Extract from Berlinde De Bruyckere. Romeu my deer, 2012
In Berlinde De Bruyckere’s visceral sculpture Actaeon III (Graz), 2012-2013, beauty and violence are compellingly entwined. Executed in 2013, the work exemplifies the Belgian artist’s provocative practice which questions, at its very core, what it is to be human – to be born into the world, to live, and to die. The artist is fascinated by the transitionary cycle of life, as well as by humankind’s reluctance to engage with the phenomenon of death. In a contemporary society fuelled by the desire to preserve and prolong beauty and youth, death is still very much a taboo subject. Seeking to confront this through her enigmatic, corporeal sculptures, De Bruyckere explores not only the deep pathos of the human condition, but also its spiritual elation. “For me,” she notes, “the surface, or the skin, is the container of the soul” (Berlinde De Bruyckere filmed in: ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere: Surfaces are Containers of the Souls’, Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 8 April 2018, online). With significant representation in museum collections worldwide, De Bruyckere’s work has continued to gain international acclaim following her compelling presentation Cripplewood, representing Belgium at the Venice Biennale in 2013.
Actaeon III (Graz), 2012-2013 has been created from De Bruyckere’s idiosyncratic medley of sculpted wax, wood, epoxy, iron and fabric, emotively arranged atop a wooden plinth. The artist has rendered her materials with painstaking precision to form a contorted composite of flesh-coloured antlers and branches, intricately moulded from wax. The elusive, sinewy, otherworldly forms are entwined with swathes of fabric in creamy whites and piercing red. In constructing her surreal hybrid beings of macabre, curious beauty, De Bruyckere reinterprets some of the most emotive motifs of Western art history and establishes a captivating dialogue which spans antiquity and the Old Masters, history and myth, folklore, existentialism, and the purely allegorical. In contemplating themes of creation, evolution and decay, her works are imbued with a universal and timeless allure.
In 2012, deer began to play a prominent role in De Bruyckere’s sculpture, and in this same year, the artist published the final book in her emblematic narrative trilogy entitled Berlinde De Bruyckere. Romeu my deer. With its muscular anatomy and majestic poise, the deer is a creature of magnificent power and strength; nevertheless, much like mortal beings, its inevitable transience simultaneously renders it as fragile and flawed. As its title implies, Actaeon III (Graz), 2012-2013 alludes to the famous Greek hero from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, who was transformed by the goddess Diana into a deer, and tragically devoured by his own dogs. In De Bruyckere’s evocative visual interpretation, nothing remains of the protagonist but for his twisted, tangled antlers. Embodying the duality of the human and animalistic body as both the apogee of nature’s beauty and as a grotesque configuration of organic matter, the present sculpture poetically reflects upon the fleeting, beautiful transience of human existence.
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