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Portrait Miet Warlop

To make the invisible visible is one of the principles Miet Warlop follows in her work. The artist herself has put it a little more drastically: “I am like a sponge absorbing everything I experience. My works are the product of a digestive process.” They are, she added, “essentially my stomach’s contents.” And yet her audience will never run the risk of being grossed out by the Belgian’s performances. Warlop, who earned a Master degree in 3D art from The Royal Academies for Science and the Arts in Gent, creates phantasmagorical counter-worlds that celebrate the unexpected and perceive destruction as a precondition for creative processes. In her works, she relies on a suggestive pull rather than overpowering her audiences with forcefully shocking pieces.

Warlop earned international recognition with a series called “Propositions.” These performances, which also carried the title “Grote Hoop/Berg” (Great Heap/Mountain), came into being at Gent’s arts centre CAMPO. When confronted with the suggestive term “Reanimation” (2006), Warlop developed a 60-second murder scene into a slow motion sequence that lasted 40 minutes and included clothes-wearing chairs as protagonists. For “Reconstruction” (2007), she used simple buckets to design a pyramidic obstacle course. This fragile construction was constantly in danger of toppling over and thus demanded complete concentration from her performers. While these early works were still deeply rooted in the visual arts, they already showed traces of the motifs and modes of action that have become characteristic of Walorp’s artistic cosmos: for her, installation always precedes narration. She insists on blurring the lines between different genres und knows that things can take on a life of their own.

While Warlop was touring with “Propositions,” she already began developing “Springville” (2009). In this work, the artist’s talent for bizarrely funny tableaux vivants could for the first time fully be seen. In “Springville,” tables stroll around in high heels, a man is attacked by his household appliances, lawn chairs lounge casually on rooftops, and cars are turned upside down. These scenes, full of slapstick and reminiscent of Buster Keaton movies, follow their own seemingly catastrophic rationale. Their whirlwind energy creates essential shifts in our perspective. 

In “Mystery Magnet” (2012), Warlop attacks the rather resilient conventions of performative aesthetics in a playfully provoking way. A sturdy man, who has eaten up the world and whose thoughts become increasingly chaotic, is the focal point of this piece’s surreal battleground. Its performers wear giant, brightly colored wigs: they fight their way through a materialistic crescendo of exploding paint bombs, crackling darts, and shooting sausages formed of foam. At first glance, the whole scene feels like a children’s birthday party on acid. When taking a closer look, however, a subtle cartoon world full of traps and fatal attractions emerges beneath the bright surface.

Warlop’s “Dragging the Bone” marks a decisive contrast in color: performed by Warlop herself, this piece’s black-and-white aesthetics revolve around Piacenza’s bronze liver. This antique model of a sheep’s liver supposedly provided Etruscan priests with the power of prophesy. That flying sharks play (not for the first time) a central role in this scenario does not come as a surprise within the mesh of signs and traces that Warlop liberates from their fixed meanings.
Equally little surprising is the fact that the artist has recently reinvented herself as queen of pop. A wild evening of concerts called “Fruits of Labour” carries the under-title “A Deep Night Performance.” Warlop is equipped with everything she needs to unleash the lead singer in herself: a mermaid costume. The melancholic ballad “Fucking Flower” opens an evening that includes a drum set, which is loudly brought to life whenever heavy rain pours down on it. “Fruits of Labour” plays with a variety of poses and essentially celebrates art as a cathartic ritual – another joyful emptying out of the artist’s stomach.

Patrick Wildermann
Photo: Reinout Hiel