Six questions for
Lydia Hannah Debeer

Tique asks six questions to an artist about their work and inspiration.
This week: Lydia Hannah Debeer.

Artist Lydia Hannah Debeer
Lives in Antwerp/Schoten, Belgium

How do you describe your own art practice?

Employing video, soundscapes, music, and photography, I create immersive fictional landscapes, with a focus on the intrinsic element of time. The medium is secondary to me; what truly matters is the flow of time. Through the use of slowness and repetition, I aim to delineate a moment that transcends the rapid pace of our temporal consciousness. In a subtle way, I unravel different layers of reality, slowly revealing the cyclical interaction between presence and absence. In doing so, I want to move spectators and listeners, both on a physical and emotional level. Lately, my focus has been primarily on creating in situ installations that allow me to respond to the time- and place-related sensory experience of architecture through its arrangement. Another dimension increasingly apparent in my work involves the integration of song, music, and composition. The singing voice often acts as a guide, just as Virgil did in Dante’s Inferno, directing the visitor to descend deeper and deeper into this fictional world and explore their own internal landscape.

Which question or theme is central in your work?

Some time ago, I encountered the term ‘fertile void’, used by psychotherapist Julia Samuel: “In the movement between where we were and where we are heading, we need to allow space, time just to be, a time for not knowing: the fertile void.” (from her book This Too Shall Pass)

I realized that my work often reflects on this uncharted terrain and what it means for us to reside in it. Liminality is another word for this ambiguous territory marked by being amid transition, extending from emotional borderlands in the form of eros, despair, and grief, to architectural gaps and transitions in life and time. What these various sensations and places share is a degree of inhospitality, a sense of not yet having arrived. Amid change, we are always moving, although it can feel like a standstill where we step out of the normal/shared experience of time. There is a delicate balance between constructing and deconstructing, decay and growth, where the anticipated change and desired outcome remain unrealized and unattained.

“Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fir emblem for the human soul”. Pet Barker – Regeneration

What was your first experience with art?

As a young child, my father regularly took me on a jaunt to various Brussels museums on Sunday mornings, that was our moment. The museum we visited most often was that of Art and History in the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels. I vividly remember various temporary exhibitions we went to see. Still, it was the permanent collection of ceramics, Ancient Egypt, and the beautiful “Hunting Mosaics” from the 4th and 5th centuries that made the most impact on me. As a child, I was not drawn to specifically discovering new things but rather felt like visiting my ‘friends’, that particular vase, cat mummy, earrings, or tapestry over and over again.

What is your greatest source of inspiration?

I believe nature has been my greatest source of inspiration as of late. About 4 years ago I moved from the city center to the outskirts and have been blessed with a beautiful wild garden and green surroundings. I am continuously amazed and delighted when the woodpecker comes to eat at our window, the squirrels try to lug slices of old bread into the trees, a fox appears on our driveway or the trees blossom in spring. I feel like a more childlike version of myself the closer I am to nature and animals.
Melting Mountains, my latest film installation is entirely based on material shot during one walk in the Scottish Highlands. Together with Laurens, my partner, I was staying at a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere close to the Cairngorms. Unfortunately, he had contracted covid on the boat trip towards Scotland and was now confined to his bed. Not sure what to do, I just started walking uphill from the garden and stumbled upon this incredible landscape. I went back down to get my camera bag and just kept walking. Every bent in the road exposed me to extraordinary new sights. For hours I was entirely alone with these terribly beautiful mountains and birds of prey, no other human being in sight. I could barely believe how utterly peaceful and absorbed I felt, witnessing how the last snow was being melted by the afternoon sun and created little streams downhill. It felt as if it could just as easily have been me who melted and got carried away. Only when arriving back at the house, I noticed I was gone for more than four hours, even though it felt like barely one.

Nature has affected more than subject choices. The most important shift it gifted me is in the way I work. Simultaneously, I put my work into perspective much more than I used to, and yet I also take it more seriously. I dare to set priorities and make choices that help me invest my time in those things that I find valuable. A different rhythm has developed because of it as well as more peace of mind during the always fragile and precarious process of creating. My confidence has grown in the fact that creating above all else needs time and the right kind of attention to flourish.

What do you need in order to create your work?

I need solitude to work. It’s been this way since I was a student when I couldn’t get to work in the shared studios. Sometimes I get frustrated about this because it can get lonely at times, but that’s why I also enjoy collaborations to interrupt this pattern. A quiet workspace that I can set up like a second home and plenty of time to muse between focused moments are crucial. When I get to work, I disconnect and set a time to focus on a specific task and only reflect on the work I’ve done after the time block, or better still, the next day. When my schedule is too full and I must jump from one activity to another, I experience a sense of disorientation quite quickly. Of course, there is also the technical equipment and instruments I handle, but that takes second place.

What work or artist has most recently surprised you?

When I Sing, Mountains Dance – the book by Irene Sola. I read it over the summer last year and was deeply affected by it. It took me a while to get along with her way of narrating because it is so different from anything I have ever read before. In this book, she describes the life of a mountain through the eyes of many different characters. What’s special is that among the characters are thunderstorms, the mountain itself, a deer, and a dog. Because of these jumps, each chapter reads like a new beginning, and yet she manages to keep you reading along full of suspense.

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