MONDO CANE by JOS DE GRUYTER & HARALD THYS
Belgian Pavilion – La Biennale di Venezia
Giardini della Biennale- Viale Giardini Pubblici, 30122 Venezia VE
May 11 – November 24, 2019
At the 58th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, the Belgian Pavilion is showing MONDO CANE, an exhibition by artists Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, curated by Anne-Claire Schmitz. MONDO CANE was selected and announced as Belgium’s representation to the Biennale in July 2018 by the Minister of Culture of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. The project depicts a society that is folded in on itself where tradition is erected as a refuge.
MONDO CANE presents itself as a local folkloric museum that displays the human figure. Silent, pale and frightened, the pavilion’s inhabitants appear as aestheticized shells, stuck in a loop of formal activity that the visitor perceives as odd and out of touch with contemporary reality. The exhibition contains some twenty dolls, most of them automated; a series of large illustrations depicting pastoral scenes; and steel bars that fence off the pavilion’s lateral recesses. At the centre of the building there are artisans – such as a cobbler, a stonemason and a spinner who, true to themselves, ply their respective trades. The side rooms of the pavilion are a parallel world peopled by louts, zombies, poets, psychotics, the insane, and the marginalized. These two worlds exist in the same space, but they seem to be entirely unaware of one another. The gestures of the dolls are mechanical and awkward. The sounds and movements alternate and are activated by the visitors’ presence via a motion detector at the entrance. The space is imbued with songs, plaintive cries and labour. The dolls’ heads are modelled both on fictive characters that have already appeared in the work of Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys and on real people. We enter the pavilion as we were entering a wonderland. Full of beauty and ugliness. In accordance with an age-old tradition, spectators allow themselves to be drawn by the promise of seeing wonderful things at an exhibition: ‘A show well worth the while of parents and their children!’ The Belgian Pavilion offers a real promenade, akin to a touristic or anthropological experience, reminiscent of an old Europe.
Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys have the habit of distilling fictions out of a reality that is, sometimes, ‘too real.’ Both willingly concede that they feel attracted to the psychotic state of contemporary societies, a state that they simultaneously dread and disseminate in their work. MONDO CANE, which seizes visitors with its off-kilter realism, is in every way a continuation of this practice. Without ever falling into cynicism or moralism, the artists deftly and wittily transform that which resembles fear or a latent state into something willed, critical and counter to the status quo. Next to the exhibition, MONDO CANE further develops as a publication and website to be found at www.mondocane.net. Both are additional spaces for unfolding and exploring the posture of the project.
The Belgian Pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia brings together three actors, of Belgium’s art scene: Jos de Gruyter, Anne-Claire Schmitz and Harald Thys. Friends as well as colleagues, they are bound by a shared engagement, characterized by a field practice divorced from administrative concerns, in Belgium’s cultural field. Their collaboration is an embodiment of the country’s cultural synergy and of the vitality of its artistic field. All three are at a moment in the development of their practices that attests to their maturity, energy and creative ambition.
For over thirty years, the artists Jos de Gruyter (b. 1965) and Harald Thys (b. 1966) have created a body of work whose rigour and consistency are rare. Their collaboration has given birth to a highly singular language that distinguishes itself in our dense contemporary visual culture not just by its tonality, but also by its disconcerting insistence and normality. Together, Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys make films, drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures in which we find characters, objects and spaces that are at once ultra-identifiable and non-authoritarian. The human behaviour seen in their work stems from the social and psychological pressures exerted by the real world. The only possible communication in their work, which they avow without prudishness, is binary and stereotyped. The anonymity that emerges from it is that of a residual reality. The surrounding authority is just as transparent as it is empty. Society is deaf, repetitive and annoying. De Gruyter and Thys have had numerous solo exhibitions at institutions including ‘Konkurs Eksperten’ at Kunsthal Aarhus (2018); ‘White Suprematism’ at Portikus Frankfurt and CAC Vilnius (2016); ‘Im Reich der Sonnenfinsternis’ MCA Chicago, ‘Fine Arts’ at MOMA PS1 New York, ‘Die schmutzigne Puppen von Pommern’ The Power Station Dallas and ‘Tram 3’ CCA Wattis San Francisco (2015); ‘Das Wunder des Lebens’ at Kunsthalle Wien (2014) and ‘Optimundus’ at M HKA Antwerp (2013). The artists were included in the Venice Biennale (2013) and the Berlin Biennial (2008).
Anne-Claire Schmitz (b. 1981) is a curator based in Brussels. She is the director and curator of La Loge, a non-profit space dedicated to contemporary art, architecture and theory. Since its opening La Loge has developed projects such as ‘Pastoral Myths’, ‘Voici des Fleurs’, ‘Open perspectives on Oskar Hansen’ and solo exhibitions with Sophie Nys, Roe Ethridge & Zin Taylor, Kate Newby, Peter Hutton, Emily Wardill, Shana Moulton, Michael Beutler, Gareth Moore, Jef Geys, Nathalie du Pasquier and Arvo Leo among others. Prior to this, she was a curator at Witte de With, Centre for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, where she curated and co-curated a range of projects, among them, the large-scale group exhibition ‘Melanchotopia’ featuring 40 new commissions by international artists through 40 locations in the city of Rotterdam. In 2012 WIELS invited her to co-curate, with Elena Filipovic, the exhibition ‘Un-Scene II’, a triennial project intended to present a panorama of the Belgian artistic scene. Alongside her work at La Loge, she was a consultant for Europe Europe and curator of ‘Individual Stories – Collecting as portrait and methodology’ with Luca Lo Pinto and Nicolaus Schafhausen at Kunsthalle Wien. In 2017, she curated ‘Les Bons Sentiments’, the exhibition of the 19th Fondation d’entreprise Ricard Prize in Paris. In 2019 she curated ‘Mondo Cane’ the exhibition by Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys for the Belgian pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale. Her collaboration with Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys on the occasion of the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia (2019) is an embodiment of Belgium’s cultural synergy and of the vitality of its artistic field. Friends as well as colleagues, they are bound by a shared engagement, characterized by a field practice divorced from administrative concerns. Following an open call for projects launched by the Minister of Culture of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Anne-Claire Schmitz suggested the artists to hand in a project together to represent Belgium at the 58th Venice Biennale.