Zwart Huis
Christophe Coppens

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Zwart Huis presents a series of interviews with several artists who stood at the cradle of the gallery in Villa De Beir in Knokke. We continue with Christophe Coppens whose exhibition 'A Lovely Little Shitshow' is currently running at the Brussels location of the gallery. The exhibition can be visited by appointment.

In 2005 you exhibited for the first time in Zwart Huis in Knokke. What memories do you have of this exhibition?

I especially remember a beautiful house, a charismatic Gerda Vander Kerken and a guest room with intriguing work by Liliane Vertessen above the bed. I also remember that Gerda surprisingly but without hesitation blurred the boundaries between art, design and fashion. Something that, to this day, is still not obvious when you see the perception of my work.

What was de expo ‘Dream your dream’ about?

They were wearable sculptures that I first showed during the Paris fashion week and then in exhibitions in Tokyo and Hong Kong. It was about the moment between sleeping and waking up, when you don't know exactly what is real and what is part of the dream. It was also about a woman in motion, coming down a flight of stairs, a quick glance, walking away down a long corridor...

What is your work about in general?

My work is strongly biographically, I use my own memories and at the same time I appropriate those of the viewer. My work lies between what is real and fake. I often search for the border between various media and I often start from the material. I flirt more and more with mysticism and at the same time become more and more angry, which makes my work more and more socially committed. The inability to look away, not keeping quiet, the direct attack.

What is the current exhibition at the Rivoli about?

The work on display consists of two parts: three sculptures and thirteen paintings. Everything was made during the exceptional period we are in, but the 'shit show' had been going on for a long time: in politics, migration, extremism, inequality, racism, endless opinions, the climate ...

Lately I have been angry quite often. There is a lot to be angry about. But through my work I can let off steam so I don't stay angry, become cynical or too unpleasant. I let beauty and hope prevail. I am frustrated by the lack of empathy and humanism, the selfishness and greed. The way people treat each other, seeing or not seeing other people, often out of fear of the unknown.

And I think all of this is echoed through these sculptures, but at the same time they are also oracles, talismans and mirrors. The sculptures transform anger into hope. I believe in the younger generations and I put my trust in education.

Yet I do think we are living in exciting times, times of change and new sensitivities and discussions. It's a slow process, but we are on the right track, we are on our way. And in the context of human history, these are wonderful times. The past was much worse than the present.

A small sidenote: I only use red yarn for sewing, the colour of blood, violence and love. And I only use large, uneven stitches. The rhythm of sewing can be compared to the rhythm of brushstrokes. The dolls are antique folklore dolls, from all over the world and stripped of their clothing.

Then you have the thirteen paintings. I have always been drawing and painting, but I rarely show that part of my work. It is often in preparation for another work (a sculpture, an opera...) or a study. Only now I feel like showing this part of my work that has become almost a daily practice.

In these paintings, which I made over the past six months, I wanted to project pure emotions, energy, my state of mind and my mood swings during the lockdown. I believe that a painting can contain, absorb and seal that energy and then pass it on to the viewer. In that perspective, a painting can have a real healing or calming effect.

I have my recurring themes: containers of water, barrels, capsules and streams. No idea why. I just can't stop drawing and painting them. My works with paint differ from the sculptures because they are a different medium, paint is softer to me, more mysterious. The materials in the sculpture are harder and more direct. Also closer to my work in the past. But I think this is part of my evolution and takes me somewhere else. We will see.

What does a typical day in the studio look like?

I don't have a typical day. It depends on the projects that I am working on. At the moment, for example, I am working on directing and designing the scenery of a new opera, so a lot of time goes into that. I have also just finished about a hundred drawings that form the storyboard for this opera. An ideal day consists of eating, working and music in the background, and in between working in the garden. And good company.

How do you think the (art) world has changed in the last 20 years?

I look at the art world as little as possible. I am more interested in art.

What role do you see for art as the world stands still because of the corona pandemic?

Art is more important than ever. As a confrontation, as a mirror. As a trigger for a different way of looking and thinking. As a balm and as a distraction. That is why it is so terribly important to get young people in touch with all forms of art as much as possible. Since most of our problems stem from a lack of education or greed, it is best to invest as much as possible in education. I wish every child a Mrs Claes, De Buck or Daldini, three teachers who have planted many seeds in my mind.

What do you miss most at the moment?

People, a kiss on the cheek or a handshake. Broader impulses that do not come from a book, TV or computer. And a waiter who asks ‘what you would like to order’.

What little things can you enjoy yourself?

I am glad that it is spring again and that I can continue working in the garden. I was also happy when the museums opened again.


Photo Christophe Coppens, Color, 2006:
Photo Christophe Coppens, Couleurs, Fleurs & Vin, 2021: