In 1999, terrible images of the Yugoslavian war terrorized the press. At the same time I was reading If this is a man of Premo Levi. I saw images from the war in Kosovo and with growing disbelief I watched the show of force around my studio (I had a sculpture studio in the middle of an active Military base in Brasschaat (Belgium)) and had the urge to make a strong image to contra-balance all this violence. I constructed a big Skull suspended from the truss of my studio, in wood and loam, fragile and strong. If they want to move the sculpture they have to break down the building.
In the year 2002 we were faced with another war. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Bush declared a global War on Terrorism and, in October 2001, ordered an invasion of Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaeda. Ignorance, inhumanity, disbelieve. I build a second Skull on the roof of the Museum of Modern Art in Antwerp. The Skull, made out of loam and wood, is hanging in a wooden cage that has the same dimensions as the one-man cells of Guantanamo. The skull is serving as a nest for two pigeons that hatched their eggs. Death, life and hope.
In 2015, Bart, the director of M HKA, Antwerp, invites me to the Moscow Biennal of contemporary art. The images of enormous amounts of refugees losing their lives in the sea is striking. Migration is one of the themes that reoccurs in all my visual work. I make a third Skull as a symbol for immigration and respect. Since I came to live in Ireland I collected driftwood. This driftwood was used to make the teeth of the Skull. Skull 3 became a symbol of transience, vulnerability and solidarity. In 2016; Brussels, metro Maalbeek: the sound-engineer of all my films of the last ten years (Gilles Laurent) is blown away by useless violence. A desperate attack, The Maalbeek bombings, also for the city where I lived for 13 years. This might be a reason to make Skull 4 (not realized yet).
Skull 1, 1999, loam, wood, burlap, metal wire, mesh.
Copyright Els Dietvorst.