Writing, Curating and Lecturing on Visual Arts, Public Space and Architecture

Acts of Refusal:  Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys    

Artist duo's bio written for the catalogue of Acts of Refusal – an exhibition at Tartu Art Hall curated by Ellen Blumenstein and Kathrin Meyer (THE OFFICE) in September 2011.

Catalogue in PDF: //media.voog.com/0000/0038/6069/files/Acts%20of%20Refusal_ENG_final_01.pdf

Jos de Gruyter (*1965 in Geel, Belgium) & Harald Thys (*1966 in Wilrijk, Belgium) started working together in the middle of the 1980s. In their work, which includes video, photography, drawing and performance, the artists introduce us to a kind of post-reality world. Their tales unfold in places like tastelessly furnished homes, clubhouses, back alleys or battlefields. In these carefully chosen, meager sets, the artists work with amateur actors to direct video pieces that, for the most part, have no introduction, climax or ending. The scenes unfold painfully slow, creating narratives about a world in which people have reached a level where they have become unable to express their emotions as they have all turned inward. De Gruyter & Thys use noir-surrealism and occasional gallows humor, observing the human zoo, provoking laughter through tears – or laughter as the only possibility to break the deadly numbness, innate to this parallel world constructed in their work.

For Acts of Refusal, the artists present their film Der Schlamm von Branst [The mud of Branst] (2008). A group of silent and strangely absent-minded, nearly immobile people are locked inside a clay studio, where they communicate in a strange way with the sculptures they have made. A woman is about to break out in tears, holding a lump of clay in her lap. The scene is accompanied by a dreadful voiceover, an uncanny sound of lament that lasts for several minutes, becoming almost unbearable. Another sequence shows a group of men piercing a body made of clay, without any sign of emotion, as if they are urged to perform this action but don’t understand why and what they are doing. The events evoke the association of the Jewish Golem legend, a human-like figure made of clay that fulfills orders with the help of magic, but cannot speak or think.

In the middle of the film we see an overexposed scene of a river, accompanied by synthesizer music, without any people, reminiscent of low-budget science-fiction movie, representing a dystopia or a faint memory. In this world, people have locked themselves inside their basement studio (and inside the studio they have locked themselves inside themselves). The video creates an atmosphere of extreme stagnation and claustrophobia, where nobody is able to move, communicate or break out. The outside is bleak und unreal, too bright to be inhabitable, and only the river’s flow indicates the passage of time. Refusal is not an option for these characters, since they are caught within a space they don’t understand, where they shall remain, caught in a parallel world inhabited by golems.



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