Artist in ExileKoen Deprez

This month Zwart Huis publishes a series of interviews with artists who live and work in today’s quarantaine. As such, the gallery hopes to support and promote its artists in these strange times of Covid-19. We continue the series “Artist in Exile” with Koen Deprez (1961).

How are you experiencing this period?

These are dangerous, yet fascinating times. As far as my personal situation is concerned, things are very hectic. I am partly affiliated to the KULeuven, the ArtEZ Academy of Architecture in Arnhem and the ETH in Zurich. In the current circumstances, I supervise more than 70 students of different backgrounds from these three art schools. This happens through distance learning: Whatsapp, Skype, mobile phone, email. At fixed locations, in the car, in car parks, food stores. Always with plastic gloves on. In the meantime, I also continue to work on various projects. In addition to these intensive coaching moments and projects, I am continuously driving from Izegem to Sint-Pieters-Leeuw and back. This driving back and forth works like a metronome for me at the moment. A new way of organizing my weeks. I currently only see my partner (in Izegem) and my children Lune and Lou (in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw). I can only see the benefits.

What impact does this period have on your work?

In terms of content, this crisis has no impact at all. It actually coincides with my work and could even have been part of my oeuvre. Within my work, the crisis as a subject is never far away. As a result, I do fit into this current constellation. I am also used to being isolated. All of my work originates from a great form of oppression. I consider myself as someone who has always felt unfree. I have never understood people who talk to me about the need and urge for freedom. My work can only be understood in the light of being unfree. This grim period we are all witnessing now is very closely connected to my world. A project like ‘Agressieparken’ for instance, fits in seamlessly. One of the time chambers in that project could have been named ‘Covid 19’.

What does a typical day in the studio look like?

Quietly and very pleasantly as always. Ora et labora let’s say. My studio allows me to contemplate and work in a very concentrated way. It seems as if only there the noise from my life evaporates. It is also the place where I decide whether or not a work is finished. Just recently I framed a work I made over thirty years ago in a totally different world. I hadn’t touched it all that time. There wasn’t anything that bothered me either. I just thought it was only now that I could really frame it. It will soon be released into this new world. The work will also be the cover image of a catalogue for a new exhibition.

Do you have a fixed way of working?

I have never had a fixed way of working, ever. I always let things come to me. I never look for anything. I feel more like a spunge. I suck up certain events, I’m actually dependent on them. In turn they create new ways of working for me. Now that I am completing my PhD on the basis of my own work at the request of the KULeuven, I can really look back at my way of working for the very first time. One of the chapters is about the role of killjoys in my work. A killjoy is something or someone who counters a logical or straightforward line of thought. And who always shows up unannounced. The turnaround always offers new headspace to formulate a new logic based upon it. What we are now experiencing is a similar turnaround, but on a much larger scale. A tiny virus which (as a killjoy) forces entire states to rethink their strategy. It’s a tiny thing that turns the entire political and economic constellation upside down and shakes our very foundations. As mentioned before, this situation really coincides with my work and my way of working. For me it therefore has something rather pleasant. Many people will disagree, which I fully understand.

What role do you see for art in moments like these?

It’s fundamental! As an artist or an architect, ‘now’ is actually a moment to test the relevance of your own work and your ego against the current events. Some art and architecture should be regarded as quite questionable indeed.

What little things do you enjoy?

Sipping a hot cup of coffee.

What do you miss the most?

As a sixteen-year-old I was once a helpless spectator of a threatening and suffocating world. I was introduced to a painting by Quinten Metsys at the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, which is almost completely filled with architecture and the red robe of the Mother of God. Yet then I noticed two narrow, blue openings that speak about a world in which other people live and other things happen. That work alone made me go to art school. And from that moment onwards, without skipping a month, I returned to Brussels again and again to look at that work. Because of the current crisis, that continuity is now broken. I will miss the March and April encounter.

What music do you play in the studio?

I don’t know why, but I have a huge fascination for the Italian composer Luigi Cherubini. More specifically for his requiem in C minor. I’ve been listening to it for more than 10 years now and I keep listening to the same version over and over again. As far as more contemporary composers are concerned , I like György Ligeti and Zbigniew Preisner. And for more popular music, I turn to the American band Low and Radiohead.

What books are on your bedside table?

Only books that need to be covered.