As I strolled along the Amsterdam’s canals this morning, I listened to an interview with the Flemish poet, writer, playwright and co-curator of the 2021 edition of the Kunstenfestival Watou, Peter Verhelst (Bruges, 1962). Verhelst was interviewed on the occasion of being awarded the Constantijn Huygens Prize. He actually received the award for his 'breathtaking oeuvre' last year, but was only able to collect it yesterday. The jury awarded him this prestigious prize for his relentless search "for everything that could be."
In the radio interview for VPRO’s Nooit meer slapen, Verhelst compellingly tells how the paintings by Jan van Eijk, the poems by Hadewijch and the New Wave music from his youth sparked his imagination. Literature and the visual arts still play a major role in his work today. Verhelst's literature is characterized by the absence of a clear storyline and an extremely visual and sensory writing style - often based on existing fairy tales, fables and myths from antiquity - that transports you to a world in which fact and fiction coexist.
In 2018, as the first winner of the new Sybren Polet Prize for experimental, Dutch-language writers, the jury described Verhelst as 'a masterly oeuvre builder' and as 'the designer of a literary labyrinth that continues to grow in unity and diversity, in which one can wander endlessly, or take one of its many exits, but will never reach the final destination.' The idea of art and literature without a narrative element or chronological passage of time, in which we can wander as if in a labyrinth, appeals to me very much.
In this collection, I look for works of art that evoke the same confusion or enigma. The interview with Peter Verhelst, in which he underlines the importance of what could be in contrast to what is, in mind…
Dutch photographer Richard Westerhuis (1965) portrays the concept of domesticity in his enigmatic photo series This is the poem I promised you. The rooms are empty, there is no sign of life and yet you get the feeling that something is going on, that something crazy has happened. The story is missing, but there is a situation that stimulates the imagination. Sometimes the room is empty and drenched in a warm yellow; then again the room is lit blue and there are traces of life, of children playing, family members dining. There is not one reality, the artist seems to say. There is not one story, but there are countless, to be conceived and experienced. And the meaning-carrying role of light is of vital importance. Just like in Verhelst's sensory novella 'Body', a book about the lockdown and the question of what loneliness does to a person and yes, the desire for light with it.
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