Jan Fabre, ‘Adsum Qui Feci (Hier ben ik, ik ben de schuldige) (Adsum qui feci (I, here before you, am the guilty party))’, 2016, Deweer Gallery

Vanity and fidelity are the two major themes in this new and impressive works from the series ‘Vanitas Vanitatum, Omnia Vanitas (Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity)’. Both themes are common to the Flemish art from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as to the work of the Antwerp Baroque master Jacob Jordaens for example. Abstract concepts such as vanity (vanitas) and fidelity are represented in art historical iconography through a variety of symbols. A skull and by extension the whole skeleton, an extinguished candle, wilted flowers, a clock, an overturned glass, they all symbolize vanity through transience. The dog, in turn, symbolizes fidelity, loyalty, devotion, and even subservience. In combination with a plethora of images that depict the uninhibited, purely instinctive behaviour of dogs (copulating in the street, appropriating territory by lifting a leg against anything and everything, smelling and licking everything...) we soon understand that the symbol of the dog also stands for everything man deems beneath his dignity. The vanity motif is a common recurring theme in Jan Fabre’s visual and theatrical oeuvre; it is indeed not the first time that the artist uses dogs or actors that imitate dogs in his work. In short, it is not surprising that, here again, Fabre makes generous use of these motifs. By means of his compositional combinations of symbols of vanity and fidelity, Fabre portrays his vision of the transience of earthly life in a very penetrating manner: man must commit himself to ideals that transcend the temporal, such as Beauty. Anything else is irrelevant.
Technically, the Fabre mosaics are realized with thousands of iridescent wings of the green jewel beetle, just as in the work ‘Heaven of Delight’ (2002) which was installed on the ceiling of one of the rooms of the Royal Palace in Brussels, and Fabre’s series ‘Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo’ (2011-2013) and ‘Tribute to Belgian Congo’ (2010-2013), which were shown in 2014 at the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev, Ukraine.

Jan Fabre – Knight of Despair / Warrior of Beauty, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, 2016
Jan Fabre - Vanitas Vanitatum, Omnia Vanitas, Deweer Gallery, Otegem, BE, 2016

About Jan Fabre

Jan Fabre’s signature blue ballpoint pen drawings and ornamented sculptures engage themes of life, death, and memory while reflecting his love of performance art. Conceived in homage to death and the artist, The Man Who Measures the Clouds (1998)—a bronze figure perched precariously atop a ladder on the edge of a crate raising a large ruler to the sky—expresses the feeling of planning the impossible. “I create spiritual realms through my art,” explains Fabre, who rejects the cynicism he sees as prevalent in contemporary art. Many works incorporate jewel beetles, which Fabre appreciates for their beauty, memory, and ability to process information, which he says has enabled them to survive millions of years. Their emerald-like shells—1.4 million of them arranged in various forms and patterns—encrust his work for a ceiling in Brussels’ Palais Royal (Heaven of Delight, 2002).

Belgian, b. 1958, Antwerp, Belgium