The gallery was divided into three parts: on the left, high on the wall, hung a window made out of rubber latex, its sides curving out. In the center was a large sheet of glass, framed in black metal, whose lower half featured an engraving of a balcony. On the right were four photographs of an enormous crowd of people, with geometric forms painted over each image. These were the elements which comprised Koen Theys' most recent exhibition. At first glance, the window might have seemed a bit too Goberish, the glass a bit too precious in its stabs at architecture, the photographs too influenced by Constructivist poster design and collage. Together, however, the combination was striking. And, as it turned out, each work offered insight into the others, ultimately giving the room a purpose and consistency that prevented the individual influences from becoming determinants.

Entitled Compositie met Mensen I-IV (Composition with people I-IV, 1991), the black and white photos feature a sprawling mass of faces, taken from a demonstration in Brussels in the '60s. They all seem to be looking at the camera. Upon close inspection, however, we realize that the impression of almost endless people is, in fact, a trick. The images are the result of a multiplication of one image through the process of xeroxing. Thus, for instance, one finds the same face reappearing at different points throughout the crowd.

Theys' trompe l'oeil is enhanced by the patterns painted directly onto the image. Each seems to be a kind of framing device, such as a window or doorway. Yet the frames distort as well, flattening out a figure, reversing positions, elongating the features, etc. Depth, composition, and all of the elements which make up a representation become products -or casualties- of this manipulation.

In this light, the glass work and the rubber window may be viewed as wry comments on the process of directing vision. Balcony, 1989, with its pristine clarity and juxtaposition of glass and metal, and Venster (Window, 1990), with its deadpan appropriation of a window, demand a second look, just like the photographs. Through the use of rubber and glass, the materials determine our reading, counterpointing the objects being represented. Thus, the window becomes a dead-end view: a blocked passageway in which vision is frustrated.

Bending on its edges, situated over the heads of gallery visitors, it is a utilitarian object that has been made superfluous.

Like the other works, Balcony's emphasis on viewing and perspective posits one reading only to propose another. It too plays with flatness and depth, and its framing is an explicit reference to painting. Yet, like the architectural drawings in Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract, 1982, its perspective is a bit of a trap. The transparency of the material, its openness, is at odds with its ability to limit, to frame a view. Situated in the center of the gallery, the work can be adapted to any position with regards to point of view. Its reference to the balcony, situated at the bottom rather than the top of the structure, parodies the clarity of the resultant image. At the same time, the exploration of these perceptual conundrums provides the conceptual clarity of the entire exhibition.

Michael Tarantino - ARTFORUM
jan 1992