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Body and Material Reinvented

The Body and Material Reinvented research group unites investigations on material and/or body related subjects in the arts carried out at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. Its main artistic working method focuses on (craft) experiment; its primary objective is an interdisciplinary search for new equilibriums between art and technology.

Body stands for the human body, for the three dimensional and for corporeality in all its diversity. Clearly the physical is closely connected to the sensory, the tangible, the texture, the surface, the finishing touch. By increasing the humanity of a body, not just realism but also surrealistic charges are intensified. Vice versa, the deformed body becomes the ultimate confrontation between the sublime work of art and the raw reality. The mobility of the body is all about speed and fragility, about balancing on the boundaries between freedom of movement and restricted movement and on the interfaces between audiovisual and visual arts.  

Yet for the art practice, how groundbreaking can the body as a starting point still be?

Material refers to substantiality, to the more or less intensive materiality which is inherently present in each visual artwork; and in addition to construction, material structure, the pair materials and techniques. The historically grown paradox between the thinking and the making has caused the idea that craftmanship was just traditional and old-fashioned in the creative process. The risk of losing artisan knowledge, experience and teaching methods isn’t even imaginary in today’s profit society. The research group has chosen consciously and deliberately for a balanced appreciation of the organic, artisan and manual aspects in art, and for innovative technologies. When the head and the hand are separate, it is the head that suffers. From the origins of classical civilization, craftsmen have suffered mistreatment. What has kept them going humanly is belief in their work and their involvement with its materials.

What might (still/again) be a relevant role for craftsmanship to play in contemporary society and art?

Body and Material related art has to be confronted with its temporality, its “human condition”, aging processes that are taking the form of natural, accidental and intentional degradation. Entropy is perceived as the gradual or sudden destruction of inviolate objects. Due to the interaction between nature and artifact, art has to face the “downside” of its materiality, the issue on sustainability vs. impermanence, and has to position itself in a philosophical-existential, sociological and even ecological context.

How can art that is closely involved with body and material profile itself today within the tension between ethics and aesthetics?


Core methodology of Body and Material Reinvented is the experiment. This isn’t about experiments chasing non-committal effects, but meanwhile about unbridled creativity, strengthening the content and experimentally achieving results. The workshop becomes a try-out and transmutation laboratory where boundaries are pushed and where is searched to add some value relative to tradition, including a strong role for the intuitive and the coincidence. E.g. by taking materials as the starting point, one will think “differently”, develop “other” working methods and achieve “different” results than by starting from design drawings. He understood that modelling the incoherent and vertiginous matter of which dreams are composed was the most difficult task that a man could undertake, even though he should penetrate all the enigmas of a superior and inferior order.

To what extent might the experimental use of materials be determinative for innovative creative processes?

Paying attention to a permanent interaction between theory and artistic practices is essential for the research group. Firstly, it‘s necessary to develop an accurate terminology that allows to denominate experiences, the subjective, and even the unspeakable. Moreover the interdisciplinary approach of each research project has to provide an ongoing contextualization and a broadening of thinking in and about art practices, more specifically provided by: philosophy, music, literature, theatre, medical sciences, sociology, (art) history, anthropology, material culture, ecology, architecture. Indeed, the influence and power of art is explicitly present in other areas of society than the cultural part, such as politics and religion. For example colour constantly touches all aspects of human existence.

Finally the research group wants to document accurately its theoretical information and artistic experiences in a visual and textual archive. The documentation is intended as a tool for artistic practice as well as for educational application.  It should be easily accessible for artists and within their artistic process might provide assistance in their (theoretical) investigations on and experiments with different materials and the body. Thanks to these archives, but obviously also to the realized works of art, exhibitions, performances, debates, publications and such, the research projects will be saved from oblivion.

Focus: workshop as a try-out and transmutation laboratory

Chairwoman: Ria De Boodt - ria.deboodt@ap.be