“A man with no history or a people that has forgotten its past will have no choice but to disappear…” this quote by Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki inspired Belgian artist Klaas Rommelaere for his first solo exhibition Dark Uncles, currently on view at The Texture Museum in Kortrijk (Belgium). The museum carries on the memory of Flanders' rich industrial textile history and Rommelaere, as a West-Flemish textile artist, draws from the area’s history and builds upon it with his own personal story. A parade of twelve life-sized puppets, two dogs, flags, several tapestries and pillars embellished from head to toe with vividly embroidered, knitted, crocheted and cross stitched drawings embody and personify the artist’s heritage and his colourful quest for identity. You can delve into Rommelaere’s world from home through exploring the exhibition virtually on the website of The Texture Museum.
From Rommelaere’s clear fascination with film, the exhibition Dark Uncles unfolds like a movie-script and feels like a scrapbook. With the prologue to start, a hand-knotted tapestry shows a preview of the imagery visible in the space. The exhibition accumulates into an assemblage of fragmented and fused stories translating personal heritage, neo-folklore, memories, fiction and popular culture onto richly illustrated textile sculptures. The many details and layers show us the magic of textile-crafting techniques by intertwining and interweaving different scenes. The longer you look, the more you can discover, like a diorama: from the family house, a scene from the movie Hereditary to the garden filled with metal scraps, commemorating the artist’s deceased grandfather.

The puppets, referred to as 'dark uncles' (meaning doppelgängers) portray the most important people that shaped the artist’s life. They literally are and carry the work, carry memories and embody their significance on the artist. Each puppet, can be seen as a portrait that represents a particular person, symbolising who they are and what characterises them. The pillars refer to the foundations of home, paying tribute to the ancestors who build the framework for the house we have to continue building.

Vital, is the joint effort of how this project came into existence. As handcrafting textiles is a slow and labour intensive process, Rommelaere co-created the works with his 'madames', a group of fifteen elderly ladies who have been helping the artist for several years. The project has grown as a communal, social activity that creates shared purpose, community and exchange. The madames are a key part of the work. They make their own aesthetic decisions on yarns and colours as well as their interpretations of the drawings. As for this exhibition, Rommelaere put out a call to expand his group of madames, to which ninety people reacted to. They were send home-kits to help finalise the last bits of the project.

Dark Uncles feels like a love letter for life – for family, for the small and the shared things that make life worthwhile and special. From exploring his own family history, Rommelaere created a reflection that can be viewed as a time-capsule, a snapshot as an attempt to capture the inevitability of fleeting time. A testimony, for the people that shaped the artist’s life and work. Declaring life – by stitching together love and memory with needle and thread. Making us recognise ourselves in a story, how different it might be from our own.
Dark Uncles is on view until the 31st of January 2021 at The Texture Museum.
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