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Matthys, Michaël

b. 1972, Charleroi, Belgium; lives and works in Charleroi

Moloch, 1998-2003 Installation with 1000 aquatints (size A4) on 22 MDF panels (244 x 122 x 1.8 cm) Collection: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi

La Ville Rouge (Charleroi City), 2005 Drawings with cow blood on polyester film, finished with polyurethane and resin. Fresque with 12 plates, 60 x 110 cm each Collection: La Banque Nationale de Belgique, Brussels

La Ville Rouge (planches originales), 2005-2009 76 drawings on paper with cow blood, finished with polyurethane and resin. 29.7 x 42 cm each 

Michaël Matthys’s work takes as its point of departure the industrial history of Charleroi, a city in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium where he comes from. During the nineteenth century the whole region was the industrial powerhouse of the newly founded state of Belgium. Its coal and steel industries flourished until the mid-1950s when the majority were shut down, plunging the region into an economic depression from which it has never fully recovered.

Matthys presents two works in this exhibition: Moloch, a series of copperplate aquatint etchings, and La Ville Rouge, a series of drawings made in cow’s blood and sealed in resin. The former is an homage to the metalworking industry. Based on photos and video footage shot in the Cockerill-Sambre steelworks in Charleroi, the prints recreate its dark, smoky, smouldering interiors, while the antiquated technique creates a direct material link to the subject. Hovering between a sense of documentary realism, Piranesian sublime, and retro-futuristic dystopia, the work possesses a heroic, biblical quality (reflected in the title, Moloch being the name of an ancient Semitic god).

For La Ville Rouge, Matthys ventured out into the city of Charleroi, documenting the scars left by the demise of industrialism, and the physical commemorations of that past in the form of buildings and monuments. Like Moloch, this work is an expressionist tour de force that pulsates with primeval energy while also poignantly intimating the latent violence of social disenfranchisement, which is symbolically reflected in the material employed. KG

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