Rotzooi. Opposition and Border
Written by Carl Friedrich Schröer for Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin, 2012
Translated by Pauline Cumbers
Photo: Annick Lamolle
Peter Rogiers lives on a language border, although no marking on the road, or barrier or wall indicates this. Nor is it to be found on any map. I first found out about it when I visited Peter in Oud-Heverlee. In the very next town a foreign language is spoken: French. In Belgium this is something that really matters. Needless to say, Flemish is spoken in Oud-Heverlee. The country is in the process of being divided into two, then the new border will run along the language border. So living on a language border here means living on a fault line. Let this suffice as an impression of the atmosphere in the place.
We are at the heart of Europe. Brussels (with its mad confusion of language borders) is the capital of the European Community. Oud-Heverlee is situated in one of the most densely populated areas in the world – yet it still has this border. Not that it is immediately noticeable. Neither the town nor the countryside is particularly beautiful or particularly ugly, just like everywhere else. The urban planners call this kind of housing agglomeration a Zwischenstadt or intermediate town. Peter has set up his studio here, and lives here with his wife and two dogs and his motorbike.
He steers clear of Antwerp (where he was born in 1967) and of all the other art metropolises and their artists. He has no desire to see them and have to talk about art with them in cafés. He prefers to keep his distance. A border-crosser. Far removed from such centres, he is free to track down the subterranean borders, the unwritten laws of art and life, to observe them and recognise their impact, to challenge them, as the case may be, to oppose them, or simply ignore them with audacity.
Of course he plays with them. His calls his new sculpture Geen Titel, i.e., Untitled, which is also the refusal of a title, a current practice aimed at not providing any pointer to the content. Yet the work entitled Geen Titel is clearly and immediately recognisable as a palm tree. A silver palm tree, is that allowed these days? Made of shiny aluminium, and six metres high?
A single palm tree, of all things, like a remnant of the disco-loving 1980s? Discarded deco? Entertainment trash? Promising exotic dreams of intact nature in real (not just Belgian) life, where that kind of exoticism has degenerated into the tackiest, cheapest thing our mass consumerism has to offer! No more than an inane consolation.
Peter Rogiers loves the border situation, meaning that he is alert and attentive, getting its scent, lying in wait for it like a hunter. A palm tree made of aluminium sheet is just about the last ‘no-go area’ a sculptor can enter. His palm tree is an extremely thorny issue.
Needless to say, his palm tree is also beautiful, and tall, and outlandish, there is no doubt about that. How it flaunts itself in its silvery garb, and spreads its pointed leaves unperturbed into the sky! And how lost and dreadfully alone it seems, standing there in its lovely outfit! It’s beyond help, this longing, this palm tree.
The thing about the palm tree Geen Titel is that it is both a sculptural proposition and opposition: once it has completely freed itself of the imposition of having to be a palm tree, as well as from the imposition of being genuine art, its life as an astonishing object can begin. Only when it has left that border behind it, can it move freely, take off. This is what Peter Rogiers’ art has in common with all trivial art. It infringes the rules and liberates from them.
His choice of material and creation of form attain dizzying heights. We keep our distance. The palm fronds high above our heads want to impress us like the wheelwork of an unknown combatant from the world of Star Trek: Enterprise & Co, auguring annihilation or salvation – depending on what side you’re on. The palm tree becomes a titanic fighting machine, offspring of sinister medieval torture instruments and aluminium-bright space-age design. Or is it precisely the reverse?
Anyone in a position to set it in motion would have at his disposal an infernal rotating machine. For a campaign of destruction or the liberation of the world? That would be up to the operator.