Zwart Huis dedicates a Rediscovery booth to the early self-portraits of Liliane Vertessen (1952), one of the first Belgian artists who use their own body as an artistic medium. She builds installations around photographs of herself in various roles. She might be a hooker, an innocent girl, a lady, a saint or a vamp, balancing between extremes. Vulnerable and powerful, hardboiled and sweet, humiliated and worshipped.
During the early 70s, as a performer in a jazz group, Liliane Vertessen explores the provocative potential of self-portrayal on stage. This is the period when she begins to create self-portraits with a camera and a delay timer. The deceptive medium of photography provides her with the means to demonstrate and manipulate physical and sensual identity.
The black and white photographs are sometimes retouched with colour. Occasionally they are printed on enamel. She adds architectural elements: neon highlights, draped materials, veils, fur, tulle, patent-leather, wooden sculptures, mirrors and marble. This allows them to grow into theatrical structures and prevents them from being locked away in a frame.
The early photographic work is generally charged with erotic overtones. A neon tube is placed next to the perspex cabinet containing the photograph. The tube might be in the shape of an arrow or a line which follows the outline of the body. Sometimes words are spelled out.
Liliane Vertessen projects herself as the femme fatale. However the other extreme is also possible. In later work she shows herself as a saint, an angel, an innocent virgin. A certain mysterious ambiguity lies in the work of Vertessen: the provocative role play suggests a limitless exhibitionism. By playing these roles and hiding in a cliché of ‘The Woman’ she never really exposes herself and her actual identity remains elusive.
Liliane Vertessen (1952) studied photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Her career has many highlights such as the double exhibition with Cindy Sherman at PCBK Hasselt in 1987, “Liliane Vertessen and Wim Delvoye” at S.M.A.K. in Ghent in 1989, “Seven crimes one case” at PMMK in Ostend in 1992, “David Bowie and me” at Studio Propaganda in Antwerp in 1999 and “Oxygen & Electricity” at Cultuurcentrum in Hasselt in 2012. This year, a retrospective ‘A Love Supreme: Liliane Vertessen’ was organised by the Museum of Photography in Charleroi, Belgium.
Her work is included in collections such as M HKA Antwerp, PMMK Ostend, the Flemish Parliament, the Museum of Photography Charleroi and Belfius Art Collection.