At the show with the artist: Kasper Bosmans interprets Sol Lewitt’s code by painting

Piero Bisello

Our most affectionate readers will by now be accustomed to the magazine’s section called “At The Show With The Artist” as the occasion where carte blanche is given to artists to express themselves on the work of others. This “blank paper” has often been filled with the transcription of our conversation with them on the chosen subject or, other times, with interesting literary efforts directly prompted by their experience of the show. In this “At The Show With The Artist”, the emerging Belgian artist Kasper Bosmans took up the task in an unexpected way, literally filling a blank canvas by painting his thoughts about Sol LeWitt’s exhibition we visited together at SMAK in Ghent.

We first came across the work of Kasper Bosmans over a year ago, mentioning it as the most compelling one from a large collective exhibition of Brussels-based emerging artists held at Wiels. Paraphrasing our reflections at the time, we found that the strongest aspect of Bosmans’ work was how the interaction of all the elements of his installation was kept quite mysterious and, at the same time, visualized in explanatory paintings or “processual pictograms”. We thought these paintings could be compared to pseudo–scientific manuals used to navigate the framework of Bosmans’ practice, instructions that indirectly questioned the general sense of art in a contemporary world where technology and scientific exactness hold a privileged role in the production of meaning. With some degree of surprise, we eventually learned that the artist started to produce these paintings exactly when he was commissioned to make an illustration for a scientific article on a neuroscience journal.

Since the exhibition at Wiels, we have had the chance to see Bosmans’ work in a number of different occasions and other chances will also come soon – two solo shows are on their way, one at Marc Foxx Gallery in Los Angeles and another at CIAP Art Centre in Hasselt that just opened. However, the last encounter with his work was still in Brussels: a solo show at art center CENTRALE featuring the Cintamani Weavings, a series of tapestries inspired by Ottoman motifs that dealt with political and territorial expansion in connection to the mobility of visual symbols. From all these examples of his art, nothing is more evident than Bosmans’ interest in symbols, iconology and history in general. His range of references is stunningly large and his sophisticated ways of using them is impressive. Yet, his manuals and instructions are the extra artistic twist that for us makes his use of references special.

During our visit together to Sol LeWitt’s exhibition, we spoke at length with Bosmans of how manuals and instructions can become art. Strangely or not, the role of these “mediums” in Le Witt’s work seems almost the opposite to what they do within Bosmans’ process: the former would use manuals and instructions to have his material work made by others (think of the wall piece where employed workers took care of the making), while the latter would use material made by others (historical facts for example) to make his own instructions and manuals.

Thinking about these differences, we confronted Bosmans on the political charge a work of art can have. In front of the impressive size of Sol LeWitt’s artwork, where the ambiguity of authorship and human exploitation in contemporary art is pushed to a critical limit, we discussed a range of topics: the difference between effort and labor, the uncanny dedication to “historical axioms” (Sol LeWitt’s reputation the workers had to obey to for example?), the repetition of an act to the point of obsession and the direct political involvement in connection to an artist’s subjectivity.

Analyzing the painting Bosmans made after this conversation, one can see how his artistic process transformed these topics into physical signs. At first, there was a research and selection of a number of anecdotes and historical facts the artist found relevant to the subject matter. In this case, the list included three of them, and Bosmans described them to us along with his own impressions: “two men tried to enter Australia with 140 samples of different shoes they wished to sell, and were later forced by the Australian customs officers to destroy every single one of them by tediously drilling holes in the soles, an episode where no effort was spared; then we have examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), where a person perceives the necessity to perform some actions repeatedly, therefore consuming unnecessary effort and getting lost in the details; finally, there is the Indian flag, which bears a spinning wheel to symbolize the industrial independence sought in the process of decolonization from England”.

The transformation of these facts into their figurative representation (a flag, a shirt, a drill) or processual allusion (the painstakingly made yet faulty background gradient) objectified in a painting as we have seen. As a series of clues or points in a dot-to-dot puzzle, the elements on the canvas may be then metaphorically connected by the spectator to reveal our viewpoints and conclusions. As argued at the beginning, Bosmans’ painting is in fact a manual that doesn’t represent anything in the classical sense but instead explains some thoughts through a visually cyphered language.

October 1, 2018