Silvia B. (b. Rotterdam, 1963) is known for her sculptures that are neither entirely human nor entirely animal. Her installation specially created for this exhibition at GEM
again features human figures which are by no means open to simple interpretation. It depicts a group of boys dressed in white and wearing white masks playing with their white toys. It could be just an innocent masquerade, but it might equally be a matter of life and death. The men in Les Beaux, a series of drawings, are equally ambiguous. It is difficult to decide whether they are displaying mere superficial vanity or an inner need, reflecting the spirit of the age or timeless human traits.
Silvia B.s work is full of hybrid characters, balancing between good and evil, beauty and ugliness. They appear attractive at first, perfectly made, drawing the viewer closer, only to arouse feelings of alarm as the unconventional nature of their attractiveness becomes apparent. And the characters in her installation Les plus Beaux are no exception.
Having arrived in the deepest darkest gallery at GEM, visitors discern six white winners podiums on which stand boys aged between four and ten clad in white. They seem to be guarding a glass case in which lies another little boy dressed in a white suit, almost entirely buried under a large white dog that is lying on top of him, its ears pricked. This silent, fairytale scene, which includes several white animals, is explosively charged thanks to the extravagant clothes worn by the boys. Smart white suits combine with white sportswear and accessories to give a look that is at odds with convention. Each character clearly has his own style and status within the group. With their faces hidden behind a variety of masks, their customised images define both their individual and their shared territory, as they stand with their lovely white toys at the ready.
Before visitors enter the room, they get a foretaste of the scene in the form of a tiny man holding his own head in a stocking, a dreamlike expression on his face. Where his head should be there is a skull with a brace on the upper row of teeth. Behind him hangs a list of names like film credits of the characters in the installation (including Mors, Lord Rangda, Hero and Mr. Gaff).
References to both fairytales and martial arts, to street culture and fairground life as well as to art history, the reversal of meaning and rebuffing of opinion are typical of Silvia B.s work. The discord between where we come from and where we are going (our animal instincts and our artificial, rational side) play a key role. The images she produces are caught between different ages, sexes or cultures, and also between human and puppet, or human and animal. The growing importance of fashion in Silvia B.s work makes it highly topical. For a long time now, fashion has been about more than simply clothes, hair and make-up; the entire body is now a showcase for the extensions, prostheses, mutilations and other adornments that reflect the spirit of the age.
These themes can also clearly be seen in the series of drawings entitled Les Beaux (2005-2006), a collection of detailed portraits of men who have customised themselves to such an extent with make-up, tattoos or surgery that they have placed themselves outside the norm. Unlike the gang of extrovert young boys, however, each of these men is engaged in his own silent battle.