The Belgium Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2019: An Interview with Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys

by Carla Ingrasciotta
July 30, 2019
Carla Ingrasciotta
Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys

Artists Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, in collaboration with curator Anne-Claire Schmitz, present “Mondo Cane” at the 58th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia as part of their participation to the Belgian Pavilion.

For the occasion of the Special Mention they have been awarded, we interviewed the artists to learn more about their biennale’s experience.

Carla Ingrasciotta: You have been awarded a Special Mention as National Participation at the Venice Biennale 2019, what was your reaction? And how do you perceive the general public’s reaction to your project?

Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys: We were very happy and totally in shock. It was extremely difficult not to get totally drunk after the news of this Special Mention but I managed to stay sober. I went to bed early. It is a great recognition for our 30-year-old art practice.

The reactions on Mondo Cane are excellent as far as I know. Of course there will be people who think it’s bullshit but tools like Instagram, Facebook and Google are like a filter of positivity. We only see very enthusiastic posts about Mondo Cane so maybe that’s fake news. Who knows. We will see in the end.
We are satisfied with the result.

C.I: How was your collaboration with curator Anne-Claire Schmitz? How did you conceive and develop the project together? What was the starting point and the issues that inspired you to respond to Rugoff’s curatorial theme “ May You Live in Interesting Times”?

JDG & HT: When Anne-Claire asked us if we were interested in making a dossier for the Venice Biennale 2019 the idea was already completed after our second meeting.
The whole thing must have been sleeping in our heads for a long time, and then it woke up at the right moment.

C.I.: “Mondo Cane” is inhabited by automated dolls which are modelled both on fictive characters and real people. Could you tell us about the creative process of your artwork? Do you work alone or do you have a team of collaborators with you?

JDG & HT: We have been working with human figures since the mid-eighties. Our characters have always been undertaking small and rather repetitive actions. Overtime, they became even more stereotyped and slowly turned into puppets.

Last year we started using 3D printers to make a large number of plaster heads. This way we could create exactly the characters we wanted.
For “Mondo Cane” it goes a step further and the puppets are now automated figures. They can perform small movements but actually, they are very static and regressive. We collaborated with a very good team that has been working on the project since the very beginning. Coming to Venice all together to clean up the pavilion, paint it, install our work and present it to the public, feels a bit like a school field trip. Everybody thinks in the same direction. We are all astonished by what we have achieved.

C.I.: Our publishing house is based in Venice, I imagine you had the chance to get around the city a bit. What do you think about life in this city and its art scene?

JDG & HT: I have the impression that all the contemporary art in Venice comes from outside of Venice. It is the most important place to show art. This, in combination with the thousands of people who take selfies and the huge Cruise boats that are bigger than skyscrapers, make it a very weird place. Interesting to see but also a bit of a nightmare. We were very happy to stay on the Lido in quiet a Hotel with a nice rose garden.

C.I.: Are there any projects or pavilions you particularly enjoyed at the 58th Venice Art Biennale?

JDG & HT: The pavilion of Brasil I liked a lot. I will see them all when I go back in September. Until now I was too focused on the Belgian Pavillion.

C.I.: What are you working on at the moment? Future plans?

JDG & HT:  For the moment we are taking a break to digest.

Keep up to date with My Art Guides
Sign up to our newsletter and stay in the know with all worldwide contemporary art events