in the Category: art

Nel Aerts

Coconut heads on top of dragon figurines on top of onion jars. Sitting in between similar towers of fun, we asked Nel Aerts about her new exhibition at M Leuven, called The Waddle Show; a counteract, and looked for the meaning of her collected objects, such as the salt and pepper shakers disguised as an Aspirin tablet and a Martini glass.

Interview by Louise Souvagie
Photos by Tiny Geeroms

For The Waddle Show, you made an arch out of a collage that was used as the invitation for your previous exhibition, Der Schlangenbeschwörer (the snake charmer) at Kunsthalle Lingen in Germany earlier this year. Why?

I wanted to suggest that the artist is a sort of snake charmer within the context of a studio, hoping to provoke a dance or a struggle. I also see it as the relationship between an artwork and its spectator: a good artwork should seduce or provoke. The Waddle Show refers to the balancing act of waddling on one side, but also generates the character of a theatrical Broadway show. I’m also just fond of the word ‘waddle’. I try to look for a linguistic appeal, like in Der Schlangenbeschwörer.

Good artwork should seduce or provoke

It seems to be a tendency among artists to collect and make work by displaying a selection of their collected objects. Is your practice based on your collections? 

The collection was definitely the source of my latest works. However, I wouldn’t call it a pattern. Mine was very deliberately construed. But it’s certainly true that artists tend to surround themselves with all sorts of funny or triggering things. For example, an artist like Martin Kippenberger used to find interesting objects and sign them. As such, he made them his own and presented them as an edition. It’s an interesting stance. But that’s the beauty of all that’s possible in art. Vaast Colson [artist and partner of Aerts] and I collect rarities from cafés and artworks by other artists. We often exchange works with other young artists/friends, and hang them next to works by established artists. The loss of hierarchy pleases us – the thought that they can coexist like that. 

Artists tend to surround themselves with all sorts of funny or triggering things

One of the images you repeat a lot is ‘the eye’, an interesting theme as a painter: the spectator being you yet also an audience, looking at something, being looked at… Can you elaborate on that? 

I always question the position of the character in a painting towards me as the artist. I feel like I make figures who look back at me, or who look at each other. Picture a scene at a bar where people sit around, whether they decide to interact or not – so interesting! To me, it’s also the appeal of Waiting for Godot: what are these characters doing? What’s their relation towards each other, and to the spectator?

What does a day at the studio look like for you?

There’s a very high barrier to cross whenever I want to start painting. Sometimes I spend a whole day sketching in bed. When I’m lucky, I get to the point of holding a brush [Laughs]. Sometimes I run downstairs to work, only to turn around in the corridor and go back up. I physically can’t. And sometime later, I won’t be able to leave the studio.

Sometimes I run downstairs to work, only to turn around in the corridor and go back up

The initial struggle towards a work is bizarre, because once you’ve gone through it, you’re fine. I always manage – eventually. Some of these works have been here for a long time, the battle is ongoing, but you’re not up for battle every day. I don’t want to sound dramatic about it, the struggle is also part of the fun and sometimes things come to me in a pleasantly direct way too. You wish it was always like that, but that simply isn’t true. 

I find the relationship between collage and painting very peculiar: when making a collage, I already go through a significant process, so if I simply copy this as a painting – nothing will have happened. It doesn’t interest me to ‘copy’ and thereby produce a mere image. Sometimes, I work with a pyrography machine to burn drawings in my panels, which is a layer not many can eventually still detect.

When is a work finished?

When something happens which I couldn’t have foreseen or when I’ve gained insight. It can’t be pure, there will always be a sense of struggle, something a little off in exactly the right way. But the most important factor to me would always be to have learned something from the work.

Nel Aerts: The Waddle Show; a counteract 
Until 15 March 2020 - M, Leuven
Free for members in November