On the first day of Unseen 2015, Vincent Delbrouck was awarded the Outset | Unseen Exhibition Fund. On Thursday this week, his solo exhibition New Paintings at Foam 3h opens. To celebrate the occasion, here is an interview with Vincent that was published in the second edition of Unseen Magazine.
There is an undeniable evolution between your early work Beyond History (Havana 1998-2006) and your later Himalayan Trilogy (including Some Windy Trees, As Dust Alights and Dzogchen). Your personal connection with Buddhism and meditation brought a new dimension to your photography, incorporating elements of nature, light and silence that give your work a spiritual aura. How did these experiences in Nepal influence your work?
I lived in Nepal with my family from 2009 to 2010. Among the chaos of Kathmandu city, I found a nest of silence that I needed to keep breathing. There are not many friends around, no fast Internet connection, no electricity for hours, and no way to escape from what is inside your body and mind. The power of Tibetan Buddhism came to me as a beautiful invitation, so I embraced it with great enthusiasm. By reading, writing and taking photographs I finally found myself connected to my most powerful inner child: nature. My photography, for all those reasons, became more contemplative and less nervous.
Tell us about Dzogchen, the third part of the Himalayan project that was launched at Unseen, and the story behind it.
Dzogchen is considered the highest teaching and practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Its fundamental tenet is that reality, including the individual, is already complete and perfect, that nothing needs to be transformed or renounced but only recognised for what it truly is. The fact that one's nature is like a mirror reflecting all forms of phenomenal existence, but unaffected by these reflections, is for me like an unlimited life force. My work reflects my preoccupations and I am deeply attracted to the spiritual. The mind, the hypersensitive and emotional being are all affected inside my body by the quest to understand consciousness, a sense of life, nature and relations. I will try not to illustrate this topic in Dzogchen; this book will be more like a compilation of texts and images.
Despite being based in Cuba, your newest work Hablar en voz baja comes across as a more peaceful project with a different energy to Beyond History. Is this a form of closure to your earlier work as well as a tribute to the role that Cuba has played in your life?
I feel that life is a circle, and I am still walking it. I keep turning around while trying to escape the mechanism but it is not easy for me to leave things behind. Cuba to me is a quest and it’s not easy to abandon. It’s nothing sacred, just a playground where I can be playful and see what happens when I let all the windows open for everything I am curious about. When I look at Beyond History now I realise that I was searching for so many things (images, love, answers…) in Cuba. This work is still part of me. It is the round place, the island I am trying to leave maybe. I know it is just the reflection of a dirty and unconscious place in my mind and I have to be at peace with it, with all its fragments.
Why is the photobook a good format to showcase your work?
A book is like a box where I can arrange all my stuff like a puzzle and let short stories grow inside to be opened later on by someone else. It is a natural process more than a conceptual choice. I am not starting from an idea for a book but from experimentation between photography and literature. I don't care about opening bridges between the two practices; I am good at passionate bavardages, like explosions of energy.
Photo © Vincent Delbrouck/Stieglitz19, Plastic bag, from the series 'Hablar en Voz Baja', 2014.