Dirk Braeckman’s art associates the senses of sight and touch. In his work, sight finds no clear aim or definite object and undergoes a certain blindness. Rich and profuse texturing on all scales and levels, in co-operation with various global impediments to clarity, endows his art with emphatic tactility. Sombre grisaille pervades his pictures like a deep, supportive basso continuo. This tonal warmth and depth augments the preponderant sense of enclosure, containment and spatial compression, all of which contribute subjectivity. The emphatic tactility of Braeckman’s art is affirmed at the expense of textual legibility, articulation end elaboration. Significantly, the most intriguing and compelling of Braeckman’s pictures are those in which the subject is presented incompletely through muffling and blurring of details, or through partial masking or occlusion.
In the work of the past two years, from 2000 on, the pictorial space is generally shallower and the sense of spatial compression has intensified. Indices of tactility are increasingly contradicted by features that erase solidity. The work’s compression of space, which confers physical resistance and supports tactility, also perplexes its rational and physical consistency. In certain pictures, objects, whose surfaces are either blank or which act as liquefying mirrors, appear in front of and partially block or mask more plastically articulated, textured surfaces, thus undermining an implicit depth and physical solidity.
Elision and blurring of detail and other corresponding reductions of descriptive fulness and clarity sponsor the transformative dimension of his art, its paradoxical concreteness and intangibility, and its paradoxical inscription of duration and temporal suspension. Passages of spatial and objective indetermination in the pictures create opportunities for metaphoric inscription, for instance in various pictures that morph from still lifes into landscapes of unassessable depth. Light’s agency, as always in Braeckman’s pictures, is duplicitous. It reveals and conceals. It moulds space yet also collapses it. It conveys physicality yet equally sublimes it.
Ubiquitous flares, bursts and nebulae of light in Braeckman’s pictures—pivotal formal devices that activate space and undermine its uniformity—disturb formal consistency and introduce contingency and instability. Instead of illuminating the subject, they partly obliterate it and so present themselves as flaws. These seemingly erroneous—yet, in fact, cunningly artful (anti-)formal elements signal the realism of Braeckman’s art. One aspect of any kind of realism is its transactual dimension. Negotiation between interiority and exteriority is promoted by the aforementioned “flaws‚” as well as by the fragmentary identity of the pictures which opposes and delimits their emphatic sense of containment.
The largely prosaic, non-descript and remarkable subject matter supports his art’s ambiguous transparency and opacity. The ready-at-handness and banality of the subject matter are consonant with the transparency and casualness of the presentation and framing, whereas the muteness of the subject matter registers opacity. Overall, the identity of the subject matter is of less importance than the far-reaching play between concreteness and illusiveness in the work. Ultimately, the liminal condition of the work, its mediation of inside and outside, the equal conferral and ungrounding of depth, its fusion of objective and subjective qualities, and its refusal of clarity and legibility are the terms that severally and concertedly determine its significance.
The intimate aspect of Braeckman’s art, experienced as sensual warmth and vibrancy and as physical presence, closeness and contact, resists and contests photography’s intrinsic abstractness and its alien smoothness, coldness, and fixity. The affording of intimacy is limited and qualified by the insurmountable distancing and inherent poignancy of the photographic medium. Braeckman’s art tests the limits of the medium, reflects on its specificities and utilises it to implicate and convey fundamental human desires and concerns.
This text was based on a reading of the numerous reproductions of Dirk Braeckman’s photographs in the Belgian art journal A-Prior N-7.