What connects an architect and a visual artist? And what are their differences? We spoke to top architect Marie-José Van Hee and renowned artist Dirk Braeckman. In the inspiring setting of Woning Van Wassenhove it soon became clear that the two friends can perfectly relate to each other's differences and similarities.
Braeckman: As a photographer, I have the choice to work completely independently and on my own. That is also what works best for me. In the past, I did work on commission, but that always leads to a feeling of loss of control. Some artists can do that, like Cristina Iglesias. She always manages to maintain the autonomy of her work and to take the wishes of the client into consideration.
Van Hee: Her work in Antwerp (Deep Fountain on the square of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, ed.), for example, is a prime example of art in a public space. Cristina indeed takes into account the wishes of the client and she integrates the context into her work, without the latter ever losing its full artistic autonomy. Quite impressive!
Braeckman: I really need my freedom. Otherwise I cramp up. For example, I could easily choose to expand my team, but I consciously keep it small in order to guarantee the quality of my work.
Van Hee: And that's where the big difference lies between our two jobs. You, Dirk, you're the boss. You determine the start, the process and the result. For an architect, things are completely different. I'm an architect-builder. That means that by definition I work on commission and I depend on a lot of others. My freedom is the limit of my field. That's why it's often a conscious choice to work with partners. Precisely because we have to take so many different players into account. That way, you share the battle. Also, for an architect, the creative process is much longer, so it is best shared. A good collaboration then functions like a good corset, so to speak.
Van Hee: In architecture, the time dimension is completely different from that of Dirk's work. A relatively small project spans a period of about three years. The larger projects take ten years. And it takes an awful lot of energy to keep everyone on board and on the same wavelength during all those years.
Braeckman: I admire that enormously. My work is much more defined in terms of time. I simply make something (laughs). My recurring source of inspiration is always my own experience and the execution - just doing what I am meant to do. I am experiencing something right now, and I know that this will influence me and my work someday. This conversation, for example, in this beautiful space.
Van Hee: I recognise myself in those words. My inspiration is above all my 'inner library'. I store experiences and know that they will have an impact at the right moment. By travelling often I try to fill up my library as much as possible. My travels materialise in my works.
Braeckman: I want to achieve a kind of timelessness with my work. My work is not about a certain event, time or place. Only the image counts. That's why for many people my work does get that timeless dimension, I think.
Van Hee: In my opinion, a work or a project is always time-bound. It is thought out and created within the framework of a specific period in time, with its possibilities and limitations. That's why I can perfectly look at projects and think that today, right now, I would do them differently. But of course I wouldn’t, because they tie in with the zeitgeist of the past. Changing them would mean denying the past.
Braeckman: I have been asked countless times to reproduce older works. Because "you've got the negative, don’t you?" I refuse to do that. After all, I'm not a lab rat. Every work is made with the materials, possibilities and limitations of that particular moment. I respect that, just like Marie-José.
Braeckman: I'm always looking for an image to experience. That is why the choice of materials is extremely important to me. I don't put my work behind glass, in a passe-partout. That would feel like looking through a window. In my work, the materials, the image and the expression always form a single whole.
Van Hee: And that is captured perfectly in your fine material choices, Dirk. The difference with my work is that you're allowed to touch mine (laughs). My choice of materials is of course functional, but still I try to put as much expression as possible into my projects. I love palettes of natural colours. That's what we know best by nature. We are familiar with them and they bring us peace and tranquillity. Because don't forget, I start from pure chaos and I aim for a peaceful end result.
Braeckman: For me, it is also essential that you can always discover something in a work, that it continues to surprise you.
Van Hee: I agree. Actually, I like to keep a few things secret, too. I don't want to tell you everything. For example, it gives me immense pleasure when people tell me they're still discovering new things after a few years. And I don't always do that on purpose. The energy you put into your work allows for discovery. That energy guarantees the impact and perhaps also the quality of Dirk’s work and mine.
Marie-José Van Hee
Together with Robbrecht & Daem, Marie-José Van Hee received the biennial Flemish Culture Prize for Architecture in 1997. Van Hee's work has been exhibited all over the world, including in Barcelona, Bordeaux, Brussels, Grenoble and Rome. It was part of the Venice Architecture Biennale in 1991 and 2000.
Dirk Braeckman has received many awards, including the KU Leuven Culture Prize and the Culture Prize of the Flemish Community. You can admire his work all over the world, from the Centraal Museum in Utrecht to private collections in the United States. His work was also displayed in the Belgian pavilion during the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017.