Gilbert Fastenaekens

Born in 1955 in Brussels (BE)
Lives and works in Brussels (BE)


Black and white photograph, gelatin-silver print
32,5 x 42 cm
Year of Purchase: 1987

‘Becoming an integral part of the landscape, one element among all the others, feeling what a tree or a stone may be, and becoming the tree and the stone. In those particular moments, I am living in present time, I flow with its rhythm, and I’m no longer anxious about time escaping.’1

At different times of the year, Fastenaekens sets his box camera within a delimited perimeter of 3 m x 20 cm in Vauclair Forest in the part of the Aisne department called the Plateau de Californie. The ritual of this approach, with its systematic method, gives it the elements of a contemplation of the state of things, which seems to be the essential quest permeating all this artist’s work. For his earliest works (1980), Fastenaekens derived the substance of his imagery in essentially urban and industrial selected places (Nocturnes, 1980–1985, Essai pour une archéologie imaginaire Test for an Imaginary Archaeology ], 1984–1985). In 1988, while working on a commission titled The Four Seasons of Belfort Territory, he discovered the virtues of restriction, of limits imposed and variations punctuated by regularly returning to the places in question. This initiatory experience, which was renewed in the series devoted to the forest, provided him with the possibility of an inner osmosis and intimacy with the site, without any effect due to instantaneity, and without any emotion. These particular images have nothing spectacular about them, they are marked by stability and reflection: bits of bushy vegetation rendered more subtle by the tonal use of black and white, diffused light, head-on perspective and balanced framing.

Like Robert Adams, to whom he refers to the point of appropriating photographs taken from From the Missouri West published in 1980, Fastenaekens is a phoney topographer. He creates simple and precise images modulated by a neutral light and impressions. In the photographic genre that became the classic for pioneers of topographic landscapes, but without any documentary or sociological commentary, his photographs show – and at the same time transform – a different reality inspired by the commonplace, which, to all appearances, is of no aesthetic interest. Looking, as he himself declares, ‘for a temporal quality’, Fastenaekens is a surveyor of vision. He no longer records places and histories, but rather the notion of territory, the way our day and age challenges it.

Maïté Vissault

1 Gilbert Fastenaekens, excerpt from an interview with Anne Wauters, in art press, n?. 188, Paris, February 1994, p. 36.