Lieven Lefere

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Seeing is believing

Lieven Lefere’s oeuvre is one of the problematic relationship between photography and reality on the one hand and between man versus nature on the other. This thematicism is illustrated in the series Simularities (2008-2012), I never promised you a horizon (2013-2014), La raison des ombres (2015) and Skulls (2016).

With the Simularities series, the long-standing project in which Lefere has visited about 80 locations in Europe, he starts the discussion about the position and the role of photography. The series shows experiments, measuring instruments and the so-called firehouses where man tries to control nature. Among other things, he collaborated with the Forensic Sciences department of the University of Bournemouth, where he photographed the excavation and indexing of an artificial mass grave. Many images from the series have been taken in laboratories or test environments where humans experiment to evaluate how nature functions or reacts and which improvements can be devised. The game with different visual elements results in an aesthetic compilation of images that can refer to painting, sculptures, film stills or art in general. It also stipulates how photography functions as a copy of reality, as a reconstruction, a simulacrum. The objective registrations of Lefere leave the viewer in a blur of confusion. Simularities questions the universal human need for control and the medium of photography.

During a residency in KIK, in the Dutch province of Drenthe, Lefere’s oeuvre takes a new turn. This results in the installation I never promised you a horizon. It is an idiosyncratic critique on the landscape sigh of the Romantics who, from the end of the 18th century, went looking for vast, overwhelming nature views, as we know them from the painter Caspar David Friedrich. With Le Corbusier in mind (The vertical gives the meaning of the horizontal) Lefere designed a public viewing device in which a vertical image cut determines the frame. With the help of seven photographic images, Lefere visualizes this principle. Because the focus is placed on the cut, and not on the underlying landscape, a series of images is created that are reminiscent of the vertical color stripes of the American painter Barnett Newman.

At the same time, Lefere built an idealized scale model of his visual device, a scale model 1: 2, a prototype that invites the viewer to imagine a different horizon experience. As a posthumous homage to the insight of Le Corbusier, about the synthesis between the vertical and the horizontal, Lefere wants to emphasize that the landscape and thus the horizon is a product of the interaction between the built and the non-built. Likewise, the photographic image is always the result of the interaction between frame and object or between device and reality.

In the period that follows, he simultaneously works in his studio on the monumental key image La Raison des Ombres and he is in close contact with Dr Martin Smith to realize the series Skulls. In the archive of the Forensic Sciences department, Lefere discovers a series of spherical test objects. These spheres, ceramic abstractions of skulls, were used to analyze and map the impact of projectiles on the human skull. This four-part series of photos heralds the repetition of the Vanitas motive. With La Raison des Ombres, Lefere synthesizes his years of evolution in a monumental work: a quirky reconstruction of the Mausoleum of the Vietnamese leader Ho-Chi-Minh. In comparison with his previous monumental staging, such as General Assembly, his modus operandi remains more or less the same: he reconstructs the basic architectural space and manipulates or removes the temporal symbolism. In this way he tries to depict a more universal image and to reactivate the space. The embalmed body is replaced by a deep cavity and becomes negative space. Through this reversal he tries to make the absence of the body visible. The vertical incision in the main wall, the wall behind the embalmed body, breaks through the closed character of the central interior space. This cut symbolizes a camera obscura and functions as a liberating element for the spectator. This incision also refers to The museum of unlimited extension: a concept study by Le Corbusier. The monumental model was photographed and presented as a photographic work. La Raison des Ombres is a reverie about the photographic image and temporality, but also about the status of the image and the intertwining between photography, architecture, memory and history.

This reconstruction is the first elaboration within the larger framework of Great mountains remember me. This series takes shape simultaneously in the studio of the artist in Ghent and at various locations in southern England. To this end, Lefere works together with the faculty of Archeology and Forensic Sciences and the director of The museum of British folklore. Great mountains remember me conceptualizes the process of human sighing to leave trace. In correlation with the Romantics and their insignificant feeling towards the greatness of nature, Lefere analyzes cultivating nature. The enormous mountain that is being mined for the construction of a monument where there is a transfer of this greatness to the laureate individual.

Measuring Hand, Two Way Mountain, Things hidden and Making an entry are some of the works that will be carefully constructed in his studio and then photographed. In the summer of 2018 he works with Dr Martin Smith in Cotswolds to visualize an excavation of a Neolytic burial mound. In the meantime he will also be shooting on The Isle of Portland, a historic burial site. Now it is home to the famous Portland stone quarries. Lefere also collaborates with the London art director and collector Simon Costin. This Londoner owns the tattooed skin of the 19th century M. Bonheur. This is a former seafarer and prisoner from Marseille with North African roots and also study subject of Professor Martin Smith. Lefere will document and include this unfortunate, nailed sailor in his series Nothing is more visible then things hidden.


Dieter Debruyne