Berlinde De Bruyckere layers decay with intrigue in new sculptural works

Berlinde De Bruyckere layers decay with intrigue in new sculptural works

A solo exhibition by Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere reveals two new bodies of sculptural work, which dominate the Rhoades and Bourgeois galleries of Hauser & Wirth Somerset. ‘Stages and Tales’ marks a new trajectory for the artist, who has a history of hauntingly representative figurative work involving faceless, distorted bodies often cast in wax.

De Bruyckere is confrontational as ever, but her work becomes increasingly complex as the artist shifts into heightened abstraction. The first space hosts Courtyard Tales, a series of seven wall-mounted works comprising decomposing drapery. The blankets are not bought new, but instead sourced from charity and second-hand shops. ‘I like the idea that they are used and loaded with stories,’ the artist reflects.

The blankets have been left outside for sustained periods to be weathered and aged – some since the late 1990s – rendering them defunct of their previous purpose to provide warmth and shelter. The tattered fabrics, varying in material and pattern, are layered and draped over one another, discoloured and dirty with blotches of mould and a distinct smell of musk. In some cases, De Bruyckere weaves another thread into the narrative with unnerving bulges protruding from deep within the fabric to evoke shrouded bodies.

Installation view of ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere: Stages & Tales’ at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Photography: Mirjam Devriendt. © Berlinde De Bruyckere. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Upon initial inspection, the second gallery space seems to be a variation on a similar theme, hosting three large, cubic blocks of a stacked, folded material resembling blankets. In fact, these are dense wax casts of animal hides, neatly heaped on bronze pallets.

Here, De Bruyckere deviates from realism – fleshy tones are replaced by a palette of muted blues and greys with flecks of brighter colours. A closer look reveals the casts harbour remnants of animal hairs, flakes of skin and salt, a stark reminder of the visceral production process. De Bruyckere’s piles of skins offer an illusion of indestructibility, immobility, and gravitas at odds with the fragility of the material.

Both bodies of De Bruyckere’s new work induce an intriguing sense of unease, layering narratives of elemental and manmade destruction, vulnerability and obtrusive depictions of human suffering, ‘I want to show how helpless a body can be,’ the artist has said ‘which is nothing to be afraid of – it can be something beautiful.’

Within Hauser & Wirth’s network of barn conversions and rolling rural landscape, these organic works – partially indebted to the power of the elements – feel very much in their natural habitat. §

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