There was a rather discreet garage door in Gentbrugge that I used to pass by on a daily basis. I didn’t know at the time that Chantal Pollier was working behind that very door. The artist, who's also a curatrix, welcomes me to her winter studio where a drafting table overlooks the courtyard's willow tree.
Among the pencils and the sketchbooks, I see small pieces of lace. It's an atypical material for a sculptor, but since Pollier used lace in an earlier work, she's been captivated by this old traditional craft. She also admires the astonishing ease with which they carved the fabric's details into stone, representing the lace's delicacy and fragility.
Chantal: “This is my incubation room. This is where I retreat to in winter, when it's too cold to work in the sculpture studio. When the temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius, it’s impossible to carve, your hands clench up. Here in the study, I can make sketches, do research or preliminary studies, often without knowing where they will lead to.”
We walk to the sculpture studio, where a big, black block of marble lies waiting. During lockdown, when all the copy centres were closed, Pollier printed fragments of a Van Eyck grisaille on an A4 page. Using the bas-relief method, she carved the master's drapery in stone. In the era when the arts of painting and sculpture were constantly competing to be recognised as the best art form, Van Eyck wanted to prove that he could achieve three-dimensionality purely with paint. Pollier apprenticed herself to Van Eyck as it were, and modelled her stone – flawlessly – on his painting, which became her artwork called ‘De plooien van de tijd’ (“The folds of time”). Talk about meta-levels!
How long have you been working here?
"We've been here for 17 years now. This studio used to be a glass sorting factory. It was completely in decay after being disused for 30 years. Before we came here, I worked in my garden house. I was lucky to be able to turn this space into two studios with only minimal changes. The sculpture studio is downstairs, the wax studio upstairs. And I have my incubation room in the factory's former office."
Do you work alone here?
"Usually, I’m the only one in the studio, but it’s always a delight to have people over. Sometimes artist friends come here to work, and I organise exhibitions as well. But the first time I joined an open studio event was with Atelier in beeld. With this studio being mine, it's difficult to join a studio organisation, as their open studio days are usually exclusively for their own members. I discovered Atelier in beeld via a call on Ghent's online platform Open Creatives, and I was happy to have found it."
How did you experience Atelier in beeld last year?
"It was a wonderful weekend. I had advertised on Facebook beforehand, and also dropped flyers in the letterboxes on this street. The public was a mix of friends and acquaintances, many people from the neighbourhood, but half of the visitors I didn't know. Because the event lasted an entire weekend, most people could find some time to come by.
And I was continuously up and about. Every time I turned around, a new visitor came in. Fortunately, I had hung up some signs to show the way. I also had some sketchbooks handy so I could work a bit during the quiet moments, but I didn't even open them. (laughter)”
What is the biggest difference between an open studio day and an exhibition?
It's nice to be able show your work in your own habitat, but also to share your process and sources of inspiration, and to chat with people. I had gone to other studios during the open studio days. As an artist I find it fascinating to have a peek at colleagues’ workplaces. My intention is to always strike up a conversation with the artist. Not everyone finds it easy to start a conversation, but once you ask your questions, most artists will happily tell you about their artwork. Atelier in beeld is also very approachable: there's no curation, everyone is welcome, there are no specific boxes you have to tick.
Next to showing opportunities, what else do you lack as an artist?
As a visual artist, the danger of ending up in isolation is always lurking. Individual artists miss out on the support you get as a member of a collective, a gallery or a professional organisation. It's in the little things – being invited to a meeting, but carrying little weight compared to the big organisations. We are many, but we all find ourselves on our own little island.
Sometimes I consider starting a non-collective. It could be a way to give a more powerful voice to the artists who don't necessarily want to have a lot of power, but who have great ideas that should be heard.
Do you have plans for Atelier in beeld's next edition?
The installation 'Curiosity killed the cat’ (an assembly of very personal objects, with miniatures, small collections in little boxes, a sand collection, a gecko's skin, etc., supervised by two sculptured half-heads, ed.), has been expanding for some years now. For every exhibition I add some elements myself, but at the exhibition of the Watou Arts Festival, and it was the first time that it happened, there were visitors who added objects as well. Dead bees and wasps, spiders… things that really matched. For the first time I had a direct connection with my public through my artwork! I found that so witty, that I'd really like to initiate it myself. So, for Atelier in beeld's next edition I will invite the entire street to participate. I'm thinking of a long table where everyone can leave something behind: a precious little box, a memory or another personal object… So far I've received positive feedback about the idea!
3 tips for your Atelier in beeld:
1: Select artworks that are easy for you to explain. I chose a work which has a very personal story behind it, and another work for which I can talk more about the technique. Don't be afraid to get personal, it's worth it.
2: Invite people from your neighbourhood. Because of the flyer I put in the letterboxes, I met some of my neighbours with whom I had very little contact. My message on Facebook also motivated many people to visit the studio.
3: Everyone is welcome to open studio days, and for some visitors it'll be the first time they enter an art studio. If you also show your inspiration material, it'll help your visitors to find a topic they can talk about. Can you give a demonstration? Do it! What is obvious to you as the artist, might not be so for many visitors.
Photos: Tim Theo Deceuninck