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Signs of violence playfully undressed/analysed (2011)


Through the history of Philisophy, beauty was identified with the good more than once, and in that sence it’s not so obvious to speak about the beauty of violence. When referred to the last, it doesn’t contain a moral-philosophical approach of course, but rather an appreciation based on tension, emotion, dynamism and also on formal grounds. Artists who quench themselves in the pool of violence, it’s an ever returning phenomenon, independent of place, time and discipline. That violence is an almost obvious part of football, was not only underlined by the famous British zoologist Desmond Morris and other thinkers, but is also being stressed as essential by other renowned coaches. And that it doesn’t only concerns the nature of “sport”, but also shows in the margin, barely needs to be said. Extremely illustrative is the historical anecdote, that links the word “spionkop” direcly to a bloody phase in the Southafrican second Boer War. When in addition, we add to the reflections on art and football above, the sience that many people push themselves away from society, from their social status because of limited possibilities or by broken links with society, school, work or family, and will associate themselves with criminal and violend gangs, then we have a package of reflections that joins seamlessly the works of Niels Vaes.  

This artist is fascinated by the violent subculture, as represented by hooligans, skinheads and others or as it is externalised by the world of ‘gangsta’. The way Niels Vaes alludes to these marginal groups remains airily however, nuanced, articulated and is never devoid of humour and irony. Though the paintings, objects and installations created by this artist refer to the mentioned items , they are not necessarily to be situated as such. Thus, just like that, he paints the typical Burberry pattern, as a result the spectator hardly gets further than the association with the English fashion house. It’s the combination with other paintings or objects however that makes such work meaningful. After all, Niels Vaes refers to a situation in the world of English football where hooligans that went to football matches to raise hell, dressed themselves with unexpected and expensive clothes in order not to be recognised. The result was that the clothing in question gradually took the allure of a uniform and that after a while the brand was identified with violence. The unwanted association of a brand with violence turns up now and again, just think of the link of Lonsdale with skinheads and racism. As said, the works of Niels Vaes gain increasingly in  meaning. As they are becoming part of a caleidoscopic complete composition, they start to lead their own life. In that sense and up to a certain level, the artist feels connected with the German artist Manfred Pernice. We also see this process, this encounter of evolution when he, by means of certain shapes –like the Perry laurel-, leaves traces in the grass or when he, by means of “Nadsat” –the fantasy language that was developed for the violent movie “A Clockwork Orange” –was applying situational words on the grass with chalk.Through the bond of chalk and grass Niels Vaes once again moved about the world of football. He does the same when he builds green slanting surfaces that allows the maker to determine who is going to win by means of the big advantage and who is doomed to lose because of the huge handicap. Is the maker the supporter that makes sure that only his team can win or is it the artist who makes it clear with a witticism that he, as an artist, stands above all that? Anyway, Niels Vaes experiences the world of hooliganism as a fascinating world, with on the one hand the attraction of a collective “support” and on the other the attraction of the tension, the threat. Thus, he generates elasticity between the destructive and the constructive. 

 In the end, Niels Vaes lets the spectator participate in “making sense” of his works. That, he illustrates when he changes the cinematic order of images, by means of painted “stills” from ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’. By those means he presents the viewer the potency to tell another story. Niels Vaes is an artist who plays with signs, knows to surprise the spectator and has certainly the quality to sustain this in the future.  



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