Berlinde de Bruyckere
We are all flesh

Gallery 13

Berlinde de Bruyckere, Belgium, born 1964, We are all flesh, 2011-12, Ghent, Belgium, epoxy, iron, horse skin, steel, 750.0 x 175.0 x 150.0 cm; Gift of John and Jane Ayers, Candy Bennett, Jim and Helen Carreker, Cherise Conrick, James Darling AM and Lesley Forwood, Scott and Zoë Elvish, Rick and Jan Frolich, Andrew and Hiroko Gwinnett, Dr Michael Hayes and Janet Hayes, Klein Family Foundation, Ian Little and Jane Yuile, Dr Peter McEvoy, David and Pam McKee, Hugo and Brooke Michell, Jane Michell, Peter and Jane Newland, John Phillips, Dr Dick Quan, Paul and Thelma Taliangis, Tracey and Michael Whiting, GP Securities, UBS and anonymous donors through the Art Gallery of South Australia Contemporary Collectors Director's Project 2012, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Berlinde De Bruyckere Image commissioned by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, photo: Andrew Curtis.

De Bruyckere is celebrated for her life-like, yet contorted and fragmented figurative sculptures made from materials such as wax, wood, iron, wool, hair and the hides of horses. Themes of suffering, birth, death, metamorphosis  and remembrance are central to her confronting works. Yet there is also beauty and tenderness in the poignancy of her forms.

We are all flesh is a sculpture comprising two life-sized conjoined horses, faceless and disfigured, suspended from a 7.5 meter high pole. Some visitors are initially confronted by the sculpture, but the work has been created in a spirit of compassion, and its process is entirely humane. De Bruyckere works closely with the veterinary clinic at Ghent University. When a horse dies, the veterinarians contact her so that she can make plaster moulds of the horse’s body. She then casts reconfigured sections of these moulds in epoxy resin to create abstract sculptural forms, which she covers with horse skins acquired from a tanner in Brussels (who otherwise prepares them for the leather industry).

We are all flesh connects to de Bruckyere’s research and commission for the Flanders Fields Museum in Ghent in 1999. The artist was struck by photographs in the archives of dead horses strewn on the desolate streets of Ypres in the aftermath of the First World War.

De Bruyckere hopes that once the initial association with the image of ‘real’ horses has passed, viewers will begin to see or understand her sculpture in relation to human emotions and confronting moral contexts. De Bruyckere uses the horse as symbol of our humanity, which she deliberately abstracts in order to lay bare our vulnerabilities, afflictions and fears.

The monumentality of We are all flesh and its portrayal of suffering references altarpieces depicting Christian martyrdom. The iconography of its composition relates to that associated with St Sebastian as a beautiful youth bound to a tree or column and pierced by arrows. De Bruyckere is interested in how the portrayal of torment and death in a religious context in previous eras imparted spiritual meaning and enlightenment. This work also serves to remind us of the suffering of refugees and martyrs of contemporary traumas.