ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Leo Copers - 1999 - De liefde, de rozen en het bloed [NL, essay],
Love, Roses and Blood
Some Words About the Work of Leo Copers
“The exhibition project for ‘1001 Nights’ has been postponed till next year,” Leo Copers (°1947) tells me, ‘now I’m going to make a carpet of Cleopatra. I once read or heard that when Cleopatra received her future lover Anthony, she had a carpet made of rose petals that was 40 cm thick. I would like to show six sections of that carpet, six blocks of one square metre and 40 cm high. Each block would have the six principal colours of roses: white, pink, red, yellow, orange and purple. First I wanted to show these petals in glass boxes, but now I intend to fill crates without bottoms and then slowly lift them up in order to obtain six slightly collapsed heaps. This would at the same time produce a touch of decay…’
We talk about a work of art that consists of a solid table which is covered with a layer of dust in which the artist has written the word ‘Yromlice’.
“A lot of my work is based on the vanitas theme,” Leo Copers tells me, “it’s the most beautiful theme there is. I’ve never tried to invent a new pictorial theme myself. I think that’s impossible. Though one can visualise existing themes in a new or different way.’
Three works of art have been brought together for the current exhibition.
‘Spidertable II’ is a golden table, almost two metres high, with eight differently sculpted feet. Under the table are very strong lamps that shine with increasing and decreasing intensity, so that the shadows of the feet, and hence the table itself, seem to move.
The second work is a wooden crate (approximately 40 x 50 cm) with the inscription ‘6609’. It contains some plastic bags and a skeleton. It also produces the voice of Marcel Duchamp, speaking about the importance of eroticism in his work.
“Eroticism is a very dear subject to me,” Duchamp says, “it’s an animal thing that has so many facets… that is pleasing to use as a tube of paint, so to speak, to inject in your production.”
The third work doesn’t have a title. It consists of six slightly coloured, but transparent vases of cut glass. The vases are hanging on ropes, at the height of one’s neck, and are filled with a mixture of human and animal blood. In each vase stands a rose, respectively a white, a pink, a red, a yellow, an orange and a purple rose. Each vase is linked by a thin thread to a hunting knife that’s lying on the floor. There’s also a counterpart to this work with vases that are better-cut, hanging on golden ropes and linked to boning knives that are partly covered with dirt and fat.
The mixed blood in the vases has turned brown, just like the inside of the golden boxes that bear imprints of real hearts. The vases also make us think of the work ‘Couple’, that consists of coloured carafes with an elegant, white, feminine wine which has been poisoned with belladonna, and transparent carafes containing a sturdy red wine which has been poisoned with mandrake.
Leo Copers is a love poet. Love is seen as a deceitful fairy tale. It’s a fairy tale about roses and stylized hearts, but also about steel meat-hooks and cut-out hearts in nicely sculpted shrines; about hovering tables, glass cages and a sword kept in a block of clear ice. The fairy tale about love speaks of cheating, lying and hurting. You wake up from a dream and the knife you were dreaming about lies next to you on the pillow, covered with blood. The bed of petals on which you were sleeping has wilted and is already turning into brown putridity.
Leo Copers is also a man of materials, textures, techniques and precise finishing. His oeuvre shows a permanent twisting around of appearance and reality, genuineness and imitation. Whether it’s a line of fire on a river, a series of shining neon lamps on the bottom of a canal or a quickly turning white cloth that makes one think of Marilyn Monroe’s skirt blown upwards and at the same time frightens us because of the threatening sound of the motor, each time Copers is showing us perversions of authenticity and falsehood, that are put in front of one another like folding screens.
The large, glass cages are made of real glass, but the 1987 ‘Flower Vase’ consists of silk flowers that have been collected in a cemetery. Some flowers look new, but others have become pale or dirty. This diversity makes the flowers look so real, that some people wondered how often the flowers had to be replaced.
The work “The Nightingale and the Eglantine”, that was created in 1980, shows us a rose bush that looks like a wild rose or eglantine. It also produces the music of a gipsy violin player imitating the song of a nightingale.
Since 1991 Leo Copers has been working on a vast piece called “1001 Nights”. It consists of 1001 preserving jars filled with roses in formalin. Each jar contains roses of a different variety. The artist got the idea to conserve roses when the owners of a famous Belgian crystal glass factory asked him whether he wanted to conceive a multiple for them. Copers, who had already made a crystal carillon for them, proposed to make crystal preserving jars with silver clasps and to conserve one rose in each jar.
“On the edge of kitsch,” Copers told me, “but slightly ironic as well, because of the preserving jar.”
Later this worked evolved into the wish to conserve one thousand rose varieties. The collecting of enough of all these roses required a search lasting several years. Finally, most of the roses were found in the major rose nurseries for roses of Belgium, France and Germany. People who will finally see parts of this majestic and domestic work of art could be shocked by its appearance. Nearly all the roses have lost their original colour and have turned brown. Actually they look like conserved onions. But then our eyes start getting used to the numerous varieties of these brown colours and we begin to notice remnants of the flower’s original colour and shape. We get caught in a kind of delicate aesthetics of decay.
“Tout casse, tout passe,” it reads on an etching by Félicien Rops. I remember a picture from 1992 showing the first seventy preserving jars filled with roses. They were all put on a heavy table with sculpted feet and a luxurious tablecloth, in the middle of a lavishly decorated room with a beautiful carpet on a marvellous wooden floor, tiles on the chimney, etc. Everything speaks of durability, surrounding the enclosed wilting.
Montagne de Miel, June 1st 1999