Kasper Bosmans - Drowsy & Torpid
Galerie Fons Welters
26 Nov 2022 – 11 Feb 2023
The gallery is closed from 23 December 2022 until 2 January.
Kasper Bosmans in conversation with Lazy Susan.
Lazy Susan: Could you tell something about the intriguing title of the exhibition, Drowsy & Torpid?
Kasper Bosmans: Torpor is a state in which the heart rate and body temperature are brought down in certain animals before they go into hibernation. Especially the idea of bringing your heart rate down interests me - it seems to allude to a nearly emotional as well as a physical state. It is this contrast, a conflict between the emotional and physiological that tickles my fancy. The notion of being quiet, slowing down, seems valuable to me. By slowing down bodily functions you’re also slowing down your consumption of resources, both your personal and emotional resources as well as natural and sociological resources.
I basically wanted to make a mural about the small ice age that took place in Northern Europe in the second half of the 16th and early 17th century, and specifically about the fun fair that took place on top of the frozen Schelde river in Antwerp. This is a very well recorded and culturally prominent motif that represents a small period of harsh winters and low temperatures. What I enjoy about this story is this moment of suspension: the laws are suspended. On the water, on boats, different laws apply then within the city walls, eliciting all kinds of otherwise forbidden activities, such as working outside of the guild systems or selling contraband and illegal alcohol, that were taking place on top of the ice. This legal loophole created a temporary free state. A similar loophole is in place for the floating casinos of Kansas City.
For this mural I wanted to depict the ice without it becoming too much of a seasonal mural, so I opted to highlight the underwater condition, the state of torpor, which most aquatic animals are in underneath the ice. Fish for example move slower and dig themselves into the mud or hide amongst the water plants, they move way less, barely eat and lower their body temperature to minimize consumption of resources. It is a different kind of suspension in contrast with the fun fair and the festive hullabaloo taking place on top of the ice, dancing, decadence and other shenanigans. And there is the state of torpor with the lowered heart rate, calmness and lethargy, a very poetic state of suspended (e)motion. This whole poetic scenario with saturnalian neighbours inspired the mural’s title.
LS: Already back in 2015 you started making murals but only in recent years they have become more elaborate. In the Netherlands and Belgium we’ve had quite some opportunities to see previous murals, at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Museum De Pont Tilburg and WIELS Brussels, to name a few institutions.
I think the murals started as an exploration of what ‘decoration’ actually means. The more recent and complex murals are larded with anecdotes, maybe even similar to your Legend paintings. Could you briefly explain this development of your murals?
KB: I started the first series of murals at Kunstinstituut Melly (formerly known as Witte de With) in Rotterdam. It was very important for me that they would be a cliché. Deliberately referring to murals in public space with a tinge of nationalist and socialist motivation, usually commissioned by institutions and integrated into the architecture. It fascinates me that these type of murals always exude a certain kind of general ambition, a deliberate program. For my first series of murals it was important that they were modular: anyone can make them. They are decorative, an embellishment to the space, creating a certain kind of intimacy. They started off in a jokey way, but slowly but surely I started to see that they are an iteration of a forlorn, ridiculous ambition or point of view. Their aesthetics were very minimal and general because of this until I started to use different kinds of narratives within my practice which felt more comfortable and sensible to me, embracing complexities under the broad umbrella of queerness and the historic interpretation of the closet, an individualistically embellished safe space, so to say. Architectural historian Aaron Betsky describes this space in his book Queer Space: architecture and same-sex desire (1997). He argues that the self-construction of queer identity included ‘building up a fantastical world by gathering objects from all times and places’. The domestic realm was a closet, featuring ‘a collection of artifacts that defined the individual by serving as an objective map of his passions, by evoking other worlds than the one in which he was imprisoned, and by mirroring him in objects became a queer version of the selfenclosed world of the family.’
This intimate or sexualised idea of the interior is a mode of expression and seduction that has become more prominent in my practice and therefore a natural sense of complexity has emerged in my work. I shifted from a general, oblique idea and shared ambition to a more personal set of anecdotes. This complexity is very important to me: the indigestibility and its mystery to a certain extent, really contributes to the mechanism I would like to invent for my work. This mechanism is very simple: growing up as a queer kid I got very little examples of how I could live; my blood relatives and direct environment were not providing any examples. That’s why I think the work should be very accessible to everyone. It can be more personal, and eccentric to a certain extent, and therefore more complex. I think that development is a very natural phenomenon. You can compare it to cruising, where you find a little wink in the parking lot, the city bus or the forest; small, tiny, gestural overlaps become a certain kind of dialect. It’s this kind of idea or aesthetic I intend to play with.
LS: The ability to adapt to certain situations is not only key to evolution, you show us that it can also be very poetic. A good example is the Polymita picta, also known as the Cuban painted snail, that diversifies in order to protect itself. For this new series of works you made a range of different coloured and different sized enamel snails that will be dancing through the gallery space. Where does your fascination for these snails come from?
KB: There’s something very mesmerizing about the way in which we use animals in order to express ourselves. We feel like we have an empathic bond with pets and cattle, but they are never able to reply or interact with us in the way we can interact with thém. So there is a violent or abusive imbalance of power; an animal is used for personal intimacy. It’s a thing we nearly attribute a soul to, but we prevent ourselves from doing so since it would ruin this powerful relationship. That’s why I’m so attracted to animals and pets.
A good example of this power relation between animals and humans is the Polymita picta, a snail that is found in and around the island of Cuba. It’s a very interesting snail: each specimen, each personality, has its unique shell colour. This is a mechanism of self-protection: certain animals don’t want to eat the Polymita picta since it looks toxic to them. Being prominent as self-protection is a surprising mechanism: it is the last thing a human being would do. Due to the snail’s extraordinary appearance they are being collected as souvenirs and are now protected by the Cuban government as endangered species. Again an animal has fallen victim of the human gaze and attribution.
This story resulted in a series of enamel two dimensional snails that all have unique colour combinations. To me it was very important to use enamel. The material allows you to hang them outside. It’s always quite an endeavour to make a unique work within an industrial production process. For these works we had to make excel sheets to prevent same colour combinations from reoccurring.
LS: You often collaborate with craftsmen to develop your sculptures and installations, made from materials that can range from enamel, to glass, bronze and marble. At Galerie Fons Welters you show an installation of Switchboards. The sculptures use a similar structure as the telephone switchboards you saw on photographs Piet Zwart made for the Dutch telephone services PTT. What did you see in these photos that caught your eye?
KB: It’s not because of the photographs, I visited the Museum für Komminikation in Berlin where they had a chronological display on the history of switchboards. I was struck by the human size and the seductive vernacular shape of the objects that have been so omnipresent but are entirely redundant nowadays. Later on I discovered a switchboard at the Telefoniemuseum Rotterdam that was used in the Netherlands till the 1960s. What struck me was that the technological system was provided by a Swedish company, Ericsson, but the cabinet was vernacular, it could be made by local wood workers. Because the system was modular, you could adapt the content of your switchboard according to the people that have a phone in a certain social and physical structure like a company. This structure is quite appealing to me, it’s a seductive object because of the combination of the modular system by Ericsson and the local flavour that was added to it; the impossibility of the modern object.
What I enjoy about working with the same craftsmen over the years is all based on communication: the more I work with them, the more they have an influence on the aesthetics of my work. I really believe in collaboration when it comes to this. It has a very big influence. Now we’re showing some Switchboards that have been made by different woodworkers, so you see both contrasts and similarities.
LS: Like actual switchboards (Switchboard is the name of an advisory and information service of COC Netherlands, an LGBTQ+ rights group, by the way), your sculptures are representations of communities and networks. Could you explain why these structures are of interest to you?
KB: COC, such a funny coincidence. In a certain way the switchboards are a portrait of a certain day. They are the reception desk that nobody gets to see. They are intimate objects that are operated by the operator. You quite often see that they have personalized them - like the dried flowers and photographs that embellish a switchboard in the Telefoniemuseum in Rotterdam. At the same time the switchboards are a reflection of the organisation. This contrast between the operator and the commissioner is interesting to me. You could compare it to medieval manuscripts in which the benefactor would be mentioned as an author while the painter would be called pictor. I quite enjoy this. You could link it to the idea of craftsmanship. I’m trying to undermine the idea of the unique artistic endeavour. A good example is Philippe Thomas: a mesmerizing conceptual artist from France who would unsubscribe himself from his own practice by removing his name as an author and replace it by the name of a collector, a gallerist, or other stakeholders. One of the Switchboards is called Feux Pâles, based on an exhibition Thomas did at CAPC/Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux in 1990. He invited other people and showed naturalia and books. The exhibition was divided into eleven chapters and a prelude. The Switchboard visualizes how Thomas brought together a network of authors within these chapters. It’s an elaborate scheme to disappear.
Another switchboard, Switchboard (De Woonagenda 2025 & De landelijke Woningwet en Gezondheidswet), brings into contrast the social housing ambitions of the city of Amsterdam (a mere 40% of newly built houses will be developed for social rent) and the innovative laws for affordable and healthy housing from 1902 which provided the city with a vast number of social apartments towards the south and the west, providing a big amount of housing in keeping with the social standards and population of the city.
All of the Switchboards are made to my size: the height is based on my length, they are self-portraits in a way.