No Life Lost II

Berlinde De Bruyckere

No Life Lost II, 2015

Inspired by mythology, Christian tales, iconography, and Renaissance painting, the timeless works of Berlinde De Bruyckere are characteristic of a unique language bridging the archaic with the most contemporary. Making the body, human or animal its central motive, the practice of De Bruyckere points to the vulnerability and fragility of the living while addressing themes of mortality, pain, and beauty.

The horse has been a recurring subject in De Bruyckere’s work. First introduced in 1999 as part of the exhibition In Flanders Fields, the result of the artist’s research in the archives of the WWI Museum, the horse has since then found its firm place in the practice of the artist, becoming a key component in shaping the more recent visual language of her sculptures. Introduced through the monstrosities of WWI documentation, specifically photographs of dead horses, the horse, through its bodily vastness, for De Bruyckere became a symbol of the vastness of death. No Life Lost II, 2015, the exhibition’s central piece, is in many ways a continuation of De Bruyckere’s sculpture for the WWI Museum. Depicting three dead horses, stacked on top of each other, animals traditionally associated with power and strength, their means of display, on the one hand, suggests defeat, while on the other, points to their bodily strength and inherent and nonreducible power, emphasize by the impossibility of their containment in the glass vitrine. Visibly exposed to signs of pain, accentuated by strapped legs and wounds, the bodies at the same time appear fragile and vulnerable. Their placement in the vitrine, a place associated with protection and preservation, then furthers the dichotomy of the dead horse, building up the tension in the works while pointing to the idea of metamorphosis and the becoming of something else. With the facial features of the horses concealed, De Bruyckere further highlights the idea of protection and shelter associated with their placement in the vitrine while removing the animal’s individuality. Through this gesture, De Bruyckere removes any sense of sentimentality while shifting our attention to the language of the body, through which the narrative of the artist’s works typically unfolds.

Building on the idea of opposition, themes such as care and torture, beauty and death loosely intertwine while simultaneously introducing a layer of sexualization into the work. May it be through the bodily closeness of the sculptures, or the use of leather straps, the work echoes the complex emotional and metaphysical bodily states, subject to continuous transformation, healing, and rebirth.

 

De Bruyckere’s sculptures and drawings have been the subject of numerous exhibitions in major institutions worldwide. These include ‘PEL – Becoming the Figure, Arp Museum, Remagen, Germany (2022), ‘Plunder/Ekphrasis, MO.CO, Montpellier, France (2022), ‘Engelenkeel’, Bonnefanten, Maastricht, The Netherlands (2021), ‘Aletheia’, Fondazione Sandretto Re rebaudengo, Turin, Italy (2019-2020), ‘Il Mantello’ (5x5x5 event for Manifesta 12), Santa Venera Church, Palermo, Sicily (2018), ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere’, Sara Hilden Art Museum, Tampere, Finland (2018), ‘Embalmed’, Kunsthal Aarhus, Denmark (2017), ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. Suture’, Leopold Museum, Vienna, Austria (2016); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. Penthesilea’, Mus.e d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg, France (2015); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. The Embalmer’, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Bregenz, Austria (2015); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. The Embalmer’, Kunstraum Dornbirn, Dornbirn, Austria (2015); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere’, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands (2015); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. In the Flesh’, Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria (2013); ‘Philippe Vandenberg & Berlinde De Bruyckere. Innocence is precisely: never to avoid the worst’, De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands (2012) which traveled to La Maison Rouge – Fondation Antoine de Galbert, Paris, France (2014); ‘We are all Flesh’, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Australia (2012); ‘The Wound’, Arter, Istanbul, Turkey (2012); ‘Mysterium Leib. Berlinde De Bruyckere im Dialog mit Cranach und Pasolini’ at Kunstmuseum Moritzburg, Halle, Germany and Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland (2011); DHC / ART Foundation for Contemporary Art, Montreal, Canada (2011); and ‘E.n’, De Pont Foundation for Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands (2005) among other. In 2013 De Bruyckere was selected to represent Belgium at the 55th Venice Biennale where she unveiled her monumental work ‘Kreupelhout –Cripplewood’, a collaboration with Nobel Prize novelist J.M. Coetzee.