Iwert Bernakiewicz

– Common Ground, Fragile Fragments 2023

In Iwert Bernakiewicz’ intensive interaction with Watou, everything revolves around connection, exchange and fragile fragments. From his background as an architect, he first delves into the infrastructure of the village and toys with the idea of exchanging the cars in the village square with the trees in a copse he discovers just outside of Watou. However, he subsequently comes across a special episode from Watou’s history.

On 27 and 28 May 1940, the Germans bomb Watou. It is the day of Belgian capitulation. As fire bombs leave a gaping wound in the landscape, 10 villagers and 49 soldiers – of which one unknown – lose their lives. The occupier quickly demands a military cemetery for the provisionally buried soldiers. Outside the city centre, along Houtkerkestraat, a suitable plot is found. After the war, the soldiers are reburied in Luxembourg and France; the unknown soldier finds a final resting place in the cemetery of St Bavo’s church. In 1957 the plot is leased and incorporated into the surrounding pastures. In 1978 the father of Guido Doolaeghe buys the plot to expand his transport firm but due to circumstances expanding is not possible in this location. He turns it into a place of rest. He puts up a fence, plants a hedge and trees and slowly the copse takes shape, an alien element in the landscape that had caught Bernakiewicz’ eye early on.

In this parental home – where Bernakiewicz installed his intervention over almost the entire ground floor – Guido Doolaeghe points out another silent witness to him: a large mirror that was damaged in the bombing had nevertheless been stored in the attic all those years.

In Jerome Derycke’s second-hand store further down the village, Bernakiewicz discovers even more fragile fragments. Seemingly unrelated objects which are nevertheless systematically arranged remind him of Aby Warburg’s famous Mnemosyne Picture Atlas, which explored the influence of classical antiquity in his time.

By poring over local history and getting thoroughly acquainted with a number of villagers, Bernakiewicz starts to feel they share a certain amount of common ground. With special attention for the fragile elements he encounters – the copse of trees, the mirror, the objects in the store – he builds an installation that creates subtle connections in space and time. He hereby attempts to make the invisible visible, to wit that which connects the villagers, the artists and the visitors to Watou.

Foto: Lars Bernakiewicz

Iwert Bernakiewicz (Genk, 1970), intertwines photography and miniature sculpture with two decades of experience in architectural education. Fascinated by beauty in the ordinary and the fragile he challenges our perception and questions our reality. Without vulnerability, beauty would never be so exquisite.

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