A new kind of art space has appeared on the Brussels scene. More than a gallery, it is a temple that celebrates the unknown in and beyond art. The two people who began it, Dome Wood and Sam Steverlynck, give us a rundown.
This is an unlikely time to open a gallery. The art market is in complete disarray. People are reluctant to leave the house. Galleries and museums are visited cautiously and sometimes at double speed. Nonetheless, this strange duo is launching a strange sort of gallery, which is not a gallery, because it is a temple. The Agprognostic Temple. No need to run to the spirituality section of your library: you will not find anything there on the subject, because this duo invented it.
On my left is Dome Wood, an Australian artist who lives and works in Belgium, who creates painting/diagrams brimming with cryptic forms and symbols intended as aids to meditation and the elevation of consciousness. On my right is Sam Steverlynck (you must not attribute any ideological significance to this particular positioning, which would, in any case, be the other way around in a mirror). Sam is an art critic and editor in chief of HART Magazine. He also contributes to The Word Magazine and Damn° Magazine and is a curator in his spare time.
In its manifesto, The Agprognostic Temple reminds us that, since time immemorial, art has rendered visible the invisible, has revealed to us the presence of the Unknown. This revelation, however, does not mean that the unknown becomes known, but rather that the Unknown itself as a presence of being becomes known as that which can never be known.
The two founders of the Temple connect it with a spirituality that predates religion, as in ancient Greece. Agprognosticism, the philosophy that forms the basis of the temple, takes its name from three aspects of knowledge: that which is not known, the Agnostic, that which is known, the Gnostic, and the capacity to know, the Prognostic.
The temple is an open structure covered entirely in white, at the end of which stands an imposing black cube with bevelled edges.
This is the Cube of the Unknown, the centrepiece of the exhibition. It is a black box that contains one of the exhibition's key works, which the public will neither be able to see nor touch. Only on the last day of the exhibition will it be revealed for all to see during a ceremony. “It may be a little disturbing, but I'm convinced that the unknown has a presence and that it is revealed through art. By familiarising people with the unknown, we offer them a new narrative about how we understand science and religion, the material and the immaterial,” says Dome.
What would a temple be without its followers? Agprognosticism is no exception. Those who want to will be able to attend an initiation ceremony that will take place in the darkest depths of the basement. Details of the ritual are kept secret, as they should be. Perhaps the initiated will spend a moment with their head in a black cube, but nothing is certain.
If you have kept reading until now, you may well be asking yourself some questions. “It's not a joke or a pastiche, nor is it a cult,” Sam is careful to clarify. “It is, rather, another way of living and experiencing art. It's also an opportunity to put works of art on sale in a different context to that of the market. We have sensed a high level of fatigue in the art world. And with the coronavirus crisis, people's sense of certainty has crumbled in the face of that fatigue. To us, the best way to react is to create our own rules. Jesus expelled the merchants from the temple; we are bringing them back,” he says with a smile.
The Cuban artist Ricardo Brey will be the first to occupy the cube. “It's a completely mad idea, but I like it,” was his slightly surprised reaction. Some of the works were specially commissioned for the Temple; others already existed but acquire a different meaning when exhibited in a different context.
The first exhibition, or rather the first chapter of the adventure, is entitled “Scripted Truths”. The nine artists exhibited, some more well-known, others less so, add up to the first manifesto of this atheist temple devoted to the unknown. A visit to the Temple is designed to be a total sensory experience. While the visual remains important, smell and hearing will also play a role thanks to a piece of sound art by Lou Touchard and an incense burner by Benjamin Husson, who also presents his hybrid sculptures that combine living and mineral elements, materials and techniques. Filip Vervaet will present some of his dreamlike sculptures. Philippe Koeune has produced a fresco inspired by the Tarot de Marseille and Fia Cielen presents a triptych that is evocative of nineteenth-century seances.
To alleviate the frustration of those awaiting the unveiling of Ricardo Brey's sculpture, the Cuban artist presents a shamanic photo collage of a one-hundred-year-old tree-stump in Havana. Isabel Tesfazghi adds a bit of colour with her textile banner. Shana Moulton's video provides a climax full of humour and self-derision with her off-the-wall critique of new-age consumerism. In The Undiscovered Drawer, the US artist, who plays the main part, searches like Alice for a key so she can leave a room full of interlocking drawers.
The life of the Temple will be full of special events and gatherings. Devotees will have to respect the ten (not entirely serious) commandments. Visitors are invited to leave their negative energy outside the Temple, respect the people around them and observe social distancing, and return dirty glasses to the bar. Sam, whose brother is a mixologist, had initially thought of asking him to create some special drinks for the Temple, but sponsoring practicalities got in the way.
To set up their Temple, Sam and Dome were able to install an incense burner from Kanal in the walls of the Waldburger Wouters gallery, which will be empty for two months. A second exhibition is already planned with Nicolas Provost. After that, the temple will begin a nomadic life. “We'll see how things evolve. We want to erect a temple in Greece next summer. We have made some promising contacts.” But nothing is set in stone.
“It's more of a project than a gallery. We absolutely don't want it to become formulaic. Even though some of the works are for sale, we do not represent the artists. Each of us has kept up their own personal activities. We know we're taking a big risk, but we're happy with that.”
28/8 > 27/9, The Agprognostic Temple, www.agprognostictemple.com