William Ludwig Lutgens' Theatre of the World
The origin of William Ludwig Lutgens' (born in Belgium, 1991) satyrical compositions is lodged in his instinctive and jubilant intermingling of projected figures and references. The artist skillfully handles different visual registers to toy with traditional constraints and draw his inspiration from the environment he frequents on the look-out for signs, symbols and documents. Using neo-dada inspired processes such as combinatory collage and caricature, recomposed elements allow for the emergence of a punk-trash world tinted by black humour. Through drawings, paintings and installations, Lutgens transpires as a maker of powerful expressive images flowing from his black and incisive graphic touch, and his painterly action which is subjected to dripping and overlapping. Overall, there is a freedom of form which is in fact reminiscent of the surrealist tradition of automatic writing.
Still in relation to surrealism, he adapts the psychoanalytic exploration of the unconscious and the repressed, and confronts Mike Kelley's theoretical and aesthetic heritage in a contemporary manner. Shared interests with Kelley include returning to the pleasures of childhood and the discovery of
impulses. Intermingling and contaminating each other, the scenes comprise sexual parodies, sometimes sadomasochistic, sometimes scatological,
dismembered bodies, consumerist emblems, symbols of popular culture or even fragments from archives of colonial history. These fortuitious encounters of obscene primitivity within a familiar cultural framework provoke tensions, and even a Freudian feeling of the “uncanny” .
The artist gives rise to an absurd theatre of the world which is prey to the most insiduous symbolic frustrations, manipulations and dominations. From the issue of social constraint, he arrives at the mechanisms of subjugation and repression in abstruse political discourses or the visual saturation through images and advertising slogans. Yet, even though he tackles reality from these specific viewpoints, he keeps a skeptical overview, placing on the same level the factual resources and the elements from his imagination.
The “deconstructivist” dimension of his approach thus manages to refute any affirmation of a hidden truth. Indeed, the artist does not seak to reveal or unpick to obtain the truth but rather to give weight to
“impossible transparency” in the manner of someone in theatre and the general hypocrisy lodged in the endless repetition of role playing and false pretenses: one mask always hides another.
Theatrality has an important place in the artist's work as he tends to identify himself as a stand-up comedian. This influence appears most clearly in the series of drawings he does in line with those in the press and illustration, functioning as independent jests. Mostly visible in the pictorial production, the presence of masks, costumes and attributes allows for the association of figures with characters that are culturally or socially identified. One also notices the recurrence of objects with indexical or cultural authority, such as the plinth that appears sometimes as a real object (as a support for horizontal painting), sometimes as a form embedded in the images.
This formal repertory suggests that the artist uses theatrical metaphor as defined by sociologist Erving Goffman, according to which every experience, every intersubjective relation, whether in daily reality or represented in dramatic fiction, takes place within a framework which is itself modelled on certain rules. The comic element in the artists' approach might thus consist in visually enouncing the ruptures in the frameworks, expressed by frictions in meaning and misunderstandings. This consciousness of role playing is also true of the man behind the artist who positions himself frequently as an observer distanced from his own character, while taking cunning pleasure in highlighting the ambiguities at the heart of his productions and thwarting the expectations of his peers and milieu.
William Ludwig Lutgens' strategies – fragmented narrative, the nonsense produced by the formal nebulous that is at once familiar and ungraspable, the constant transmutation between the politics of representation and
the representation of politics – suggest that images, as in any discourse, are never neutral and need to be apprehended with regards their subject and their symbols. The artist takes on the magical power of images to which he adds a performative angle: they make you believe and act.
(1)Mike Kelley, Foul Perfection: Essays and Criticism, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2003
(2) Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny” (1919) in The standard Edition of The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII (1917-1919): An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, 217-256
(3) Arthur Schnitzler, La Transparence impossible. Aphorismes , Paris, Petite Bibliothèque Rivage, 1990
(4) Erving Goffman, Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience, Boston, Northeastern University Press, 1974