Sarah & Charles: The Suspension of Disbelief
Z33 House for Contemporary Art, Hasselt, Belgium
30 June - 13 October 2013
Review by Annelies Thoelen
‘The Suspension of Disbelief’ is the first large-scale solo show of the artist duo Sarah & Charles, currently on display at Z33 in Hasselt. Z33 is a government-subsidised house for contemporary art, which inter alia aims at functioning as a platform for upcoming Belgian artists. To boost international developments, Z33 regularly provides young talented artists with an exhibition platform at a pivotal moment in their career. The Brussels-based Sarah Deboosere and Charles Blondeel have already worked together for more than ten years, with recent solo exhibitions in Brussels, Antwerp and Amsterdam.
‘The Suspension of Disbelief’ is a continuation and summary of Sarah & Charles’ earlier practice, yet it consists mostly of new pieces, or work that has rarely been shown. Sarah & Charles derive their imagery from film, theatre and the visual arts, endowing their works with references to surrealist movies, films noir and a hint of Broadway. They play with the unspoken rules of exhibiting, with theatricality and narrative techniques. Not only is narration the starting point for most of their work, the whole show seems to be one large story with numerous cross-references. Sarah & Charles’ work is like a ‘theatre of life’ in which the viewers are fully submerged in order to understand the codes that are needed to unravel their environment.
The first work in the show is a film entitled ‘Props for drama: plot hole.’ Two actors in a monochrome decor willingly perform the director’s instructions. In the next rooms, some props from this film, together with the material used to make them, are exhibited. We see plastic items including walls and doors, moulds, sketches and floor plans. The whole scenography leaves the visitor in limbo about the exact boundary between front and backstage.
At the end of the exhibition, all elements come together in the film ‘Props for drama: suspension of disbelief’. As a kind of grotesque musical, it incorporates and summarises all the props, narrative elements and viewpoints of the artists. This film is a dazzling experiment with a deceptively idyllic touch, since everything appears to have been recorded on a film set in a large hangar.
With ‘The Suspension of Disbelief’, Sarah & Charles succeed not only at showing the backstage of the front stage, but even the backstage of the backstage. This often puts the viewer in a very recognisable, yet discomforting state (‘Am I supposed to come here’‘). The artist duo clearly excels at creating and debunking illusions in one single gesture. They offer a new perspective on our daily reality, a composition of two elements: what is seen, and what is not supposed to be seen. ‘The Suspension of Disbelief’ leaves the viewer suspended, somewhere in between fiction and reality.