Katleen Vinck: a concrete future for the past at Base-Alpha, Belgium

May 12 – June 26, 2022
All images courtesy of the Base-Alpha
Katleen Vinck’s sculptural work is often characterized by heavy-looking materials and natural shades. She creates odd yet somewhat familiar shapes, and fragments from another world or another time. Nonetheless, they seem to reflect well-known constructions and carry the essence of architecture.Vinck’s starting point is an extreme fascination for architecture; its history, its meaning, its materials, and its technical intricacies. She has consistently chosen her own practice over commissioned work, and recently found a new sculptural freedom, moving further away from an overly prepared, mathematical approach. However, discipline, planning, and technical drawings remain key instruments to create her complex constructions. Based on a large collection of found and made photographs, the artist seeks out archetypes – basic elements, universally fundamental to architecture and, by extension, to structures created by humans. She then reflects on these basic elements and their evolved meaning through time.

The human aspect is not to be disregarded in Vinck’s work. Her oeuvre is essentially built around components and residues of human interventions in the existing landscape. For example, working around the shape of a bunker, her related works reminisce on protection, and possible new-found purposes of these sheltering architectures. Archetypical architectural elements such as these often find their origin in the natural world: a bunker is not very different from a cave, and a submarine or a zeppelin could be considered steel versions of cocoons or horizontal monoliths. Humans find inspiration in the nature that surrounds them, and that process echoes in Vinck’s sculptures: they always have organic qualities, with both concrete and clay having natural origins and the colour schemes remaining natural (mostly unmodified) as well.

Grey does not mean dull, and fragments do not mean destruction. All architecture and nature exist in a never-ending cycle of time, with humans building something to recreate or confine nature, other humans transforming architectural remnants, or nature taking over desolate fragments. What Vinck desires to show is not the loss, but the beauty of what is temporary. Everything transforms into something new overtime, carrying layers of past lives. Her works are rarely finished constructions or singular monuments, but rather appeal to that translucid, ungraspable moment of transformation – the blurry instant of crossing meanings and concept.

Architecture has accompanied and sustained humans throughout their history. Its foundations are often the last, imperishable remainders of long-lost civilizations. Archaeological research helps us discover our past, but also offers important reflections about the future: what can we learn from the way of life of our forefathers? Some ancient structures are mysterious and bear testimony to a knowledge that is lost in time: how were the ancient Egyptians able to build the pyramids? What was the exact function of Stonehenge? Was there ever a real Tower of Babel? Such constructions spark the imagination and serve as important inspirations for works of fiction. The ominous monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey, fictitious civilizations in Star Trek, or extremely advanced technological societies in Blade Runner: here too, architecture plays a crucial part in forming a narrative and understanding a culture.

It is precisely on the verge of these universes, in the field tension between a scientifically verified past and an imagined future, that Vinck’s sculptures are situated. Some shapes might remind us of a tank or a UFO floating through the exhibition space; others seem to refer to a kind of ‘cyber-urban’ architecture. Her titles rarely give any clues. They are rather a way for her to toy with the viewer’s perception – much to her own pleasure – and thus to keep our imagination away from one clear-cut meaning.

The cold materials might appear very silent, still in their powerful presence. However, their aura is buzzing with potential, with layers of time, with an ambition and expectation for transformation. When an architecture no longer serves the purposes it was intended for, it isn’t necessarily ‘deserted’ or ‘decayed’ – Vinck’s work is devoid of such emotional terminology. Her work looks forward rather than back – it is futuristic (could we even mention the overly-abused term ‘avant-garde’?), rather than post-apocalyptic. She strives for abstraction, essentiality, and universality. Precisely in the beauty of transformative cycles lies the potential to be recognized as an archetypical architectural element, a cornerstone of human and organic construction, a fundamental remnant – a residue and a new beginning all at once.

– Tamara Beheydt, 2021

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The press release and the photographs are courtesy of the gallery and the artists.

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