In disquieting video installations the Belgian artist David Claerbout (Kortrijk, 1969) tries to come to grips with the passage of time. He lengthens time, allows the present and past to fuse, and sometimes even seems to bring time to a halt. His latest video, Aircraft (FAL), will have its world première at De Pont this year. A fine moment to show video works, drawings and storyboards of his that the museum has been collecting since 2005. In the intimate environment of the wool-storage spaces, these works from the collection provide a unique view spanning nearly two decades of his artistic career.
Claerbout asks himself, over and again, what direction time takes. Does it move from left to right, as events in history are recorded? Or are there alternative ways of experiencing time? Those who watch Claerbout’s works will definitely say yes. That exploration already began with the serene and relatively simple film Ruurlo, Borculoscheweg, 1910 (1997), in which a tree that appears on a historical black-and-white postcard gently swishes in the wind while the rest of the image remains motionless. A confusing experience that undermines our sense of time. In later video installations Claerbout takes this a step further. He has actors enter into the past (Shadow Piece, 2005) and in the interactive video Homeless Cat (2011) lets us look on, powerless to act, as a cat sitting out on a roof tries to get our attention. In the thousand-year time frame of computer animation Olympia (The real time disintegration into ruins of the Berlin Olympic stadium over the course of a thousand years), which began in 2016, Claerbout even governs the time that lies ahead of us. With the latest game software he allows time gradually to erode the Olympic edifice: an extremely slow process which now, after the first five years, is already becoming visible in the rampant weed growth around the building.
With Aircraft (FAL) Claerbout adds an idea that touches on one of the core responsibilities of museums: to preserve the past. We see an impressive aircraft under construction, supported by immense scaffolding. Everything is palpable and feels brand new: the polished aluminum, the labels on the boxes, the glass. Even the guards’ footsteps on the concrete floor sound crisply fresh. But the setting is outdated and the model of the aircraft old-fashioned, as if its construction has, for some reason, been delayed for more than seventy years. Such ambiguous and incompatible experiences of time clash in one’s mind. By once again interweaving past and present with the utmost subtlety Claerbout creates a kind of interim time. In this way he also creates space for contemplating the future and progress, the aircraft being the perfect metaphor for this. After having reversed, halted and lengthened time, Claerbout now seems to be asking himself, too, whether time as such can be preserved.