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It was an interesting programming decision, and really, the contrast could not have been more pronounced. While Witte de With’s entire top floor had been converted into a vast symposium space, complete with sound baffles and live video feeds, for its three-day talkfest The Curators, involving over forty of the world’s most visible exhibition makers—and, no doubt, quite a few attendant egos—the gallery spaces below were a model of understatement and restraint. Where The Curators seemed culturally and intellectually loaded, its program and audiences heavily packed and invested with a real sense of urgency, Edith Dekyndt’s ‘Agnosia’ maintained a quiet dignity, unwilling to announce itself as anything other than what it was, only ever hinting at how rewarding time spent with it might be.
‘Agnosia’ brought together twelve new and adapted video, photographic, sculptural and sound works that the Belgian artist has proposed as ‘neither spectacular nor consumable’. Typically, Dekyndt holds back on unnecessary visual information and restricts her pallet to cooler tones that usually border on grey. Her videos usually consist of single-channel static shots of an anchored but unstable form with little other contextualising information. Their close referencing of video’s formal and technical relationship to photography is reciprocated through the artist’s photographic works, which, through their simultaneous presentation of only slightly varied forms, could be mistaken for frames from an experimental film. Indeed, experimental film and various manifestations of expanded cinema seem to be as important to Dekyndt’s practice as the more recognisable formal rigour of minimalism and its offshoots. As cool and reductive as her work might appear, it belies a fascination for the illusory qualities of light, its capacity to build perceptual and experiential structures and also to disrupt them, and ultimately a dry humour and a sense of wonderment that undercut the aesthetic austerity.
So much of this work is about surface, or what is seductive about the play of surfaces, such as oil rising to the top of a body of water (Gowanus, 2008), or the imperceptible edges of a pale flag as it flutters against the sky (One second of silence, 2008), that it seemed natural for simple magic tricks to abound in ‘Agnosia’. Apparent digital or even manual manipulations of film or photographic stock turned out to be simple physical phenomena, and in this sense ‘Agnosia’ even shared a debt to popular science television programs with its soap rainbows (Provisory object 3, 2004), hovering helium balloon (Ground control, 2008) and furry creatures made of magnetised iron filings (Martial O, 2007-2009). The relationship between popular science—or at least pseudo-science—experimental media and Dekyndt’s harder edge influences finally coalesced with characteristic humour in Dreamachine (2006), a psychedelic overload of rapidly alternating colour bars that name-checks Brion Gysin’s famous countercultural attempt at hallucination induction.
To take the exhibition’s title literally, ‘Agnosia’s’ proposition was the centrality to experience of not knowing, thus the preoccupation with surface and illusion. The works’ unspectacular or inconsumable aspect, at least as far as the artist understands it, might therefore lie in its mobilisation of its own ungraspability, and in its articulation of art’s power to intervene in and problematise processes of perception. This might also explain the exhibition’s positioning within Witte de With’s program. Just as the figure of the curator continues to move closer to the centre of art discourse, ‘Agnosia’ served as an enigmatic but droll reminder that questions of art and aesthetics, sense and experience, of what artists propose as they interface with the world, remain persistently at the centre of curatorial practice.