ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Vaast Colson - 2009 - Colourful and Buzzing Castoffs [EN, essay]
Colourful and Buzzing Castoffs
The Work of Vaast Colson and Dennis Tyfus
Vaast Colson (b. 1977) studied painting at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and went on to Post St. Joost in Breda, finishing there in 2001 with a performance at Artis Den Bosch. Colson’s first taste of wider public interest was for a performance that lasted six days, at the 2003 Brussels Art Fair. His gallery, Maes & Matthys, presented only one object, The Pink Sting. The object was a backpack that appeared to hang on the wall, but was in fact being worn by Vaast Colson, who for three days stood against the other side of that same wall. This performance is still characteristic of Colson's work, which could be described as a reflection about the position of the artist, a continuous search for resistance, an exercise in perseverance and an attempt to summarize a situation in a visual image.
Another example is an action he undertook last year as part of a television programme that, for several weeks, recorded the adventures of artists and amateurs participating in an art competition. Initially, I was surprised that Colson would take part in this shallow, doomed-to-fail spectacle, but he felt that he could not refuse something of the sort, because it is part of his duty to determine a position in regards to every proposal generated by the community. Ultimately, he squeezed out a tube of oil paint, emptying it onto a table, then sat down at the table and told the camera crew that he would remain seated until the paint had dried. After a few hours, the producer of the show presented him with a polite note, asking how long this action would go on. Colson submitted this note as his contribution to the competition.
In general, Vaast Colson’s work is exceptionally precise and economic. After a long period of deliberating, planning, drawing and writing, he quickly and decisively shapes a sculpture, installation or action, often with the support of other artists, such as Lieven Segers, Pol Matthé, Ben Meewis, Geert Saman, Dennis Tyfus or Stijn Colson, who is also his musical partner in the kraut-rock band, The Heavy Indians.
Recently, another beautiful work by Colson was presented at Wiels in Brussels. It was a small head of a dollhouse figurine, which resembled the artist (wearing a woolen bonnet). The head perched on top of a stack of rolls of tape and overlooked the exhibition. The work was titled Op Post (On Guard). I asked Colson how this work had come about. ‘Actually, that figure is left over from an edition that I am in the process of making, which I started last year for Art Brussels. As a kind of sequel to children organizing bartering markets with apples or eggs, I wanted to exchange a work of my own for another work, and that work for a following work, and so on. The idea behind this limited edition was to support the gallery in renting their stand, as they were not offering any of my work for sale.
The work that I made for Wiels is a wooden box. When you push a button, a “mini-Vaast” with an apple pops up. The sides of the box are connected with hooks and eyes, and if you undo them, the box opens out like a tulip… It actually came very close to my not showing anything at all at Wiels. Everything was pretty hectic, and all the space had already been allocated. So I found a place to sit down to draw, with that little doll at my feet. After a while, I put it back into my backpack, because nobody reacted to it. But that evening, Ivo Provoost and Simona Denicolai came up to me and proposed a place for that funny little doll that they had seen earlier in the day.’
Since 2000, Colson has been working without interruption, often at the invitation of cultural institutions that expect him to respond to a specific situation with an exceptional action or reaction. One of these invitations is for the ZXZW festival, which will be bringing music, film, contemporary dance and visual art to Tilburg and, together with Whatspace, has invited Vaast Colson to create an opening act. The ZXZW website states that the organizers hope that Vaast Colson will in turn invite Dennis Tyfus. So, who is Dennis Tyfus?
In Antwerp, Tyfus is famous. Once every three or four days, you come across a poster, flyer or sticker announcing that Tyfus’s publishing firm and record label, Ultra Eczema, is organizing a concert at Scheld’apen or Bar Mondial. Dutch audiences will become acquainted with his work next September in De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam and later this year at Artis Den Bosch, where Tyfus will be programming four days of music as a response to November Music, and probably will set up a market with editions by like-minded souls (vinyl records, booklets, posters flyers, buttons). He also exhibits large-format drawings at the Stella Lohaus Gallery in Antwerp, is a musician himself, designs record covers and T-shirts, and every Saturday afternoon, presents a fantastic radio programme on the Antwerp station, Radio Centraal.
Dennis Tyfus (b. 1979) is fascinated by the visual poetry and noise of Paul De Vree, the Tafelronde and their international contacts, including François Dufrêne and Henri Chopin (who was a guest on Tyfus’ radio programme two weeks before he died) from France, and Sarenco, from Italy. Tyfus produces records with Ludo Mich and Wout Vercammen, happening artists from the 1960s. He likes the Situationists and their radicalism, as well as the punk scene from the 1970s and 80s, including Zyklome A, The Dirty Scums, the international network of Club Moral, the metal clatter of Lakoste and the noise of Ob Minimax and Vortex Campaign. He is also enthusiastic about 1990s hardcore, grind core and the noise scene of Agathocles, Rubbish Heap, Mangenerated, Intestinal Disease and more. The backbone of this sound world is Radio Centraal, where all of the above have had air time in recent decades. In the past several months Tyfus’s label brought out LPs with work by Orphan Fairytale (lugubrious in the way that a doll or a clown can look lugubrious, interwoven with Eastern influences, found sound material and lots of echo and delay), Idea Fire Company (Kraut ambient, with pianos and analog synthesizers, very repetitive and monotonous) and Menstruation Sisters (Australian Orthodox Jews whom they had released from a mental hospital in order to make an LP that can be compared to nothing or no one).
Tyfus began drawing when he was five, an activity his parents encouraged. As a teenager, he produced a punk magazine. He later began drawing record covers for various bands.1 In 2003, he drew 300 unique record covers for a single by Trumans Water, from Portland, Oregon. The covers were exhibited at Lokaal01 in Antwerp. A year earlier, in a space outside the Antwerp art circuit, he had exhibited a series of drawings that caught the attention of Stella Lohaus, who currently runs one of Antwerp's top galleries. Since then, Tyfus has also been a gallery artist, without it having interfered in the least with his other activities. Tyfus is not at all preoccupied with art and even less with the art world. He is simply unceasingly active in hundreds of appealing and well-executed activities that he considers of vital importance: music, drawing, magazines, posters, vinyl records, radio programmes, concerts and performances.
Dennis Tyfus, like Panamarenko, for example, has no ‘artistic aims’, in the sense that he is not forever asking himself how he can make something that resembles art or that would be considered art by some imaginary viewer, gallery owner or, God have mercy, a theorist. The result of his impressive, indefatigable force is a stream of beautifully made images spreading out like a trail of residu. Part of this trail includes the large drawings that he makes for the gallery. He creates these drawings with black Posca paint markers on coloured backgrounds. In earlier works, the backgrounds were made up of sprayed patches in different colours. Now they consist of fluorescent monochromes. In the drawings, pores, tears, beads of sweat, acne, beard stubbles, spots, beauty marks, veins and hairs feature as pixels of a vibrating pattern. Recent drawings have shown a shift in form. The works are now primarily built up from thin stripes, each in different shapes. The drawings are consistently flat, without shadows, although in one recent drawing, a realistic head of a bear appears, with graduated shading around the eyes and under the mouth, looking as though a terrible nightmare had just broken through the thin wall of a cartoonlike world.
Both Vaast Colson and Dennis Tyfus live in Antwerp. It is always difficult to describe the art world in your own country, because you are inundated by all the details, but comparatively speaking, there is a remarkable amount of very strong art being produced in Antwerp. Historically, this can be explained by the presence of the harbour and the proximity of the Netherlands (Cobra in the 1950s and Amsterdam in the 1960s), the revolutionary and visionary exhibitions of the exceptional Wide White Space gallery in the 1960s and ‘70s and, more recently, the presence of the world-famous fashion academy, which has brought a continual influx of bright young artists from all over the world. The numbers of young artists, all producing diverse and often stunning work, can no longer be counted in single digits: Kati Heck, Tamara Van San, Nadia Naveau, Andy Wauman, Lara Dhondt, Lieven Segers, Pol Matthé, Philip Janssens, Leon Vranken, Tim Segers, Lode Geens, Hans Wuyts, Anton Cotteleer, Kris Vleeschouwer, Benjamin Verdonck, Ilke and Erki De Vries, Nick Andrews, Tom Liekens, Rinus Van De Velde, Ulysse Ost and many, many more.
Colson and Tyfus both make beautiful, three-dimensional works and both are involved with music. Colson comes from an environment of university-trained people (he is named after an economist), while Tyfus is from a working-class family (he was named after a cartoon character). Colson studied at two art academies, while we suspect Tyfus may never have finished primary school, might have spent a day and a half apprenticed to a leather worker and had a single summer job in a dog food factory in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Colson’s work gives new forms to a continuous reflection on the meaning, potential and limitations of contemporary art. It is work in which considerable thought is given to the necessity and the hopelessness of the visual image. It is almost exclusively created in art environments (galleries, cultural centres, theatres, art fairs or museums). In contrast, I would refer to Tyfus’ work not as work, but as a way of being: an uninterrupted stream of images, things, objects, deeds and other involvements that have nothing whatsoever to do with the art world, but that at the same time can be nothing other than works of art.
In September 2006, Dennis Tyfus and Vaast Colson exhibited together in their own galleries, Stella Lohaus and Maes & Matthys. The two galleries are situated in different streets, but Colson discovered that they adjoined one another. A large opening was made in the wall that separated the two galleries, so that visitors could walk from one exhibition space into the other. Colson built a wooden kiosk in Tyfus' gallery and Tyfus showed large drawings and an animation film in Colson’s. Tyfus organized performances in Colson’s kiosk, which could be seen from a small mezzanine built by Colson. Working this way is typical of both artists. Tyfus takes advantage of a situation in order to programme things he wants to see himself, while Colson attempts to push the parameters of an exhibition location, as well as redefining his own relationship with the gallery owners. Tyfus is concerned with the things themselves, while Colson’s concern is the image. Both produce beautiful works that come tumbling out of their respective activities like colourful and buzzing castoffs.
Montagne de Miel, May 24th 2009