Two conjoined horses are hanging from a tall scaffold. The wounds are visible, like those on a crucified Christ – a figure that’s both fragile and majestic. This is one of the many works on display at ACCA’s winter exhibition We are all Flesh by Belgium sculptor Berlinde de Bruyckere. When ACCA’s artistic director commissioned de Bruyckere to produce new works for the gallery, she hoped the artist would think of the space like a cavernous cathedral: vast and inspiring. “This was exactly her reaction,” Engberg told Time Out. In June, de Bruyckere transforms ACCA’s hall into an altar, with its side galleries into separate prayer rooms, creating a serene place ideal for contemplation.
We are all Flesh is an extension of de Bruyckere’s fascination with metamorphosis, our relationship with the animal, and religion. For Engberg, “these works seem pagan and ecclesiastical in character, as well as deeply psychological.” An inescapable part of de Bruyckere’s visual culture is the tradition of Flemish art, including the epically beautiful Ghent Alterpiece, an ancient 24-panelled painting that is one of Belgium’s greatest works. Her work aspires to the drama of the great marble carvings also famous in Flemish art. Yet instead of marble, de Bruyckere uses hide, wood, and wax – materials that are prone to disintegrate and capture the transitory nature of life. For Engberg, “the works have a staggering beauty.”
De Bruyckere has spent two years producing the commissioned works exclusively for ACCA. Running alongside these works is 019, which the artist produced in 2007 – a rarely seen and fascinating piece. Peer inside the glass cabinet – the kind that could have been found in a 19th century Apothecary – and you’ll see a forest with wax casts of real trees. While the work continues the artist’s exploration into transformation, Engberg explains it also looks at a deeper psychological idea. “In the instance of Jung, the forest is understood as a symbol for life. And the finding of one's path through the woods is a metaphor for coming into self knowledge,” Engberg says. “For Freud, the forest was a symbol of the female genitalia, a place of mystery, birth and potential sexual danger – if you subscribe to the anxiety of castration complex.”