The Venice Questionnaire #5 – Dirk Braeckman

The photographer on taking over the newly restored Belgian pavilion in Venice

27.1 / 21.7 / 026 / 2014, 2014, gelatin silver print, 90 x 60 cm. © Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy of Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp E.N.-C.K.-12 – 2013, 2013, gelatin silver print, 180 x 120 cm. © Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2017 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening (13 May – 26 November).

Dirk Braeckman is representing Belgium. The pavilion is in the Giardini.

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

The exhibition in Venice will be a presentation of several new works, combined with a couple of existing pieces, creating an installation to match the specific architecture of the Belgian pavilion. My plan is to make a powerful yet solemn installation, with a focus on the work itself. The pavilion has been fully restored over the winter. It is now in perfect shape to host a straightforward presentation of some 20 works.

How is making a show for the Venice Biennale different to preparing a ‘normal’ exhibition? Or another biennial?

It’s quite the same and yet very different. The curator Eva Wittocx and I have been treating the show as we would have done with any other exhibition, looking for a strong installation where the works support one another and create an exciting dialogue. At the same time one is constantly aware that this show is only one small fragment of the Biennale, next to so many other artists and exhibitions. You are a small element of a bigger story, but you want to make an autonomous statement within the broader context. It is a challenge to position oneself in the framework of the Biennale, and not going for spectacular interventions.

There is a huge number of biennial exhibitions across the world nowadays. Do you think the Venice Biennale still has a special status, and why?

The Venice Biennale is definitely an extraordinary event. I have been attending it for so many years, and I always love spending time in Giardini. Since many years my attention got drawn to the various half-damaged sculptures that are standing around the park, hidden between the trees. Most visitors don’t notice them, and that is why I’m intrigued by them.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or is it problematic?

I don’t really see myself too much as ‘representing’ my country. I have a solo exhibition in the Belgian pavilion, but I mostly see this as a platform to reach an international audience for my artistic practice. Of course it is an honour to present my work in that context and to all of these new audiences. Art is not about nationalities; I don’t operate within that frame.

It is an honour to have been selected. In Belgium the selection is alternated between the Flemish and French communities, which means that only every four years this chance is offered. For me this selection comes at the exact right moment. My practice is now strongly and profoundly developed; I’m at the right age. Ten years ago it would have been too early, and in another 10 years or so probably too late. The timing is perfect, as some kind of midcareer milestone.

The Venice audience is a diverse group. Who is most important to you? The artists, the gallerists, curators and critics concentrated around the opening, or the general public which visits in the months that follow?

Both, I guess. I am very much looking forward to any feedback on my work from a variety of audiences. The contact with curators, press and critics might offer exposure that can result in new exhibitions or collaborations abroad. My main goal however is to share my work with the visitors.

Did you visit the last Venice Biennale? What’s your earliest or best memory from Venice?

I have visited the Biennale about ten times, mostly for the art exhibition, some years during the architecture Biennale as well. I remember coming here with my teenage daughter in the mid-1990s when I was invited to take part in the architecture show at the Belgian pavilion hosted by OFFICE (Kersten Geers and David Van Severen).

How does having a pavilion in Venice make a difference to the art scene in your home country?

It is completely different. In my home country a large part of the broader audience knows my work. When presenting an exhibition in Belgium most of the public is familiar with it. In Venice it will be a first encounter for many others coming from different countries.

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

Venice is one of my favourite cities in the world. I love walking around and getting lost endlessly. I usually take my time to visit the exhibitions in the Arsenale and Giardini, but never manage to see everything. On those days in particular I enjoy wandering into the many churches and old buildings in Venice even more, away from the big crowds.

Click here to read all of our questionnaires published so far

6 April 2017