The foal’s spindly legs, gently bound together in a chiasmus and lit, as though by overhead moonlight, formed a shy shadow on the darkened gallery floor. The animal—sacrificial, symbolic, stunning, meaning both marvelous and stupefying—had its eyes covered by frayed cloth, but, coming into sharp view, it was revelatory, a subtle kind of piercing. Laid out on a wood-and-iron table, the foal evoked Francisco de Zurbarán’s small oil painting Agnus Dei. And indeed, the piece, by the Belgian sculptor Berlinde De Bruyckere, was called to Zurbaran and dedicated to that Baroque master.
De Bruyckere—a soft-spoken woman, whose quiet, deliberate intensity echoed the steel-rod strength of her work—saw Agnus Dei about a year and a half ago at a Zurbarán exhibition in Brussels and was, she said, “surprised” by it. Standing in front of her work on the eve of the opening of her show “No Life Lost” at Hauser & Wirth, De Bruyckere said that the only way she knew to “react to that painting was making a work out of this feeling and emotion. I was so attracted by what I saw I couldn’t do anything else, just work with that idea, that feeling.” And so she began with the visuals: “The holy lamb was bound—the legs together in the same position as I did with the foal. And then it was also placed on wood, very poor wood; it’s not a rich table with a lot of class and glamour, it’s a really poor wood. And also the fact of chiaroscuro—the dark and the light in the painting was something that inspired me, and it’s also why I decided to keep the darkness in the space.” But as she worked on the fragile blankets that would bind the animal, she felt that it was not enough. This was around the time she first saw images of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian boy, and these images elicited again the feeling she had at seeing the Zurbarán. “From that moment on,” De Bruyckere said, “I was doing the blind-making of the horse not in terms of making blind in a negative way but just in a positive way. It was like the dream of [the] people of Syria who try to make it to Europe. They have a dream, and very often this dream will never happen. And especially with the boy who arrived dead already, there was no chance to live and to become someone. And it was the same with the foal, he died after one day, there was no future for him.” Read More