Loaded with chalk and charm, this happy intruder finds his way into Belgian homes

Ghent – 

How did the Moscou-Bernadette project get started?
In 2005, for a retrospective on Roma Publications at S.M.A.K., the municipalmuseumofGhent, I drew lines on interior walls. But I wanted to work outside. A museum is a terminal—a place where all the focus is on art. I’d rather live among the people. S.M.A.K originated as a museum without a permanent home—the freedom of working in the city is in sync with that concept. What’s more, it’s a museum that enters into long-term relationships with artists working on projects with undetermined beginnings and endings. Moscou-Bernadette is part of a longer trajectory.

How does it work?
I start by making drawings on low walls. Then I ask to draw on the façade of a house. The next step is to have the lines on one house continue onto the neighbouring house. The work is about the site and about the people who live there, but also about the houses without drawings, which seem to question the project. Gradually, I get acquainted with the occupants and ask to be invited inside.

Why do you use chalk?
Without chalk, I’d never have got this far. Nobody would let me in with a can of paint, and working in public space means dealing with bureaucracy, and permits. Chalk keeps the process dynamic and the pace high. Chalk is also a point of departure: at school, the teacher uses chalk to explain the world, and artists use chalk to make preliminary sketches for murals. Drawing is a journey on which I meet people. I use a piece of chalk to create a network. And I’m also talking about a network of lines. With lines, you can do anything: they confine, frame, connect.

How do you apply the lines?
For years I derived lines from spaces that I’d measured and relocated, as it were. Now I do it intuitively; I seldom use a preliminary sketch. I have a spirit level, but I don’t use it as a spirit level. When I need a ladder, I borrow it from neighbourhood residents. Sometimes I use tape to indicate lines, but when I’m feeling good, I don’t need it. Drawing takes continuous concentration; it’s a slow activity, comparable to a long bike ride.

For years I derived lines from spaces that I’d measured and relocated, as it were. Now I do it intuitively

Is your work primarily about the process?
When I’m concentrating, I feel as though I’m doing something worthwhile. It’s as if I’m following the drawing and, by doing that, creating a sense of certainty. Sometimes, when I’m drawing inside, I work through the evening and all night long—the experience is like being in a kind of trance. It’s also about temptation. By going into people’s homes and drawing on the wallpaper, I’m crossing a boundary. It’s like I’m drawing on their skin.

But chalk wears away. Is transience part of your work?
I don’t mind when the chalk disappears, because I’m not out to change a space. The locations where I work are interesting because they’re evolving and because they’re honest. My drawings are a positive intervention. They’re like immigrants, never merging with the place but adapting to it all the same; they disappear and leave only a memory behind. People think it’s a pity that they vanish, but if they were permanent, the drawings would give viewers a completely different feeling. What’s more, my work is captured in photographs and published in books, so it doesn’t go away entirely.


This piece was originally featured in One Artist One Material. You can purchase a copy here.

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