Kris Vervaeke is an artist that gave a try to answer to the most of human question: what happens to people when they die? He investigates the power of the memory and the fragility of humanity through burial portraits, searching a meaning to what we call life. And to memory, that sometimes can have a dark twist in it.
I read on your bio that you came from industrial environment. How much your previous job influences your creative works now?
After many years working in an industrial environment, I switched careers completely, did some evening school and I’m still self-teaching me with every experience. Photography is what I do now since more than 10 years. I like taking pictures. I’m specializing in freelance documentary work and doing own projects. My previous job experience does not necessarily influences my creative works now, but it helps in understanding clients when doing commercial jobs.
“Fortune Market” is very bizarre and curious: what inspired you to do that collection of pictures? Is there an hidden meaning we haven’t caught?
I visited this temple in HK various times and got attracted to these fortune tellers located there. A unique place of worship and wishes. 160 fortune tellers concentrated in one building, neatly lined up in tiny offices, waiting for customers to come by for good fortune. They invite you in their little sanctuaries, stacked to the roof with knowledge and paper and history. They read from ancient shading books, from the cracks of your smile and from the shape of your jaws. They juggle with jostle sticks and birth day numbers and find future in your hands and forehead while you sit on hard wooden chairs. I went back many times, started talking to them; also had my hand and face read by some. This gave me a better understanding of the traditional art of fortune telling. So I started to take portraits of them and their empty booths when they did not want to be photographed. I’m currently finishing a book about it. With the book I re-create these rows of fortune tellers and the bizarre atmosphere that is at the same time religious, superstitious, carnival, historic and like a temple, all packed in one. Allowing you to see the shops and its interior from the outside makes you a visitor that can choose his fortune teller. Book comes out begin 2018. The title of the series has been changed to ‘House Full of Gold’ (which is the name of one of the fortune teller’s booth). It depicts faith and superstition that still rule daily life in Asia in many ways, invaded already by modern technology and the struggle for tradition to survive. Historically, the art of fortune telling in Asia is highly respected. Fortune tellers are considered counselors on all kind of personal or family issues or as management consultants on business matters. The future of the shops is uncertain. Finding someone interested to take over the business is getting more and more difficult. And young people are less interested in visiting fortune tellers.
I bet you love working with people, you investigate them through your art, like the beautiful and delicate “Ad infinitum”. How has it started? How a project like this born in your mind?
I often find my inspiration in the street, in cities I just wander around. When searching for Hong Kong landscapes, I stumbled upon these seas of graves with the cityscape in the background. Cemeteries are essential features of Hong Kong’s cultural landscape. They are a symbolic place, powerful and feared, a link to the afterworld. Burial sites are carefully selected in consideration of good feng shui. I got attracted to these beautiful eroded memorial portraits and started photographing them. I went back many times. So the project was born.
“Ad infinitum” try to give dead people a new importance, investigating the importance of memory and time. But is the real essence of us that truly remains. What do you think remain of our souls when we die?
The portraits on porcelain show the person still in life; portraits, personal and often intimate, that were never meant to be used as a memorial, a single image selected to convey a whole life. I isolated the portraits from the headstones on purpose, out of the context of the cemetery and away from the idea of death. Over time, the portraits are exposed to rain, sun and humidity and so become abstract. In the end, we are left with the simple abstract beauty of the image as such. A transition shown in one single portrait. The portrait series exposes both the strength of the individual face and the perishable nature of the individual human body. Subconsciously, our interest in the individual fades as the portraits become less clear. It is quietly replaced by our draw to the beauty of the abstract image. We will be remembered only by the children of our children. As the faces fade further, anonymity returns and once again we become part of nature…ad infinitum.
Your project involves death, a dark theme that art tried explain several times. But you gave a particular connotation to it, so I was wondering: how much darkness is inside you? Have you got a darker side?
For me it is not a dark theme. As mentioned earlier, I see the beauty in it. However, for asian people, seeing these pictures of their ancestors makes them uncomfortable. They will not take the photo book in house or even look at the pictures I took. It scares them; it would bring back the bad spirits.
I guess we all have some little dark side inside us without knowing what it really is. As far as I know, I don’t have much of it; at least not too evil.
What is the most of darkness a human being can reach, according to you?
That someone can influence and divide people. Power through manipulation, fear and lies; leading to intolerance, aggression, narrow-minds and bringing out the dark side of people.