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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Cit√å¬© 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