The Imaginairy Library - Stefaan van Biesen


The Imaginairy Library & Letters to a tree.






The tree installation of Stefaan Van Biesen, ‘Library’ (‘Appendix’) shows a same sensibility and empathy for the environment in which he is working. To him, the park and nature are no setting. They almost  become a medium, a place where man is confronted with incomprehensible phenomena and insoluble questions, but also with his own impotence and insignificance. Doubt and melancholy are never hard to find in Van Biesen’s oeuvre.















'Monologue of a plein-airist' Stef Van Bellingen 1997.


In an epistolary novel, the letters are addressed to a fictitious person, who acts as a sounding board for the writer. In this case, the artist has chosen a tree in a park in Heusden-Zolder as the addressee. This tree has become the imaginary mirror of his thoughts. Yet it remains difficult to breach the confidentiality of the mail because the outpourings from the monologue are authentical. For the artist, the tree becomes a canal so that his own thoughts can surface and take shape in words and images. He reaches a sort of inner prospecting, a kind of esthetical prayer wherein he tries to define his place in the reality that surrounds him. During the childhood of the “tree-ful of letters”, more than one hundred growth rings ago, artists really started to observe nature. They didn‟t want to work according to the existing templates, and they started examining the sensation of light in 'plein air'. The subjectivity that comes with looking at nature in progress led to a revolution in Art. The accidental and whimsical play of light made art acquire a sketchy character in the end. Because the emphasis lay on the impression of the environment, the own instinctive looking and the personal viewpoint were accentuated. This is the way in which Stefaan van Biesen looks at the “human aviary” in which we live. To use the words of the artist, he “tries to stand up crippled as wood can be”, but with a certain amount of breathing space, somewhat away from the woods. “Just disagree with me for once”, he asks the tree, but the latter chooses for a deaf camouflage, so that the question is echoed back. In the dying reverberation, you only seem to hear “il faut faire sa propre vie”.










Excerpts from:
The figurative library:Imagination and contemporary art in the public library
Bibliotheek- & Archiefgids, nr. 4, August 2003. by Geert Vermeire


Contrary to other cultural forms, art is rarely associated with the library. Although literature became a commonplace in various museums, museums have lost their status of art temples in favour of public houses where the focus is not only on collections but also on imagination, in manifold ways. Museums are beyond conservation. They question themselves and participate in a dialogue with their visitors. Writers and literature in general are invited to collaborate. This article investigates whether libraries experience a similar evolution and explores what contemporary art has the libraries to offer.



L E T T E R S T O A T R E E > >

A correspondence with a tree during autumn 1996 - spring 1997 for the art project 'Buiten Gewoon' CC Heusden-Zolder Belgium. Curated by Cathy Pelgrims.

[Download pdf English version Letters to a Tree] > >

[Download pdf Nederlandse versie van Brieven aan een boom] > >



In situ installation & perfromance during the art exhibitiion 'Buiten gewoon' CC Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. During the day the 38 letters were read to the tree in the park while my shadow was being dug out every two hours: the body as a sundial.


Photographs of the different stadiums of the shadows being dug out.





Art and language


Historically, art and language have always been affiliated. Opposing word and image is largely a Western reflex. Word and image are inseparable. Poets, philosophers and painters speak a common language. From the second part of the 20th Century on, Belgium has played a unique part in the ongoing dialogue between art and language. No other country has given the word such dominance in image-, object- and concept art. The pieces of René Magritte, Cobra, Christian Dotremont, Marcel Broodthaers, Jef Geys, Denmark, Fred Eerdekens, Patrick Corillon, Gaston De Mey and many others, exist by grace of the word. The notorious ‘blue bic’-art of Jan Fabre is a variation on the same theme. Contemporary artists like Wim Delvoye, Thierry De Cordier en Stefaan Van Biesen integrate word and image, driven by a hyper individual world experience. Brieven uit Schoorisse (Letters from Schoorisse) and Brieven aan een Boom (Letters to a Tree) evaporate the image, only words remains. The pieces of these artists let us participate in a systematic, incessant doubt. Thierry De Cordier isolates himself in his kitchen garden. Through his writing, reporting a complete recoil, the artist wishes to erase himself. In Brieven uit Schoorisse (1988-1998) only landscapes, silence and absence remain. Writing as revocation.




Stefaan Van Biesen’s Brieven aan een Boom (1996-1997) puts fundamental questions about communication and language into words. Experiencing nature cannot be expressed. Van Biesen’s 38 letters constitute an intimate, vulnerable library, safely put and closed away in a case, a shrine. Only the image remains. What comprises the existence of language then? In these pieces the public is depraved of the certainty of text, they are drawn to themselves with the question ‘Who am I without language? What does a wordless world mean to me?’ The pieces of De Cordier and Van Biesen are libraries of the imagination. They put vulnerable words in a shrine. They take words for butterflies, strong in their flight, fragile in their rest.
As threatened objects, books are omnipresent in contemporary art. Inherent is the representation of the library as a shrine…








The library as perceived by the contemporary artist.

Contemporary art is fascinated and in awe by the library-as-a-shrine, as a mausoleum. Stefaan Van Biesens installation ‘SKIN’ incorporates this form of watching. The piece consists out of a reconstruction of an imaginary library, like the one exhibited in ‘San Girolamo nello studio’ (ca. 1474), a painting by Antonello da Messina guarded in the National Gallery, London. The hermit in the painting reads a book from his private library, a wooden construction, platform-like, in a Gothic space. There are a few eyeholes exposing a serene landscape. The reader is unaware of the setting. Birds wait on the doorstep of the building and sing in an unintelligible language. Van Biesen made a reconstruction of this library, purposely putting the imaginary library into an actual one. A transit space, an open library where one can walk through without entering. A void space in and out of the world. At the same time, it is also a precise reconstruction of the painting’s library. The artist makes it literally accessible.






The installation is completed with videos of various libraries, with stills of book walls and interiors of writers, artists and philosophers. The books are visible but inviolable. The books are present as bearers of knowledge, with an invitation to watch, not to read. The piece communicates a wordless experience, emphasized by large monochrome canvasses. Colour, not words, interacts with the visitor. The installation is completed by a ‘walking library’. A few bookcases are placed amidst the identical cases of the guest library. The artist invited a hundred people to fill these cases with a worthwhile moment of a walking journey captured in a glass jar. This library of experience dialogues with the thousands of (other) books. The glass books mirror their concealed forms of experience.



With the 2002 project ‘Verticale Stromen’ [Vertical Streams], the public library of the Belgian Bredene, invited seven contemporary artists tot express their views on libraries in and around the edifice. Each artist was asked to exploit a locker at the entrance. Stefaan Van Biesen labelled his locker ‘De droom van de tuinman III’ (The Dream of the Gardener III). His displayed a small garden with blooming words. The shoes of the gardener (librarian) stood solitary in the garden. Van Biesen suggests a librarian who encourages the growth of words in a library as a public garden.




The artist also presented ‘De gemarkeerde tijd’ (Marked Time): a remarkable book table. A roadmap to the imagination was drawn on the tabletop. On the map, books were drenched in honey, the table’s legs stood in honey pots. Figuratively speaking, honey pours over the books and the table. A library catches the honey (imagination) and offers it to its visitors.




T H E L A N D O F B E I N G , I S [ 2 0 0 0 ] .

Workshop for youngsters at the public library of Bredene Belgium. Stefaan Van Biesen collaborated with some youngsters on a gigantic map of the imagination, placed up against large terrace doors. ‘Het land van Zijn, is… (The Land of Being, is…) mapped young people’s emotional world and built figurative bridges to the countries of the other participants.









©stefaan van biesen-annemie mestdagh 11.03.2018