Henk Delabie

Philippe Van Cauteren

Letter: to Henk Delabie (2)


It has been ten years since I wrote you my first letter. And it has been just as long since I last visited your studio. On 26 September 2020, I was once again in your studio, this time with a group of interested visitors brought in through the Friends of the S.M.A.K. While you were showing the visitors around in your studio, I was able to look around and find distraction in the shelves, the tables, and the stacks that inhabited the studio. With a forensic eye, I seemed to be looking for past events, for acts that were performed in the studio. A table with pencils, ballpoint pens, markers and traces of charcoal reveal the making of sketches and designs. Not far from that table, near a large window with a view of the amazing green scenery, I see a postcard pinned to the wall. The postcard is a reproduction of careful handwriting on lined paper. The six lines of text are signed with the initials L.W. Lawrence Weiner formulated these six lines in 1968 in his Declaration of Intent: “(1) The artist may construct the piece. (2) The piece may be fabricated. (3) The piece may not be built. [Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist, the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.]” With this statement, Weiner indicates the possibilities, broadens the definition of the condition of a work of art, and emphasises the relationship with the viewer or recipient. Almost 50 years later, Weiner’s formulation is still highly relevant, and still far from being accepted by the general public. Yet what is this postcard doing in Henk Delabie’s studio? Not that this was the only trace in the studio that caught my attention, but perhaps it was the most significant. On the one hand, there is the artist’s inevitable interest in the formal language and thinking of what is described as Conceptual and Minimal Art; on the other hand, I feel that this postcard symbolises a transition in the artist’s own thinking. Henk Delabie’s monochrome work – the shiny, curved, standing or leaning volumes reminiscent of John McCracken’s works – conceals, despite its industrial look, manifest traces of manual labour. The sculpture’s exterior appearance and smooth surface make us forget that a sculpture has a hollow or massive interior. Henk Delabie’s recent work seems to turn everything inside out. The outside forces us, as spectators, to look inside, to activate our imagination and extend it into spaces that are created by the artist, but which are not necessarily visible or accessible. With reference to both works by Henk Delabie in the group exhibition Etude (‘Concrete Lines, Access to the Earth, Menin, 2020’) I wrote the following: “Both works remind us of architecture, but exist here as a fragment, as a suggestion. As if we, the visitor, were being asked to imaginatively complete the remnants or the fragment.” The works evolve from a surface that activates the space, to an exterior that evokes the interior. The nature of the sculptures becomes mental, as if they were ideas. The forms are archetypes that connect or close – introverted provisional volumes. Regardless of whether the artist uses plastic, concrete and cement, wood or even a complete house (the caretaker’s house in Park ter Beuken in Lokeren), time and again he tries, through the use of a restrained formal language, to make the viewer talk about that which cannot be seen.

Philippe Van Cauteren
Zele, 4 october 2020

en / nl

Hans Martens

Henk Delabie: Moving in (the) Space(s)

Inge Braeckman

Henk Delabie’s language of drawing in space

Philippe Van Cauteren

Letter: to Henk Delabie

Annelies Vanbelle

Sculptures that play with space

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Blind Spot V, Diest

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Transobjects and Transorganisms