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staging silence ii

In his short film 'Staging Silence II' (2013), Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck creates and destroys model worlds with godlike obsession. The sheer artificiality of these landscapes, constructed and manipulated by the artist's ghostly hands, makes us wonder whether the world around us might not be a backdrop as well. But then there are moments when his creations become magically, cinematically real... and we suspend our disbelief.

Staging Silence II - 1

'Staging Silence II' starts where its predecessor, 'Staging Silence' (2009), left off, with a barren landscape of trees. Both films share the same basic concept, though the second part feels more fully articulated. They show the painstaking creation of a succession of miniature natural, urban and interior landscapes on a studio table, filmed in black and white.

In many cases the landscapes are made using ordinary materials - a potato rock garden, a chocolate bar alley, a sugar cube city - adding to the magic when they are transformed into 'real' scenes. Another key component is the film's soundtrack, composed by Scanner, blending ambient music with a sound design that subtly enhances the landscapes' illusion.

Staging Silence II - 2

But realism is not what Op de Beeck is after. Rather, he shows us the unstable, temporary quality of the spaces that surround us.

As carefully as it is constructed, each landscape is also deconstructed again, revealing the controlled environment of the studio where the artist patiently builds up a new illusion. With its static frontal perspective and the artist's hands constantly seen working on the mise en scène, the film thus becomes a performance, greatly condensed of course, as each scene must be the result of hours, days, weeks of tinkering. It's like we're watching an existential puppet show - minus the puppets, all we get are the backdrops - of continuous creation and destruction.

This also explains the film's title, as the scenes are all conspicuously empty and devoid of people. Op de Beeck stages the silence of empty spaces - the meditative quiet of a Vermeer interior, the stillness of a Japanese garden, or even the after-hours desolation of a Tati cityscape.

At the same time he keeps reminding us of the stage.

Staging Silence II - 3

'Staging Silence II' is currently shown as part of Out There, a Viewmaster exhibition in Rotterdam of video and photography focusing on landscapes. It features classic works like the serenely metamorphosing landscapes of Driessens & Verstappen's 'Kennemerduinen 2007 scene B' and Michael Najjar's 'the invisible city', or the caleidoscopic manipulation of Las Vegas cityscapes in Nicolas Provost's 'Storyteller'.

Most works are exhibited outdoors, which in subzero weather makes attentive viewing a challenge. Then again, landscapes usually require some effort from their beholders.

Update: More on Out There at Trendbeheer (in Dutch).

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