Get to know contemporary latin club producer Merca Bae
These two Ghent-based artists drove us all the way to Atec, a metal bending workshop in Assenede, to meet the technical brains behind their spatial intervention, Crisis of Masculinity, which will be inaugurated at the (re-)opening of Kunsthal Gent. Amidst an invisible cloud of metal dust and the pounding noise of the machinery, we talked about their bromance, Muscle Beach Venice and the underrated value of labour.
Interview by Isaline Raes
Photos by Tiny Geeroms shot in Assenede
We share the same work ethic and pleasure, and we have a similar style and language
From time to time you work together on art projects, yet you’re not an artistic duo. How would you describe your relationship?
T: Our collaboration has taken off quite naturally. When we met five years ago, we had a connection and decided to try out some things together. However, we still operate apart from each other.
E: It’s a bromance. Together we can work on a bigger scale and at a higher pace. We share the same work ethic and pleasure, and we have a similar style and language. Finally, it’s very comforting that we’re not on our own having to call the shots. Usually, I tend to see the complexity of everything, but then there’s Thomas who’s very determined.
Can you tell us bit more about Crisis of Masculinity?
E: As it’s a new venue, we wanted to implement a fresh line. Next to that, the site specificity of Kunsthal Gent, which is the former Caermersklooster, a monumental open space full of history, and its plans to host a bunch of artistic activities, screams for some clean borders.
For a long time, we’ve been playing with the idea of building a replica of Muscle Beach, the gated outdoor weightlifting platform constructed in Venice, California. It has a fascinating history and a remarkable shape: a fence made of blue metal tubes bursting at the seams as if they did some bodybuilding. Our intervention will be very minimal, made of just one colour, one material, one shape.But at the same time it’ll be of a scale that will be annoying for the visitor. At the opening you’ll have to walk around the cumbersome installation to reach the bar or your friends. Because of its scale, it can’t stay at Kunsthal so we’ll let it slowly disappear by cutting off pieces which will be installed in private gardens. It’s interesting to leave a Hansel and Gretel’s trail of crumbs and to be able to see something again.
T: Our fence encloses a melting pot of narratives. It’s about Muscle Beach, deformation, our physical culture, our relationship with our body, and, as the title suggests, the crisis of masculinity. The masculine identity is no longer self-evident and has become very complex. The traditional gender roles have been shaken up, which was necessary. But I think that there’s no harm in pointing out the difficulty of this transition.
Our fence encloses a melting pot of narratives. It’s about Muscle Beach, deformation, our physical culture, our relationship with our body, and, as the title suggests, the crisis of masculinity
In addition, our installation is about the crisis of labour. We’re both fascinated by labour and love to work, otherwise we’d get bored. However, it’s important to have a connection with a sort of end product. It ensures pride and satisfaction. In many jobs that tie has been cut.
Why are you both so intrigued by labour?
T: There isn’t really a good Dutch translation for the word ‘labour’. It’s often translated as ‘craft’ but then it gets a glorifying connotation.
E: I find the crafty potter rather annoying, although I don’t know why. Maybe it lacks the connection with ordinary life. Labour simply means ‘work’. The sort of work you never see and always looks evident as it’s not an attraction. Masonry, for example, is super complicated. We both can’t spread mortar on a stone, while there are people who brick a vault without support. They get their mortar so good that if you throw it, it sticks. Our blend, on the contrary, although composed of the same ingredients, is a soup. We can’t mason nor weld nor fold metal tubes. In the end it’s one big lesson in humility. An adventure in which we, slowly but steadily, learn how to work with materials.
T: By calling upon the expertise of professionals, you reduce and depersonalise yourself. Our society revolves around individuals, but we like to see it differently. We don’t believe that our personalities are that relevant. We are not artistic geniuses; rather we’re mediums in which things collide.