Known for synthetic imagery that blurs the line between still photography and moving image, Belgian artist David Claerbout is an early experimenter in new media art. Claerbout has presented his art at international events including the São Paulo Biennial and Seoul Mediacity Biennale.Read More
Born in Kortrijk, Belgium, Claerbout studied at the National Higher Institute for Fine Arts in Antwerp between 1992 and 1995. Initially trained in painting and drawing, Claerbout began making video works from the mid-1990s.
Early examples include Cat and Bird in Peace (1996), an anti-climactic film in which anticipated hunter and pray seemingly ignore each other, and Boom (1996), a static film of a tree whose leaves dance gracefully in the wind. These evolved into more complex works, such as the motion-activated video installation Untitled (Carl & Julie) (1999).
Digital media as it developed entered into Claerbout's practice in the early 2000s and became a seminal aspect. Claerbout's first computer-based work, Present (2000) for Dia Art Foundation, offered virtual flowers viewers could install and grow on their own computers.
David Claerbout subtly and painstakingly manipulates still and moving imagery of natural landscapes, architecture, and people to create immersive, otherworldly environments characterised by a sense of time and movement.
As Claerbout expanded his work in the digital realm, he explored images in more depth. In Retrospection (2000), the artist moves the camera around a class photo from the 1930s, zooming in on particular faces with suspenseful music to imply some form of narrative.
Claerbout's work soon began to develop from simple exploration to manipulation and the production of totally synthetic images. Vietnam, 1967 near Duc Pho (reconstruction after Hiromishi Mine) (2001) incorporated an historical still image with contemporary footage of the same landscape. Claerbout's King (2015—2016), made over a decade later, is a wholly synthetic three-dimensional recreation of an image taken by Alfred Wertheimer of a young Elvis Presley in 1956, allowing the 'camera' to explore the original photographed scene from all angles.
David Claerbout's Jungle Book rendition, The Pure Necessity (2016), reverses the humanisation of the animals in the popular 1967 Disney animated film. In scenes redrawn frame by frame, without any dialogue or trace of the original narrative, snakes, bears, monkeys, and elephant characters behave naturally, meandering to a soundtrack of silence and ambient jungle sounds.
It is an attempt to reconcile the relationship of trust with the visual image under pressure from contemporary visual culture.
Time is always a significant aspect of Claerbout's work. David Claerbout's Olympia (2016—Ongoing) is a real-time animated computer simulation of the disintegration of the Berlin Olympic stadium over the course of 1000 years. The duration is linked to the thousand-year Reich, the ambition of the Nazis who commissioned the stadium for the 1936 Olympic Games.
Olympia has been presented as an HD-video installation and through generated stills that capture the stadium at different times of day and in different seasons and weather conditions, approximating the current Berlin weather.
David Claerbout's Wildfire (Meditation on Fire) (2019—2020) further plays with the concept of time and reality. The camera travels through a forest scene seemingly ablaze, yet the fires are frozen in time, like a still life. It is an immersive experience that, like Olympia, could not otherwise be witnessed by the viewer's eye. Silence is interrupted only by intermittent bird song and other sounds of nature.
David Claerbout's Aircraft (F.A.L.) (2015—2021) is a video composed of footage taken in an empty factory hall with the addition of a complex 3D model of the titular aircraft. Polished and gleaming, the aircraft seems brand new, yet its setting consigns it to the past, disrupting linear perceptions of time. It interrogates the ability of film and photography to make and preserve history.
David Claerbout has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions internationally.
Solo exhibitions include Unseen Sound, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2021); David Claerbout: The Pure Necessity, Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, Zuoz, Switzerland (2019); Olympia, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona (2017); Performed Pictures, MAMCO, Geneva (2015); David Claerbout: Architecture of Narrative, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) (2011); The Shape of Time, De Pont Museum, Tilburg, Netherlands (2009); David Claerbout, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2007); David Claerbout, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2003).
Group exhibitions include Memling Now: Hans Memling in contemporary art, Musea Brugge, Bruges (2020); Animalesque / Art Across Species and Beings, Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden (2019); Variable Dimensions — artists and architecture, The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), Lisbon (2017); RAY Fotografieprojekte, Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK), Frankfurt (2015); The Red Queen, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart (2013); Fragments in Time and Space, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2011); Fast Forward 2. The Power of Motion. Media Art Sammlung Goetz, ZKM Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe (2010).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022