Curated by Judit Krijgh-Bozsan
May 27 - July 22, 2023
Opening Saturday May 27, 12-6 PM
The Belgian-born Laura Limbourg (b.1996) grew up and completed her studies in the Czech Republic. She returns to her birth country with her first solo show in Belgium, DEUCE, at Ballon Rouge from May 27 - July 22, 2023.
A deeply engaged artist, Limbourg’s works tell important stories, reflecting upon and drawing inspiration from the often-contrasting impressions she encounters and absorbs throughout her travels and day-to-day life as an artist. Through the intimate world that comes to life on her canvases and vases, we witness the continuous unfolding of Limbourg’s growing sense of identity and awareness as both an artist and a citizen of the world.
In this most recent body of work for DEUCE, Limbourg has taken on an introspective approach by adopting an autobiographical thematic direction where childhood memories merge with experiences from her recent travels as a young artist in America. In the last quarter of 2022, Limbourg spent three months living in New York City, where she shared a house that functioned both as a home and studio space with six fellow artists in Harlem. From attending the fair and parties of Art Basel Miami to driving a convertible Mustang in Las Vegas, where every neon sign and display of human behavior act as mnemonic devices for the mindless consumerism of contemporary societies across all contexts, Limbourg fully immersed herself in the American experience. A drastic change of context, the glamorous art world she encountered elicited in her a period of self-reflection. Treating her canvases as pages of a visual diary, she recorded important moments from her daily impressions as she navigated through this newly discovered network of complex relations.
In her carefully constructed compositions Limbourg now equips her characters with a tennis racket, a clever innuendo to the fast-paced dynamics of the art world, where players’ success comes down to their careful balance of tactics and sportsmanship. Tennis, a sport that Limbourg took on just a short year ago again since having taken lessons as a child, brings in an important personal dimension to these works. (Apropos fast-paced environments, she also happens to be a professional pilot). The players, her real-life friends from the art world, most of whom were at some point present during her three-month-stay in the US, become the protagonists. Leopards and tigers appear as guardians for the artist and her friends, in the same vein they were the wished-for protectors for the women she depicted in an earlier series made after a trip to Southeast Asia. Interweaving elements from the past and present, Limbourg is still holding on to the iconography of that experience – hinting at her continued involvement with Afesip, an independent, non-governmental organization in Cambodia that cares for and secures the rights of women and girls victimized by human trafficking and sex slavery.
To discuss this new body of work makes it essential to also then speak about the works she made after the travels she did before. During her six-month stay in Southeast Asia in 2020, culminating in her diploma presentation in Prague the following year, Limbourg was confronted with the deplorable objectification, exploitation and abuse of women and children through the highly prevalent industries of prostitution and sex tourism in the region. She was dumbfounded by the irreconcilably oxymoronic and ultimately hypocritical nature of these local cultures that have so much respect for historic objects and traditional values but where the authorities fail to put a stop to the atrocious human trafficking and devaluation of human life and dignity, in pursuit of economic advantages.
Limbourg masterfully combines her implicit critical rhetoric with what at first sight might appear as a pleasure-centered offering of pictorial exoticism. Calling to mind Charles Baudelaire’s sonnet Correspondances from his 1857 volume of poetry Les Fleurs du mal, which assigns the poet the role of intermediary between Nature and the human world, the spiritual and the material, Limbourg’s Southeast Asian compositions bring to life a world where the sensory and the fictional, the ancient and the contemporary, the good and the evil seem to collide in a heedfully formulated “forest of symbols”.
Though Limbourg considers prostitution and human trafficking forms of slavery, the female figures that inhabit her psychologically charged compositions characterized by this vivid dichotomy of contrasting forces, are not portrayed as victims but rather as heroines who triumphantly emerge amidst the moral decay. As they look the viewers in the eye, taking a proud stance despite their story, they transcend their reality and redeem their dignity through the power of their spirit, which rises above all the sinful crimes that are being committed against them.
Originating in China with their first appearance in the Tang dynasty (618-906), blue-and-white ceramics are perhaps the most iconic products in the history of Chinese porcelain. A symbol of purity and perfection, these intricate vessels have been widely circulated, copied and adapted by makers world-wide ever since their inception. A popular export product to Southeast Asia for centuries, many countries in the region went on to create their own versions of white-blue-porcelain using raw materials available nearby. Prominent examples of local examples from Vietnam and Thailand survive from as early as the fifteenth century, whilst today cheaply priced reproductions line the shelves of market stalls of bigger cities among other tchotchkes and touristy offerings.
Limbourg’s fascination with vases stems from her visit to Taiwan’s Yingge District, the country’s prolific pottery center. In her work, the shape and materiality of a vase functions as a metaphor for a woman’s body and its fragility. She works with cement.
Akin to the panoramic narrative often seen on traditional vases, Limbourg’s compositions tend to depict scenes of multiple events at the same time. The confounded timeline in turn augments the surreal effect that permeates her imagery. The cobalt blue and white palette of the vessels adorning her compositions may at first seem like renderings of fine examples of the traditional ceramic ware, however, on close examination we discover that the typically idealized ornamentation celebrating nature, traditional architecture and mythology, have been replaced with Limbourg’s scarcely dressed heroines at the center stage. Snakes, herons, dragons and tigers encircling them, and often exiting into the main picture plane, the animals’ symbolic meanings become readapted to Limbourg’s poetic pictorial realm interspersed with smiley faces and similar kitsch visual tokens referencing the world of marketing and advertising. Inflatable dolphins reference the innocence of childhood unbeknownst to the youngest victims of this dark world, whilst objects of veneration pop up as reminders of the duplicitousness of the passive complicity of the systems that enable its very existence. By redefining the role of traditional values as a backdrop to her confronting message, Limbourg’s works challenge the very concepts of perception and identity.
The palpable tension of these compositions finds relief in their unfettered mode of depiction. Imbued with an air of luminosity reminiscent of the transparency of watercolors, her compositions are a result of Limbourg’s gestural immediacy. Working swiftly on large scale without the use of a primer, the artist applies diluted acrylic paint directly onto the canvas, resulting in a light-weight aquarelle-esque appearance. Her simplification of her otherwise expressive visual repertoire further enhances Limbourg’s powerful message.