KOEN THEYS

In 1981, hardly twenty years old, Koen Theys started the art collective ‘V-side’ with Dirk Paesmans, while they were both studying fine arts at the Sint-Lukas academy in Brussels. Their interests centred on three themes: eroticism, religion and aggression. To picture these, they used all possible means: performances as well as installations and video. When Koen Theys is expelled from Ghent’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts because of his tape Crime 01 (1983), the registration of a performance in which Theys dismembers a German shepherd, he considers this work straightaway as his first official work of art, his first ’crime’. Theys goes on with his art training in film and video at Sint-Lukas. During his studies he makes several internationally acclaimed tapes, such as Diana (1984), a video inspired by the scenery in Normandy and a film featuring Hitler posing near a cascade with his girl companion. Theys used the character of Diana, in Greek-Roman mythology known as the goddess of fertility and war, but also the goddess of the hunt, as the object of the traditional ‘artist-and-his-model’ theme. The images are triggered by subconscious symbols relating to culture and art and arranged in what Theys tends to call himself “the pinnacle of exaltation, based on contrasts: sex and religion on the one hand, violence on the other”.

Throughout his practice as a video artist he develops a language which consists in adding emotional, intuitive or intellectual connotations to elementary images, which are continuously combined in different ways so that a narrative structure arises. This was clearly the case in the project Lied van Mijn Land (‘Song of my soil’) (1982 - 1988), a grotesque interpretation of Richard Wagner’s operas Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal, on which he collaborated with his brother Frank. The old myths, tragedies about power and beauty, are transposed to the present, controled by massmedia and television. The theme of the increasing corruption of beauty and purity, central in Wagner’s story, is related to the idea that it is no longer possible to create original images and ways of expression. Through the visual style and scenario the brothers express their reflections on the functioning of the propagated mass culture in a society composed of several cultural entities.

Koen Theys later abandons video and takes up plastic arts again, making rubber mouldings and photomontages. One of his main concerns as a visual artist is the continual study of the possibilities concerning the ways of representation and reception. For some time now he has been using software to create his photomontages and installations. In more recent works he submits the city and the architectural environment to continue his analysis of interpretation and representation. His strategy is one of constructing architectonic images from photographs, rather than photographing architecture. The photograph itself is manipulated so that its image can give space to the spaces it describes. These works can be considered as a synthesis of both his sculptural work and videotapes.

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