“Through my sculptures I fight to turn cities into open air museums”
This is a translated extract of Hilde Van Canneyt’s interview with Arne Quinze (2011). It appears in her latest book “4321 vragen Hilde Van Canneyt interviewt kunstenaars” (Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, 2020).
HVC: Hi Arne. I would love to go through your creative career with you chronologically. If I am properly informed, you were already very fascinated with drawing as a three-year-old child. You were in search of a suitable drawing medium. When you were sixteen you discovered graffiti, which became a great love of yours. Later, you experimented with all kinds of materials. In 2011, this search process resulted in a widely appreciated oeuvre.
AQ: Hold on Hilde, you skipped a few episodes…
HVC: [laughs] Then you can complete it.
AQ: I've always been very creative. Being creative was always influenced by how I felt. As a little boy I did nothing but build my own worlds with clay. At the age of nine, a major event took place in my life: my parents divorced. From one day to the next, my creativity was gone. I refused to do anything as a child. However, I will never forget that when I was fourteen I was asked to start drawing in biology class. It went well. Since then I have picked up the threads of drawing. As you pointed out, when I was sixteen I turned to the medium of graffiti. [Arne shows me his sketchbooks from that time, impressive, ed.] I was really very active then. I painted graffiti with the New York artists Blake, Quick and Futura 2000, whose works can also be found in museums today. I hung out in the streets with them until I was twenty. The exhibition "Explosition", about graffiti art, will open in the museum of Ixelles soon (from 16/06-04/09/'11, ed.). The visitor will see that we were diehards of that time. In my twenties I ended up in the drug circuit.
HVC: Inspired by the Brazilian favelas, you make your own bidonvilles as a parody of people’s ways of life and urban development.
AQ: People who live in bidonvilles are poor people who have less than nothing. They have conquered a piece, while the city is growing around it. They have less and less space and can only go in one direction: up! I was thinking: sooner or later they will build their own towers and rise above the skyscrapers in their own way. That's how I started making my bidonvilles myself. I am very curious by nature. Put me on a cafe terrace and all I do is watch the people. I am especially passionate about the development of people and the architecture around them. When I travel I constantly wonder: “Why do they build their buildings this way and not otherwise. Have they not learned that yet?” [laughs] Sometimes I really wonder where quality of life has gone… Because you can make cities very beautiful. People always succeed in making cities uglier by the day. As far as I'm concerned, the most beautiful existing cities were built three hundred years ago. Most of what came later was like: “My dear, what are we doing now?” If it were up to me, I would turn the major cities into open-air museums. Confronting art is also very important in our upbringing. Without art there is no education.
HVC: Are you looking for more unity in the cities? Presumably your life on and in the streets has profoundly influenced your view of “the street”?
AQ: A city must have balance. Brussels is a good example. As Belgians, we really have no vision to push Brussels forward. It is a city without vision. Something needs to change urgently. Making art is a personal search for myself. Through my sculptures I fight to turn cities into open air museums. Ideally, the art world should curate this. A new curator every two years to bring art into the city. With budgets! Or can you imagine that there is a system that can be built up to twenty floors? If you want to build higher, you have to give back a certain amount to art installations.
HVC: You see your “Chaoboxes” as self-portraits. Do you see this work as a representation of what's going on in your head, like the blood running through your veins?
AQ: Chaos is something that really buzzes in my head. People ask me what I'm up to and why I always have to be so chaotic? At one point they asked me to make a self-portrait. I wondered if I should make something in oil paint now, because I used to go through all those classic things. I have never shown those works and do not want to show them. I have drawn and painted hundreds of chairs, bottles, pots and pans. I even started painting posters for films, as a holiday job. But it was not me. In the long run I couldn't bear to paint like this anymore. But back to the self-portrait, what did that mean to me? That's how I ended up with those glass boxes. That glass is the skull. The red you see is that chaos structure, although I don't believe in chaos myself. There is no chaos, chaos is a structure. By the way, if you look around: everything is neat here in my studio. I'm not chaotic at all. I don't need chaotic people around me either.
If you’re interested in reading more, find the whole interview on Hilde van Canneyt’s website (Dutch language).
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