JW    TE    2009




Fear and play in the work of Alain Declercq

In his photos, videos, performances and installations, French artist Alain Declercq examines the mechanisms of fear and danger. He explores how these elements can force a temporary or long lasting impact on society and our individual and shared consciousness. In the context of his artistic endeavors, the artist is a central provocative participant. Over the past years, Declercq has successfully mimicked and impersonated figures such as the anti-hero, the secret agent, the spy, the escapist and the sniper. These are all individuals that live their life in the shadow of society, secretly plotting their next move while carefully remaining unseen and unnoticed by the environment they operate in. Their covert existence is entirely devoted to the faultless execution of one or more plans or projects. As soon as a project is completed, they return to their headquarters to deliver a full report on the course of things before being assigned a new mission. Their missions are sometimes violent and oftentimes single handedly attempt to resolve a lingering or escalating situation of a political and social nature. The sniper, for instance, has the skills and motivation to take a key person, such as a top politician, down with one single bullet. Then, he stealthily leaves his crime scene before investigators and highly trained special police forces are even able to figure out from where the gun has been fired. The immediate result is chaos and his intervention inevitably introduces political and social reorganization. The social, political and psychological effects of the sniper’s actions reach far beyond the ending of the life of the target. Whether or not his actions can be justified, they become symbolic for radical change.

Artistically, Alain Declercq is fascinated by transgressive actions and covert activities. He translates examples of such into artworks with both uncanny and humoristic qualities. As a comment on our contemporary society that suffers from augmented anxiety over terrorism and other life threatening extremities, Declercq creates artworks that expose and to a certain degree flirt with these hostilities. Rather than journalistically visualizing these intense and sensitive topics, the artist applies both humor and fiction to his work. Take for instance his recent series of pinhole camera photographs of precincts, detention and correction centers in New York. Such bastions designed to keep criminals off the streets are highly secured with surveillance cameras and heavy gates. Photographing one, or in Alain Declercq’s case, all of them, would easily raise the suspicion of planning an action of a kind that isn’t permitted by law. The artist therefore acts like a genuine spy, covertly taking pictures with his handcrafted, miniature camera while behaving like an unsuspicious passer by. Instead of really plotting any law breaking action, Declercq presents these images as artworks that document the subject of his spy-like actions. Their aesthetic qualities, as well as their ambiguous intentions intensify the apparent risks he took to create the photographs.

In a considerably safe city like New York automated, mantra-esque messages such as “if you see something, say something” and “if you see a suspicious package or activity on the train or platform…” evoke the constant presence of potential danger and threat resonating in trains and railway stations alike. Although the city feels much safer than roughly ten years ago, the authorities want everyone to be aware that potential danger lures behind every corner. While heightening awareness is not necessarily a bad thing, it pursues and employs invisible, absent danger. The NYPD places emphasis on potential, looming peril that doesn’t necessarily exist right now…

The psychological effects activated by Alain Declercq’s artworks and even more so by the unusual process of making them strongly relate to the mentally unsettling interaction between the absence of danger and the systematically raised awareness of its constant potential as created by the NYPD voice messages. The artist himself is now a master of creating doubt and suspicion. Declercq’s snapshots of precincts are indeed artworks, furthermore morphing the artist into a spy or an unlawful character potentially plotting the organized escape of an inmate or another unlawful act. Alain Declercq not only challenges the boundaries of accepted social and moral behavior but also provokes the authoritarian systems that are designed by lawmakers and governed by peacekeepers. Seen from their point of view, Declercq’s activities are undoubtedly suspicious and unquestionably disturbing. Firing a rifle at a B 52 departing on a military operation to Iraq, pretending to be a secret agent on a mission to The Pentagon and the World Trade Center, covertly taking pictures of city jails and correction centers, mocking up a car to perfectly resemble a police vehicle and forging someone’s signature and handwriting are all examples of the artist’s shady activities. However, in the fantastic and visionary world of art we celebrate these actions for being audaciously brave projects, shockingly sublime artworks, and critically relevant sociopolitical statements. Declercq turns the artist into a seemingly untouchable activist who under the safe umbrella of art can effortlessly take the role of an anti-hero, secret agent, spy, escapist or sniper. In his art practice, Declercq comments on the derailing psychological side effects of corrupted laws and authorities, situating his projects in the real world where things are the riskiest.

“It’s right outside your door”, screams Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha addressing the fact that the horrifying truth behind ongoing governmental briberies will soon be revealed. Like Rage’s lyrics, Alain Declercq’s artworks remind us of the subduing power structures we function under. His oeuvre offers remarkable insight in the artist’s audacious infiltrations and authority threatening activities. His strongest weapon is creativity; his motivation is art; his intentions are ambiguous.

Based in New York City, Jan Van Woensel is an independent curator, art critic,

lecturer and musician in the noise band Tithonus. He is the founder and editor-in-chief
of New York Magazine of Contemporary Art and Theory. He was a faculty member

in the Curatorial Practice and Fine Arts Departments of California College of the Arts

in San Francisco. In 2008 he was the International Curator in Residence at Otis College

of Art and Design in Los Angeles. In 2007, Jan Van Woensel was awarded the prestigious

NYC Bloomberg Curatorial Fellowship at Art in General and Bloomberg LP. Van Woensel

is an active contributor to Pilot (London) and Curating Degree Zero Archive (Zurich).