The captivating honesty of Lisa Spilliaert

Stefan Vanthuyne

When .tiff, a publication by FOMU that features an annual showcase of young Belgian talent, was presented this year, it was mostly done by way of interviews between curators and the young artists who were selected. This way the audience could gain some insight into their way of thinking and their working process. Some succeeded better in providing that insight than others, I must admit. But that’s how it goes, especially when you’re young – and even when you’re older, still – and you have to explain your work.

There was one artist however, who didn’t really speak. She just showed a film. A film that was a fascinating work of art in itself, but also served as the perfect prelude to the showing of one particular photograph. After seeing both the film and that photograph, it felt as if you knew everything about her and how she approached both her life and her art. And she hadn’t spoken a single word. I must admit I was in awe. Not only because of what she managed to communicate through this film, and on a broader level through this choice of presentation, but also because of the natural flair with which she did it. It left me smiling in my seat, not only liking the work, but also the artist. As a person. Without ever having met her. How incredibly odd is that?

Lisa Spilliaert is an artist whose work speaks volumes about herself. That is, if you listen with a delicate ear. Born from a Belgian father and a Japanese mother, her work is a highly personal reflection on identity. What does it really mean to come of age in this global village, where increasingly people are no longer formed by a singular culture? Where one person’s bloodlines run from Bruges to Tokyo and back?

Her book Time and Tide was published as a result of winning the Provinciale Prijs voor Beeldende Kunst West-Vlaanderen. It is one of the best Belgian photobooks I’ve seen in some time. However, since it was made within the context of the art prize, by a publisher that specializes in contemporary art books, I fear it might have been somewhat overlooked. It truly is an excellent photobook.

Reminiscent of Aya Fujioka’s I don’t sleep, the book is edited in an intuitive way, giving it a wonderful flow that adds to the sensitivity of the work. A sensitivity that I can only describe as innately Japanese. The photographs are both diaristic and poetic. The book is an intimate contemplation on life and death, home and family.

Going through the book, again the naturalness of it all strikes me. Spilliaert manages to give the work a lightness that is just as delightful as it is tricky. Because every image is also pregnant with meaning, reference or metaphor. As you gently fly through the book, you can feel a gravity pulling.

Looking at the work of Lisa Spilliaert, you get the sincere feeling that she is not faking anything. There is a captivating honesty to what she does, that makes her life and her work coincide in an authentic and spontaneous way. In that sense Spilliaert’s work is a continuous journey. A very personal and very fascinating journey, where she continues to pursue any question on life she has. And as a viewer, you can feel a fresh breeze along the way.

All images © Lisa Spilliaert