Angel Vergara (°1958, Spain) grew up and lives in Brussels, the home base of René Magritte and Marcel Broodthaers. His artistic vision strongly fits in with the surrealism of these two masters, mixed with his own bottom-up approach to reality and art. In his work, Angel often starts from everyday life and redirects art back to it, which creates a cross-breeding meant to sharpen our social consciousness, and our view on the art world. His work consists of installations, performances and paintings. Recently, Angel has been selected to represent Belgium at the 54th Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most important overviews on contemporary art, running next year from June 4 to November 27.

Angel Vergara

Angel Vergara

We met Angel on a sunny Indian summer afternoon, in his beautiful Pipi Longstocking house surrounded by a lush garden, situated in the high hills of Ukkel, Brussels. We talked with him about his work, the position an artist takes in these days, and about the ambiguous flamboyance of an event like the Biennale, which is both lionized and demonized by many art lovers.

Base: What ran through your mind when you heard the good news, being selected to represent Belgium at the 54th Biennale?
Angel Vergara: Enormous joy (arms in the air)! Champagne! What touched me, was the number of calls I received from people telling me how happy they were, since I am more of an outsider compared to the other three candidates (Joëlle Tuerlinckx, François Durlet and Edith Dekyndt) who have a more complete CV and a more elaborate international parcours. It was a surprise, which makes it extra beautiful.

B: What will your exhibition be about?
AV: It will mainly be a reflexion on how the seven cardial sins are experienced nowadays. I will use the sins as a leitmotiv, and apply them on the current society, which you could compare with injecting a virus in the wide range of images the media shower us with every day, in all their triviality. Furthermore, the exhibition’s title is ‘Feuilleton’, which refers to a literary episode-genre from the 19th century, the precursor of comics, soap operas and tv-series in popular culture. The title also refers to the current affairs, which I see as one endless ‘feuilleton of the world’ of which the images don’t cease to occupy our screens and minds.

B: What exactly do you want to tell with your work?
AV: I want to reflect critically on the world I live in, I want to take in a position. I simply can’t stay neutral in this world. Popular culture has always been part of my work. It allows me to explore less elitist territories, to link art with my, and others’, daily life. Action is another element I strongly believe in. Seeing art as an action, is illustrated by my way of painting – I paint on videoscreens – but also by a part of my work in which I transform art galleries into bars, supermarkets or other places where economic transactions take place. By perturbating these places, I want to question them.


Straatman (2004)

Live performance installation in ‘Rippel accross the water’, expo curated by Jan Hoet in Tokyo (1995)

B: Is there something people really should know to be able to ‘read’ your work better?
AV: Of course I hope my work speaks for itself, but maybe it’s good to know that my work is often the result of ‘unexpected attempts’. I paint over videos, quickly following the movement with my brush. So I paint, very paradoxically, a world in movement. This is very contrary to the classical academic idea in which a painter starts from the firmness of things, and freezes moments in time. In this way, I want to unite the notion of painting with the notion of time.

B: Can you explain your fascination for ‘time’?
AV: Time is an element which characterizes us, human beings, from the very beginning. We only have a certain time to live, we are continuously asked to put an end-time to our activities – a film can only last 1,5 hrs, our holidays maximum two weeks etc. The way we deal with time also has become one of the biggest preoccupations of almost every government, it’s a way to control citizens. It seems that from the 21st century on, we have permanently farmed out our time to something outside ourselves: to our career, to money, to society, to the economic treadmill. Instead of living in harmony with time, we are lived by it.


Still from the video ‘Line’. Videoprojection on a painted screen. Stella Lohaus gallery (2004)

B: And where does your fascination for the seven cardinal sins come from?
AV: I’m intrigued by their impact on art history. The seven sins have led to a wide range of iconographic images, from the paintings of Jeroen Bosch and Bruegel, to various films and tv-formats. In a way, all these images investigate how our society functions. I want to continue this research on the seven sins, with new materials, and in a contemporary context.

B: What’s your favorite sin?
AV: Lust is quite an important sin to me because it penetrates all relationships, all layers of society, and has always been a huge source of inspiration in the history of painting. On the other hand a sin like sloth also intrigues me, because its importance is often overlooked. Sloth is strongly linked with not being able to follow the contemporary pace, often leading to depression. Society doesn’t accept sloth, which makes it – implicitly – a very important sin.

B: What are your artistic influences?
AV: I have been raised with ‘the end of of painting’, and have always been strongly influenced by the sounds coming from Paris, less by those from the Anglo-Saxon world. When I was young, I really felt a hatred around me towards painting, people in Paris called painting decorative and bourgeois. It didn’t stop me from doing it, but it influenced me. Also the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers and his critical attitude toward art production itself, had a big impact on me.

Read part 2 of this interview.