S.M.A.K. is celebrating the 50-year career of the Belgian artist Leo Copers (1947, Ghent). Since the late 1960s he has been working on a varied oeuvre consisting mainly of sculptures, installations and performances. He creates surreal-looking work derived from symbols and metaphors, in a minimal and conceptual visual idiom with ironic references.
The start of Copers’ artistic career can be dated precisely to 3 May 1969. Legend has it that on that day he was struck by the simple scene of a used lightbulb floating on the River Lys in Ghent. This image gives concrete form to the expression ‘he saw the light’ and symbolises the start of Copers’ continual experimentation with opposing forces. The incident itself was immortalised in the sculpture Waterlamp (1969), which is where this exhibition starts.
S.M.A.K. is presenting a survey of Copers’ earliest artistic practice in the form of a selection of work done between 1969 and 1974. The motifs in this exhibition, in addition to the four natural elements, include gas, rainbow colours and artificial light such as incandescent and fluorescent lamps. In the development of his early work, Copers looked for ways of combining such seemingly incompatible elements.
The tension that arises between opposing forces, as in the combination of, for example, gas with fire, or water with electricity, disrupts the connection between meaning and the signifiant and leads to a major thematic cluster in Copers’ oeuvre, that of danger, destruction and transience, to which he takes a dual approach. Although at first sight his work appears to be oriented towards aesthetics, on closer examination it conveys dramatic and threatening situations.
Being very much aware of movements on the international art scene, in his early work Copers additionally made reference to, among other things, René Magritte’s poetic surrealism, Marcel Broodthaers’ anti-institutional humour, and such art history icons as Filippo Marinetti and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. In addition to sculptures and installations, this exhibition also includes slides, photos, videos and preliminary sketches.
Dreams Are Made of This 1968-2018
Leo Copers | 1969-1974 is an initiative by the curator Hilde Teerlinck in collaboration with Leo Copers and is part of the retrospective Dreams Are Made of This 1968-2018, which is being presented in separate chapters at S.M.A.K., M HKA, BOZAR and the Middelheim Museum.