Tenderness for the Dead: Sculptures by Berlinde de Bruyckere

Berlinde de Bruyckere - antlers and dead body
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The wax sculptures of the Ghent-born artist Berlinde de Bruyckere ask the viewer a question rooted in ethics: What does a subject need to lack in order to be considered a soulless object? They resemble the byproducts of a morgue, a slaughterhouse, or a taxidermist’s table, all of which are thematically linked as platforms of industrialized death. With the wax mimicking skin, muscle, tissue, and hair with astounding accuracy, each human or animal body produces a visceral sense of fear and repulsion that quickly collapses into tenderness and compassion. Like precious, abandoned monuments, they are lain within glass cases or seated on platforms to separate them spatially and mentally from the viewer. They are often missing limbs, heads, or facial features, which further complicates our understandings of their subjectivity in death—but still we find it. For de Bruyckere and her works, consciousness exists throughout the body. “The figure as a whole is a mental state,” she writes. “The presence or absence of a head is irrelevant.”

Berlinde de Bruyckere - headless body Berlinde de Bruyckere - dead body in glass box Berlinde de Bruyckere - dead sack sculpture Berlinde de Bruyckere - torso and legs on stool
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Berlinde de Bruyckere - abstract ramp Berlinde de Bruyckere - antlers Berlinde de Bruyckere - antlers Berlinde de Bruyckere - long-haired woman on ledge, sculpture Berlinde de Bruyckere - dead cow Berlinde de Bruyckere - slaughterhouse
Images © Berlinde de Bruyckere

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Hayley Evans is a freelance writer and editor hailing from Montréal. Her affinity is with the written word and anything that is dark, beautiful, erotic, or strange. Follow the author @ and view more articles.