Seeing is Revealing: Emmanuel Van der Auwera - HEK Basel

14 May - 7 August 2022
  • Emmanuel Van der Auwera: Photograph by Moritz Schermbach

    Seeing is Revealing – as uncovering something that is underlying – is a maxim that unfolds throughout Emmanuel Van der Auwera’s oeuvre. An attentive observer of our time, the Belgian artist approaches current events and themes through their imagery, revealing the deeper implications of their content and dissemination. His first solo exhibition in Switzerland invites us to encounter his impressive visual worlds, which challenge our perceptions and deepen our understanding of images’ technically constructed quality and distribution through the media. In her extensive review “It’s Not So Quiet. The Return of Art Basel in June, “Young” Fairs, New Spaces for Exchange, and What’s Most Interesting in the Unexpected Heat of Basel, Eleonora Milani wrote that “Emmanuel Van der Auwera’s solo show “Seeing is Revealing,” which looks at the effect of technological devices as filters through which we perceive and view the world of images, is one of the most interesting and solid exhibitions of the season.”


    These works hinge on highly publicised current events, and illuminate the tragedies, tendencies and taboos of our media-infested world. The material Van der Auwera departs from is not only collected from streaming platforms, but also news channels and commercial providers’ image databases. His visual archive reveals their constructed reality, which he accentuates by highlighting the relationship between fact and fiction. Driven by the pursuit of "collective human experience”, the artist addresses fundamental issues of today’s world, ranging from the expansion of the surveillance state to simulated realities and deepfakes.


    Emmanuel Van der Auwera: Seeing is Revealing – offers a representative overview of the artist's work and presents three new works created for the show at HEK. The exhibition and the supporting programme are supported by Vidi-Square, MindSpaces S+T+ARTS Lighthouse, the Volkart Foundation and the BLKB Foundation for Culture and Education.


    Curator: Sabine Himmelsbach

    PhotosFranz Wamhof


    Emmanuel Van der Auwera: Photograph by Moritz Schermbach

  • Van der Auwera’s works demand critical engagement with both distant horror and mediated intimacy. He expects and encourages skepticism, even...

    Van der Auwera’s works demand critical engagement with both distant horror and mediated intimacy. He expects and encourages skepticism, even refutation, of the loaded images we engage with on a daily basis. Simultaneously his practice brings into focus our dependency on that documentation as a stand-in for memorialization.


    — Justine Ludwig, Executive Director, Creative Time

  • VideoSculpture XXV (Archons)

    8 LCD screens, black glass, cable, 19 min. HD video, color sound 310 x 310 x 170cm

    The large-format VideoSculpture XXV (Archons) consists of eight manipulated screens and four black glass plates via which the images can be seen in their inverted form. In this new work, Van der Auwera reflects on the presence of artificial intelligence in today’s visual worlds and the notion of digital immortality. With poetic images, he takes us into the world of deepfakes and AI-generated liquefied landscapes. These transform themselves again and again into new scenarios, into nostalgic images of a «dream machine» that uses the aesthetics of well-known photo databases. The narrative also includes documentary images that herald the «post-truth» era. In the age of AI, we can no longer trust our eyes and the sound level also underlines the possibilities of AI in the perfect interpretation of human voices. Even the human being can be digitally incarnated based on his data. We are immersed in poetic visions of a post-mortal digital life.

  • While intended to be seen embedded within the VideoSculpture format, for those unable to visit the exhibition you may view the film here.


  • Emmanuel Van der Auwera's films gravitate around something missing - a subject, an image, or an event in absentia. At the intersection of documentary and dramaturgy, he brings the real into a state of disappearance, urging us to question the image world as it begins to overlap with physical space.  In the use of new social technologies, Van der Auwera sees a reflection of archetypal impulses, from the desire to make representations of our world, to our fascination with cruelty, the performative nature of tragedy, and, ultimately, the human quest for immortality.


    - Caroline Dumalin

  • NSJ, 3 Channel HD Video, Color, Sound 17 minutes and 20 seconds


    3 Channel HD Video, Color, Sound 17 minutes and 20 seconds

    This 3-channel video installation explores the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in mass demonstrations and civil riots. In striking images marked by chaos and unrest, Van der Auwera exposes the various processing data with which AI reads the scene – from the identification of bodies to the analysis of patterns in human movement. AI’s machine view of the world takes shape in these videos, of which the first shows schematic outline examination, the second exposes colour grid modules used in movement pattern analysis, while the third reveals how AI recognises shapes. It is a world in turmoil that Van der Auwera presents to us as he dissects the algorithmic regime of the gaze and reveals its working methods without exposing people and faces. This work was created during the MindSpaces Residency supported by S+T+ARTS and Horizon2020.

  • VideoSculpture XX (The World's 6th Sense)

    2019, 6 LCD screens, polarization filter, plexiglass, 10 tripods, cables, HD video, 13 mins 34 secs

    The installation deconstructs the concept of visibility, putting the viewer in an uncomfortable position between a world transformed into an unstoppable flux of images and the necessity of critically questioning it.


    - Aurelien Le Genissel, On Psychotic Images and Other Visual Symptoms, Mousse Magazine

    Advertised as the world’s ‘sixth sense,’ thermal imaging offers precise surveillance for a range of uses – firefighting, navigation, safety and law enforcement, pest control, and medical diagnostics. Used for field demonstrations filmed to market the latest technology to military contractors, the footage in VideoSculpture XX (The World’s 6th Sense) flaunts a thermographic camera’s skills at capturing detail and range – yet paints a phantasmal portrait of the Las Vegas Strip, drained of its color and camp. Van der Auwera’s VideoSculpture XX emerges as both an image and image-hunter, surveying from the sniper tower. 


    This work was shown in the exhibition Au-delà du réel? at CENT-QUATRE during the Biennale Némo from October 9, 2021 to January 9, 2022. The piece was previously shown at the First Jinan International Biennial in Shandong, China (2020), at the WIELS Centre for Contemporary Art, Brussels, Belgium (2019) and at 214 Projects, Dallas, USA (2019). An edition is in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art


  • Van der Auwera's VideoSculptures take a new position to explore the intersections of digital and physical life and how the...

    Van der Auwera's VideoSculptures take a new position to explore the intersections of digital and physical life and how the filtering of images in production, dissemination, and digestion alter both individual perception and consensual experience. Using the screen as sculptural material, these works break images out of the frame in a low-tech manner. They start with an act of destruction as the artist literally takes a knife to a screen to carve away physical layers. Unbeknown to most, these layers are filters that are adhered to every LCD screen. Without the mediation of these filters, images become impossible to see with the naked eye and white noise fills the space.In a second step, the removed filters are placed on tripods between the screens, which makes the images visible, but only as fragments. In this sense, the act of looking becomes a physical activity where the body and effort of the viewer are essential to seeing. One must change their position to see different angles of the story playing out before them. These sculptures create a field of view where the image appears in the horizon between the viewer and the screen, subverting the process of perception and breaking the standard suspension of disbelief to give control back to the viewer.

  • VideoSculpture XVIII (O'Hara's on Cedar St II), 2018, LCD screen, polarization filter, metal, cables, HD video 19 mins 52 secs,...

    VideoSculpture XVIII (O'Hara's on Cedar St II)

    2018, LCD screen, polarization filter, metal, cables, HD video 19 mins 52 secs, 205 x 115 cm

    The polarising filters of the screens in VideoSculpture XVII (O’Hara’s on Cedar St.), have been partially removed, in strips. While their initial functionality as imaging devices is destroyed, a narrative does become apparent where strips of screen remain intact. They show a film shot during the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, 2001. It tours Ground Zero to the O’Hara’s Irish Pub on Cedar Street, which was a refuge for many workers since the attacks. In this multi-layered work, Van der Auwera allows the trauma of the attack to reverberate, in deceleration and staged choreography. The permanence of the cut in history represented by the date is mirrored in the rigidity of the equipment. Van der Auwera’s work extends the perspective from individual fates to the larger social body and its actions.

  • VideoSculpture XIV (Shudder), LCD Screens, black glass, cables, HD video 7 min 13 sec, 206 x 117 x 130 cm

    VideoSculpture XIV (Shudder)

    LCD Screens, black glass, cables, HD video 7 min 13 sec, 206 x 117 x 130 cm

    The predecessor of VideoSculpture XXV (Archons), VideoSculpture XIV (Shudder) is among Van der Auwera’s first works to experiment with the inversion of images via reflecting glass surfaces. The work itself looks void of images, until its reflection in the glass reveals in the negative what is being played on the manipulated screens. It appears as a strangely soulless alternative world, and exudes an uncanny fascination. The video clips were drawn from an online database, originally created for commercial purposes, which the artist searched with terms such as «loneliness», “trauma”, “distress” and “sad US Marine”. The inversion the artist subjects the material to creates an additional distance that opens into new perspectives. In a true sense of the word, we are immersed in the tremors of our visual world. The maquette for this work was acquired by The Dallas Museum of Art, while the VideoSculpture itself is in the collection of Kanal Centre-Pompidou in Brussels.

  • Through an assemblage of contrasting self-presentations, Van der Auwera reveals mechanisms by which social media transforms how we apprehend and grieve, or don’t, a sort of violence that is nearing ubiquity.


    - Amanda Saroff, Emmanuel Van der Auwera, Artforum

    In addition to VideoSculptures and new works, Van der Auwera ipresents important pieces from the past years, including Wake Me Up at 4:20 previously shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ostend (Mu.Zee) and the WIELS Centre for Contemporary Art as well as the installation version of his film The Sky is on Fire, which was the object of a solo exhibition at the Botanique museum in Brussels in 2019. While the film can be viewed on a screen, it also exists splayed across three LED walls, as seen below. 

  • Emmanuel Van der Auwera, Wake me up at 4:20, 2017

    Wake me up at 4:20

    2017, Mirror screen, HD video 12 mins 22 secs, 121 x 68 cm

    The video installation Wake Me Up at 4:20 explores internet trends related to YouTube celebrities and the disturbing phenomenon of suicide memes. These provide step-by-step instructions inciting players to ultimately kill themselves. Embarking from the event of two young girls who rose to instant fame following their online suicide through such a game, Van der Auwera created a video with avatars designed by 3D software commenting on the subject and philosophising about identity. Despite their visual resemblance with characters from video games, the avatars seem authentic, speaking with voices extracted from anonymous online video comments. Facial recognition software was used to animate the avatars’ facial expressions; however, since the technology also produces glitches (digital errors), the software causes the faces to freeze or distort strangely as they speak. This in turn makes them appear all the more vulnerable, lending the digital beings a semblance of humanity.

  • The Sky is on FIre

    HD video 4:1, 15 mins 21 secs

    The Sky Is on Fire is a large-scale, 3-channel LED video installation. A slow, constant camera pan captures a setting of what seems at first to be an idyllic American suburb, subtly transformed to reveal its dystopian urban quality. Made in the wake of the tragedy of the Parkland school massacre in Florida in 2018, Van der Auwera’s digital processing of documentary photographs and 3D scans of real places, deconstructs spaces and images to create an uncanny imaginary landscape of a highly evocative quality. The artist’s distortions deliberately recall real places and events. In voice-over, a young man provides a monologue on how technology will outlast, preserve and save us. The promise of technology’s salvation is set against a virtual, constructed visual world. It is precisely the subtlety of transformation that causes The Sky Is on Fire to be so riveting.

  • You can also order the artist's first monograph Emmanuel Van der Auwera: A Certain Amount of Clarity. The book is...

    You can also order the artist's first monograph Emmanuel Van der Auwera: A Certain Amount of Clarity. The book is published by Yale and Mercator. It is edited by Harlan Levey and Amanda Sarroff with contributions by Justine Ludwig, Caroline Dumalin, Hans de Wolf and Ive Stevenheydens. 

  • Interview with Emmanuel Van der Auwera