Daan Gielis (1988) is an artist whose work primarily deals with the various ways we deploy architectural, economic and cultural forms to construe meaning and add significance to our lives as individuals and as community. Gielis’s work renders explicit and calls into question the aesthetic forms ranging from codified traffic laws to modernist urban planning projects and the aesthetics of boredom that characterizes corporate buildings from the late nineteen seventies.
Aesthetic forms unfold, structure and give meaning to our daily lives; they overlap, interact, contradict and add meaning to one another. One could think of them like an extensive road system: some of these roads that navigate us through communal life have become so familiar that we are hardly aware of them; some are busy whereas some are almost deserted and are overgrown with weed; some are constructed over other roads or tower high over the city – but none of these roads are obsolete, none of them are out of order.
One of the dominant features in the work of Gielis is an aesthetic and political dialogue with modernism. Yet his appropriation of modernist form is not prompted by a nostalgic longing for an earlier era. To the contrary, revealing how architectural modernism and its utopian aspirations have been overrun by an all-encompassing and increasingly chaotic multitude of highly personal on the one hand, and highly depersonalized and generic economic structures of meaning on the other hand, Gielis’s work stubbornly rejects any and all aesthetics of decline or decay. For Gielis all decline is additive: instead of subtracting it ads a new layer; instead of undoing it introduces a renewed significance; and instead of simply breaking down old structures of significance it nestles itself within these structures like moss, weed or fern. Elements of decay in Gielis’s work are just as vital as the utopian aesthetics that they overrun. Similarly, in his personal life Gielis suffers from a chronic illness that undermines his immunity system; and yet, paradoxically, dealing with this disease fuels his affirmative attitude toward life, aesthetics and politics. His pursuits within his work, just like the punk hardcore band and community he is part of, are manifestations of his desire to be in the middle of the things, to think constructively about the aesthetics and knowledge of small communities and subcultures as well as that of international modernism. His aim is always to enrich them, not to disband them.
Bram Ieven — 2014