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Designer Dialogues: Dennis Vanderbroeck

26 January 2022

7 min. to read

© George Liu & Kornelia Dimitrova
BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE portrays different creative makers in their workplaces while interviewed by colleagues. What fascinates, inspires and drives them to do what they do? Especially for, BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE edited the interviews into interesting short stories. Architect Kornelia Dimitrova meets up with set designer Dennis Vanderbroeck for an interesting conversation in Dennis’ studio.

Can you describe the work you made for the Palais de Tokyo, and what it meant to you?

Dennis: It was a very long research project. During my studies, I researched the notion of what it is to justify or fight for the right to exist as an artist. I wrote a dissertation about branding yourself as an artist, which penetrated this entire piece. It was a step, like a naive, childish way of fighting for your right to be seen. That was one of the purposes it served, but it also became the content, and therefore I became the victim of my own research, if that makes sense…

It’s called ‘How I try to achieve several difficult things at the same time’, which is the definition of a balancing act. It consists of 14 parts that were referencing my body. I measured my leg, I measured my arm, I measured my hips, to create 14 pieces that constituted the fundament of the work. 2 assistants built a gigantic balancing tower on top of my head. I was standing there and they built this giant construction on top of me, proving that I needed to be there; how important it was for me to be present.

The sculpture had 2 colours: the front was blue and the back was white, and my suit was divided in the same way. Initially, my white side was turned towards the audience, and when the sculpture was built, I rotated 180° to finish it. But at the end of the performance, the assistants came back and replaced me with a stick that was exactly my height. So basically, I stepped out and the sculpture existed on its own without me.

You built up exhaustion over the day, maybe your assistants got bored. So actually every assembly was a different kind of performance.

Dennis: There was this one girl, I recognised her the third time on the first day. And the next day she was there and the day after she was there again. Of course, I wanted to talk to her and ask “why the f**k are you coming to see me again?” And she said “I’m so intrigued by how the performance becomes a performance of a performance. I’m building this imaginary relationship with how you feel and I’m projecting all these ideas, like ‘maybe he’s a bit tired’ or ‘oh no he’s really into it’.” She was just completely carried away with her own thoughts by looking at that performance, which was one of the biggest compliments I had.

© George Liu & Kornelia Dimitrova

So, there’s your identity, that flows into your work as you develop as an artist, who also changes. The tensions you’re interested in exploring, also evolve and become something different. On your website, I saw an archive page called ‘Chapter 1 – The Boy, and then I realised that’s why the projects page is called ‘Chapter 2 – The Studio’. Does this have a function in your work, or is it just a way of archiving?

Dennis: It’s both. It has the function of structuring and organising phases in my life, basically acknowledging the fact that I did something during a certain period of time, and that I was transitioning into something new. That’s what those chapters symbolise. At this point I’m working on the next chapter, moving into Chapter 3. It is still a process, but I know I need to come up with a chapter 3. The first part was The Boy, which was me being physically super present in all my work. There were still a lot of performance works, but also more photography and sculptural pieces, more self-initiated projects, all while I was still studying. That’s why I called it The Boy. After working for Bureau Betak, I started the Studio, which implies that there is a physical space and that there are more people involved than just me. This was nice, because I tried to build up more collaborations and do more projects for theatre pieces and fashion pieces. Now, I’m thinking about merging the 2: a bit of the boy and a bit of the studio. I’m really at the point where I crossed a lot of things out, time-wise as well. It’s time to come up with that Chapter 3. When we spoke on the phone, I was so happy that you noticed it because a lot of people don’t notice, don’t care, or don’t say.

And what is Chapter 3?

Dennis: I haven’t found the tools for Chapter 3 yet, it’s still in development. But it has to do with the fact that I’m going to create a new piece of work. Commissioned work is going to coexist with something I will initiate myself. So I’m conducting research while I’m designing 2 or 3 scenographies. I’m working on a concert while I’m creating the performance, and then I’m going to play the performance while rehearsing for a scenography – and I feel so happy because that’s always how I intended my work to manifest itself. Working in different disciplines in various contexts – theatre, concerts, museums – and then making my own work. So, it feels like I’m ready for that chapter now.

And do you have a concept? Do you even have a name?

Dennis: Yes, I’m going to make a masterpiece. Well, it’s called ’A masterpiece or at least a brave attempt’ and what I’m going to do is a live performance in a theatre space. Not necessarily a theatre space but people need to sit and look at me. I’m going to re-enact live performances of my heroes, from Yves Klein to Bruce Nauman to Gilbert & George. By re-enacting my heroes’ moments of geniality, I’m hoping to find my own. My performances are always structured around a manual, they always go from step 1 to step 2. Sometimes I use language to illustrate that idea, sometimes it’s signs, or whatever. I’ve decided to use the voice over of my father, who is going to narrate me through making the masterpiece. My father has Alzheimer’s disease. He’s very proud of me but he’s not very attracted to art, or he doesn’t really understand what I’m doing. Through interviews with him and talking about my heroes, I’m going to ask him to describe those performances as detailed as possible so that I can re-enact them on stage. I started this piece because I’m living on a clock. I have the feeling that I need to work harder, to do bigger projects. With the work I developed before, when I was still studying, I was fighting for a right to exist. Now I’ve come to realise that it actually is one of my deepest fears. For example, I always wanted to have kids, but then I realised that I wanted kids only because they would extend my existence. There’s this fundamental fear of being forgotten, or being dead for that matter. And my father is the physical embodiment of my fear. He is slowly forgetting me, himself, his reality. I thought that if I really want to try to come to terms with that fear, I need to include him, because he’s going to fuck it up good – that’s what I know for sure. I think this performance is going to be a very important marking point in my artistic practice from what I’ve done so far, and I think it will also mark something very important for the future.

Want to read the full article?

You can find the complete interview in BLANK SPACE MAGAZINE - issue #4