KOENRAAD DEDOBBELEER AT MANIERA
© Jeroen Verrecht
Happiness is a Movable Feast
- Asli Çiçek
MANIERA 25 is significant for two reasons: firstly, it is the first edition inspired by a whole, non-domestic interior typology. Secondly, following a period of limited (or no) social gatherings in 2020-2021, MANIERA 25 aims at bringing people together, thus enabling them to enjoy each other’s company. The edition designed by the Belgian artist Koenraad Dedobbeleer is entitled 1b, i.e., the abbreviation of the pressure measurement unit, which reads “one bar” when read out loud. This is the shortest title given by Dedobbeleer, who typically gives very long names to his works, exhibitions, and artist books. Some Material Culture Following a Random Method Based on Aleatory Rules was the title of a solo show by the artist at the Mai 36 Gallery in 2012; Interpretation Probably Derives from the Aesthetic Education to Which We Were Subjected is the name of a gelatine-silver print work from 2016, to name just two. These names read as dry statements and are systematically devoid of punctuation. In their syntax, they are meaningful sentences. Yet, without a full-stop they never really land on the ground and consistently succeed in preserving a humorous lightness, despite the fact that they evoke the serious tone of a statement. However, the artist’s modus operandi with regards to his titles remains deeply consistent with his practice.
Koenraad Dedobbeleer works with sculptures, objects, images, and drawings as much as he works with history, language, reflection, and humour. He always looks around, observing and recording, both in the coincidence of everyday life or still in the constructions of – chiefly but not solely – the history of art and architecture. Then, for instance, he deconstructs an ordinary chair, manipulating it into another object by changing its scale, its connections, or by releasing it from its initial function. Although this might initially sound easy, Dedobbeleer’s operations require a broad awareness of the world as it exists, along with an inexhaustible curiosity towards the capriciousness of history and genuine pleasure in creating thoughtful and delightful experiences in life. Unconcerned with telling “unheard” stories, the artist releases his sculptures, objects, installations into the world, using them to spark new perceptions of the known. His manipulations instigate associations; a good measure of “displacement”, of “Verfremdung” always finds its way into Dedobbeleer’s production.
MANIERA 25 is not singular in this regard. One bar, a bar is “displaced” and created in the setting of the furniture gallery. Dedobbeleer designed a composition with fourteen objects of various scales, transforming the gallery space into a bar that will be used as such once a week throughout the three months of the exhibition. The pieces include a counter with an integrated lamp, chairs, stools, a table, wall fixtures, standing and table lamps, candle holders, a mirror and wainscot panelling on the walls. While each object is easily imaginable as being functional in a domestic surrounding, for 1b objects are there to create a bar where visitors can sit down to enjoy a drink or a discussion. A good bar is a space for sharing pleasurable moments in the company of friends or acquaintances, where conversations ranging from easy chit-chats to deeper conversations fuse amid good drinks… As an interior typology, the bar is one of the most enjoyable spaces to be designed and experienced.
In the pieces created for MANIERA 25, Dedobbeleer’s joy of design and use is incredibly palpable. The ceiling lamps whose lampshades are made of ordinary skirts soften the light source and give a friendly nod to Herman Czech’s Palais Schwarzenberg interior refurbishment; a legendary project by the Austrian architect and realised during 1980s in the centre of Vienna. Here, Dedobbeleer’s familiarity and fascination with this project are reformulated into new objects. In fact, he even echoes the gesture of Czech’s lamp, which was fixed on the bar counter. Yet, Dedobbeleer’s counter is a completely different object, both in terms of shape and materiality. The compact piece is made of green concrete plywood plates with purple edges, which conveys a marble finish to the horizontal surface. The compactness of the furniture enables us to see it standing up straight as though it were a bar in an exuberant 1970s living room. This sense of familiarity is reinforced by the marble-topped tables. Here, the decadent ambiance of the table is balanced through the frame made out of a PVC tube encircling the marble tabletop. Drawing its origins from the building trade, this curved frame provides the essential twist to the furniture. And while the marble is reminiscent of Trix & Robert Haussmann’s small tables in Zurich’s Kronenhalle Bar, Dedobbeleer’s design escapes mimicry by giving the 1b table a complexity through the addition of standard, practical building material.
The same applies to the shell chairs made using an industrial process whereby a plywood plate is bent to create a shape. Two symmetrical large perforations radiate the charming presence of an illustrated ghost-like figure. The other chair stems from a process of deconstruction and is akin to an ordinary school chair. Its legs are taken apart and put together afresh, while a flat spiral made with cord functions as a new, round seat. The chair’s back and legs are completed with small black balls, bringing the Fledermaus Chair designed by Josef Hoffmann in 1907 for the eponymous Kabarett Fledermaus into mind. The blue MDF stool with its drop-shaped seat finished in marble or felt is here again framed by PVC tube, offering MANIERA 25 yet another exciting new piece. A wall lamp made out of soldered bends is playfully reminiscent of a clown’s dubious face with its red light bulb fixed on a welded bend tube underneath. Another small, round table lamp is made up of three layers of fused bends of decreasing diameters on top of each other. But this time, the industrial element is covered with a thin felt offering an agreeable sensation to the touch. Numerous candle holders positioned on tables and welded by Dedobbeleer himself illuminate the bar with a softer light. Finally, the walls of the gallery are clad with a tall plinth made out of mirrored photographs depicting the pattern of a plate of marble. The images are printed as recto-verso posters measuring 70×90cm and are used to wainscot the interior visually. Once again, this is a humorous nod to the bar designed for the Palais Schwarzenberg.
With Dedobbeleer’s furniture and objects, MANIERA 25 introduces a set of pieces referring to a non-domestic interior in its entirety. Every piece contributes to the creation of this interior. But each in its own right can be selected to respectively enter and carry the imbedded joy and functionality of its presence into a domestic interior. One of the greatest authors of the 20th century, Ernest Hemingway, immortalised the pleasure offered by a great bar in his novel Across the River into the Trees (1950). By so doing, he turned Harry’s Bar, where he lingered at leisure while writing his book during his stay in Venice, into an eternal legend of literature:
…‘The Contessa is not at home, my Colonel,’ he [the waiter] said. ‘They believe you might find her at Harry’s.’
‘You find everything on earth at Harry’s.’
‘Yes, my Colonel. Except, possibly, happiness.’
‘I’ll damn well find happiness, too,’ the Colonel assured him. ‘Happiness, as you know, is a movable feast.’
‘I am aware of that,’ the waiter said. ‘I have brought Campari bitters and a bottle of Gordon Gin.
May I make you a Campari with gin and soda?’