Wannes Goetschalckx
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Perhaps it is purely coincidental that Wannes Goetschalckx is Flemish. Or perhaps there is some unspoken way in which his work connects with the visual motifs and mechanism of using mise en scène to construct complex and frequently amusing discourses that have arisen so distinctly within the Flemish performed arts of the last two decades.

Theoretically, he is a visual and performance artist rather than a choreographer or theatre maker. However, in the case of the Flemish the choice to flout such distinctions has already been validated as an option such as in the works of Jan Fabre amongst others. Likewise, Wannes Goetschalckx not only makes performances and video but also objects, installations, and sculptures.
In the performance works –and residual quasi-documentary video works of them- the kind of intersection between the physical experience and using mise en scène highlight his connection to the established body of Flemish makers of performed arts rather than dismiss it. We see moments in his work, including its quirky humour, that relate far more readily to grounds explored by Wim Vandekeybus or Rosas than what we might think of as “video art” or “performance art”.
Of course, his choice to work, individually or collaboratively, within the context of visual arts (rather than in theatre or dance) is important to the discourse of the works. He chooses to include the gallery space or public spaces in the performances he makes. And, in experiencing the works, we are suddenly confronted with how refreshing this is. If we have managed to stretch our imaginations to viewing the gallery or museum as a venue for live art in a theatrical sense, then we almost certainly didn’t imagine that it could become such an amusing setting for the kind of low-budget, conceptual action movie that “1STORY” (2006) proves to be.
There are also multiple layers: the careful thinking that goes into the making of such a work and the meticulous production of the special tools and objects that will be used in the work; the collaboration with a filmmaker (in this case Kurt Augustyns) that will give the work its specific dimensions of existing as both the live experience and its subsequent traces; the requirements for the body to make the work.
However, at the heart of this work and other performance-based work exploring related ideas is the physical experience. This is work about the physicality of the human body –in this case the artist’s own- and its conceptual relationships to objects and spaces. This is the thread that connects it to the languages of preceding performed arts and largely defies the expectations of languages that we have come to understand as “performance art”. Wannes’ body contorts and twists in a series of clever feats and vaguely pointless tricks as he uses the gallery space and his carefully prepared tools to make his fascinating and somehow funny journey. We are confronted with a similar series of questions about the body, motivations, psychology and meaning in much the same way that choreography from the Bauschian lineage asks us to do so: through using the human body and its actions as a relational interrogative.
The pure silliness of it at times -another key element- not only connects to the humour of the Bauschian lineage, but also to the mechanisms used in the visual arts, for example in the early film works of Fischli and Weiss. The same child-like fascination that allows us to watch –and more importantly enjoy- the endless Meccano-set-science-fair chain of events in their work holds our fascination with Wannes’ journey over, through and around a distinct place or environment. And we particularly relish it when it’s a po-faced space meant for the serious consideration of art. The mise en scène created in the filmed performance is as important as it would be to any Hollywood blockbuster because, by designing Hollywood out, by effectively making an action pic that is so clearly not a big budget thriller, we are prompted to think about the nature of the physical body’s actions in other filmed or observed contexts. Making an action movie in a gallery can deconstruct real action movies.

Ken Pratt

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