How the rooms of artist Stijn ter Braak tilt your view

Let’s not dwell too long on the past standstill. But people children, how complicated it was sometimes to make the best of lockdowns, curfews and quarantines. Stijn ter Braak (1995) did it fairly exemplary. Trained as a painter, he calmly reproduced everything in his Antwerp living room from painted waste during the first corona months. Sofa and chair, bookcase with all the books in it, furniture with all the stuff on it. Then also floors, windows and doors, all made of wood, cardboard, paper, glue and paint. And when the living room was ready, he started on his bathroom. He exhibited it last winter at Galerie Mieke van Schaijk in Den Bosch, where visitors – before and after the last lockdown – lined up for a genuine experience.

Also read the review of Stijn ter Braaks bathroom: ‘Artist Stijn ter Braak takes Sinterklaas surprises to a higher level

On the paper wall above the cardboard sink hung a mirror that worked so convincingly that you took it for granted at first. But how was that mirror actually made? First hint: you saw the bathroom reflected in it, but not yourself. Next strange sensation: if you reached out your hand to feel gently, that hand went right through the mirror. And then slowly the penny dropped. The mirror was a rectangular hole in the wafer-thin wall, with lifelike mirror clips on either side, and on the other side of that hole Ter Braak had reconstructed the entire bathroom to full size, but then completely in mirror image.

On closer inspection, it turned out that you could enter the installation from two sides: you could also enter the mirrored bathroom via the mirror image door. For many visitors, except your reporter, Ter Braak’s bathroom was the work of art of the year. An installation about which there was much to think and talk about (because how often do you see a work of art that revolves entirely around air, about the absence of the central component), but also really an image – sculpture and painting in one – that of ingenuity and joy of making witnessed and caused great viewing pleasure.

Counterfeit items on ‘s counterfeit nightstand Stijn ter Braak in 019, Ghent. Michael De Cleene

Dizzying Twist

Now Stijn ter Braak presents his third and for the time being last interior in art space 019 in Ghent, a replica of his bedroom. The crumpled bedding is made from painted bread bags, the lampshade from a sawn-through globe, the houseplant from a PVC pipe with paper leaves on it. On the bedside table is a wooden alarm clock, an insulating foam power strip and a cardboard iPhone, painted with fluorescent paint to really light up the screen. The new structure is more of a diorama than an installation that you can walk through, but there are many cracks that offer a behind-the-scenes look at the illusion. And again, with all the cheerful tinkering, there is a dizzying twist to the work, which is a shame to give away in a review but which turns your whole view of the matter. Again, a hole in the wall plays a role. I won’t say more about it. Go to Ghent.

Stijn ter Braaks bathroom can be seen from 15 May to 14 August at the ‘Making fun’ exhibition in De Warande culture house in Turnhout.

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