Benny Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx : Through My Eyes – at Otty Park, Antwerp

Benny Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx
Through My Eyes
Otty Park, Antwerp
Laar 54, 2140 Antwerpen, Belgium
March 12 – April 17, 2021
All images copyright and courtesy of the artist(s) and Otty Park, Antwerp

Where are we today as a civilization? A raging health crisis dictates societies, leading to protests on a planet that’s dying (off) at an ever speeding pace. If we trim the demonstrations and outcries to their essence, they do not seldom articulate the need for a more defined identity for different communities: BLM, LGBTQIA+, les gilets jaunes or separatist movements of the left or the right. While in the world of contemporary art the ‘who makes what’ turns more and more into a ‘who does what’ (a shift in accent from the work of art or object, to the artist or subject), we, as a Western society, may have lost our capacity to think.

Benny Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx, Their eyes were burning with a fierce fire (2020)
Benny Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx, It’s man-made and it’s moving the air (2020)

Welcome to ‘Through My Eyes’! This is not the umpteenth the-show-must-go-on-presentation. This exhibition exposes itself as immersed in the events that, relatively speaking, took place in the past one and a half year. It breaths the collective trauma we’ve experienced as a society during this health crisis, as well as the desires and aspirations we yearn for ever since. At the same time you find an ensemble of works that came about in a very personal and intuitive way. It doesn’t want to impose anything on us. Nothing in ‘Through My Eyes’ is in your face. This debris of “the rollercoaster” that dragged the artist “from one feeling to another”, presents itself humble and quiet in the first place. The lion’s share of these works dress themselves in sober black, white and grey colors, accordingly with this era.

‘Through My Eyes’ slightly differs from the relatively young oeuvre of Benny Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx (1989, Antwerp). Partly: although it takes a turn, formally speaking, some influences, earlier on paraphrased by the artist, resonate. He also takes some routes of the past and elaborates on the lines of thoughts he started earlier on in his practice. For him life and art are entwined. It’s shown directly and literally in his output. At the entrance of Otty Park the works ‘It’s man-made and it’s moving the air’ and ‘We accelerated and didn’t look back’ (both from 2020) immediately stand out. These rather psychedelic works in Indian ink were created on the floor with a broken calligraphy brush. The stick part now serves as a writing pen. Physical contact with the medium is very important in the creative process of the artist. This involves sitting, laying down or standing on it. These abstracted ‘eyes’ echo in his collages ‘It burns’, ‘Open your eyes’ and his ‘Study’ series – although here, the cosmic and destructive dimension of the pieces has even more impact.

The work ‘Too much screen time’ (2021), a collage consisting of mobile phone drawings cut from different manga, winks at our behaviour as smombies: the phones make a swirl from right to left, until the subject ‘disappears’ in his own phone screen. The piece could represent the cited doom image of Bernard Stiegler of individuals and societies that have evolved into proletarianized thinkers. The run-out and at the same time brightly burning eye in the painting ‘Their eyes were burning with a fierce fire’ (2020), builds further on the numerous protests we’ve seen in the past years. The piece came to be during the focal point of the BLM-movement. It radiates sadness, but also determination. The three clay masks ‘Looking left, looking straight and looking right’ go more into aspects of perception, identity and disguise: returning themes in Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx’s work. How do we see each other? How do we present ourselves towards the other? How do we translate ourselves into our digital personas, to our social media profiles and game avatars? How does person X, Y and Z interpret us and our characters?

In the second, more compact part of the exhibition, the desire for togetherness and physical contact are pivotal. How do we keep the dialogue going with each other? How do we keep on communicating in this crisis? How do we keep contact?

The collages ‘Oh How I Long to Touch You’ (2020) and ‘Oh How I Long to Touch You 2’ (2021) directly express desire. The titles could well be read as memes. For sure, both could resemble movie posters (for the original and the sequel), although they are designed quiet understatedly. As for the artist they could well be used as slogans. In that way they both become a highly personal, as well as a collective desire in times that we would like to leave behind us as soon as possible. With the autoportraits ‘Take my hand’ (2021), Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx applies a repetitive study of hands, which remind us of Rubens’ oil painting sketches. Bent over on his knees in front of the mirror, on the canvas, the artist drew his stretched out hand. 55 times. The piece becomes a clear invitation, a reaching out, a physical question directed at the spectator.

Lastly, on a separate element in the space, the as preserved butterflies presented collages built up out of ready made Yu Gi Oh! cards don’t leave anything to our imagination, with undertitles such as ‘Capitalist’, ‘Colonialist’, ‘Trump’, ‘Protestor’ and ‘Corona’. All made in 2020, they are a humoristic and most certainly direct representation of current societal dysfunctions, which are long overdue for a solution.

Benny Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx’s art practice revolves around the gaze, the interplay between watching and being watched, the simple fact of his existence and himself as a human being converted into or derived from different digital universes. This results in work on various media: drawings, sculptures, collages, performances, paintings and video’s. He also ran the exhibition space Hole Of The Fox for nearly 7 years, aside from his own practice, and continues to work as an independent exhibition maker. Recent shows include his participation in exhibitions at Podium (NO), Diesel Art Space (BE) and Soyuz (IT), while currently working on an exhibition project for the cultural center of Ekeren (BE). Van den Meulengracht-Vrancx studied at Sint-Lucas Antwerp and was awarded first prize in the graduation contest of Art on Paper in 2012.