(By Google translate)
Before I sing the hymns of this special artist, I want to dwell on this special place: Q46. It is the bus route Q46 that goes from Long Island to Queens Boulevard, one of the busiest bus services in New York City, one of the most artistic places in the world.
It is a mythical route, such as Route 66 or Highway 61, "running by my babies door." For a moment, I thought Pierre had invited me there.
But we are in Antwerp. From my earliest childhood I came to Antwerp with my mother to escape the cuddly and moody atmosphere of my ill-fated hometown. I still remember the visit to the Grand Bazar at the Groenplaats and the pastries at the Locus patisserie at the Schoenmarkt. After a shopping afternoon (in the beginning I was alone in a buggy, later my younger brother sat on my lap in that buggy) my mother then named the bus back to Boom. Not the Q46, but the 52. The bus stop was located, you can hardly believe it, in the Quellinstraat, near this house. This place is full of memory, melancholy and dream for me. We usually had to walk, my mother often came a bit late and missed the bus, so we were waiting here for the next one.
This house is a symbol of waiting, of missed buses, of gradually entering darkness. Later I didn't go to the Grand Bazar anymore, I left my mother shopping alone, my brother didn't go with me anymore. I went to the ICC at the Meir and was introduced to the International Avant-Garde of Contemporary Art. I visited galleries and museums and then agreed with my mother to take the bus back. Even later I had a Mini Cooper, then the bus was over. My mother went by bus alone. I then drove the Mini with my love.
All these memories now come back to me at this place, my thanks for that.
What's up with the Art? What can a psychiatrist say about that? What can I add to the ode that Jan Cambien was allowed to bring in the corridors of Andante, an ode in which, incidentally, I could not be repeatedly quoted without irony.
When it comes to art I would like to quote Charles Bukowski and his acclaimed poem "Style", as brought by Ben Gazarra in the movie "Erections, Ejaculations and General Tales of Ordinary Madness" from 1981 (with a dazzling Ornella Muti) that I then probably in the "Quellin", a little further down this street.
In that poem he gives a definition of art that I like: "To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art".
Art must be sharp, a dangerous thing, a stylish statement, a form of mutilation, a kind of unexpected pain. That's really against the actual mindset.
We no longer think about the extent to which a relativistic, ironic discourse has soaked our minds so that any kind of engagement, almost before its appearance, is disproved in affectionate contempt or lofty derision.
The uselessness of existence, the inevitability of injustice and the powerlessness of the opposing voice seem to push Western man back into his frighteningly shielded cocoon, in which he tries to uplift his personal happiness score. Art, in all its various forms, sometimes fits nicely into that picture and then wallows in decoration, in the issues of the day, in the frightening affirmation of what is predictable and known.
What is Pierre doing?
He uses Art as a connecting force
Our world is in danger of losing the connections that are necessary for the survival of human culture. The individualizing and crumbling forces sometimes seem to get the upper hand over the collective and related abilities. They speak of deconstruction, postmodernity and the loss of the Great Stories. Interestingly, these terms are mainly used in the Arts.
Nevertheless, I want to argue that Art can be fundamentally binding. It can bring people together across groups and categories that seem to split socially. It can transcend and enrich mutually very different cultural backgrounds. The entire art history is by the way a story of influence and collaboration. Art, in all its forms, basically exists in this interplay of diversity and broadening. An all too monolithic art form kills creativity and dies in bloodless repetition. The dialectic between insider and outsider position, between confined concepts and deviating ideas, between successful manifestations and confusing exceptions, seems to me to play an essential role in Art.
Perhaps even more than in other social fields, the world of artists has led the way to incorporate the strange, the new, the deviant. The vulnerability of the minority can and must find its place in the Arts, this vulnerability is often essential for inspiration. In the creative process, the injuries and scars of man on or outside the edge are often turned into a force that also appeals to the fragility of the Other. The stranger shows a glance of recognition, the work of art opens a connection, precisely through sublimation, through the indirect appearance. The sometimes irreconcilable alienation, the fear, the disturbance of one's own self-being, can thus be exceeded in the artistic way. The work of art forms the crossing, the ferry service, the coupling of the mutual strangeness.
The works of Pierre Mertens disrupt order, scratch the holy houses, plagiarize and blaspheme. They pollute the iconic images with a graffiti-like transfer that can occur raw and inappropriate. He breaks and brings back together again. It delves into the history of history and transforms, deconstructs and reinterprets.
The poet witnesses of his deep melancholy in a language that touches us, while the depressed person often scares us in his sadness. With his imagination, the painter shows us the loneliness that we all too often ignore. The composer expresses the joy of his lost origin, the existence of which we did not know. The actor expresses the hidden trauma that we do not want to feel. Through the detour that the creative process uses, the alienation becomes milder. The inherent threat of strangeness is reversed to its attractive side. The curiosity drowns out the fear. Perhaps that is the essence of art: defusing existential human fear. This enchantment is essentially aimed at the other, who recognizes something, who opens his highly own differentness to the vulnerability of fellow human beings. Art can show this vulnerability, sometimes very directly, in a raw horror, sometimes very subtle, in sublimated shift. Interpersonal communication can be particularly awkward and confusing. The creative language, in all its forms, can make openings in the bunkering that characterizes us all in these times of being too individual. The art here is paradoxical: an extremely individual expression of an authentic story reflects an equally individual need of another. Sometimes unexpected, sometimes confusing or threatening. Connecting, bonding, adherent.
Art as a carrier of complexity
Our world is very complicated and very quickly changing. Despite that or probably precisely, simple models seem to offer a foothold for today's people. Efficiency, short-term thinking, manufacturability and calculation that give the appearance of control and certainty.
Figures replace the stories, counting replaces telling stories.
The ambiguity of the digital world of course has its limitations and if we see this as the reality value we will inevitably get into trouble. A simplistic and flat template can only have limited usability.
Art also makes a difference here. It is ambiguous, layered, interpretable, to the frustration of many. Art not only appeals to reason, but shows her limitations by often making the irrational, the incomprehensible, the impossible the subject. Her subjective nature does not fit well with the order we are trying to make to ward off the incomprehensibility of life. Art, on the other hand, refers to this other layer, to the incomprehensibility that is perhaps more real. It can create openings to notice the crack in the smooth surface, beyond the tricks, beyond the pleasant scattering. She can cast a glance at the darkness, at what we do not know and cannot even know at what the daily talks do not just grasp. The professional critic, the experienced reviewer, the erudite connoisseur, however, also fall short, the art causes controversy, different opinions, confusion and consternation. Things are not right, just as life itself is not right.
Pierre Mertens brushes his figures grotesque and formless, makes the heads too large, the bodies mutilated, as a composer he devises atonal sounds and disruptive rhythms, as a writer he confuses the timeline of art history and lets the dead speak. The works all seem to reflect a reality that is not in line with our need for certainty, but is also somehow more correct, shows more than what we are used to seeing. This gives us back an idea of our inherent incomprehensibility, which also transcends the subjective reality of the artist. The work of art leads a life of its own, leaves the biographical individuality of the maker and enters the world where it appeals to the very own story of the viewer, listener and reader. This art engages, but in a totally different way than the tireless engagement that Pierre shows in his other lives.
This commitment is different, it is specific to art itself, it must not be pursued, it is not an end in itself. The art that pursues intentions and messages too explicitly becomes pamphletic and propagandistic and thus loses its creative power. The art often emerges from unconscious motives, whereby the maker can be surprised at the interpretations and consequences. It is precisely this unpredictable labyrinth of unintended meaning that is original. The artwork acts as a carrier of multiple potential properties, in which different explanations can co-exist, often contradictory or confusing. The ambiguity can exist in complex constructs, but also in great simplicity, whereby it is sometimes ascribed spiritual qualities.
Overwhelming changes of images and labyrinthine constructs disharmonic chaos, Pierre's work sometimes mixes everything up and simultaneously. She goes in all directions, she searches, she doesn't find but she takes us with us, she shows what we don't know and yet recognize. This work brings wonder.
Art as an existential necessity
The above mentioned arguments could suggest that I would like to promote this art as a means to mitigate the difficult coexistence, to temper the discontent, to comfort the ‘tristesse’. My vision is much more fundamental. I see art as a deep-rooted need of human nature, as an essential part of being human. Man becomes man in the creative act and thus transcends his instinctual being. The language, the imagination, the expression in all sensory layers in which people express themselves in opposition to each other form the culture in which the phenomenon of man exists.
The highly fundamental fear of the human animal, namely that it is only here on earth temporarily and that its time here is futile and difficult, gives rise to human activity that expresses, magnifies, sublimates and transcends this fear. The painter approaches the ideal beauty concept or the distraught dismay of the nightmare, evokes the discovery of heaven or the end of the night, whispers the stairs to paradise or shouts the highway to hell, depicts both the great beauty and the bitter tears.
In these works we mirror our existence, in admiration, in aversion, in indifference or in obsessional pursuit. This art does not adorn, is by no means a by-product of other human activity, it is deeply anchored in humanity. It expresses the inexpressibility (also in literature) of this fundamental existence, it deepens up something, appeals, confronts as well. She is "dangerous" with style.
It is this last event, the confrontation that sometimes shuns people. Not wanting to or not being able to see the sometimes hard reflections of our existence then requires looking away, not wanting to know, to close off what can happen. This "struggle" against the arts is a struggle against existence itself, against humanity in its essence. Because it is never possible to exclude human creativity altogether, it is then destroyed for cheerful decoration, pastime and deafening entertainment, for reflection, non-notification and predictable conformation.
History teaches us, however, that art keeps rising up in its transgression, that the burst is never gone, that the outsider position keeps popping up, disturbing and surprising. More than any other human activity, it constantly escapes the threat of social adjustment. Art is at the forefront of its visionary imagination, sometimes without realizing it.
The artist can evoke a world that can be, will be or must be, not hindered by the laws of material reality. This incitement to free thinking increases our imagination and incites us to thoughts that without this stimulus were thoughtless and unsuspected. Art is an essential force in the history of human culture. It is curious how a high-tech society seems to alienate from this statement and as such misunderstands its own history. The threatening idleness that characterizes our modern world is closely related to this.
In the difficult realization of his finitude, man will create and try to give a deep-rooted need for meaning. Because this attempt never fully succeeds, being unable to give a definitive answer to the deficiency of being human, the human mind continues to search eternally for forms and methods to overcome its deficiency. Across all times of human history, all cultures have done this and will continue to do so. The impossibility of escaping its limited destiny drives man to sometimes brilliant finds and almost universally recognized creations in which Divinity hints.
A large carpet by Pierre Mertens has been hanging over our marital bed for a few years now, it is a scratched Bacon, a tormented evocation of raw meat and passionate drift, it is reflected endlessly throughout the room. Dangerous and with style.
And it works, Pierre, it works.