shifting a stone in a river

on the work of véronique alberghs

How can one produce art that is striking and stays relevant in times that are characterized by overabundance? The laboriousness of choosing becomes an endless problem and art production is itself subject to a quantative flow of ‘images’ that is simply unstoppable. The following issue rises to the surface: what is and can remain ‘of value’ now that almost everything has become entangled in an accelerated flood, navigating within the logic of interchangeable instant consumption. For a young artist it is an almost unsurveyable task to offer resistance to this trend. The ‘commodification’ of art in keeping with the free market economy is accompanied by the running dry of the sources of a detached critical discourse. These conclusions attest to the fact that art ‘in essence’ is orphaned. If we agree that good art is the ‘product’ and more or less the end result of a mix of emotional, mental and intellectual considerations, then surely we can’t allow it to degenerate into a matter of thoughtless and superficial ‘going about’ with what is considered to be the supreme, most cherished good in our existence?

I am captivated by the youthful work of Véronique Alberghs because as an artist she is deeply preoccupied with content and subject matter. Her work visualizes her thoughts in a ‘tangible and acute’ tension with the ins and outs of the so called organized contemporary art world. Alberghs generously takes the liberty of engaging with the art of Antiquity and with the still usable ‘primary’ philosophy that it harbours. Against the backdrop of everything that is at stake today she gets to work fiercely. With her considerable technical skills she manages to convert her distinct ideas into a language of forms and images, a language that appeals immediately because it grants the spectator ‘freedom in associations’. In thoughts the beholder can ‘construct’ the world all by him or herself according to his or her specific background, cultural competence and interests.

The work of Alberghs is an ongoing, eclectic search. She browses through the overfull warehouse of art, culture and philosophy and from it she distills those ingredients that allow her to re-evaluate and recalibrate images much like a deejay, in the modernist tradition of collage as an artistic technique. She thus transforms the carefully selected ‘found everything’ into a personal language of images that is both highly charged with ideas and mentally in a constant flux.

In the cultural centre of Strombeek* Véronique Alberghs realized a series of impressive wall paintings. As a consequence these works were painted over after the exhibition. They disappeared and at the same they escaped from the machinations of the market economy. The artist commented on this as follows: “I always consider it a challenge to create something within the context of a specific space. Moreover, the temporary nature of the work gives it a performance-like quality.” It is interesting that she makes a connection between painting and ‘performance’, a concept that is mainly associated with street and stage related activities that –particularly in the sixties and seventies – resisted the temptation to fixate art in a material form and instead emphasized moments of (ephemeral) experience as such.

With her wall paintings in the cultural centre of Strombeek Alberghs managed to come up with a provisional synthesis of her artistic preoccupations. In these murals the iconography of the arts of Antiquity entered into open-hearted relations with a wide array of references, ranging from the profound emancipatory fact of the introduction of mathematical ‘perspective’ in the Renaissance to the colour chart that was used by Nouvelle Vague cinematographer Jean-Luc Godard in his cult movie Le Mépris in 1963. As in a panorama or cyclorama, the wall paintings ‘encircled’ the gaze of the spectator. A both salutary and exorbitant enlargement of motifs and figures generated an extraordinary experience balancing between the perception of the ‘untouchableness’ of the ancient heritage and a critical flashback to the postmodernism of the eighties that used the classics as a lucky bag for (mainly) art, design and decoration with ‘ornament’.

Alberghs diligently continues her never ending quest for constellations of a plastic language that “puts the authenticity of ancient images in quotation marks” and points towards “the tragic lack of meaning, genuineness and fullness in our age” that finds an echo in her imagery.

In a text by Michelangelo Pistoletto, an artist associated with Arte Povera, the expression ‘per combinazione’ is explained in translation as an expression that in the Italian language means both ‘by combination’ and ‘by coincidence’. This is an allusion to the fact that coincidence is a combinatorial phenomenon. It seems to me that to combine is a basic concept in the artistic wanderings of Véronique Alberghs. In her decision to put images side by side with a view to creating a potential work of art, the concept of coincidence and/or serendipity gains importance in the subsequent perception/interpretation of that work of art. The assembling of images by the artist leads to a despairing process of montage of nearly inexhaustible significations on the part of the receiver.

More recently Véronique Alberghs has introduced small wooden panel paintings in her pictorial environments. She relates these panel paintings to the historical significance of the so called ‘Andachtsbilder’. For the more visually adjusted than lettered mobile man of days long gone these fit-for-travel icons were a constant reminder of devout obligations. In Alberghs’ line of thought these panels can stand on their own with respect to their content. They function as “havens of rest compared to the overgrowth of images in the wall paintings”. Because of their colour and the grain of the wood these panel paintings remind us of wooden altarpieces in ancient times. They are the supports, the bearers of exceptionally seductive compositions in which the sheer meagreness of the image and the attractive muted colours offer value and meaning. This makes these panels ‘usable’ within the environment of Alberghs’ wall paintings. These small panels articulate a spatial point in and between the ephemeral murals that by definition will not survive over time.

In most panels an illusion-defying game is being played between the plane or surface of the image and the plane of the support. Within the confines of the support there appears a fairly loosely painted second ‘frame’. As a result the painting remains grounded as an object while at the same time there is a suggestion of a window with a view upon an enticing ‘constructed’ reality. A reality in which motifs and figures float against a backdrop of gently modulating colours. These motifs which are ‘picked’ from Antiquity, avantgarde and modernism wind up in associations with signs from philosophy. The panels are ‘little monuments’ of sorts: rapidly moveable gems overstuffed with content that is as such incongruous. The gaze becomes entangled in pictures that are the result of a contemporary and ephemeral way of consulting of and dealing with images.

Véronique Alberghs draws from an abundant well of paper cuttings and images nicked from the internet. But at the end of the cycle of creation the arranging/composing of these images is transformed into a fully pictorial ‘product’. The collage becomes a panel painting and gives rhythm to the ephemerality of the wall paintings. The most recent murals present themselves as spiky compositions. They look shattered and highly fragmented and they roll before the eye like a yo-yo. Looking and thinking hover between the romance of Antiquity, references to architecture and the suggestion of scraps of paper. These scraps accentuate the reference to ‘cut and past’ in a literal and figurative sense as a basic ‘drive’ within the nervous artistic actions of Véronique Alberghs.

It goes without saying that the written word always remains in the shadow of thought and the physical confrontation with the work of art. Not infrequently motifs and figures in the work of Alberghs resonate as shadows or doubles. As if she attempts to show by way of the image that an image in itself and taken as meaning also entails a splitting and mirroring and that it relates to this very process.

As a young artist Véronique Alberghs succeeds right away in claiming a unique position within the wider field of artists who link up with the painterly tradition. In her work painting becomes a ‘matrix’ in which thoughts are poured. Thoughts that – be they fixated on a panel or not – encourage the spectators to brace themselves, to use in all openness images that put time and life in a relevant visual perspective, stripped of trivial anecdotes.

It is an immeasurable artistic achievement.

text: luk lambrecht, september 2013
translation: peter pollers

* This solo exhibition with wall paintings by Véronique Alberghs was curated by the author and was shown in the series ‘Extramuros’ in the cultural centre of Strombeek from 22 February up to 21 March 2013. All quotations in the text are taken from an e-mail correspondance between the author and the artist.