Tuesday, 8 April 2014



Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies - "Eschaton" - Video by Jérôme Siegelaer

My several attempts at seeing Selim Lemouchi & his Enemies playing live were doomed: last year I missed his show in support of Ghost in Utrecht due to a sudden French air-strike that massively delayed my flight; I missed him at the Max Rovers and Jérôme Siegelaer’s exhibition in Eindhoven in December; then the apparition at the Megasin festival in Brussels in February was cancelled... Well, I thought: I am destined to see him at Roadburn. Instead, I shall witness a poignant celebration of his wonderful art and spirit by The Enemies alone… So my physical memories of Selim shall remain linked to his The Devil’s Blood concerts and to our hour-long telephone call back in July 2013. The Afterburner concert shall be a powerful communion… but in the meantime I am presenting this interview with one of his friends and collaborators, Brabant artist Jérôme Siegelaer, whose vodeos, installations and photography strike a deep chord for capturing with refreshing honesty the elemental forces of nature.

Installation is a form of art that, like music, challenges my mind and spirit to a stimulating heightening of senses, perceptions and intuitions: it is a way to give shape to new dreams, to suggest worlds within and beyond; also, for me at least, to achieve temporary inner contentment. Nothing equates to standing in front of a human artifact (or, in case of music, a live band) that takes you elsewhere, through terrifying liquid darkness, blazing fire or celestial stillness. In conceiving my own installations, I am primarily led by feeling, and seizing that collision moment between material and immaterial is where the magic lies to me; and one can later hope that those foreign eyes that will gaze upon the end-product, that “manifested feeling”, will also be propelled into a unique journey of their own.

Art is a magnificent way to exercise one of nature’s wonders, creativity (from my personal a-theist/non-creationist point of view, it feels particularly powerful), and each of us approaches it through a combination of skill and imagination, improvisation and intuition, overpowering feeling and urgency to release, communicate… But what matters is to try and preserve jealously and forcefully Art’s essence as it is one of the purest ways to be in touch with oneself and life’s mysteries. 
Those who are and crazy enough to interpret Art as Life & Death itself know no boundaries. Selim Lemouchi was one of such visionaries: in our interview ( http://wyrdsflight.blogspot.com.es/2013/10/selim-lemouchi.html ) he defended passionately his right to keep his Art pure, and I felt the strength of his convictions as unilateral and deeply genuine. It cannot be otherwise, I agreed wholly... And I understood the enthusiasm in sharing the creative processes with other artists in collaborations where different mind-sets would collide and merge to create a vibrant melting-pot resembling the infinitely textured, indecipherable layers of the universe. Selim understood (and regretted, as his heart was bursting with so much love) with a heightened degree of awareness that no-one perceives, feels and thinks the same: like there are no true soul-mates in relationships, there are no true soul-mates in the realm of the arts... That is sadly very true, but it is also true that there can exist a higher level of brotherhood and sisterhood where personal views and ideas, fluctuating, ever-evolving and ever-expanding as they can be, constitute a mutually challenging, never-ending discourse aimed at making us grow as people, hopefully as society too.

Evolution is a rollercoaster, shooting upwards and plunging downwards at every slight change of environment, bio-chemical imbalance... This is mirrored by the unsettled, unpredictable life of the sensitive artist, always so tremendously vulnerable: inner or outer events can have the devastating effect of an earthquake, a sudden flash floods. Life can end so abruptly... Taking refuge in science, love and respect of nature is my own secret treasure of emeraldine sanity, but it has been a long battle, and Selim’s death, so unexpected and yet totally expected, sent me to places I had not been for at least 3 long years… Still, as ever, the best memories remain: searching deep eyes who “knew” when met mine; a smile full of tenderness and despair; a laughter full if joy and virility; a musician’s touch that spoke through the cosmos…

 Selim Lemouchi's photograph on Mens Animus Corpus - by J. Siegelaer

J.Siegelaer and his stopmotion video "Vlam" for current Sustainability in Cu exhibition
(Photo by Roel Verlinden)

I found out about your art because of your collaborations with Selim Lemouchi, but you have been an artist since 1999. You are from Eindhoven, and it is impossible not to think of the internationally acclaimed Eindhoven Design Academy: what is your background, what was your city like when you started, and how “easy” was it to establish yourself as a professional artist in an area where art and design are substantially backed by government support?

Born in Oss, another industrial town in Brabant, I came to Eindhoven twenty years ago yet went to the Dutch Film Academy in Amsterdam. During my studies I already started as VJ at dance parties and occasionally for bands. Walter Roadburn asked me to work at his festival, second edition or so, and that bond is still strong. In 1999, when I finished Film Academy, I became an independent artist. Eindhoven remained my base. While this city supports design strongly, there is a positive climate for art and artists as well. Not so much by funding but due to its industrial heritage, there are so many places to perform, film, build your installation, organize an exhibition.

Europe was hit very hard by the 2009 financial crisis, and I know that The Netherlands has also suffered, with cases of suicide due to home repossessions, job losses and so on. Yet, the Arts always thrive during periods of crisis, as people need to escape the bleakness of reality. I have visited Eindhoven and Tilburg quite frequently during the past 3 years and one cannot help noticing the huge efforts that are made to enhance initiatives involving art (music especially) and design. How has Eindhoven changed since the crisis?

In Eindhoven there is a huge monumental industrial area, called Strijp-S, which is being developed for housing and business, but in the meanwhile cheap ateliers and urban leisure like skateboarding and BMX got their space. Since the crisis the developments are partly halted, so the acclaimed Area51 can stay for a few years longer.  It’s just an example, but illustrates my will to look at positive developments.

Talking of music, you have been present with your work at the prestigious Roadburn festival: I am aware that, for instance, you were responsible for the amazing B/W imagery that accompanied and greatly enhanced the WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM concert in 2009, your work contributed to creating a truly magic, unforgettable experience! How did this collaboration come about?

It was Walter who introduced WITTR to me. Being blown away by their Two Hunters, I felt a strong connection with their emotional music; a slow pulse, ever changing, under a surface of violent torrents. At that time I had an exhibition going on at Breda’s Museum and amongst my main works there was „BOS” (Forest), a room with 15 semi transparent screens one could wander in between, and four projectors. I decided to take that as a starting point for the WITTR performance. The two brothers hadn’t really seen it but Will told me after the show that he had been watching in awe. Nice! My performance consisted of 6 video compositions, which are huge effect- and feedback systems. The material I fed into the compositions was partly sampled imagery from antique books about flora and fauna, and mostly self shot videos from forests, trees, rock formations and more forests. After Roadburn I was invited by Crosslinx Festival to submit a 20 minute film, on which several musicians would improvise, and I took these compositions to the next level, turning it into a spiritual journey through a metaphoric forest.

From J. Siegelaer's 2010 Wandelingen / Wanderings exhibition
You have been involved in the renowned Dutch Design Week in 2012 and 2013: is it intimidating, and is there a lot of bureaucracy to go through? Are the organizers essentially business-people or do they have a strong involvement with the arts? Which project did you present?

DDW is, in the end, a very commercial enterprise where hundreds of designers participate and try to raise interest for the products they make. The cool thing about DDW though is its rough edges. At DDW2012 I joined for the first time with a selection of photographic works which were for sale, a video installation, and a non-stop playing videoclip I just finished: Thoughts Like Hammers (Enslaved). There wasn’t much bureaucracy since I contacted the location where I wanted to rent a room directly, and they were happy to have some artistic works because, as said before, the borders of where design becomes art or the other way around, are vague. It was received very well and thus I decided to join DDW2013 again. Now at another spot, in joint venture with my friend and designer Sylvia Baladrón. We created a mountain and, on my request, Selim Lemouchi made a soundscape lasting a full hour for it. Later a slightly smaller variation of that Mountain was shown at SL&HE’s album presentation. I’m determined to create a much, much larger Mountain for the next occasion.
Your video for Enslaved’s “Thoughts like Hammers” truly catches the images and emotions that the song evoked within me during my immersive reviewing experience of RIITIIR, dominated by awe-inspiring visions of rugged mountains and wild waters! You seem to have a strong fascination with all the elements, water in particular; in fact you carried on your exploration of such element with and for Selim Lemouchi. Although the Brabant region is not as exposed as the northern areas of The Netherlands, all Dutch people must have a very close relationship with water, as they learnt to master it, closely live with and off it through the centuries, yet always mindful of its life-threatening power: what does this element represent for you as a Dutchman and as an artist?

Well, it’s not water per se that I’m focused on, but nature in general. I tend to watch out for iconic images that are very understandable at first sight, yet inspire to slow down, trigger ideas and create a peaceful environment to be in, an awareness of being just here and now on one’s own.

My latest work is a sculpture and it represents a flame. It goes along a stop motion video I made, using that sculpture and altering its copper wires in between every two photos I shot. When I made the videoshow for The Devil’s Blood, there was also a lot of fire. And blood…

Enslaved - "Thoughts Like Hammers" - Video by J. Siegelaer 

When it came out, I found the video for “ESCHATON” (the first track from Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies’ debut EP “Mens Animus Corpus”) to be tremendously powerful, all the more because Selim himself was the protagonist. To me the fact that he performed in it rather than having someone else acting for him (as many musicians elect to do), was a clear sign of his visceral involvement in everything he did. From the stunning images it transpires that the actual shooting represented a deeply poignant, mystical experience for Selim, who always meant every word in his lyrics… He was always adamant that nobody feels and interprets reality and the metaphysical matters in the same manner, but this video is a great example of how the personal can become universal, which is the essence of true, long-lasting art: can you give us an insight on the philosophical approach to this successful creative effort?

Simply put, it is a story of struggle, resistance, admittance, surrender and becoming one in the end. When I showed a picture that I made at that waterfall to Selim, he became wildly enthusiast and without hesitation told me that it was going to be the front sleeve for his forthcoming EP. We went to the location where I took the picture and even though it was winter, really cold, Selim jumped in the water where he stayed less than twenty seconds. Enough to make the picture that became the back side of the EP sleeve. Yes I knew what I wanted to see, and I also knew that with the photos the story wasn’t told yet, so when the weather allowed us to, we went back and shot the video in two sessions on one day.

What kind of atmosphere was there while you were shooting? Was Selim aware of his charisma? I think he was one of the most physical, carnal people I have ever seen, and this, combined with a particularly intense degree of spirituality, made him without a doubt… “different”, if you know what I mean…

You have to know that Selim could be in very jolly moods, joking and making fun. This was most certainly one of these days. We felt good because we were aware of the beauty we were working on. I was shouting some directing commands to him but those were hardly audible due to the noise of the water. Robby Geerings was there as well, he took some making-of pictures. It shows we liked it over there. A lot.
From a fan’s temporal perspective the journey between the cleansing/rebirth ritual that appears on the back cover of “Mens Animus Corpus”, and his suggestive and premonitory sinking into dark waters at the end of the “Eschaton” video felt extremely powerful and intense, but incredibly short, although in reality it spanned several months. Was there, amongst Selim’s closest friends, a presentiment that his life could end so soon? Many explore the mystery of Life & Death with various degrees of boldness and disparate viewpoints: with Selim one felt that death was truly regarded as a very personal and necessary moment to his spiritual enlightenment.

This is too personal and too soon to answer, so I don’t have any comment on this now nor anytime soon. The only thing I can say is that Selim’s death made me embrace life even tighter.

Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies  - "Thistle" - Video by J Siegelaer

Selim told me in a beautiful interview we did that he hated to be seen as some sort of a prophet or cult leader, hence his great relief in ending The Devil’s Blood. In my eyes Selim just wanted to be able to express his thoughts and feelings in a genuine and honest way: Art IS Freedom, and this is why he was not afraid of the notion of “imperfection”. Can you give me your personal take on Art in general, and describe how you are living this exhilarating, complex relationship with Freedom?

You are putting Art in relation to freedom. To me Art is a necessary means of expression, in order to share ideas, emotions, atmospheres and even parallel, vibrant worlds. The bounds of freedom are not determined by art. (Note: I agree, although in countries where personal freedom is not a given, art can indeed widen the boundaries of one’s psychological freedom… As Jérôme hints in the following answer, we should have indeed held this conversation face-to-face: hopefully I shall get another chance!)

From these notions of freedom and imperfection seen as as a more complex and layered idea of perfection, I come to experience Truth as “truthfulness towards myself” - that is the uncompromising honesty and transparency with which I carry out my humble yet determined fumblings through life. These naked explorations flow in my projects, interviews included, as I see them as part of an ongoing installation which is morphing me each day, and will one day will itself morph and culminate into a unified project. As an artist, what is your personal theory of Truth?

This is a question I’d rather discuss in person, searching together for answers, than figure out in written words. 

 "Mountain", installation by J.Siegelaer & Sylvia Baladrón @ Dutch Design Week 2012
Your video and photographic work with Selim interacting with cascading water brought to mind Bill Viola. Which artists inspired you to dedicate yourself to the visual arts (rather than say, music), and who influenced your explorations along the years?

Bill Viola is among my heroes. For those attending Roadburn I cannot recommend enough De Pont museum in Tilburg, not in the least because of two beautiful works by Bill Viola in their collection. In the past I have even remixed some of Viola’s works, live at performances during techno parties. I like the way he emphasizes the significance of minuscule change, aside of his stunning esthetics.First and foremost though I have to mention some eastern European masters: Sokurov, German, Tarkovski and Bela Tarr. Pure poetry in motion. Other artists I admire are Christian Boltanski and Richard Long. Completely different genres but within my mind they connect. Maybe due the poetic order of things. Small variations of great themes. Like Viola. I feel connected to that tradition of slow movement.

What are you working on at the moment, and where will we be able to see it?

Roadburn is imminent and I’m preparing both performances I’ll be doing there.

Saturday evening I’ll will project my meditations on water, while YOB plays The Great Cessation’.  I’m very grateful to Walter who had the idea to connect Mike Scheidt and I, his music mesmerizes me to a degree that my thoughts flow in sync with it.  I’m really looking forward to that show. Fast flowing water shows its strength and force; fluid, reflective, chaotic yet repetitious,  isolated in tight frames, concentrating on every detail that suddenly becomes significant, layered in ultra slow motion, thus allowing to sense that we are here and now, absorbing each and every experience simultaneously.

Sunday, at the Afterburner, Selim Lemouchi’s Enemies. What can I say?

It will be sad and it will be filled with joy.

It will be beautiful.

Stay tuned for my ROADBURN 2014 commentary, which will feature Selim's celabrations and more work by Jérôme Siegelaer. 

Soon after, Part 3 of this Brabant Special will conclude my small contribute in celebrating Selim's art and life: Manuel Tinnemans will draw the curtains and Darkness will come forth...

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