Quand le ciel bas et lourd [When the Sky Low and Heavy]
Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. S0450).
A structure in iron, erected to coincide with the exhibition America. Bride of the Sun in 1992. Above 12 trees (arranged in 3 rows of 4), a metal-plate ‘roof’ supported on metal poles is mounted such that the trees are partially deprived of sunlight. Over the years growth becomes stunted, and the trees misformed. A sort of large-scale bonsai, one might say. The sculpture seems to appear at first like a renewal of late 1960s Arte Povera aesthetics and devices, almost as though aesthetics structural juxtapositions along the axis of nature/culture opposites had crossed over into outdoor monumentalization, a tendency that Arte Povera had been careful to avoid.
This work is defined as an edition of three copies. It is site-specific and a work with a duration over time. Three rows of trees are planted under a steel roof supported by slim metal profiles. Over time, the middle row of trees dies and the others enter into battle with the roof around which they grow. The ground is slightly raised on one side and the steel plate is a trapezoid. This gives a false sense of perspective; the work is elusive, one thinks one sees a rectangle from a certain point of view, but it never exists. The work was produced by the Commissioner General for International Relations under Ernest Van Buynder.
The basic contradiction between nature and culture (nature subordinated to culture in a park, nature that has been increasingly cornered by culture…) is complemented by a second metaphorical layer, that of oppression. That is a theme that was obvious to Lamelas in response to the exhibition for which it was realized, "America: Bride of the Sun: 500 Years of Latin America and the Low Countries" in 1991 at the KMSKA. The oppression not only concerns the oppression in the recent and colonial history of America, it also refers to the oppression of Congo by colonial Belgium, from which the bourgeois grandeur of both the KMSKA building and the surrounding houses arises.
This is also evident from the title, which is the opening of one of the poems by the French nineteenth-century poet Charles Baudelaire from his collection "Les Fleurs du Mal" with which he introduced the notion of "spleen".
The poem "Spleen: Quand le ciel bas et lourd pèse comme un couvercle" (When the low, heavy sky weighs like a lid) is the pars pro toto of this. It evokes a hopeless world ‘Quand la terre est changée en un cachot humide/Où l'Espérance, comme une chauve-souris/S'en va battant les murs de son aile timide/Et se cognant la tête à des plafonds pourris’. [When the earth is changed into a humid dungeon, In which Hope like a bat Goes beating the walls with her timid wingsAnd knocking her head against the rotten ceiling]
Lamelas' work - while essentially about oppression and hope and impotence - can at the same time be seen as an institutional critique of the bourgeois basis of art. After all, an integral part of the reflection that gave shape to it here is the presence of two now internationally legendary contemporary art spaces that were located at the two rear entrances of the KMSKA in the 1960s, Wide White Space Gallery which from 1966 to 1976 was arguably the most important gallery in the world, and A 37 90 89, now the subject of an exhibition at M HKA and next year of an exhibition in Berlin where it will be positioned as the world's first alternative art space. Both were housed in bourgeois buildings. Lamelas is closely associated with Wide White Space Gallery and also designed an exhibition at A 37 90 89. It is for this reason that he positioned the work where it is today. It keeps the memory of these highlights of Flemish art history alive and offers a critical reflection on them.
Because of M HKA's museum project, which is based on the international post-war avant-garde in Antwerp and the wider region, the artist donated the work to M HKA in 2011. It is depicted in the M HKA collection catalogue on p.21. This catalogue includes the museum's core collection with 200 core artists, selected on the basis of a number of criteria such as the importance of the artist as such, their importance within the collection structure and the importance of the work itself.
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The M HKA’s contemporary art collection has grown thanks to a combination of acquisitions, donations and long-term loans from various public