Joris Vermassen

– Holes – Variations on a theme 2023

For his contribution to the festival in the context of LANDSCAPES | Feel Flanders Fields, Joris Vermassen starts from a very topical theme. Through the craters in a war landscape caused by shelling, he links the Great War with the current war in Ukraine. Vermassen observes that the bomb craters in both wars don’t differ much. In both cases they represent violence and unbearable suffering. His own grandfather was involved in WWI as a reservist. On 26 April 1915 he narrowly escaped death when several grenades hit in Veurnestraat in Poperinge.

As in several other projects Vermassen transforms the local and the personal into a universal story. He draws and paints a series of bomb craters and links them with as many stories. For this he uses pictures of craters from both WWI and the current Ukraine war. The interplay of images and words supersede the anecdotal and local, giving the bomb craters or holes in the landscape a broader, metaphorical meaning of disruption. The drawings, which are all painted in brown tones, contain no human figures while the background is deliberately vague. For this Vermassen takes inspiration from a simple etching by Otto Dix from 1924 that depicts a bomb crater with flowers. There is no human presence here either.

The similar treatment has practically erased the images’ origin. They demonstrate how very much alike both conflicts are. The holes they leave behind are mental scars, metaphors for existential pain. In the accompanying stories, Vermassen translates them into situations where people actually are present and are confronted with various voids or injuries.

Showing his project in castle De Lovie has a symbolic meaning as the house was home to French and English army commanders during WWI. The relative serenity and luxury of the domain stand in stark contast with the inhuman conditions in Poperinge where innocent civilians and simple soldiers are confronted with the realities of war in the harshest ways imaginable. The drawings and paintings are explicitly presented in classic frames that fit the interior. As such Vermassen questions both the romantic landscape and the romantic myth of war that were lost together with WWI.

1964, BE

Foto: Angélique Savat

Joris Vermassen is a visual artist and comic book author. His alter ego Fritz Van den Heuvel pioneered Flemish comedy. In 2014, he published the award-winning graphic novel Het Zotte Geweld. For the art magazine HART, he wrote columns on art, until a PhD led him to the path of visual arts himself in 2016. In his book ‘Sacred Text, Godless Image: a Tense Relationship’, he described how word and image can fruitfully work together in art. Today, he translates these ideas into his work, combining stories and images in a variety of media. He likes to break through the walls of the white cube, weaving local and personal elements into a larger, universal story. Each project is accompanied by a publication, as a full-fledged counterpart to his spatial work.

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