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Q+A: Jan de Cock


All of your projects are called Denkmal, which translates from German into “memorial” or “monument,” but in Dutch, your native language, means “thought mold.” Why do you give the same title to installations that reflect such distinct contexts? The show’s full title is “Denkmal 11, Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York, 2008,” so in its way it is quite specific. The word denkmal incorporates my idea of what art should be: creating a mold to think. However, it is not an ideology. The viewer should be able to follow his own perception and find his own meaning. Although my installations may look different to you, the same language always returns.


You document your installations as still photos, which are displayed in light boxes like sculpture as well as sequentially like film. How do you understand the borders and bridges between all these media? Photography is not just a tool for documenting my installations, which are torn down after they’re exhibited. It has long played a very important role in my work and is of equal value to anything else I produce. In fact, I look at art as through a lens. In a way, the medium is irrelevant; it’s subordinate to the idea.


Do you physically participate in building your constructions? I work with several assistants. Some are architects, but there are also conservators, photographers, carpenters, and art historians. I build all my installations myself. Your recent monograph, Denkmal ISBN 9080842427, is a book-making tour de force: It has French-fold pages with full-color photos on the inner folds, and even pictures printed inside the slipcase. What do you, as the project’s art director, set out to achieve in book form that can’t be accomplished in other media? My oeuvre develops in space and time, and although it takes on different forms, it is one consistent whole. I consider this work not merely a book but an exhibition on paper, a gesamtkunstwerk in which different media are presented but a single artistic language prevails. In the role of art director, as you call it, I have control over the sequence the reader will follow as he turns the pages, creating movement as a film director would.


Given that you were born in 1976, you strike me as an enfant terrible. Or at least an enfant. Is there any drawback to having such early success in one’s career? Actually, I think I was born an adult. I don’t believe that the age of an artist matters. The artwork just has to be good. Success is relative and subordinate.


What’s your next project? Spending some time with my friends.

Julie Lasky is editor-in-chief of I.D.

Portrait by Raphael Hefti

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