Berlinde De Bruyckere works from the inside out, both physically and emotionally. She depicts flesh, luminous yet of a deathly hue. “Into One-Another To P.P.P.,” the title of this recent exhibition of sculptures and works on paper, reflects the entwined nature of the works, while alluding to murdered Italian writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, a figure associated with unrequited love and erotic disquiet
The four related sculptural installations achieve a convulsive beauty. Three of them (all 2010) share the title of the exhibition and are laboriously cast in wax from the bodies of dancers. De Bruyckere first meticulously “blind paints” layers of epoxy mixed with pigment inside the molds, unable to see the effects of color until the “reveal,” as the cast figures emerge. Each dancer’s anatomy is convincingly captured yet distorted by the casting process. Toes are sometimes doubled, becoming like Rorschach binaries; bodily fragments must be pieced together. Left behind by the casting technique, multiple orifices—which De Bruyckere purposely retains—improbably penetrate the forms. The sculptures appear heavy, yet supple musculature makes them more vital than inert. The paint, mostly red, is not applied to show blood pulsing through the human forms; rather, it is mottled and abstract, as if smeared.
Early Netherlandish religious iconogra- phy is evoked. Born in Belgium in 1964, De Bruyckere lives and works in proximity to the Ghent Altarpiece, whose naked Adam and Eve were once replaced by clothed versions, because Van Eyck’s exacting observation of nature was deemed inappropriate. But frank portrayal of the imperfect and fragile human form is basic to De Bruyckere’s search for a redemptive rapture rooted in empathy and communion. Though the bodies are often dismembered, an overall coherency prevails, as each composition, whether involving one figure or two, feels whole.
Placed within antiquated wood-and- glass display cases, the figures are thus framed like paintings or film-strip images. On the interior base of the vitrines, De Bruyckere lays down old stained textiles, which are then further damaged and marked in the process of placing the figure. These accumulated layers of detail heighten the corporeal effect.
Inside Me II (2011) dispenses with the vitrine, the title of the other sculptures and the human form, taking instead tree branches as source. Cradled between two halves of a rickety wooden structure, the sagging, visceral-looking “branches” (actually rope, cloth, wax and epoxy) seem to have a mutual empathy—much as the figures in Into One-Another III To P.P.P. lack hands yet bodily caress each other. The tree limbs of Inside Me II are cushioned on a gathered cloth as if taken out of a tomb and released from a shroud to reveal new life.
Additionally, the show’s two series of drawings also explore physical and spiritual transformation. The more disturbing of the two, “The Wound” (2011), comprises watercolor-and-pencil images suggesting torn, bloody flesh. Though the pictures are anatomically ambiguous, a sense of vitality remains. Indeed, De Bruyckere’s works often seem almost animate, with energy contained within them, while they also provoke a morbid shudder, moving the viewer.
Photo: Berlinde De Bruyckere: Into One-Another I To P.P.P., 2010, wax epoxy, iron, wood and glass, 76 by 72 by 34 inches; at Hauser & Wirth.