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Voebe de Gruyter

In conversation with
Martijn in't Veld

As part of the exhibition: Several Fractions To A Common
This took place before the opening on 04/02/2011

The artists invited to realize a project at 1646 are asked to engage in conversation with a correspondent via email or DM, be it someone previously unknown to them or whom they’re already familiar with.

This conversation spans the period before an exhibition is completed. 1646 invites the correspondent at the other end of this exchange to ask questions so they may be guided through the artist’s decision-making process and how their initial ideas develop toward completion. It provides insight into the artist’s body of work and is intended to paint a picture of the otherwise untraceable choices that constitute the artist’s practice.

29 DECEMBER: Martijn in’t Veld [Mi/tV] to Voebe de Gruyter [VdG]

Dear Voebe, to jump right in:

The drops in those wine glasses. The same drops before and after the party.

There is no party present though, only the lefto-

vers from freshly washed glasses after one party; ready for another party.

The party is itself disseminated in those drops. Again,

which party? The party which just finished, or the party which is

about to come?:

Expectation and Remembrance, Hope and

Melancholy broken up in many fractions are being brought together

to the same transparent and fragile in-between space which they

both share.

I thought perhaps for the purpose of this (public) conversation

to start with telling briefly about a particular end result one of

your works (Leftovers, 2000) created in my particular head and

from that point make a jump to the point where this whole train of

thought is first being set into motion:

Namely the point where something becomes something else, where

an observation turns into an artwork, because at this moment

a choice is involved (consciously or unconsciously): Your work

seems to set out from an everyday encounter, whether this is an

object, anecdote or situation (in this case the drops of water on

freshly washed wine glasses), which then seem to form the

starting point for a work.

And, I am wondering, why do you pick the one thing and not the

other, and what is influencing this choice, is it even possible to

describe this a priori?

VdG – Mi/tV

Dear Martijn,

About the before the party and leftovers after the party-work.

This work consist of two big pictures, one is about the before

the party and the other one deals with the after the party and

since there is the word leftovers in the second title I suggest

that it is not only the pieces of wine you see in the bottom but

also somewhere else like the spaces (bubbles of air) on the

surface of the glass .

As a child I was many times in the south of France and there is a

place called Boit where I saw glassblowing as a live act.

The glasses on the pictures are from that specific place. I was

intrigued by the air pushed into the material by the mouth of a

thinking human – what was he thinking about when he was blowing

the air into it ? – and later I got very interested in fundamen-

tal matter in physics and red about particles travelling through


I don’t know if you can see it well on the pictures on the web, but

in certain bubbles I wrote minuscule texts. The glass-

es on the photo are really big so some bubbles are about

2 cm large.

In fact it all has to do with invisible information

floating around us, and where we can find proof of that.

Mi/tV – VdG

I indeed saw the work on your website and thought

the bubbles were drops of water, but apparently they

are bubbles of air ‘trapped’ in the glass when it was


And the writing is indeed a bit too small on the picture

to make out, but perhaps you can give me an example of

what you wrote in those bubbles?

VdG – Mi/tV

It’s just phrases caught in a crowd like ‘you are not

really going to do that?’ or ‘the dealer told me to sit

down’ in fact I am making them up right now because in

reality I can’t reread them myself anymore since the

writing is too small.

I like your expression being ‘trapped in’, in fact I feel

being trapped in this life That’s why I am trying to find

extra spaces to reside, a kind of physical ideas.

Mi/tV – VdG

These words in the bubbles are texts which I understand

just popped up in your head, like small thought bubbles

(trapped in your head).

To be trapped in life seems to suggest the existence

of a non-trapped life. You suggest that these physical

ideas are a way of breaking out of this state of being

trapped. How would you describe a physical idea? Like an

immaterial idea turned into a physical (art)work? And

you use the word ‘reside’, what do you do when you

reside in a physical idea?

VdG – Mi/tV

For me when this ideas become physical, meaning when

the works start to react, then I know it is getting interesting.

I know it could be me focusing on certain

aspects and because of this I see things which I would

not have seen before if I had not been in this tunnel

of thinking.

But on the other hand I try to follow the logic of the

work and when I discover a glimpse of this logic I get a

feeling of getting close to a kind of truth. And to me

this truth is aesthetic.

The problem is that these evolving ideas are never fin-

ished and that when I have to show them I can show just

parts of it. They can be described as parallel characters

developing themselves by giving me signs of their


To me the road towards the existence of a work is much

more interesting then the making and the showing of

this work. That’s why I am not really interested in the

artworld of the moment with all its fixed ideas about

what art should be.

2 JAN: Mi/tV – VdG

Dear Voebe sorry for the small delay on my site, new-

years got in the way a bit …

So, first, happy new year to you and then to get back

to our conversation: there’s a couple things you mention,

I understand the evolving ideas part, and I think

indeed your work has a unfinished character, like a

thought process which is still in motion. And I understand

from your answer that this is something you find

often lacking in the artworld at the moment (with its

fixed ideas).

We can talk about this perhaps a bit later, but I first

wanted to ask you a bit more about the concepts like

truth and logic you mention. I think these are quite

abstract and in this case also subjective, I think, so I

was wondering if you could give me an example of one of

these aesthetic truths the logic of a work reveals to

you? Perhaps you can use one of your works as an

example, so we can make it a bit more concrete?

4 JAN: VdG – Mi/tV

Hi Martijn,

Same best wishes to you! and to answer your question

with an example of work, I send you a text of a work.

Because I get to know the group more and more; a chain

of visual elements is appearing like for this work from

big to small: Baldheads – plastic footballs – big snooker ball

– eggs – blueberries and during ceremonies or

meetings they are all drained in an alcoholic drink made

from these blueberries.

For me the attraction in this work is that it caused it-

self, that it is autonomous and that it has some folk-

loristic aspects. Because it is so independent, it is

for me close to a kind of truth and a glimpse of truth

is for me beauty.

I hope you understand what I mean :)

Baldhead Brotherhood of Brussels

During the yearly initiation ceremony of the Baldhead

Brotherhood of Brussels, the president says:

‘Would you all lay your hands on top this glorious

sphere and pledge to never change this coiffure that

mother nature has bestowed on you?’

Subsequently, a large white billiard ball placed on a

red pillow is offered, on which the baldhead places his

hands and says:

‘Yes, I promise!’

‘Will you repeat, loud and clear: Baldhead yes ! Chauvinist no!

(chauve oui! chauvin non!) With the powers

vested in me, I declare you initiated as member of our


After this ceremony the new member kisses the billiard

ball, while simultaneously, the president kisses the new

bold. The president of the baldheads then takes a small

glass of blueberry liqueur and empties this over the bald

head of the new member.

Once a year, the Belgian Baldheads attend a fair where

they have a stand with which to present themselves. Af-

ter a payment of fifty cents, passers-by may use three

coloured balls to try and break the eggs that are placed

in a hollowed-out tree trunk. Whether consciously or

not, this game recreates that which continuously over-

comes to them. They convey the (painful) gaze of peek-

ing onlookers. Hanging nets filled with toy footballs

dangle at the edge of the Baldheads stand.

When there is no one passing by, boredom drives them to

bump their bald heads against the balls.

Every year the Baldheads can be seen parading, dressed

in long robes in the colours of the Belgian flag. Around

their necks hang wooden combs that serve as amulets.

With this they hope to provoke being laughed at. They

have a word for this, autodérision which literally means:

(re)laughing at one’s self. It is hard to discern the

Baldheads; they are spheres (globes) that, without be-

ing asked, focus attention on them. In order to ward off

this interest, they have developed mannerisms, such as

self-deprecation. They laugh at themselves before any-

one else can think of doing so. Their laughter is their


They can be divided into three groups:

1. Full Baldheads (bald from birth – very rare)

2. Crowned Baldheads (they only have a bald cap on

their head around is still hair – this is a more common


3. Emerging Baldheads (those who lose parts of

their hair and show it without complexes – also common)

6 JAN: Mi/tV – VdG

Thanks for the answer, yes I understand what you mean

with truth: It seems to me like an almost autonomously

created aesthetic reality, which you just seem to pick

up or stumble into.

Or how would you describe this process? It seems co-

incidence plays a big role and what the artist initial-

ly seems to do is just pay attention, looking for these

truths and then use them for a work, what do you think

about this? And can you dictate this process where co-

incidence plays such a pivotal part?

19 JAN: VdG – Mi/tV


I would describe this process not only as stumbling into

certain situations by accident but more as following the

artwork in the way it is revealing itself to me.

For example, during the time a certain exhibition runs

I see parts of the artwork (linked to its form or con-

tent) appearing in the surrounding spaces. Also through

events that happen during the exhibition time. And then

I am wondering whether it would be possible that the

artwork exists in different places at the same time

like according to quantum mechanics where one individual

particle exists in two different places? IN the paper I read

the words of Prof.dr. Leo Kouwenhoven. He’s

at the head of the Quantumtransport research group at

the de T.U. in Delft.

‘Quantum mechanics processes can transport informa-

tions. We are already capable to change the properties

of one specific particle a hundred kilometers away by

doing something with a particle right here. That means

we’re talking about particles which have been somehow

connected at some point and have assumed reciprocal

properties. Let’s say one used to be red and the oth-

er white and after that connection they’re both equal-

ly red as white. We can loosen them from each other by

making them come out into the open looking at them. At

that point both would change, even if it were at oppo-

site sides of the universe. Informations are, moreover,

just like a piece of wood or the such and I dare to claim

that general laws of nature apply to information too.”

Mi/tV – VdG

Hi Voebe,

Information is just like a piece of wood. I like the cau-

sality of that…

But yes it is nice to think about an artwork which ex-

ists dispersed through time and space, but isn’t the

artist the centre here, the one who stitches this vari-

ous forms and appearances together, the one who creates

the connection?

Related to this I like how the scientist says he can

change the color of an entity by looking at it, I mean

also the artwork changes, because we look at it, no?

In the same way the form of a cloud in the sky changes

from an abstract shape to a dog for example?

30 JAN: VdG – Mi/tV

Yes of course you can say it is the artist remarking

this or that. But I like to look at it from the other

side, that the space around you has a certain meaning in

the way it is showing itself to you.

My consciousness and the consciousness of the space

around me are the same and influence each other. In

this way I like to investigate the surroundings and make


Mi/tV – VdG

Hi Voebe,

I thought perhaps we can talk a bit about the way you

visualize your thoughts.

You often seem to use various techniques, drawing, pho-

tography, collages, ready-mades etc. mixed together.

Could you tell a bit about this process? How do you make

your choice for a specific medium?

VdG – Mi/tV

Yes, let’s say I take pictures with a certain concept in

my mind; but when they are printed I always start to

draw on them, because I like to make them my own.

I use other materials ( three dimensional) more as fold-

ed out pictures or drawing thus concepts.

I often start with a text, but only text I find not suf-

ficient; text in combination with image can be more


Mi/tV – VdG

What makes a picture not automatically your own when

you take it? I am not sure if I would agree with the fact

that a picture is less personal than a drawing (gener-

ally speaking) for that matter … And why draw? instead

of paint, print, collage for example?

VdG – Mi/tV

It is just my way, it is more that I feel more at ease

when I draw, if I take a picture it is hard for me to

get into a certain atmosphere to start creating a work.

Drawing is for me close to writing and that’s maybe why

I like it.

Mi/tV – VdG

As a final question I still like to ask if you can ex-

plain in short your plans for the show in 1646.

31 JAN: VdG – Mi/tV

I hope that the different works, old and new, will make

crossovers in form and content. I just describe them

shortly and formal along a walk through the exhibition


The first work when you enter the space is the latest

work I made and is called the Baldhead Brotherhood of

Brussels in which you see baldheads, eggs and blueberries,

then you can walk towards the other side of the

stairs where you find the work Insekticide sprayed

apple and another apple on the ground with the title Found

continuum. Then you pass Silvester’s kitchen work where

you see at the bottom of the picture the baldhead of


At the other end of the big space you find the work

about the Averbode Abbey and Mocha and Vanilla, the

Genuine Abbey Ice-cream they sell next to the abbey. At

the backspace I show the film Secret export of stories

in which words are rolled into cigars.

Walking back you will find a video positioned under the

stairs called Enjoliveurs which is the french word for

hubcaps. And the last work you can find up the stairs [to the office]

and it is a baton coming out of the

wall: The falling baton. A printed copy of the story

about this baton you can take home.

So in fact if you look at the visual elements you start

with balls (bald heads, eggs, blueberries, balls, ap-

ples, ice-cream scones, then hubcaps as flatballs, then

they turn into cigars and finally the cigars change in

a thin baton.

Mi/tV – VdG

Thanks for the description: looking forward to see it,

and interweave your eggs and blueberries with some of

my thoughts. Thanks a lot for the interview and see you

on friday,




Voebe de Gruyter lives and works in Brussels. She was educated at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, was resident at the Rijksakademie, ISP New York and and Cit̩ des Arts in Paris. Coming spring Roma Publications publishes a monograph on De Gruyter, image edited by Roel Arkesteijn, with an extensive interview by Maria Barnas


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