Billboard Series #01:
Catherine Biocca

National Character
18/09/2015 — 29/01/2016

In her work, Catherine Biocca (°1984, Rome) merges different levels of dimensions, reversing and swapping diverse media to generate an unfamiliar reality. The result is a mix of bi- and tri-dimensional elements dealing with displacement, layered with cartoonish imagery and details from science fiction, and boasting a view on human brutality throughout our cultural history.

The characters in her works call to mind cartoons or animated figures that are embedded in uncomplicated events and simple settings, burdened by the comic brutality inherent to their existence. Biocca stretches the moment of recognition to absurd lengths, questioning why we accept violence as a form of entertainment. “Schadenfreude” – an untranslatable German term for the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others – forms the basis of her research.

Exploiting an unprocessed and raw form to question a rather violent – and yet tremendously entertaining – side of life, Biocca understands art as a tool to reveal the emptiness and nonsense of life as its only real sense. The violence Biocca exhibits is nevertheless treated with so much humour and wit that one cannot but happily embrace her cruel universe with guilty pleasure.

The low-fi character of her work occupies a wide variety of media, ranging from drawings made with industrial markers on waxed cloth to computer animations, and from space-filling installations made of tape and PVC to lazer drawing on styrofoam.

For her ongoing series 100 Better Ways to Die, Biocca asked a real estate manager (who has nothing to do with the art world) to imagine and draw 100 ways to die. She then reproduces these drawings in their actual size by scratching them in aluminium panels painted with automotive paint. Typical of Biocca’s oeuvre, the panel works evoke a plethora of associations that in the end reveal man to be a cruel child – as capable of violence as it is of beauty – taking it all in, spitting it out again, tongue in cheek.


For the first commission of Billboard Series, Catherine Biocca proposed National Character, in which an animated head of a classic sculpture winks at passersby. It is an extension of Blushing Sculptures, a series of drawings from 2013. This series developed from Biocca’s research on classical Hellenic sculptures and depicts these sculptures as ashamed of their nudity.

Biocca is interested in how there is no real emphatic bond with a sculpture that represents a realistic – even perfect – naked human being, while at the same time our identification with cartoon figures on television is undeniably strong. This anthropomorphic approach is a continuation of the disturbed of the specifics of different media that is so characteristic for her practice. A statue has no emotions, it does not move and it certainly doesn’t wink at you when you pass by.

The combination of an image of a classical Greek sculpture (the image of Meleager, one of the Argonauts), centuries later appropriated by the Romans and currently in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and the overlaying text “National Character” naturally also poses questions on what defines national identity. The subtle reference to the origin of our civilisation and the displacements of its artefacts throughout history, places the current European debate of migration in a broader historical context.

But while the nature of a billboard normally is one of the statements – one of telling you what you need or what solves your problem – Biocca’s Meleager knowingly takes an enigmatic stance. Rather than proclaiming an idea, it poses a question. It retains an open structure of communication, clearing space for the ideas of the viewer. In winking at you, it makes you an accomplice to its questioning.

For the inauguration of her billboard, Catherine Biocca has curated an evening of lectures and performances. She gave a lecture on violence in cartoons and how this relates to her own practice, and invited Mercedes Azpilicueta (AR), Liv Schwenk (DE/US), Victoria Wald (DE) and Geo Wyeth (US) to perform new or existing works.





All images courtesy of the artist
Installation photography: Michiel De Cleene

Billboard Series is a long-term art project in public space, for which every three months an artist is invited to create a new, site-specific work for a 50 m2 billboard on Dok Noord, Ghent. Through changing presentations, Billboard Series wants to build a sustainable and productive dialogue with the surrounding neighbourhood and urban landscape, reflect on the changes that this neighbourhood is currently undergoing, and introduce a broad audience to different visual languages and ways of looking at the world.

Billboard Series is a project of artlead, together with 019. Billboard Series is curated by Thomas Caron, takes place within a scenography by architect Olivier Goethals, and is being developed with the support of the City of Ghent and the Flemish Community.

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