Published in Sculpture Magazine in November 2012
Making sculpture of found objects has become as common today as it was shocking when Duchamp created his first readymade in 1915. So it takes something fresh, different and let’s face it, unique, to make this sort of sculpture interesting.
And Koenraad Dedobbeleer, the Belgian artist, mostly delivers with constructions reassembled or slightly altered from pieces of old functional objects. The most successful and engaging works are those that use parts of old tools or furniture whichDedobbeleer transforms through a reconstruction often so absurd that the former object and its function is completely lost. But while the original object is no longer recognizable, the aura of the past remains. The artist is clearly attracted to the long history of craftsmanship and the meaning that objects are charged with, as is also evidenced by the title of his exhibition, SOME MATERIAL CULTURE FOLLOWING A RANDOM METHOD BASED ON ALEATORY RULES. Therefore the source objects that he chose were originally hand-made, not industrially manufactured.
Resigned Astonishment is a chair-like object that is neither chair nor functional, but is an homage to modernist design, like many of Dedobbeleer’s other sculptures. The wood that he used comes from an old table but no one would know the source material by looking at the current sculpture. While transforming the old into the new, Dedobbeleer also points to Ornament and Crime, modernist architect Adolf Loos’s 1929 text criticizing ornamentation and promoting the return to a simple craft-conscious modern art. The titles of Dedobbeleer’s sculptures are phrases directly taken from Loos’s texts.
A marble tabletop reminiscent of café tables at the turn of the 20th century is hung on the wall as a painting might be, with the title Revolution Always Comes From Below, a quote fragment from Loos’s 1897 text which continues with ..”and in this case below is the craftsman’s workshop.” The work contains a multi-layered meaning and play on words: politically, the title alludes to the idea that change starts with the demand of the people rather than as the initiative of their leaders, maybe as a nod to the world-wide protests continuing since 2011. Physically, the tabletop’s positioning is moved from below – the top of a small table – to a higher location – the wall. In the art world, creating an art object out of a utilitarian one just by changing its position was also revolutionary as an approach. We only need to remember Duchamp’s readymades, specifically Bicycle Wheel from 1913, and the impact these works had on art ever since. But whereas Duchamp was less interested in the visual qualities of his readymades, “The choice of readymades is always based on visual indifference and, at the same time, on the total absence of good or bad taste, Dedobbeller indulges in the beauty and harmony that the juxtaposition of his objects elicit. Nowadays, however, maybe even more revolutionary is the return to craftsmanship at a time when the art world most champions those artists that use prefabrication and outsourcing as their modus operandi. Of course we cannot claim that Dedobbeleer made the work in the traditional way, but in the spirit of Duchamp, he chose the pieces and combined them to often poetic reconfigurations.
The inherent historicity of the source objects used, and then deconstructed in the process of reassembling, along with the mysterious titles that allude to a respect for craftsmanship, allow the viewer to dream and create personal associations with each piece, maybe recalling objects from their youth. And in many regards, that respect for material culture, meaning, and craftsmanship, is the unique element to Dedobbeleer’s work, a concept that has become rather obsolete in contemporary art.