Widely considered to be one of the most significant artists based in Belgium today, for over 35 years Jan Fabre has created work as an artist and author across theatre and visual arts. Using a wide range of media - including drawings, sculpture, installation, film and performance – Fabre’s work explores the body, from its fragility and defence mechanisms, to a broader observation of the behaviour of human beings, and questioning how they will survive in the future. The scarab beetle plays a major role in Fabre’s work and relates to a fascination with science dating back to his youth; influenced by the 19th-century French entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre, he would dissect insects and transform them into new creatures. One of his most recognisable works to date is Heaven of Delight (2002) a permanent installation covering the ceiling in the Mirror Room at the Royal Palace in Brussels with scarab wing cases. A recent permanent sculpture by Fabre can also be seen at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp; titled The man who bears the cross (2015), this bronze sculpture is directed at another work in the cathedral, Rubens’ masterpiece The Descent of the Cross (1611- 1614).
The works presented in this exhibition explore the primary preoccupations of the artist’s practice, such as metamorphosis and the relationships between animals and humans, as well as life and death. The curatorial concept takes its departure from the performance film Lancelot (2004) which saw Fabre battle against himself in front of the camera for five hours, weighed down in heavy armour in a cold and dark location.
Highlights from the exhibition include suits of armour (works from 1997) created from thousands of wing-cases from the iridescent jewel (scarab) beetles. In Salvator Mundi (1998) iron armour, black beetle shells and a spinal column become a single sculpture. Skull sculptures materialise the dreams and nightmares that hover inside this nighttime fairy-tale. Human skulls built with colourful mixtures of jewel beetle wing-cases clasp prey such as a taxidermy magpie, leather whips and the iron keys of hell; skulls become messengers of vanity and vigilance with historical references to the Belgian colonisation of Congo.
Also included in the exhibition are Fabre’s prolific drawings, characterised by his distinctive use of a Bic ball point pen.