TO OUR WILD CHILDHOOD_ Hélène Fresnel, associate professor, art critic BEHIND THE LEAVES THE WORLD Artist Pascal Demeester combs through Europe and the United States to help us rediscover the forest through spectacular photographs, drawings and sculptures. Archaic constructs of shelters, striking angles framed through interwoven trees, drawings setting a woodland scene - original works by this artist aren’t only an homage to nature’s precious and uncertain resources, they are an experience, a proposition to every one. Let’s embark on a search for the wild child - let’s reconnect with the wild child within, that we once were or could have been! Crouched on a forest’s edge, observe the world through branches, visualize what our refuge could look like. The power of Demeester’s work is anchored in this implicit invitation and presents itself as an adventure of aesthetics, symbolism, originality and mystery, and all connect to the personal and universal. ART AND FOREST, TWO WINDOWS FOR THE YOUNG ARTIST. The artist Pascal Demeester was born in Brussels in 1959 and now lives in New York. Being multidisciplinary, he puts his creativity in service of the arts and fashion. Under the tutelage of his uncle, sculptor Marcel Arnould (1928-1974), and his aunt, painter Renée Demeester (1927- ), Demeester developed his artistic talents. He took courses at the School of Graphic Research (ERG) in Brussels, and received a BFA . He had his first solos exhibit “Deluge’s Bodies” shown at the photo gallery Contretype . He has since remained dedicated to his craft, never ceasing to create and innovate. But where does this powerful attraction to the forest stem from? It stems from his childhood and a revelation. When he observed “Vanishing Point”, his new black and white photography series, he put forward one question: “Isn't this from the point of view of the wild child I were?” This observation was a trigger moment for the artist who spent his reclusive childhood in the solitude of the countryside - “crouched deep into my refuge to escape from family turmoil, I observed the world.” This was a shared experience with filmmaker François Truffaut whose childhood was defined by playing hooky. In Tuffaut’s film L’Enfant sauvage, he tells the story of Victor from Aveyron [French town] where a child was found in a forest. This story resonated with Demeester’s past and prompted him to reflect on how we integrate into the world. This reflection is carried by the power of imagery. The photos of Pascal Demeester then make us feel the gaze of one who feels isolated. THE FOREST, A SYMBOLIC SETTING. The framed vegetation keeps the world at a distance, illustrating windows with varying thickness but remaining very somber. Through these 'windows', one sometimes sees the trunks of black trees which evokes prison bars and blocks the view. These symbols are ever questioning. IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE WOODS. To bring his works to life, Pascal Demeester doesn’t hesitate to use his body. Whether it’s windy or snowy, he crafts his shelter, leaf by leaf with expert fingers. He treks for miles on foot in search of inspiration. He never alters the vantage points that the forest naturally offers. This respect for nature is particularly critical at a time of rampant deforestation. Yes, Man can in fact live harmoniously in his environment. The artist embodies this concept. Furthermore, by using deadwood as raw material, he ennobles it, making it an ally. In this sense, Pascal Demeester isn’t just an artist, he becomes an artist-artisan hybrid, heir to the Greek philosophy of ‘techne’, which values art as a technical construction, not just inspiration. Wood was also the privileged tool of early Netherlandish painters, also known as ‘Flemish Primitives’ like Jan Van Eyck, Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Pieter Pourbus - all legendary role models for the artist. LET'S DISCARD THE MEDIUM, LET'S US LIVE THE FOREST. The stakes of his work play with the experimental as well as the aesthetic. It surprises the viewer with its radicalism and richness. Deeply. "I'M TRYING TO DESTROY PHOTOGRAPHY" It is with these provocative terms that Pascal Demeester articulates his motivation…as a photographer. What’s to understand? That photography can shed its documentary quality - it no longer needs to highlight a point of view but rather to bring to life the presence of the observer, a wildly innocent presence. The artist flips preconceived notions; the frame is no longer an accessory but, in fact, the essence. In other words, the forest becomes the core object of the image which then becomes the object of our experience. The presence of the observer becomes tangible and we are able to identify with him. For instance, let’s look at photo 76a from the Vanishing Point series. Three-fourths of the space is taken up by branches that form the frame and prominently features darkness. The angle view of the cow seems secondary, incongruous. This photograph seems revealing to me of the work’s extraordinary power. The animal looks at us square in the eye. It is not we who are doing the observing but rather we who are being observed. So, the viewer is caught by surprise in his forested hiding spot and the hiding spot, the refuge, this mysterious frame becomes the heart of the artistic experience. Photography itself then becomes forgotten - we do not see what it shows, we see as it sees and we share in the experience. We are then each free to extend that connection. IMMERSION IN THE HEART OF A PERSONAL ORIGINAL ADVENTURE. A SHARE OF THE CHILDHOOD IN EACH OF US. This experience resembles an original adventure that deeply and continuously questions us. As such, the forest of Pascal Demeester shelters the ‘infans’ that we once were, the child before speech, before civilization. Psychoanalyst Jean-Bertrand Pontalis defines [infans] as “one who taps into all ranges of sensations, images, confused yet mysterious perceptions...one that has not been dominated by language.” The photographs makes us feel that child which understands the world as an animal and views a domesticated exterior as irreconcilably distant and foreign. A FOREST SOMEWHERE IN OUR MEMORY The mist and blur reaffirm this situation, shrouding the forest clearing with a dream-like veil that transforms a horse into a ghostly apparition. The choice of using black and white also plays a role in that it facilitates a journey into memory. Tarkovski, through his filmography, suggests that memories don’t always retain colors. In this regard, Demeester’s work seems to tie in with the Russian filmmaker in that it allows us to relive original memories. THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD ? The hole-shaped framing even manages to place us, as observers, in a womb-like state, lodged in the deepest nooks of our forest mother. The pointed exterior doesn’t appear any less than a “concerning oddity.” What is familiar becomes a sudden cause of anxiety - to paraphrase a Freudian expression. The obscurity around the framed foliage and strangeness from different vantage points creates an impasse. This complexity enriches the artistic proposition. SO, IS THE FOREST OUR LAST REFUGE ? Each work celebrates it as a shelter, but it is a paradoxical shelter, one that is mysterious, never claimed, and always under construction. In a hypermodern world, nature seems to have become an eternal pursuit. Different plastic materials are a testament to the relentless pursuit of natural shelters: inks, crayons and charcoal drawings, structures made of melted wax, bronze, stone. The artist is prolific. He is currently working on shelter sculpture which will allow city-dwellers to recharge in a center of urbanity . For those of us confronted by city pressures, Pascal Demeester proposes a sensory return to nature, simplicity and finally, to ourselves.