A Temporary Monument for Brussels #7:
Peter Downsbrough (US)
OTHER / THE
18/07/2020 – 15/02/2021
Peter Downsbrough (°1940, New Jersey) has lived and worked in Brussels since 1989. Since the late 1960s, he develops a multifaceted oeuvre of sculpture, books, film, photography, and spatial interventions that focus on the relationship with space and language. His work invites the viewer to experience space differently. We can interpret the concept of space broadly, and include not only classic exhibition space and architectural space, but also public space, and the space that arises within the pages of a book.
In Downsbrough’s work, these different spaces are inhabited by simple geometric figures, such as a line or rectangle, and short words, such as AND, OR, or ON. These words and shapes define the space, intersect with it and demarcate it. They make us think about how to understand the space that surrounds us. At the same time, they enable a new relationship between concepts like ‘place’ and ‘space’, and between language and meaning.
The work of Peter Downsbrough is diverse. Sometimes they’re ink on paper – single sheets of paper, or books. Other times, they are lines of black tape and adhesive letters on a wall, or metal profiles and words in public space. Since 2003, the work AND / BUT, OP – AND / POUR, ET can be seen on Boulevard Émile Jacqmainlaan in Brussels. These works in public space influence how we look at the city.
Peter Downsbrough also has an important video practice. His films question the functions and use of space in the city. They act as silent witnesses of forgotten public space, and the different structures that shape it – be it political, economic or social. He made films in various neighbourhoods of Brussels – for example in the 1958 Rijksadministratief Centrum (State Administrative Centre), or in the neighbourhood between Midi station and today’s Wiels arts centre. Some ten years ago, Downsbrough made the work A] PART, filmed in the Citroën garage on the Sainctelettesquare that was still in use at the time. Recently, you could see the film at the new Kanal Pompidou – which repurposed these industrial spaces as an exhibition space.
You could say that Peter Downsbrough’s work consists of lines, letters, cuts and the spaces in between. In all their simplicity, these inevitably create different positions that generate new, complex meanings and raise questions about the relationship between an image and its context, about the position of the viewer in relation to the work, and about the position of the different elements in the structures of language, architecture, urbanism or politics.
For A Temporary Monument for Brussels, Downsbrough made OTHER / THE (2020). The image shows a tilted rectangle with the words OTHER and THE. For this project, Downsbrough split the image into five parts – one for each flag. The word OTHER is also split on a vertical axis, and spread over two different flags. The divided image can only be read fragmentarily, and depending on your point of view as a spectator, different pieces of the city slip in between.
In this play of whole and parts, THE and OTHER are clearly readable. THE OTHER refers to the other side, the rest, what is outside the standard – outside ourselves, outside the city, outside our society. We could see this work as a celebration of this other. Society is constantly in motion and is constantly looking for a balance between ‘us’ and ‘the other’. When the other imposes itself and becomes the new standard, what is normal today can quickly become strange, and the term ‘the other’ sometimes arouses resistance. The artist did not create this work as a specific answer to the difficulty our society has in developing an inclusive character, but can certainly be read within the context of the current political climate of BlackLivesMatter.
OTHER / THE is dedicated to Brussels architect Christian Kieckens who recently passed away. Christian lived at Sainctelette, and developed several projects with Peter Downsbrough over the past decades. As organizers of this project, artlead shared an office with Christian. We will all miss him.
All images courtesy of the artist
Photography: Jef Jacobs
A Temporary Monument for Brussels is a project by artlead offline vzw, developed with the support of Brussels-Capital Region and the VGC