Mathieu V. Staelens

20.04.24 - 02.06.24

Sustainable Love 4 Life

This exhibition will continue until June 2nd, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1 pm to 6 pm, or by appointment.

A rose whose heartbeat is measured. An oyster from which energy is extracted. In the new series of paintings presented by Mathieu V. Staelens at Art Partout Gallery, the order of still life painting is disrupted. No peace or stillness, but intrigue and turmoil speak from these images. Like an idyllic natural scene under which a time bomb is ticking.

Classical painters saw still life as an art form in which they could force the most disparate objects into equivalence. Perhaps not in reality, but at least on canvas they became equivalent: the equal treatment through arrangement, framing, submission to light and shadow, composition from the same limited palette of pigments, profiling against an even background, automatically produced such effect. There is no such equality of objects here.

We see clamps, wires, infusions, syringes. These technical and clinical instruments dominate the scene because they seem to actively interfere with it. Do they resist the equalization of all things displayed? Do they refuse the passive role of accommodation to the painter? Of submission to the viewer’s gaze? In any case, they do not grant peace to the performance.

This raises the question of how ironic the title “Sustainable Love For Life” is meant to be. For in this series of works we do not witness a loving attachment to life. Rather, we see a frigid, sterile, unfeeling extraction of life’s resources. As if no element of nature escapes the grip of scientific registration, technical manipulation, economic exploitation. As if everything in the world is appropriated to provide measurement results, raw materials, energy.

Sustainability then sounds like an ecological critique. All renewable energy that nature can provide should be sought out as eagerly as possible and tapped as efficiently as possible so that humanity is able to maintain its standard of living - sustainably, that is, continuously, without interruption, undisturbed. It means using nature in such a way that it adapts to our high standards, rather than demanding the other way around that humans adapt to nature’s higher standards.

For me, A Date With History and The Personal Invitation are two key works in understanding the ‘Sustainable Love 4 Life’ series. We are personally invited to an indoor garden. Someone has a date with history. But who has planned an appointment in that bourgeois interior? Who has prepared a chair in the garden inviting us to enjoy the vital wealth of flowers and plants? I suspect the artist has laid a trap here. Unsuspecting spectators who feel welcome in the courtyard garden, who feel drawn to explore the dialogue between past and present : before they realize it, they have been summoned by a ruthless system of extraction, manipulation, exploitation. For there are forces at play here that do not allow the painting to be a still life. For those who thought they were watching disinterestedly, that means: being switched on, connected, fed, monitored. Thus “love of life” becomes a disruptive experience, perhaps making us look at ourselves with different eyes.

Herbert De Vriese