Jan Fabre is back in Venice with a new project especially designed for the spaces of the Abbey of San Gregorio located between Ponte dell’Accademia and Punta della Dogana.
Featured among the collateral events of the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, and open from 13 May to 26 November 2017, the exhibition Jan Fabre. Glass and Bone Sculptures 1977–2017 – curated by Giacinto Di Pietrantonio, Katerina Koskina and Dimitri Ozerkov, and promoted by GAMeC – Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery of Bergamo, in collaboration with EMST – National Museum of Contemporary Art of Athens and The State Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg – presents over forty sculptures by Jan Fabre (Antwerp, 1958) outlining the artist’s research since its origins, prompting a philosophical, spiritual and political reflection on life and death revolving around the crucial notion of metamorphosis. The exhibition presents an unprecedented selection of works in glass and bone spanning forty years of the artist’s career, from 1977 to 2017.
Constantly inspired by his fascination with the alchemy and the memory of matter, Jan Fabre in his works pays homage to the pictorial tradition of Flemish masters, who used to grind bone powder into their colour pigments, and to the artistic craftsmanship of Venetian glassmakers. By deliberately choosing two hard, yet fragile and delicate materials, the artist draws attention to the hardness and the fragility of life itself.
“My philosophical and poetical reason for bringing glass, and human and animal bones together – affirms Jan Fabre – stems from the memory of my sister as a child playing with a small glass object. This made me think of flexibility inherent in human bone and glass. Some animals, and all human beings come out of the womb like molten glass out of a melting oven. Everyone can be moulded, bent and shaped with an amazing degree of freedom.”
In Fabre’s works, glass and bone are used to create parts and compositions of human and animal bodies. In some cases the materials retain their natural colours, while in others they are coloured in blue Bic ink, a media that the artist has been using for years in his description of The Hour Blue, the twilight moment at the threshold of day and night marking the metamorphosis of natural time.
In Giacinto Di Pietrantonio’s words, “the exhibition title Glass and Bone could be rightfully extended to include Blue Bic Ink. Matter, in Fabre's work, is not celebrated in its phenomenal sense, but becomes the bearer of arcane symbologies connected with its very own essence. In his research, Fabre deploys an art that does not measure history as a product of the present day and, therefore, of sociology, but as the struggle within a metamorphic matter whose memory has dissolved in the depths of time.”
The dialogue between bones and glass, an emanation of the dialectic relation connecting hardness and fragility, opaqueness and transparency, shadow and light, tangible and intangible, and life and death is central to Fabre’s poetics. The art of the Flemish artist revolves around the instable state of metamorphosis and the changes occurring in the flux of existence. Like glass, bones are not indestructible. Like glass, bones can break, testifying to the fragility and the precariousness of human existence.
“Jan Fabre’s bone and glass sculptures – affirms Katerina Koskina – are an implicit allusion to the fleeting nature of life on earth and to mortality. Furthermore, the connection between bones and glass suggests the fragile and transient nature of human existence. The bones as symbol of death and the sheen of glass as symbol of affluence and luxury share the transience of man’s life, who has only a brief flash of time in which to enjoy beauty before ending up a skeleton.”
Dimitri Ozerkov underlines how “Fabre crystallizes both bones and glass, and makes them sacral. He sacralises human existence in its mystical, timely presence in reality, driven by imagination. For Jan Fabre, artistic imagination is the main evidence of human existence, to be found somewhere between bones and glass, body and soul.”
Throughout his career, Fabre has always worked with these two materials: The Pacifier of 1977, for instance, is a bone baby’s dummy studded with shreds of glass – an object impossible to use without getting hurt, while The Future Merciful Vagina and Phallus of 2011 is a primitive glass human bone altar surmounted by a pelvic bone and a phallus.
In Jan Fabre’s work, bones are associated with death. Pietas, presented at the Nuova Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia during the 2011 Venice Biennale, was an accurate 1:1 scale take of Michelangelo’s Pietà where the face of the Virgin was replaced by a skull, symbol of death.