ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Danny Devos - 2012 - Je fais des choses [FR, interview],
I Do Things
Conversation with Danny Devos
Danny Devos (b. 1959) is one of the most radical and consistent artists in our country. I don’t know him personally, but I did meet him a few times. He is alert and focused. The reason for our conversation is his 1980 performance at the International Cultural Centre (ICC) in Antwerp. In a recently published monography, he described this work as follows: ‘I placed my home-made ladders on the marble staircase and threw myself down it, from top to bottom, six times.’ I asked him about the materials he had used to make the ladders and whether they had crashed down with him, or if they had broken his fall.
Danny Devos: No. The ladders were part of my graduation project at the Academy in Ghent. They were made from different materials. One was crafted from branches held together with plaster of Paris, another had been cut out of fabric and so on. I’d exhibited those ladders on the marble staircase, but I think I removed them for the performance. It was probably the last day of the exhibition. You could check it out on YouTube, where there’s a video of the performance. (I did as he suggested: the video is called DDV – Trapfilmpje [remix]; there are no ladders in the clip.) Those ladders, that was just filling. The performance consisted of me throwing myself down the stairs from a crouching position, repeated six times.
- You were twenty-one.
Devos: Yes, it was in September, so I was just turning twenty-one. It was my 38th performance. I only ‘officially’ started doing performances in 1979, but I’d been performing since 1976. I did similar things back then, such as carrying a rock for a long time, I still have a recording of the work, yet had no idea that performances or actions even existed. At the Sint-Lukas -Institute, contemporary art history stopped in 1945. In 1976, it was impossible for a seventeen-year-old to find out about people like Chris Burden. But I went to school in Brussels and lived in Vilvoorde. And I started doing things in the evening and at night. I didn’t find out about the Vienna actionists, such as Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Gina Pane, until much later, via the Baronian Gallery in Brussels.
- Why do you mention Vilvoorde?
Devos: In Machelen, a district of Vilvoorde, they bulldozed an entire neighbourhood to build the junction between the E19 and the E40. My grandparents lived in the district. There was one other house next to theirs and then a dead end, where the viaduct was built. On the other side of the street was a 10-metre-deep pit. Later, to reduce the noise, the authorities built a 3-metre-high metal wall across the street. That became my grandparents’ view for the rest of their lives. The industry in Vilvoorde started to decline. The airport wasn’t far away. It was an extremely oppressive environment, but also very exciting. To witness the building of such a junction is a once in a lifetime event. Belgium’s run out of space for such things. But I’m not a socially engaged artist. I just think from within my surroundings and I do things. What these things mean, others have to decide. It’s the same with those ladders. When is something a ladder? When it looks like a ladder? Or do you have to be able to actually climb it?
- Did this make you feel that there was no room left for common people?
Devos: Yes… At the same time, they were demolishing the Quartier Nord in Brussels, where I went to school. And I shuttled back and forth between the two places. It really did feel as though there was No Future. I was into Punk and New Wave at the time. During my first year at the Academy, I used fibreboards to build an installation that people could walk through. Only when they were in the middle did they realise that they were standing on top of me.
Montagne de Miel, 1 June 2012