Chantal van Rijt | WARP #11
A Plea for the Unpleasant, Chantal van Rijt, 2022-2023, SB34 The Pool, Brussels
Chantal van Rijt works across mediums, zooming in and out of the possible worlds with the approach of a contemporary alchemist. Her practice is driven by experimentation, detailed study of the subject matter, and patient observation of the surroundings. The core motivation of her artistic research stems from a curiosity to grasp what often stays unseen by human eyes. This approach of lifting up, enlarging, decoding, or making visible calls attention to the microscopic organisms, insects, plants, and their traces, as well as highlights the overlooked architectural features such as corners and entrances to the space. This makes her exhibited works not only research-based but site-related too.
The artist was invited to take part in the WARP series by our Leuven-based partner, art space Cas-co. This cross-border collaboration supports the intention of the WARP program to enlarge the Noord-Brabant region and build artistic relationships within a close and not enclosed radius of our region.
At Cas-co, Chantal van Rijt developed the design for the 54m2 flag which is flying more than 20 meters high in the public space of Vaartkom, in Leuven. For this work preserved caterpillar from the Natural History Museum in Brussels inspires Van Rijt’s design. The flag captures an enlarged 1-cm image of a camouflage pattern – false eyes – which the insect uses in protection against predators. Similarly, as in the case of the flags, the skins of animals and their colourful variations are a way of communicating territorial claims between species and sending friendly or threatening signals to co-workers, mates, and intruders.
The insects and their environments that are brought to human attention are the subjects of van Rijt’s continuing inquiries. Her recent exhibition A Plea for the Unpleasant which was exhibited in the space of SB34 The Pool in Brussels offered a dwelling space, a feeding ground for sculptures made about and with the insects. These artworks are Tiny Tube-Dwellers – 500 plaster imprints of one mother figure of a sea snail shell; the enlarged photographic print of Dinoflagelatta – bioluminescent algae that the artist was breeding at home; Houses of Louses – enlarged imprints of houses of the spiral gall aphid; and Les Bestioles – a human-size sculpture made of beeswax and the secretion of Kerria lacca, a South Asian scale insect, that can be used as shellac, that is an important ingredient in various inks, paints, sealants, and varnishes.
By including the elements and remnants of insects, shifting the balance, and creating the space for insect infestation, the artist is researching our human capacity to relate to the non-human, pleasant and ugly, acceptable and disturbing.
Divine vs Satanic animals
A Plea for the Unpleasant was inspired by the essay Bugs and Beasts before the Law written by E.P. Evans in the 19th century. The text describes retributions held against animals for their unlawful actions such as spreading a disease or damage on a vineyard. After pleading guilty, a priest or a judge pronounces rhymes that threaten animals to leave the affected place within a certain period of time.
Chantal van Rijt finds the stories about animal trials fascinating as they can give us an insight into how humans deal with their anxiety of losing control. She explains “While we can speculate that animals are given a voice to defend themselves in court, at the same time they are not able to understand the rules of man nor their tongues. Thus animals are always left with a human-inflicted decision about their destiny. Either it is ruled that animals were sent by God and meant to teach humans a lesson, or they were ordered by Satan, therefore they will be treated without mercy”.
The inability of humans to communicate with the non-human worlds leads to a separation of human and non-human beings and imposes a system of control over certain species that hold negative connotations. This anthropomorphising portrayal of animals and spiritual belief in their good and evil powers imposes moral judgments instead of respecting the animal world for their qualities.
The invasion of pests tends to cling to in-between spaces such as gaps, corners, crooks, basements, and attics, These spaces provide a safe environment when hiding from predators, and looking for food or moisture. The vitrine at Tivolistraat 22 which separates the street from the home adopts the concept of infestation and breeding. For the time of the exhibition, it becomes a parasitic ground, hosting creatures that are doomed by humans to be ugly and unpleasant while playing their inseparable part in vast ecosystems on our planet.
During Chantal van Rijt’s residency at SEA Foundation, the artist continues the material research of secretion produced by Kerria lacca, the so-called lac insect. Lacca bugs infest the branches of the plants and feed on phloem – a living tissue of the plants that transport organic compounds made during photosynthesis. After infesting the plant, they produce dye and wax, and their secretion can be refined into shellac which is primarily used as a wood treatment. Van Rijt uses this material in sculpting and forms a new creature for the isolated glass space of the SEA Foundation.
Bio Chantal van Rijt
Chantal van Rijt (°1984, NL) lives and works in Brussels. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from KASK in Ghent (BE) and has previously exhibited at Bredaphoto, 019, International Film Festival Rotterdam, In de Ruimte, SB34, and Museum M – Leuven (BE). Van Rijt received the Mathilde Horlait-Dapsens Prize in 2017 and the for Young Artist stipend in 2019 from Mondriaan Fonds.
Chantal van Rijt website