Studio visit: Silio Durt

We visited the studio of Silio Durt, somewhere between past, present, and fuutre.

Multi-coloured festering lumps of meat protruding from black, monochrome cubes, cuddly puppies that transform from the neck down into dripping, contagiously moulding fur, cartoonish figures and caricatural filthy sad sacks who violently turn against themselves and the world, and huge, expanding organic sculptures, but also loneliness and busyness, sorrow and exuberance, destroyed icons of popular culture, and the subcutaneous plumbing of the soul... If you are planning a visit to the Centre Culturel Jacques Franck one of these days, prepare to be submerged in intense, instinctive, violent, recalcitrant images, and polychromatic rebellion.

In "Joyful Mongoloïd," artist Silio Durt (1985) blends innocence and decay, freedom and tyranny, censorship and uncontrollability. Humans are what they are, and it is that state of tortured and torturous barbarity that the young artist captures in brutal depiction: “It is that carnality, that savagery that I am developing now. The theme of barbarity as a state, the deed of wresting oneself from culture. We are born into this culture, with all its attendant laws, but perhaps we are forced into it excessively. That is the theme of Human Meat: huge heaps of meat that attempt to reconquer life from rigid, black forms. Censorship, the great black block. We are trying to live under the regime of a society that oppresses us, but simultaneously, we are a kind of monstrosity in conflict with it, which tries to devour all.”

“After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say ‘I want to see the manager’,” William S. Burroughs said. Silio Durt leaves the manager undisturbed and undertakes his own furious battle. His paintings, drawings – including child-like drawings that have exploded into pure abomination in the series Grasloriage –, silkscreens, collages, and playful sculptures with ironed beads exude an almost physical urge for destruction in the hope to bring something new to life, to create new life. A fascinating and intensely sultry combination of childlike freedom in form and colour, and a ripened insight into the incurable human condition. “Life and death, that’s pretty much what it boils down to. It’s a kind of messy, degenerated reincarnation. We are our own destruction, our own construction, but in ugliness. I perceive us as huge lumps of rotting and festering meat, engaged in a battle with our own planet, which is devouring us while we try to destroy it. That eternal conflict. And that is the theme of the Joyful Mongoloïd too: being in conflict with everything, super energetic, uncontrollable, joyful and violent at the same time. I experience all those oppositions as well. There are moments when things go well, but there are also times when you feel a bit under the weather, and you can see that in my work: a kind of hopeless discourse, alive but with little future. Le passé présent fuutre!”

Silio Durt started drawing as a young child, but tried his hand at other things as a student: “I drew a lot as a child, but at a certain point I stopped completely. In 2003, I enrolled at the École de Recherche Graphique (ERG) for video. I didn’t want to draw, but make film, because I loved the films of Kubrick and Lynch. I loved art house cinema. But due to the fact that you regularly change department at the ERG, I gradually picked up drawing again. When I completed my course in illustration and drawing, I studied painting for a year, and that’s where it all began for real. The father of a friend of mine was the painter Serge Vandercam of the CoBrA movement. I spontaneously felt a close affinity with his work. Initially, I mostly made drawings and illustrations, but when I saw those works, I went completely wild.”

Although David Lynch is still not far away. “Precisely, it’s an insane universe! [Laughs] I always try to mix things. I focus strongly on the contradictions and ambivalences an image can contain. To me, drawing is always a combination of tinkering and precision. When you strike the right balance, you create something explosive. Somebody once told me that my work is very childlike and very morbid at the same time, and I think that description is quite accurate. I once tried to make something upbeat, but I soon stopped. I’m immersed in trashy visual language, though I hope to transcend the very basic trash images and to create something more multi-layered.”
Silio Durt has also theorised about these layers in a paper he wrote at the ERG: La philosophie du ‘Muscle’. Muscle flexing or joking? “It was for me to take a stand, to find a language with which I could defend my ideas. I linked art to the discourse of bodybuilding - bodybuilders ultimately becoming lumps of meat, uncontrollably outpacing themselves. They are always à fond la forme! And I create art à fond la forme! And now there is the Manifeste du mouvement esthétique du Mongol Jovial. I like creating a story for myself, inventing things, to disorient people. The same is true of my publishing house, Büyük Yumruk. I invented my own publishing house, but I am still the only person who publishes with it. [Laughs] There is something rather serious about it too. ‘Wow, he is the founder of the École Mongol Jovial!’ At the same time, I support it. You shouldn’t take yourself too seriously, or rather: you have to take yourself seriously at the right time.”

Silio Durt is impossible to pigeonhole. His spirit is hungry, jumpy, and his work is equally restless: “C’est le bordel organisé! I don’t do it on purpose, but it’s true that I mix everything, throw it all in a heap. Although I do leave slightly more space in my work now. I rarely start from sketches; I almost never know where it is going. At the beginning, that is confronting and it doesn’t look like anything, but step by step, by adding little things, layer after layer, the image becomes coherent. That is the result of combining movement and spontaneity with precision. What I call the Joyful Mongoloïd: the slasher who can simultaneously be hyper-intensely concentrated on very small details. Maybe a little bit autistic…” [Laughs]

Another aspect of that capricious identity is neophilia, the need for change that is tangible in the diversity of media Silio Durt uses. In contrast to his earlier work, his style now evinces greater freedom. “Absolutely. I certainly feel more free now, and perhaps also calmer. Sometimes at least... [Laughs] I used to confine myself to specific forms, now I do what I want. I don’t like repetition: I cannot make fifty drawings the same way. That does not mean, however, that I do not reprise certain things. But I need change.”

One of those new future projects is concealed behind a minuscule link on Silio Durt’s site. "Un pavé dans la mare de merde," it says, which, among much other hilarious rancidity, contains a parody of Omar m’a tué entitled Omar m’a chié. “You found that site?! It’s supposed to be private! It’s a bunch of bizarre montages and moronic statements that are supposed to develop into a fanzine later this year, which I aim to establish anonymously with a number of authors, illustrators, and photographers.”

Yet another plan emerges from the name of Silio Durt’s publishing house, Büyük Yumruk, named after a Turkish film by Çetin Inanç, the guy who also made Turkish Star Wars. "In the 1970s, he made almost art brut style action films on a shoestring. ‘Büyük yumruk’ means the hardest punch. Everything is filmed in mono, every two seconds the sound and colour of the image change. Unbearable! I also make film montages. I’m working on a film, Enfance sauvage, in which I edit existing cartoon images of second-rate baddies. Twenty-one minutes of failed bad guys, uncontrollable energy, a total shipwreck!”

Intensity is a natural state to Silio Durt. In his studio, which he shares with the three Hell’O Monsters and his brother Elzo, among others, there is always music playing. It is one of his changing sources of inspiration. “I am rarely influenced by images. At the moment, I am mostly influenced by books, by authors like Burroughs, William T. Vollmann, Hubert Selby Jr., but also by music and cinema. It is always very busy where I work. I always work in noise. What is more, there is an evangelical church next door to our studio. Dreadful! [Sings:] ‘Jésuuuu, notre sauveur!!’ [Hilarity] There is always noise. I find it hard to focus, that is the Joyful Mongoloïd in me... I am not a very calm person. But things are going alright, you know. Fortunately, the studio is quite large. At times when it gets a bit too much, I just go home. But, well, I live in Matonge, which is pretty much the busiest place in Brussels. Aaaargh! It never stops!”

BOROUGH: Anderlecht
EXHIBITION: “Joyful Mongoloïd”, > 14/4, Centre Culturel Jacques Franck, Sint-Gillis/Saint-Gilles,
PUBLICATIONS: Passé Présent Fuutre, Büyük Yumruk, 2012; Grasloriage, Büyük Yumruk, 2012

Photos © Heleen Rodiers

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