fire, I mean too confronting in a way?

Katlijn Blanchaert: While I was making this series I focused on specific personal situations or persons, but at the end I decided to keep it more general. It’s already personal enough. In my opinion an artist should be honest when making personal work but also has the right to protect himself from too much exposure.

It’s difficult for me to estimate the impact of this series on the viewer. When I look at the photos, for me they seem soft and honest but still only giving a hint of what feelings lie beneath them. I can only hope that the series will confront the viewer with his own state of mind.

In this stage of the project you don’t want to combine it with your other series. Though 'Sauvage' in my opinion is a prelude or trigger for 'Limen'. What comes next?

Katlijn Blanchaert: Yes, that’s true. I’m sure that in a few years I will be happy to combine all my series in one exhibition or book. But for now I felt the urge to distance this project from the previous one because of the non-sex-related personal subject.
I just started working on a new series, I’m excited about it. I guess that my work will always be around the basic theme of the dark side, because for me that’s much more interesting to explore than what’s considered normal in our society.

© Katlijn Blanchaert from the series 'Limen'

© Katlijn Blanchaert from the series 'Limen'


mi* Galerie
23, rue Chapon 75003 Paris
Opening: 9th nov 2017 at 19:00
Featured artists: Aurore Dal Mas, Katlijn Blanchaert, Peter Waterschoot
Curator: Dieter Debruyne
10 nov - 25 nov 2017


Aurore Dal Mas
Katlijn Blanchaert
Peter Waterschoot
Urbanautica Institute exhibitions