Prudent Radicalness

I have a file on my computer called “Open Threads”. It’s a collection of reflections, thoughts, interesting articles, links etc. A sort of inspiration scratch book indeed, where many of my blog posts are emerging.

Petervan Productions – Build up of art studio – Sep 2017

I am in the process of organizing my art studio (it still feels aseptic clean, as the floor, walls, pots, tables and canvasses still need to feel their first drop of paint). Now that I am more or less settled into our new home, I started opening up the different piles of notes, sketches, and also this Open Treads file. I puts me in a state of fear and boredom, hungry for silence and serenity.

Crete Senesi Festival Collegium Vocale - 2017 Edition

Browsing the inspiration scratch-book — listening to some heavenly polyphonic music by Collegium Vocale and dreaming away on their Crete Senesi Festival — I found back this interview of artist Philippe Vandenberg, interview by Hans Theys, a well known art critic and curator here in Belgium and beyond. I had the pleasure meeting Hans during his fireside chat with artist Hilde Overbergh in The White House Gallery some months ago, where we had a chat about bringing together art and business as part of Petervan Productions. I still have to followup on that conversation.

The interview is in Dutch, but is subtitled in English. I started to write the transcript of this interview, but then thought Hans may already have the full transcript. I asked, and indeed he has, and made it kindly available to me in both Dutch and English.

From the video description:

In this video we meet the artist Philippe Vandenberg in his studio in January 2009, a few months before his unexpected death. For 40 minutes the camera swerves through his studio, filming drawings, paintings, books, photographs and other objects scattered about while the artist is talking about his work.The central thought holds that Philippe Vandenberg considers himself to be a ‘witness for the prosecution’, which is described as ‘témoin à charge’ or ‘getuige ten laste’ in French and Dutch, implying a kind of ‘burden’. At the end of the film Vandenberg returns to this term and concept to characterise the artist Vincent Van Gogh.

I suggest to sit down and relax to view and listen to this interview. Some extracts that resonated with me:

  • I don’t call myself an artist. I consider myself more as a “Témoin à charge”
  • It is not about a theme. It is about an attempt.
  • Ultimately you can’t make anything without pleasure
  • I think boredom can function as a stimulating force. It’s a kind of latent masochism
  • A healthy dose of fear brings us into motion
  • Fear and boredom are surely twins
  • God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
  • What fascinates me is that the noise of an image is inaudible. Images are silent. I am very fond of silence. Of the absolute silence. The noise an image produces is an inner sound. It’s less exhausting… than a symphony.
  • When I hear one of Wagner’s symphonies on the public radio, those very long symphonies of 1–2 hours, I always wonder what he must have felt when he composed them.
  • I’m am fond of swiftness (“schichten”). I love rapidity. I also paint very fast, in swift phases. I am not a painter who tortures himself for hours.
  • If the painting doesn’t cooperate, I will say: “OK”… I will put it aside and finish it later.
  • “Delay of execution” is a wonderful tradition.
  • I think we need to be alert. To survive.
  • The restless eye. “L’oeil intranquil”
  • Everything can be useful
  • What is inspires us more than television? You have to watch the BBC of course. For otherwise you could start believing you live in the center of the world. Above all the atrocity of the media resides in the mixture of comic and inhumane aspects.

I love the idea of a different type of attention. Being alert. L’oeil intranquil. An attention and attitude to “try to rid of the ‘noise’ that inevitably arises in the transfer from one generation to the next, with utmost care and precision.”

This is the idea of “Prudent Radicalness”, so well articulated by Belgian writer Stefan Hertmans as part of his intro (PDF) to the 2017 season of Collegium Vocale and the 70thbirthday of their Artistic Director Philippe Herreweghe.

Philippe Herreweghe - Artistic Director and Conductor Collegium Vocale

“What is authentic is the attention to detail in the score, to understanding what is on the page — not so much all the vague idealistic notions about what the intention can be, but what is concretely expected of the performer from measure to measure. Of course this also assumes context — cultural context, historical context, an understanding of the framework in which a given musical idea developed — but its core remains an ascetic interest in the concrete, or even more so: an interest that refuses to appropriate the historicising intentions of the music…. It assumes subservience and sovereignty in one.’

Subservience and sovereignty, and the restless eye to stay alert, being a “Témoin à charge”, get rid of the noise, and let others see what we see. These are some good principles to take with me on the rest of my journey.

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Hans Theys (Brussels, °1963) is a Belgian art critic and curator. He has written some thirty books on contemporary art and has published numerous essays, interviews and reviews in books, catalogues and magazines. He has curated 35 exhibitions. He teaches at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and Ghent.

Transcript made possible and available thanks to the Vandenberg family and the Vandenberg Estate

Originally published at on September 14, 2017.