Berlinde De Bruyckere (Ghent, 1964) has developed an unmistakable form of stylistic research over the years, being based on an aesthetic of the fragment that draws on the mythology of a body placed at the intersection of multiple cultural and aesthetic referents. The artist’s Flemish origin, first of all, appears in her concern with detail, presented with meticulous precision, and her refined rendering of supple and sensuous materials (wax, horse hide, blankets, velvets), but most of all in the visionary and surreal universe of artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, James Ensor and Paul Delvaux. Her sculptures, in their use of wax evoking the work of Medardo Rosso, act on the physical level, on the “skin” of the image and the psychic level in the dimension of the symptom, physical and mental, and on the well- springs of repression.
Raised in the isolation of a school run by nuns, De Bruyckere is obsessed with human bodies and their decomposition, as well as by the images of slaughtered animals, which she saw as a child in her father’s butcher shop. Various stimuli return aesthetically transfigured in anatomical representations that are both seductive and disturbing, marked by the epidermal tension of emaciated and contracted human bodies, distorted by disquieting metamorphoses, devoid of any physiognomic characterization, yet recognizable, or the carcasses of animals frozen in incongruous poses but with a markedly realistic impact. Every subject, in De Bruyckere’s sculptures, assumes a sinister and alienating physicality, becoming an expression of a hallucinatory physiology, suspended between life and death. The artist delves into the ancestral fears of human beings; her universe is populated by solitary, frail figures presented as metaphors of bodily suffering and psychological distress.
In the early 1990s, De Bruyckere focused on the human anatomy: sculptures of women, concealed by woolen blankets that seem to respond to the need to protect them. Subsequently her sculptural vocabulary made recurrent use of hand-sewn assemblages. This gave rise to a series of anthropomorphic figures, reminiscent of the existential approach of Louise Bourgeois.
The work presented at Madre in the contex of Per_forming a collection project, Aanéén-genaaid (1999) (“Stitched Together”, hence “Reassembled”, 1999), is a sculpture that renders a body frozen in his bleak stillness, headless and armless. Half of it is concealed by a blanket that the artist has sewn, as if to protect its maimed parts. The essential forms evoke an imaginary archetype, while the realistic representation of certain details – the livid color of the skin, the tranquil plasticity of the muscles – reveal the artist’s interest in the careful study of the human figure, its anatomy and posture. This figure, outside of space and time, suspended in the limbo of indeterminacy, expresses a need for love and protection denied, leaving the viewer with a sense of emptiness, disquiet, vulnerability and loneliness.