Bart Ramakers’ Renaissance
L’Œil de la Photographie April 10, 2023
We know Belgian artist Bart Ramakers mainly for his elaborately staged photographic scenes, in which he playfully actualises mythological scenes, legends, gospels and other classical tales. In the process, he mixes very diverse narrative elements and likes to turn roles around, turn things upside down, to create a new mythology, sometimes alienating and surreal, often baroque, always sumptuous in an excess of detail, sensual and enchanting.
We saw this artist making regular side jumps in recent years. He collaborated with other artists (William Sweetlove, Flora and the Water Warriors), focused on self-portraits and sculpture during the Covid period, he realised a participatory photography project (Sandwiched, Ostend) and curated exhibitions (Hallelujah, Bree). In all these activities, he connects people in an attempt to make them stop and think about the really important topics of today: the climate, equality, the diversity of society.
Bart stated recently that his work aims to stimulate the spectators’ imagination, to create a parallel world as a sanctuary from a reality that is becoming increasingly puritanical, restrictive and normative. He wants to create a world where everyone can be who they want to be, where everyone can live their dreams, and where everything you can dream of can become reality.
In his latest work, Bart Ramakers returns to his familiar theatre: that of human passions, and he is more inspired than ever. A half-naked couple dance in a sultry nightclub to the tones of a jazz orchestra, Otto Dix and George Grosz looking over the musicians’ shoulders. A trio of young men, not yet fully dressed in a ballet tutu, make an appearance at a birthday party – it looks like a reverse Paris judgement. Three waiters perform a strange ritual around a lonely restaurant guest – the recreation of a fantasm by Moebius. In a tavern, a young waitress waters artificial flowers, surrounded by lonely old men… flower power!
Ostend has recently been increasingly central to Bart’s work. He created “The Muse Checkmate” in the iconic Brasserie du Parc, an ode to the surrealism of Marcel Broodthaers, Marcel Duchamps and René Magritte. His “Ostend Reine des Plages” looks back nostalgically at the period of the interwar period, when the seaside town had its last heyday: a mermaid and a merman, the town’s heraldic coat of arms, share a rich booty of fish, with a typical fishing boat with the Casino in the background.
Ramakers’ recent works reveal an apt mastery, nothing is contrived, everything seems natural. We regularly recognise the same models, always in different roles, complemented by ever new characters. It seems like a travelling theatre company, where everyone is familiar with each other, where everyone reinforces each other. The positive energy and confidence splashes off the sensitive plate – the boundary between theatre or film and photography seems increasingly invisible. There is no doubt that the collaborators had lots of fun on these sets, in front of and behind the scenes.
Daydreams of an old white man? Parodies? Clichés? Liberating fantasies? What do the creator’s intentions matter, ultimately everything depends on the eye of the beholder … but a feast for the eyes it certainly is!