Mark Swysen‘s work garden of eden: reconsidering the genetics of the original sin looks impressive, sounds impressive, and certainly impressed the jury of the BLOOOM Award by WARSTEINER who awarded it third place in the 2015 competition. Swysen’s meditative piece on the parallels between the Christian idea of divine genesis and scientific theory was created within the splendid architecture of Sint-Baafsabbey church in Aardenburg. A double helix of plastic water bottles spiral from the centre of the hall like a giant DNA chain, complete with flaws representing genetic mutations and alluding to our innate inability to live up to God’s standards of morality.
For the BLOOOM Award by WARSTEINER, Swysen was one of 10 finalists on a shortlist narrowed down from 1,500 international entrants. Although the artist approached the announcement ceremony in relaxed mood, it wasn’t long before the excitement of the occasion kicked in. He said: “Ranking artworks in a competition is a subjective undertaking and the outcome will depend for a substantial part upon the taste of the members of the jury, so I was quite at ease with the idea that my piece had already made it to the ten works in the final. I was not nervous at all.
“But once the procedure commenced, my heartbeat started following the countdown — in the opposite direction. I had good hopes to be amongst the last three and with every colleague called on stage, expectation was growing and my heart rhythm rising.”
Discussing the creative philosophy behind his work, Swysen explained that he often explores a recurring theme of human conduct, while often omitting the human figure itself. He also feels that the idea is key. “From a philosophical point of view I embrace the basic proposition of conceptual art that the idea is the most important aspect of the work,” he said, “but I aim to go a step beyond the fundamentalist conceptualism as defined by Joseph Kosuth. To me, the sole idea is not sufficient. I prefer to follow Arthur Danto’s opinion in this matter: ‘a work of art is an embodied meaning’. The body — the shape into which the idea is moulded — has to attract and give rise to a query for the content.”
Looking at garden of eden… alongside other works from his oeuvre, we had a query for Swysen: what is it with all the umbrellas? The artist was happy to elaborate.
“Any material or object can be an instrument in my visual language. I tend to snatch everyday objects out of their usual context, deconstruct and re-assemble them, thus charging them with new layers of meaning. (Counterbalancing the one-dimensionality of our perception, I want to open new possibilities for interpretation.) The artefact ultimately comes to life within the brain of the visitor and there are many layers of comprehension, depending upon the disposition of the beholder.
“Umbrellas are but one specific object in this procedure, but it is true that it is one of my favourites. I started using them because of their function: they are a symbol of protection, yet at the same time very delicate and vulnerable. It was this equivocalness that attracted me when I staged them for the first time — in the Cathedral of Rouen — as a comment on the illusion of divine protection. Their transparency is an equally important aspect. The visitor can look through them, thus discovering the illusive aspect of a number of theories and beliefs.”
Swysen is always on the go, creatively speaking, revealing that he works on several projects at one time to stimulate new ideas. Even with his BLOOOM Award by WARSTEINER in the mix, he is currently hard at work on future projects.
“Right now I am … finishing an installation, katharsis, which will completely transform an out-of-service municipal indoor swimming pool for a group show that will open on 1 November in Belgium. At the same time I am working on an outdoor brain installation (a further developed version of the piece I showed at the Havana Biennial last spring) for a group show in December in Schiedam.
“But on a more premature and conceptual level I am experimenting with different possibilities for a new solo project, der perfekte Mensch, to be shown in Germany next year. I try to merge the ideas of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and the adoration of the Christ figure with our western, media-driven culture of Photoshopped models and face-lifted actors carrying out their message of human (physical) perfection.”
This part of an ongoing series created in collaboration with BLOOOM Award by WARSTEINER