in the Category: art

New Masters: Dominique De Groen

At the junction where conspiracy theory meets reality, you’ll find the work of poet and visual artist Dominique De Groen. Writing about the neon hell of Primark fitting rooms and about bacteria in a world recalling an ecological disaster, Dominique De Groen seems far off from the permanent collection of the MSK in Ghent. Yet in the same way that Britney Spears fan forums and Buffy The Vampire Slayer spin offs do, tradition also has a role in her many universes.


Interview by Milena Maenhaut 
Photos shot by Tiny Geeroms in the MSK in Ghent

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently writing a novel, the first one after two volumes of poetry. I’m still doing some research since the novel will take place in different historical eras. It’s about a young actress who goes missing and a detective with paranormal abilities. The story is a bit all over the place: I will dig into the time of witch hunts, the colonisation of California and the industrial revolution. They are all linked together: witch burning is linked to the rise of capitalism as ‘witches’ revolted against the privatisation of communal lands. The hunt was a way to keep them silent.

In your previous work you tackled late capitalism (Shop Girl), climate change (Sticky Drama) and how the press treats artists like Britney Spears (My Crown is Back). Is your writing always intertwined with criticism? 

Yes and no. I don’t want to insert a very explicit message in my work. At the same time I believe all art is political, consciously or not. The fact that I can read and write is political. The fact that I’m able to write what I want without fear of imprisonment is political. You can’t make art in a vacuum: there’s no way to escape society.

I believe all art is political, consciously or not

So you don’t believe in the autonomy of art, in the ‘l’art pour l’art’-principle?

Not at all. It’s a luxury to be able to enhance that idea. Only people in a privileged position of power have the illusion that they are be able to separate themselves of their circumstances. 

Your novel also has a visual aspect, can you elaborate on that?

I just finished a bachelor’s in media art at KASK. In my graduation show I exhibited the beginning of the novel’s visual part. It’s supposed to become an interactive extension of the novel, a web or network with background information in which people can get lost. For instance, there’s a video piece I made while doing research in Glasgow. It consists of still images, and as I zoom in on a pixel you start to see things that aren’t there. I’m exploring how the detective sees the world as a paranormal person. The detective is called Malayney, which is a character in Sticky Drama, my second poetry bundle. Britney Spears, about whom I wrote zine My Crown is Back, has a role in the novel too. The disappearing actress is a doppelgänger of Britney Spears. All my work is interconnected.

All my work is interconnected

Where does your inspiration come from?

From films and books I read. I really like postmodern writer Thomas Pynchon. His novels are also set in different historical periods with many bizarre things happening. In Gravity's Rainbow for instance there’s a chapter written from the perspective of a light bulb. The bulb talks about huge international light bulb network plotting against the energy companies that are exploiting them. Besides that, I also get inspiration from things I find on the internet. I’m really into forum culture, which unfortunately is disappearing. Nowadays everybody is active on very uniform social media like Facebook or Instagram. It was completely different in the earlier days of the internet.

 I’m really into forum culture, which unfortunately is disappearing. Nowadays everybody is active on very uniform social media

Are you active on forums?

Yes, on the ones about Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the ones about – of course - Britney Spears. Angel, a Buffy The Vampire Slayer-spinoff, makes many references to Raymond Chandler and to Film Noir. You know, those dark shots of a vampire walking in rainy little alleys, dressed in a long black trench coat. Film Noir is also a big influence on me, and on the novel. 

I’m a big fan of Britney Spears for as long as I can remember. I love her music but at the same time her tragic story strikes me. When Britney was very young, she was marketed as a symbol for a very sexualized kind of innocence. When she got older, she wanted to break free. She tried to write her own songs, posted rebellious blog posts and wrote poems about freedom and rebellion. Shortly after she had a breakdown. In the last ten years a cloud of mystery surrounds her, which incites many conspiracy theories. Some say she still sings at concerts, instead of lip syncing. But only real fans can hear her, on a special Britney-frequency.

Do you also get inspiration from more traditional art, like this collection?

Not directly, but I do feel a connection with the work of Hieronymus Bosch, Christ Carrying the Cross for instance. It’s super cool because of all the medieval horrible-looking faces. It’s not exactly beautiful, but I love the grotesque. It’s completely different from what his contemporaries were painting. 

Hieronymus Bosch - Saint Jerome at Prayer

I studied English and Latin literature, so I do have a traditional background. A classical concept which captivates me is ‘catabasis’, the act of descending. In Greek mythology it usually refers to a trip to the underworld. I worked at Primark for a while, which inspired Shop Girl. I worked in the fitting rooms in the basement of the shop. Every day I had to descend to a neon hell, which is really what we called it. After a while those concepts got connected.

 I worked at Primark for a while, which inspired Shop Girl. Every day I had to descend to a neon hell

What kind of visitor are you? Do you rush through a collection or can you get lost for hours in one room?

When I was younger, I felt obliged to stare at each work for the same amount of time. I stopped doing that. But when one work really strikes me, I can keep looking at it for a very long time. 

When I was younger, I felt obliged to stare at each work for the same amount of time. I stopped doing that

Was that the case today?

Yes. We already talked about Bosch, but I was also intrigued by The Staircase of Paul Delvaux, which was the first piece I saw when we entered. His work fascinates me. He’s able to grasp the feeling of dreams, most of all how the architecture of dreams looks like as I always dream about very bizarre cities.


Paul Delvaux - The Staircase

Can you link the collection to your own work?

Yes. I’m currently writing a series of poems called Dreams of the Sacred Lamb, which is partly inspired by The Ghent Altarpiece (het Lam Gods). The poems are written from the perspective of the offered lamb, who has some last dreams just before she dies.

Members can visit ‘From Bosch to Tuymans: a vital story’, the revised permanent collection of the MSK, for free during the month of October.
Join us here.

Fuk de markt met poëzie, featuring Dominique De Groen and others
15 Oct - In De Ruimte, Ghent
Free for all