With her first solo exhibition at Gallery Sofie Van de Velde, The Odd Hour Cinema, Anouk De Clercq (1971) proposes a possible solution to the recurring impasse of presenting time-based media in a visual arts context. An exhibition visitor spends an average of fifteen to thirty seconds in front of a work of art, but De Clercq’s films require time, an attentive gaze, a different sort of commitment. Instead of setting up video installations that play simultaneously, the artist has opted to screen her work at unusual hours—a balanced compromise between the tradition of cinema and the gallery, between scheduled times and the possibility to freely drop in.
Using the computer as her main tool, Anouk De Clercq creates sophisticated audio-visual compositions. Grounded as much in collaborative encounters as in a wide set of references, her films could be described as abstract landscapes or utopian visions of the future, slowly evolving through time and space. Each piece emanates a boundless freedom, which undoubtedly arises from the blank void of the computer, wherein the artist gives shape to mental spaces. Unencumbered by technical parameters, laws of nature or historical memory, the computer’s empty box evades representation, its openness enabling the exploration of infinite new realities. Liberated from anecdotal tendencies, every film makes up a distinctive space-and sound dimension, offering space to freely roam, and engage personal expressions and sensations.
The interest in digital and sonic composition does not preclude De Clercq’s inquiry into a tangible materialism. Her new work, Atlas (2016) —the only film loop in the exhibition—invites the viewer to observe reality more attentively in order to observe it differently. The film is a vertical cartography, in which the artist explores the depths and surfaces of her medium: a cinematic immersion in a 16mm film frame. In a similar vein to Charles and Ray Eames’s exploration of
the relative size of things in the universe in Powers of Ten (1977), Atlas embarks onto a journey towards the core of film. Whether we scale up or down, the images not only confront us with the limits of perception, they also prompt us to think of other types of relationality in the face of essentialising universalisms and individualism—an exercise in taking distance and intimacy.
De Clercq’s concerns with scale and the fundaments of film also pertain to the digital image. While one work probes the vast abundance of digital space (Thing, 2013), another explores the virtuosity of a solitary pixel on the verge of collapse (Swan Song, 2013). Thing is a large-scale projection of an unfolding virtual universe, made-up of words, images and sound. An imaginary architect’s verbalizations emit a cloud of white dots—an image reminiscent of the shimmering architecture in Edwin Porter's Coney Island at Night (1905)—forming the nearly invisible contours of an imaginary city. It is a liminal zone that exceeds the limitations of the physical world, the logic of perspective and gravity, calling to mind the illusory metropolises described by the young explorer Marco Polo in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities to the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan. Thing, like Calvino’s invisible cities, is clearly not an object, but a suggestion: a reservoir of influences, memories and ideas. After all, the organization of the city as a "thing" (a term originally referring to assembly or meeting) is equivalent to the one of a dream; elusive, ephemeral and ever-changing.
Remarkably, each of the works included in The Odd Hour Cinema share a special attention to the interplay of light and dark. It should come as no surprise that De Clercq resolutely chooses to project her films. Light is spatial and film, like architecture, is a manifestation of a plastic luminosity. Film comes to life as light particles dancing on a surface. Architecture becomes visible by cutting out light and casting shadows.
This relationship between film, light and architecture is explicitly present in Building (2003), an architectural shadow play inspired by a series of conversations with the architect Paul Robbrecht about the Concertgebouw in Bruges. In Oh (2010), the shining vault of heaven vanishes into an architectural dome, based on the drawing by the French architect Etienne-Louis Boullée of an unrealised monument dedicated to Newton. Evident in these films is a firm dedication to interior landscapes that capture a world of imagination.
An excerpt from the subtitles in Black (2015) "The darkness that I like is the darkness of a movie theater" discloses a natural attraction to darkness. The darkness of a cinema hall can be enthralling, like a sort of vacuum, a bottomless depth, a black hole opening its portal to a parallel world. Perhaps one that leads to a vast universe where love—an abstract yet vital concept—has found its way (Me+, 2004), or an alien place that seeks to communicate despite a fog of visual noise (Oops Wrong Planet, 2009). Darkness and distance, like lightness and closeness, in De Clercq’s films are spatial abstractions to channel subjective experiences (Conductor, 2004). Instead of retreating into our contemporary spatial existence, which conditions and determines who we are, where we belong or with whom we connect, De Clercq’s work suggests we shouldn’t remain in one single place. In order to set out to unknown realms, we ultimately need to first gain access by creating affinity, shifting perspectives, and embracing the unrealised potential of imagination. - Laura Herman