More musings about Vaast Colson's long summer.
Lancelot Brown, the greatest English landscape architect of the 18th century, was nicknamed Capability Brown because he was able to convince his clients that their property had the “capability” for improvement. All things considered, Vaast Colson is deserving of the same nickname. Today, even more than for the case of real estate, the mantra ‘location, location, location’ may be applied to art. Here and now, however, everything exudes ambiguity. A white gallery in a 'prime location' and piles of pallets are as global as possible, but what the artist makes of it is also local as a farmer’s market. It mirrors the soul of the place and the spirit of the times – not so long ago there was a freight station here. It’s about the mix of high and low – a main characteristic of modern movements, about the modern development of sculpture into spatial art where emptiness plays just as much a role as mass and volume. It is primarily a compelling form. What still merits our interest in art is the scope of associations and metamorphoses that are evoked. And whether the hand of the artist and the gaze of the viewer – who does not really become a participant – meet each other, driven by a related taste for freedom, for pleasure.
Well-timed cliffhangers, improbable turns of plot, miraculous rescues from hopeless situations ... the artist is living a novel with the sole purpose of bringing things to life before our eyes. With the enthusiasm with which the explorer goes in search of unknown natural phenomena, or – because this is a dérive statique – with the fascination for the smallest traces with which the archaeologist uncovers unknown civilizations. (By the way: according to good practice, archaeologists leave part of the excavation site untouched for those who come after them.) – In this volume of nailed together pinewood you expect carports, log cabins, bowling alleys… but no artistic places to be. Vaast Colson is not an heir to Gordon Matta-Clark.
Every work is a self-portrait. And if life mimics art, then the question is which art. In that context, the limited interest for the artist’s physique is surprising. Vaast Colson's is not a mystery. He steps – now time for some name dropping - as a dramatic character from the torn landscapes of Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1749) and returns in the satirical figures of Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885). It is unclear which function masks fulfill in a world without rituals. As it is equally unclear whether there is indeed a community for the communal spaces that have been carved out here. At a difficultly determinable moment, form takes the lead here, and the artist becomes a medium. He can estimate the resistance of the material in advance, but once underway, he is at the mercy of a 'higher power'. And he makes his way to forms that can have general validity. Forms that are not necessarily pleasing, not elegant exoticism but stylistic and thematic roughness. And just as the purpose of pallets is not to remain peacefully stacked but to revolve around in a worldwide goods-carousel, these artistic forms are destined to travel as carriers of meaning.
Why not give away the secret of it all? It was there all the time, right before our undiscerning eyes, in full wikilight: 'Topiary is the horticultural practice of training perennial plants by clipping the foliage and twigs of trees, shrubs and subshrubs to develop and maintain clearly defined shapes, whether geometric or fanciful. The term also refers to plants which have been shaped in this way. As an art form it is a type of living sculpture. The word derives from the Latin word for an ornamental landscape gardener, topiarius, a creator of topia or "places", a Greek word the Romans also applied to fictive indoor landscapes executed in fresco.'
Vaast Colson is safely back from his grand tour. Do not look for symbolism in his inner landscapes, listen to the undertone: a certain moral of artistry. Like the expedition, the souvenirs are also not without risk. They extend the short, powerful moment in which he has conquered space. No guts, no glory. The undoubtedly hard labor holds our attention for a brief empathic moment, and then quickly turns into anecdote. It’s not the causal impetus that counts, but the result. And especially how new it is. Once again it is about the foundations of art, about tangible things, images, subjects, stories in an imagined world. To boldly go where no man has gone before …
Jan Ceuleers, August 2019