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His new exhibition titled Dark Uncles goes beyond fashion and ascends to a world of slightly absurd yet beautifully hand-crafted art. Klaas Rommelaere, born 1986 in Roeselare and living in Antwerp, creates intricately embroidered tapestries and hand-stitched, free-standing sculptures to tell the tales of his lived experience. The artist graduated in 2013 from KASK Ghent from the fashion department and dedicates himself to textile sculpture.

Inspired by a mixture of cult movies and personal memories, Rommelaere’s work is full of images, symbols, and autobiographical stories that point to real and imagined social connections. Each piece takes time and love to produce, highlighting the importance of human connection in both the creation and consumption of art. To produce his work, Rommelaere works closely with a tight-knit, group of veteran craftswomen who go by the madams to produce his pieces. For the last seven years, he has depended on the madams to bring his sketches and creative visions to life. The exhibition will showcase some of Rommelaere’s latest work and some previously unseen pieces. From tapestries to pillars and life-sized dolls, Klaas’s likens his embroidery process to a diary entry come to life. Finely deconstructing the parallels of memory and social bonds. His newest exhibition Dark Uncles at Madé van Krimpen Gallery in Amsterdam is on show now until July 30th.

Your work is an intricately embroidered narration of your own history. A means against forgetting. The anecdotes on the figures and tapestries cypher powerful details from your own tales. How does it feel to watch your autobiographical stories talk for themselves?
It is often hard to tell strangers about my work. It feels like I am telling my diary entries or my personal feelings to people who don’t know me. It is sometimes a very vulnerable place to be in. Nonetheless, I feel that there is a universality to telling the annals of my work, but also that it speaks on a basic level. I think that is what you mean by talking for themselves. I show things like houses, people, animals, and abstract works that are universally known. A concept or a memory I translate into my works feels right, I know deep down it is not forced or a gimmick. There is something unknown, an energy that speaks to people. I go a lot with my gut feeling when I am working. I believe in my intuition and I always know when something does not fit.
Looking at your work on a more metaphorical level, how far can you go in recording and shaping your own life?
I document and transcribe my existence consciously through my work. Comparing this to social media, for example, I am not posting my personal life on there. I deal with it through my work. It is a kind of therapeutic medium for me, thus the handiwork is a huge part of the therapeutic process. While I do it, I am in some sort of daze. In a daze of repetitive movement. You get into a kind of meditative state which unleashes an array of thoughts and visions. I compare it to a snake eating its own tail, and by that I mean, I draw people doing embroidery while I do embroidery.
I live my life and I go through hardships and moments of comfort, just like everybody does. I am fortunate to deal with it through my work. But I guess it is important to state, that my life itself is not the work of art. If you start looking for things to happen to forcefully integrate into your work or think one's life is art, things get difficult mentally, for me at least, you lose a sense of self or a sense of egalitarianism.
Let’s talk about the collective effort. The madams is a group of ladies who come together in the service centre De Zeelbaan in Merksem and in Kortrijk, Ingelmunster in Roeselare. Not only does this collaboration display a unique togetherness, but it also changes the way designers (for example) portray dependence. You mention that creatives “continuously present to each other an Illusion of independence”. Could you elaborate on this topic?
A woman came to visit my atelier one day. She mentioned to me that when it comes to other artists the idea of assistance is hidden or somewhat of a secretive affair. When I heard this, it made me think, this idea was crazy to me, I thought “no artist works completely alone?”.
I love to work with these ladies, they are amazing to be around, they are enthusiastic and they are proud of what they do. They come with their families and friends to the vernissage and are happy with the result (I hope). They search for their piece. I stand with curiosity as they interpret my drawings, and what they do with them. They have a totally different vision of beauty or what works. The tension between this is very interesting to me. In my opinion, the more people work on one piece, the more depth is created and richer it gets.

Your work illustrates the power of collective effort and the unison of familial bonds. You refer to the people represented in your work as your intimates, this being your social circle. How do the different identities in your life guide your artistic practices?
I learnt a lot from my grandmother. She was always there when I worked on my collections. My grandfather was a metal worker. He took the metal scraps home and translated them into abstract art. I grew up watching these strange metal things and without conscious awareness, I took it all in. The sounds, textures noises and construction. Today, I find myself as some sort of vessel to continue his work. I always put the methods he used and merge them with mine. They are also the reason I know seniors have a lot to offer and are influential to be around.
Then we have my parents, who have always supported me, which I am entirely grateful for. I recently found pictures of me when I was studying and I found it amazing that my parents paid for something like that. David, my boyfriend, inspires me to be firmer in the business side of the art world!
Your installations are usually entirely hand-made, with unique techniques. Could you walk us through how you acquired this craft?
Studying anything nowadays costs an arm and a leg. With student debt and on top of that all the extra material costs. It can be tough. During my second [period of] study in fashion, I tried to be a bit more resourceful. Trying to find another avenue. I went to the kringloopwinkel (Dutch for thrift shop) on a daily basis. There I found threads, yarn and canvases to embroider on. This was a direct and easy way to translate my drawings into graphics and textile. Each year after that I zoomed into a new craft. In my master's, I was eager to do everything by hand, forgetting about the patterns and shapes. Which started to story of where I am today.
My mind functions at a slow pace, I have an idea but it is never 100 percent in the beginning. What is? A creation, from start to finish, takes months, sometimes years to finish so while I am working on it, I can think about what works and what not, how and what I need to translate my message. That is the advantage of textiles, it makes me maintain a sort of artistic slowness. Although, when working on a deadline this is not the most efficient quality (laughs).
From stone, glass, concrete, pigments, seashells and cotton embroidery on nylon fabric. You use a diverse array of materials. Is there a procedure for what materials you select for your visual language?
The stone and glass were remnants of a Swiss artist I previously worked with named Manon Kundig. I love collaborating with people that challenge me like Manon. It gives me the drive to push myself, to do something new. Manon works with heavy concrete, this juxtaposed with textile creates a unique blend.

Cinema, and it's history, is a great inspiration for you. The figures you assemble assume a pattern mirroring a storyboard, constructing scenes like a movie. How does film influence you?
As a kid I was obsessed with movies, I made books full of paper clippings about themes, sound, dialogue, cinematography and lighting etc . This was before the internet. Now I put this obsession into my work. I have a subscription to the cinema here in Antwerp which I go to regularly. Sometimes I know nothing about a movie and they turn out fantastic, that is the best feeling. I think cinema is the most immersive art form there is because you are locked in a black box watching someone's vision, you are fully submerged in a new world. This is truly the only place I can truly relax. Especially during a big project. While I am working on embroidery I also watch a lot of Netflix, documentaries and other streaming services. If a film catches my eye I screen shot the images, buy the script and the soundtrack. This inspiration trickles in my exhibition. For example, For the Dark Uncles show, the cinematic muse was Spirited Away and Hereditary. For the Johnny series, this was Can’t Get You Out of My Head and Naked. It is not about a recreating these movies. It is about an atmosphere, or a text piece.
You did diverse internship practices. From Raf Simons to Danish designer Henrik Vibskov. What did these experiences add to the way you work now?
I still work on my exhibition the way I work on my collections as I have learnt from these internships. Firstly, I have a feeling I want to express. Secondly, I do intuitive research, watch movies, experience music, and images that can enhance that message. Even if they are not that easy to read, as long as it fits and it is right for me, it is good. I learnt from my internship at Raf Simons that you have to work hard to get somewhere, that it is not easy but that it is satisfying when you see the result. At Henrik Vibskov I learned that the crafts you use is all about creative freedom.
From now until July 18th, you will be hosting an exhibition at Madé van Krimpen gallery in Amsterdam. Could you tell us a little about what this show will entail?
I will show a puppet or two with some old and new Dark Uncles work. I love to go further into a series and try to push myself to come up with an evolution within the same series. I made a few new ones in that series as well.

Words
Emma Smit
Portrait
Benjakon
Dark Uncles installation view GalerieZink 2020 - Photos Erich Spahn

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