Letters : Stefaan van Biesen

Letters: the imaginairy library > >






A  T R E E  C O N V E R S A T I O N  [ 2 0 1 9 ] .

Hof Ter Saksen Beveren Belgium. Sound Walk Sunday September 2019.



Sound Walk Sunday 2019 takes place on Sunday 1st September in the UK [London], as part of a week-long festival of sound walking events and performances beginning on the 1st September, globally celebrating outdoor audio, geo-located, immersive performances, listening walks and sound walks. In the coming months, we will be issuing calls for walking pieces that have been produced since Sound Walk Sunday 2017, and for new work to be premiered on Sound Walk Sunday 2019.


The museum of walks in London is a demanding party for various like-minded artists and walkers to have an artistic [sound] project take place on the same day. For this crossing border project, Stefaan van Biesen and Annemie Mestdagh are doing a Wander Weed session [Plant(e)scape Made of Walking IV Akamas Cyprus 2018, The Walking Body Minho University Guimaraes Portugal 2019], in Beveren Belgium. People are invited to a performative walk that is a mix of a lecture, a conversation and an exercise. The theme of this event is our relationship with plants and plant intelligence.








A P P E N D I X ( I )  [ 2 0 0 3 ] .

[Tree Library] Beeldig Hof Ter Saksen Beveren 2003 - Biscainhos Museum Braga Portugal 2011.


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.




Letters: past & present.

An ongoing project.


W A N D E R  W E E D  V A R I A T I O N S  ( I I ) [ 2 0 1 8 ] .


The Walking Body. Guimaraes Minho University Portugal 2018. Thanks to the Art Department, teachers and students. Especialy to Miguel Bandeira Duarte [Director Museo Noguiera da silva, Braga], Natacha Moutinho [Head of the university art department] and artist Monica Faria.



Wander Weed Variations is a combination of a talk, a space specific practice, a walk, a introspective exercice and a lecture. It is based on the last letters of Charles Darwin [1909-1882] that he wrote in relation to the world of plants.


His book and study: 'The Power of Movements in Plants' [1880] concerns itself with how plants respond to external stimuli and examines these processes in individual plants to gain understanding of some general principles governing their growth and life.

In his conclusions, Darwin presents the key features of plants from an evolutionary perspective indicating that gradual modification of these processes in response to natural selective forces like light and water could enable extensive ability to adapt.



Wander Weed. (Stefaan van Biesen, Annemie Mestdagh) A poetical, artistic and performative walk with Stefaan van Biesen, where participants explore a nomad work of art on a shared walk with 5 people at a time, along the readings a of poetic letters by Stefaan van Biesen [Letters to a Tree : 1996-1997]. Production: Annemie Mestdagh. Concept: Stefaan van Biesen / the Milena principle. Outdoors.



Note: The Federal Ethics Commitee on Non-Human Biotechnology [ECNH], founded in 1998 by the Swiss Council. In 2008 a document was published: 'The dignity of living beings with regard to plants. Moral considiration of plants for their own sake'.






W A N D E R  W E E D  V A R I A T I O N S  ( I ) [ 2 0 1 8 ] .


Made of Walking (IV). Neo Chorio in Akamas Cyprus. International meeting of walking artists and scientists.



Made of Walking (IV) Neon Chorio Akamas Peninsula Cyprus June 2018.


We are Wander Weed. As a performative exercise with five participants. They are introduced to a nomadic art work, a prop/bag to walk with. Participants can feel a letter filled with leaves of plants inside. They can oly touch and feel the letters but not read them. Curiosity, sense of touch and wonder are generated by this, accompanied by a talk by the artist about our relationship with plants, culture versus nature, and with the reading of letters (Letters to a Tree). The 'language of plants' is the theme of this exercises. At the end of the walk the participants are led to introspection in their own past and personal memories. Two hour walk/activity, will be repeated in small groups of max 5 participants during the week.





W A N D E R  W E E D  V A R I A T I O N S [ 2 0 1 8 ] .




C O L L E C T I N G  S T O R I E S / L E T T E R S .

Handwritten letters from migrants, people in the diaspora.



Letters written by several people who came here to Europe as refugees since the 1990. Their handwritten letters, in their own original language, contains an anecdote or the account of their flight to Europe, how it was to live in another culture or part of the world. The hope of a safe life with better living conditions. The contents of the letter remain with the artist and the writer. What remains is the image of a handwriting letter, a silent witness of suffering or joy.


The letters are the result of many talks with those who write them. I would like to thank artist Annelies Slabbynck for her support and help. Also Dianne Nuyts and the Dutch language talking group 'Babelonië' for their contribution and moving involvement into this project.



Each letter becomes a bundle (layers) of letters that relate to the person who wrote the letter. Some data related to their travel experiences are included in the entirety of these handwritten letters. A map, background information, origin, cultural attributes or habits, etc.



Study of 'Index' Handwritings. 'Inscripties' Herman Teirlinckhuis Beersel Belgium [1993].





H A N D W R I T I N G S / T H E  B O O K  O F W O N D E R I N G S [ 2 0 1 0 - 2 0 1 3] .



Handwriting (II) 2011 the book or wonderings is a handwritten book, in the form of paper cut hands, an ensemble of notes, a subjective description of everyday events: walks, actions, meetings and observations that depart from the tactile.

In one of the rare interviews that the German artist Joseph Beuys [1921-1986] gave to the magazine Der Spiegel, he speaks about the idea that "all the mysteries unfold themselves to our eyes." The routine for us, the obvious, which we, by the rhythm of each day, we were not aware of the elusive mystery of nature and humanity.


The paper cut palms also refer to the performance 'the Go-between' of Stefaan van Biesen in the museum Nogueira da Silva [Braga, Portugal 2010] where the artist covered his eyes covered with his palms and used them as an imaginary book. This work and theme is part of his project 'Spaziergangwissenschaft " [walking as an absolute science] and 'the Dürer Connection'. The nomad aspect of the artist with simple everyday materials such as paper, pen and scissors, to capture his travel notes. The body as unit size, a binding instrument of knowledge and knowing.



30 letters. [the Anatomy of Writing] [the book I am] the Milena principle. National Museum Brasilia Brazil 2012. [Curator: Geert Vermeire].




L E T T E R S  T O  A  S C A R E C R O W [ 2 0 1 1 ]



[the Letter] writing performance [a letter to a scarecrow] in the historical kitchen garden of Museu Biscainhos Braga Portugal 2011.





The Book I Am [I Write Myself (II), Diary Drawing] 1992.

Prop for performance: Letters to an Orchard.





'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”.



The same place but 6 months later



The same place but in 2020







Appendix (II) [2005]

Home version tree library/Open Monumentendag Zwijndrecht 2005.


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] > >



L E T T E R S T O A T R E E [ 1 9 9 7] .


In situ installation & performance during the art exhibition '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.



L E T T E R S T O A T R E E [ 1 9 9 6 > 1 9 9 7 ] .

A correspondence with a chosen tree. Art project 'Buiten Gewoon' CC Heusden-Zolder Belgium.


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…





S T U D I O L O / S K I N [ 2 0 0 4 ] .

Installation based on 'San girolamo nello studio' Antonella da Messina. Public Library Zwijndrecht Belgium.








Wood, leather, books, propolis. A correspondence with a chosen tree.




[The Nervated Skin] CC Ter Vesten Beveren Belgium 2006. A project with poet Geert Vermeire.



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.



I , S I S Y P H U S [ 1 9 9 2 ] .

[Attribute for 'I Sisyphus'] Portable library [public library Zwijndrecht] Belgium 2 0 0 5 .




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.



T H E  T I M E  M A R K E D [ 1 9 9 5 ] .

Installation with propolis, honey and books. Museu Nogueira da Silva Minho University Braga Portugal.


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.




L E T T E R S T OA T R E E [ A L L F A D E D ] [ 2 0 1 7 ] .

[Made of Walking] Delphi Summershool Animart Greece.



© private foundation van biesen-mestdagh 10.06.2024