Koen Deprez: Embracing Ambiguity

Embracing Ambiguity

Text by Alex Allenchey
November 10, 2014
Koen Deprez considers himself a threat. Coming from the Belgian-born artist who is nothing if not eminently amicable, this statement was something of a surprise, however while chatting recently with Deprez, it became clear that he's not your typical architect.

"Some people might say, 'What happened to my building?'", Deprez exclaims while discussing one of his works in the expansive, career-spanning exhibition Structure and Event, currently on view at the Center for Architecture in New York. "I think it's fantastic to see it being used differently," he says, referring to the work in question: a small, brass model made in 1987 for a competition to design beach houses along the Belgian coastline. Deprez was shocked to learn, during what became a revelatory research visit to the then existing abodes, that the buildings were being employed as hubs for prostitution and ammunition storage.

It was at this point that Deprez, who in his early twenties had been working under the tutelage of famed architect Rem Koolhaas, realized that the ways in which people used buildings, always diverged from the architect's original intentions. These unpredictable usages, or "events," became the central theme in Deprez's work, as he began to embrace the ambiguity inherent in his practice.

The openminded approach of the artist-architect is apparent throughout the 50 works that comprise the exhibition, and which range in media from drawings and paintings to collages and photographs. The large schematics for Deprez's "Aggressive Parks," inspired by the 1973 sci-fi movie Westworld, hang opposite the mock-ups for a house dedicated to a Russian author, with blueprints that identify not rooms, but emotional responses.

Deprez also stressed the idea of "self-navigation," which, as a teacher, he conveys to his students through a series of open-ended exercises that emphasize the learning process over rote information. Gesturing towards "Table pratique," a near tromp l'oeil collage of the silhouette of a table overlaid on a rocky landscape, Deprez explains that architects "look at the natural world and see possibility." But what they create, he continues, "are only the tools." Without human events, his structures are never complete.

Koen Deprez - Structure and Event

Center for Architecture, New York
11/6/2014 – 12/3/2014
Home for No One is a temporary refuge that offers its residents nothing but water and electricity. There are no instructions or social rules. Instead, the temporary visitor is invited to act according to his own discretion and to cover up his tracks when leaving. In this way, the home is devoid of any memory and culture and can be entered each time without presuppositions, each time anew.

Representing an aerial view of a the layout of a bus, Deprez cut the design into the gallery floor using a saw and removed various sections.

Deprez covered the surrounding walls with reproductions of the panoramic vistas and dramatic landscapes painted by Joachim Patinir (1480–1524), many of which contain an unexpected interruptions in the foreground: the figure of a solitary wanderer.

The collage technique allows the artist to juxtapose different images: pictures reminiscent of 1970s atomic warfare are integrated into startling new contexts. In these works, Deprez replaces the grand, natural landscapes that characterize Romantic paintings with nocturnal urban vistas; atmospheric nuclear explosions, rather than moonlight, illuminate the surroundings.

An inhospitable environment surrounded by a lunar landscape,
Espace T.l. II is organised around a television screen, a toaster, a loudspeaker and a refrigerator. As in Espace T.l. I, the devices dominate the space and are able to divert and disturb every human interaction. Apart from these functions, this dwelling is an applied vacuum. The only space that is perceived as ‘free’ is the lunar landscape yet, in reality, it is uninhabitable.

Table pratique is a blunt tribute to the unmediated site as a locus for potential. Devoid of any sort of program and almost silent in character, the setting remains open to multiple uses.

Elegy for Joseph Brosky is a revision of Own Home from 1988. The plan is based on a literary work: the poems of Russian author Joseph Brodsky. In the labyrinth construction of the house, which comprises alcoves, peep holes, and seemingly endless circulation routes, Deprez aimed to elevate the distinction between structure and decoration.

This curious looking puzzle is the result of a complex, four-part process that departs from historical paintings of the Annunciation by famous masters. The work engages both artist and viewer —be it a gallery owner, museum director, or collector—in a game of loss and being lost.

While this project was developed in two parts, the second of which remains undeveloped and intentionally incomplete, this project remains purposefully on the drawing board. By separating artistic process from the application phase, the artist renounces his authorial authority and distances himself from any symbolic meaning that can be attached to the residence.

Deprez designed these beach huts to be generic cabins that could be used in different and non-predictable ways. Placing the cabins within a tidal area meant that they could only be reached by walking or by swimming, depending on the time of day. Instead of entering via a front door, the owners climbed down a ladder in the roof. Deprez only wanted to supply the beach-goer with a platform; it was of no concern to him how the cabins might actually be used.