POP ARTZ (Melanie Bono)

When I met Pieterjan Ginckels for the first time in 2006, I was still director of the “After Cage” EU project, in which the most diverse locations were linked through art, irrespective of national borders. One part of that project, the Artists' Interventions, was a group exhibition dispersed over 12 venues. In my search for Belgian and Dutch artists, I came upon the works of Pieterjan Ginckels at the Stella Lohaus gallery in Antwerp.
What particularly caught my attention was a work called Summercage. While the work was being installed in Jülich, Pieterjan and myself spent some time together talking about a lot of different things. He gave me insight into older works, projects he was planning, and his general attitude to art. What I found especially attractive was the energy and enthusiasm with which he pursued his projects, and the complete absence of the cliché of “the ingenious artist as creator”. Instead, his ideas were free of any leaning towards a particular “school” or an orientation towards the mass of existing art. Indeed they even lacked an “artistic will”, and instead were oozing with freshness. Ginckels' concept of making his own diverse interests and ideas accessible as an experience for others results in works that operate over the full range of art's media. They involve drawing, sculpture, the ready-made, books, video, performances, and even experimental electronic music, which he performs under his pseudonym, ‘nononoise’.

If, despite this huge diversity, one tries to find a common denominator for Pieterjan Ginkels' diverse projects, it is perhaps helpful to distinguish between the various aspects like between the different parts of a music track. In this case, the base line would be the link to everyday life, which finds a resonance in Ginckels' works, in all its diversity. Given the fact that the artist was born in 1982, this everyday life is marked by a particular hi-hat. This was the first generation for whom the technical possibilities of our era were something self-evident, which were not just cautiously approached, but whose mastery and application were part of the socialisation process. An even more important feature of Ginckels' works is the influence of pop culture, something which is certainly also specific to his generation. Although it is a matter of debate just how long pop culture has actually been the leading cultural trend – in recent decades pop has indisputably become the name of a comprehensive cultural epoch. (1) It is no surprise, therefore, that there are analogies between the functioning of pop culture and important internal connections in the works of Pieterjan Ginckels. One fundamental principle of pop culture, and surely an important factor in its success, is its ability to integrate influences both from other cultural trends and from its own sub-cultures and to process these, under the mantle of pop, for all the participants in pop culture. On the other hand, what appears attractive and democratic cannot function without a strong levelling tendency, which also synthesises apparent opposites. Ambivalences such as those between mass and high culture, local and global, technology and emotion, are ‘resolved’ and integrated into the whole that is pop. Fashion, with its principle of being up-to-the-minute, provides both the motor and the internal integrating mechanism of pop. Here, the new is always desirable and better, without necessarily being progressive. The media are the main distribution channels of pop culture and at the same time integrate its participants.

All these features are clearly recognisable in the project 1000 Beats / 1 Beat on show at NAK for the first time as a complete installation. The installation consists of a number of record-players, mixing consoles, amplifiers and loudspeakers, on loan from people who feel an affiliation either to NAK or to the artist. On each record-player that works, a 7" record consisting of a 1-second loop on an endless groove is playing. This loop was developed by the internationally-famous DJ Cristian Vogel, while the record sleeve was designed by the Norwegian designer-collective Grandpeople. The artist wants the record itself to be seen as a kind of sculpture, given that through the process of being engraved into the vinyl body, immaterial music can be understood as a three-dimensional form. This idea is heightened by it being played on many record-players, each of which represents both a independent visual personality and an individual sound, due to its respective playing speed and volume. These individual parts, taken together, become a single image, while the loops produce a special sound which qualifies as individual for this installation. Sound thus becomes an immaterial sculpture which at the same time visually and acoustically represents the social network of the NAK. If this work is exhibited at other venues, the sound may be similar but never the same. What is more, each lender receives a record in return, so that the 1 Beat links all those participating in the project.

The fundamental concept behind this project is nurtured by Ginckels' desire to link the world of art with that of popular music, and to transfer the way it functions – organisation in labels, presentation in concerts, the binding aspect of being a fan, and global exchange – into the spheres of the fine arts. Pop culture is transferred in terms not only of content but also of form: The project links different social realms, like that of pop music with that of the fine arts; it integrates opposites such as high culture and street culture, the local site of the installation with the global dissemination on the record. By soliciting the collaboration of Cristian Vogel and Grandpeople and borrowing the equipment for the installation, the ‘fan’ Ginckels links different levels of participation and interactivity and thus remains faithful to the topicality that pop demands, given that currently both Cristian Vogel and Grandpeople are very much “in”.

The work Ghost Appearance, which links the two exhibition rooms at the NAK, also plays with features of pop. The black light recalls the atmosphere of clubs and discos all over the world, in this installation, however, it illuminates a larger-than-life-size self-portrait of Pieterjan Ginckels which, like in a comic, consists merely of thick black outlines. The ingenuous charm of the drawing is based mainly on the line, which seems unsure, even volatile, and the lively and skilfully-reduced drawing. The glorification of self inherent in the large-than-life size also refers to the ambivalence of the identity concepts current in the pop music world, and gradually encroaching on the world of art – an oscillation between self-presentation, a cult of the person, and a retreat behind the protection of the collective, between crude drafts of the “artist” brand and expressing the demanded authenticity.

Although the concept of pop is a credible component of Ginckels' works, it is still only one aspect of his artistic oeuvre. In keeping with the image of the music track, the middle tones fade in from quite different sources, as the other works in the exhibition testify.

For outside the Kunstverein building, which is located at the heart of Aachen's Stadtgarten, Pieterjan Ginckels produced the work Bowbow. This wooden construction, a reversed half pipe, is exposed, unprotected, to the elements and at first glance looks like an outsize building-block forming a low arc under which the viewer is forced to bend or bow. This arc, to be understood as a gate, links the inner space of the NAK institution with the outer space of the public park. The fact that only one side of the construction is faced also raises the question of the illusion that is created both inside, and for, the art institution.

Something similar can be said of the installation Powerstation/Stroboscope. Powerstation also constitutes a room within a room. But whereas on the front this outsize cardboard box just shows a simple electricity socket, it is open at the back and, brightly lit inside by the older work Fireplace, reveals a collection of neon tubes on which the piled pieces of wood make a melancholic reference to the “good old days”. The inner space reveals a construction reminiscent of u-steel beams and a surprising, apparently naked and vulnerable emptiness, which in turn engenders a helpless absurdity due to the disproportionate largeness and artificiality of the work. The small socket on the outside feeds the work Stroboscope, which runs on three monitors in the dark exhibition room. This is a film loop consisting of individual black-and-white drawings. The alternating brightness and darkness create a stroboscope effect, of the kind often experienced in a disco. The result of this effect is that the moving surroundings can only be perceived as individual stills. This could be regarded as a visual paradox: moving individual images give rise merely to more individual images. At the same time, the work is somehow also the visual pendant of the installation 1000 Beats/1 Beat. The interplay of the different speeds of the monitors produces a very individual ‘melody’. One would expect to hear that Pieterjan Ginckels had just left the Art Academy – so it is all the more surprising that he studied architecture in Brussels. According to Ginckels, “Art cannot be studied. Either you do it or you don’t do it.” Two other features of this artist's work stem from his assumed interest in space and construction. In Ginckels' work, the concept of construction also involves the idea of a creative will, of something planned and therefore deliberately artificial, while space is understood not just as a built around or depicted space, but also as a social space (2), defined by the possibility of human interaction and, even more broadly, becoming a individual mental space of perception through association and recollection. This contemporary expansion of the aspects of construction and space, which he regards as self-evident, leads to a transformation of the objects themselves. Ginckels' works often expose their contrived features, reveal the artificiality of their existence, and thus become “vulnerable” and, through the ascription of this attribute, individualised and humanised; they take on something creaturely. The dysfunctionality, which the objects thus radiate – given that construction is always aimed at a certain function – is linked with a caring, melancholic feeling which accompanies Ginckels' objects like a leitmotif. This is something which the artist intends, and supplements the cold functional technology with scribbled drawings, old wood, expressive titles and short narratives. His objects can therefore always be conceived as small creatures with a character of their own, a history of their own, and their very own relationship to the viewer.

1 Cf. Beat Wyss, Die Welt als T-shirt, Zur Ästhetik und Geschichte der Medien, Cologne, DuMont, 1997, pp. 121ff.
2 Nina Möntmann, Kunst als sozialer Raum. Andrea Fraser, Martha Rosler, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Renée Green, Cologne, 2000, pp. 13ff.

— Melanie Bono, director NAK Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen, Germany.
This text appeared in the monographic publication "Pieterjan Ginckels" on the occasion of Ginckels' solo show at NAK Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen, Germany in 2008.