Hans Op de Beeck

Sea of Tranquillity

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  • Exhibition from October 9 2010 to January 2 2011

Hans Op de Beeck creates interworlds. Suspended between past and future, fiction and reality, his works sound out a mirage-like contemporary universe and a sensory vertigo where the familiar rubs shoulders with the strange. Drawing on literature and cinema, the artist articulates his visions according to a combinatory and scenographic model. From installation to sculpture, from video to animated film, from short stories to painting and drawing, from photography to sound material, the media he employs seem to converge on the definition of a topos : a mental theatre that projects the viewer into a reflexive social and cultural experience, the intimate thinking of the human condition.

Hans Op de Beeck's first visual and literary works already explored the sense of life as a speculative object: we could cite Determination (1998), a life-size video projection in which a couple and their two children run into nowhere in a completely white space; or Coffee (1999), a long fixed shot that frames an elderly couple having coffee without exchanging a word. The artist also questions our relationship with public space and residential architecture, and tips our functional and pragmatic reference points over into pure poetry. The evocations of urban landscapes, intriguing and with an elegance akin to that of the futurist ruin, in the series Location (1998-2008) perform this uprooting of images, this faculty of transmuting the banal into a phantasmatic extension of the human psyche.

Increasingly, Hans Op de Beeck's activity affirms itself as existential and generic: birth, sickness, suffering, the life force and death become motifs staged in formatted globalised environments, in which technology rises to the surface. This is the standardised architecture of T-Mart, a sculptural installation of an imaginary supermarket animated by video projection, or that of The Building, a sculpture and animated film forming a megalomaniacal hospital complex. These environments, considered as allegorical syntheses, interrogate the necessity of a sophisticated décor within which our lives are played out. What does it mean to eat, to heal or to die in such spatial matrices? How do we delimit the seductive power of these infrastructures, their at once repulsive and quasi-sublime dimensions? Have they not become desired-for prolongations of our own bodies in profound mutation?

Hans Op de Beeck's work in this way captures the troubled vitality of the spaces that determine our behaviour and shape our sensibilities. Marked with melancholy, sometimes bearing a disabused critical charge, they assimilate our globalised world with a twilight dream of poisonous charm, an obscure and intangible labyrinth in which the human seeks to maintain control through diverse cultural rituals that the artist calls into question. There is nevertheless no moralism in this examination: while continually feeding an open analytic reflection, Hans Op de Beeck's universe exacerbates the mystery, the elliptical and the sublime. His latest large format black and white watercolours confirm this dual approach, fragments of erratic nature or deserted interiors that echo as much film noir as Renaissance painting. In these compositions, the distancing induced by the frontal perspective never excludes the violent sensation of the gaze in fusion with the landscape. So far, so near, Hans de Beeck's art is perfectly revealed by this unresolved dynamic: a cold distance that is also a fantastical hand-to-hand combat.

In 2008, during a study visit to Saint-Nazaire, Hans Op de Beeck was struck by the remarkable historical development of the port, whose shipyards produced the world's greatest ocean liners. The last to date, the Queen Mary 2, appeared to him to be the ultimate metaphor for contemporary luxury, symptomatic of the western world's relationship to certain concepts: free time, work and consumption, utopia. This was the starting point for the Sea of Tranquillity project, a new wide-ranging cycle in the artist's work, to be exhibited in four European institutions.

Sea of Tranquillity: the title has multiple connotations. Translated literally into Dutch, Sea of tranquillity becomes "Zee van Rust", an everyday expression describing the experience of a suspended moment, out of time, in peace and silence, an ocean of calm. In Latin "Mare Tranquillitatis" designates a lunar sea, where the space vessel Ranger 8 crashed in 1965; the module of the American Apollo 11 mission landed at the same spot, allowing mankind to walk on the Moon. Finally, the title allows for a little irony, if we consider what is offered by a cruise these days: activities without danger and without imagination, levelled down by the leisure industry.

Hans Op de Beeck's exhibition project is conceived around a fictional vessel, christened Sea of tranquillity: one room houses the monumental sculpted version of this imaginary ship, accompanied by the various installations (design objects, mannequins and their costumes, the sculpture of a port landscape ...) that punctuate the exhibition. A short film mixing live actors and 3D environments virtually plunges the viewer into the cavernous, strange and menacing liner as it softly cleaves the night. Another element, this time two-dimensional: a series of large black and white watercolours representing the places and people associated with this maritime fiction. As a whole, the exhibition is articulated in a very museographic setting: a form of narrative emerges, a scenography of memory, an immersive voyage dedicated to an enigmatic floating legend.

Eva Prouteau


Sea of Tranquillity (model), 2010
Sculpture on base (Plexiglass, textile, resin, arcap, glass, PU, light system, wood, paint)
500 x 200 x 180 cm
Courtesy Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
Coproduction Le Grand Café, Saint-Nazaire


Sea View, 2010
Watercolor on Arches paper in wooden frame
290,6 x 129,2 x 4,35 cm
Courtesy Xavier Hufkens, Brussels

Dancer, 2010
Watercolor  on Arches paper in wooden frame
249 x 133,9 x 4,35 cm
Courtesy Xavier Hufkens, Brussels

Shipyard, 2010
Watercolor  on Arches paper in wooden frame
236,5 x 135,4 x 4,35 cm
Courtesy Xavier Hufkens, Brussels

Nightscape, 2010
Watercolor  on Arches paper in wooden frame
261 x 136,2 x 4,35 cm (landscape)
Courtesy Xavier Hufkens, Brussels

Shipyard (sleeping containers), 2010
Sculpture on base (wood, paint, glue paste, plastics, metal, light system)
135 x 400 x 140 cm
Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano - Beijing - Le Moulin

Captain, 2010
Sculpture (polyester, textile, silicone, wood, paint)
approx 100 x 100 x 220 cm
Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano - Beijing - Le Moulin

Chambermaid, 2010
Sculpture (polyester, textile, silicone, wood, paint)
100 x 100 x 200 cm
Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano - Beijing - Le Moulin; Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna; Xavier Hufkens, Brussels; Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York; Galerie Ron Mandos, Rotterdam - Amsterdam

Showcase (1), 2010
Sculpture (wood, paint, glass, screws)
196 x 76 x 235 cm
Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano - Beijing - Le Moulin; Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna; Xavier Hufkens, Brussels; Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York; Galerie Ron Mandos, Rotterdam - Amsterdam

Showcase (2), 2010
Sculpture (wood, paint, glass, screws)
196 x 76 x 235 cm
Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano - Beijing - Le Moulin; Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna; Xavier Hufkens, Brussels; Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York; Galerie Ron Mandos, Rotterdam - Amsterdam

Sea of Tranquillity, 2010
Full HD video, approx 25 minutes, colour, sound
Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano - Beijing - Le Moulin; Xavier Hufkens, Brussels; Galerie Ron Mandos, Rotterdam - Amsterdam
Coproduced by the National Centre for Visual Arts - Ministry of Culture and Communication (F), the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (B), Emmanuelle and Michael Guttman and Le Fresnoy - Studio National des Arts Contemporains


Last year, during a short stay in the French coastal city of Saint-Nazaire, Hans Op de Beeck became inspired by both the unique and remarkable historical development of the city and by the harbour, particularly the shipyard, which constructs megalomaniac cruise ships. The construction of the cruise ships, including the Queen Mary 2, then the largest cruise ship ever, is accompanied by problems caused by the economic reality of short-term work contracts. The complex network of subcontractors and migrant workers has often led to serious conflicts with small businesses and workers, who are often paid too little, too late, or not at all, and have to contend with harsh terms of employment or work in difficult conditions. Given the current worldwide economic slump, there is little certainty of continuing demand for such luxury ships and so the long-term guarantee of work is never secure.

Hans Op de Beeck saw the Queen Mary 2, the ultimate cruise ship, as a fitting metaphor for the modern luxury leisure market, which may be viewed as symptomatic of prevailing Western attitudes to the concepts of free time, work and consumption.

The exhibition is conceived as a small, dark museum, in a reference to the sometimes mysterious collections in traditional, old museums, with classic display cabinets, a film projection and freestanding spatial (re-)constructions relating a coherent story about a historical subject. Op de Beeck's presentation does indeed allude to a didactic display, but it is not one: the artist avoids any form of textual explanation and completely omits anecdotal aspects from his works, so as to keep the presentation evocative and allow for a wide range of interpretations.

In concrete terms, the exhibition features a short film with no words, projected in a darkened room (in which the viewer pays a virtual visit to the cruise liner at night) and a fairly extensive section consisting of display cabinets made of glass and wood containing sculptural objects (including a large model of the cruise liner), artefacts (such as custom made tableware) and items of clothing (such as the captain's uniform). The exhibition will also feature a display of two-dimensional works (watercolours, plans, designs), presenting images associated with the story of the latest "biggest cruise liner in the world".

Although the design of the "Sea of Tranquillity" satisfies the highest technological standards and is fashioned on hip, lounge-style architectural and interior trends (and is therefore far removed from the usual pseudo-art-deco chic of most cruise liners today), the appearance of this deceitful museum will create the impression that we are dealing with a mythic tale of days gone by.

At odds with the form of the presentation is the very urgent, current, but also universal content that the artist examines. By not giving the three-dimensional work in the exhibition any concrete interpretation and by leaving his film without words, Op de Beeck sends the viewer wandering through a collection of nameless images, objects and impressions in a strange, fictitious museum that is dedicated to an equally fictitious "legend". 



Édition: Studio Hans op De Beeck
Co-édition: Le Grand Café, ARGOS, Kunstmuseum Thun, Centro de Arte Caja de Burgos
Texts: interview between Hans op De Beeck and Emmanuelle Lequeux
Short storiesby Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley
168 pages
French / English  


Born in Belgium in 1969.
Lives and works in Brussels.
Represented by Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Bruxelles ; Galleria Continua ; Galerie Krinzinger, Vienne ; Ronmandos, Amsterdam ; Marianne Boesky Gallery, New-York.


- Silent Movie, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
- Aichi Triennale Aichi, Japan
- Works on Paper & Video, Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
- Staging Silence, The Armory Show (Ron Mandos), New York


- In Silent Conversation with Correggio, Gallerie Borghese, Roma, Italy
- 5 Sculptures, ArtBankingClub, Moscow, Russia
- Location (6), Art Unlimited, Art Basel 40, Basel, Switzerland


- Singapore Biennale

Project partners - Co-producers

Launched at Le Grand Café in Saint-Nazaire, the exhibition Sea of tranquillity is a coproduction between four institutions and voyages Belgium (Argos, Centre Art & Media, Brussels, Spring 2011), to Switzerland (Kunstmuseum Thun, Thun, Summer 2011) and to Spain (CAB, Burgos, Autumn-Winter 2011).

Sea of tranquillity received the appreciated support of the National Centre for Visual Arts - Ministry of Culture and Communication (F), the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (B), Le Fresnoy - National Studio for Contemporary Arts (F), the Flemish authorities (B), Emmanuelle and Michael Guttman, Xavier Hufkens and Galleria Continua.

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