Jurgen Maelfeyt: Precious Things
Text by Brad Feuerhelm, September 20, 2018 on American Suburb X
“Lips is just one of his titles that works between the space of desire, appropriation, the body and what I will loosely label as the “collective design unconscious-the ethereal space between memory, consumerism, nostalgia and history.”
“Lips” is the newest publication from book-design master Jurgen Maelfeyt. Maelfeyt is based in Ghent, Belgium. Ghent itself is surprising hotspot of European creativity in which photography, design and art production co-exist just between Antwerp and Brussels. There are a few universities there and its location is also close to the design-porn capital of Europe, Amsterdam. This should not overshadow Belgian output, which at present is prodigious. Maelfeyt and his imprint APE or Art Paper Editions works with a number of greats from the area such Paul Kooiker, Sybren Vanoverberghe, Ruth van Beek, Camille Picquot, amongst many others and is possibly the most visible of designers and publishers in the area.
Besides running one of the best publishing houses in central Europe, Maelfeyt also has his own practice and every couple of years puts a book of his own out into the world. Lips is just one of his titles that works between the space of desire, appropriation, the body and what I will loosely label the “collective design unconscious”- the ethereal space between memory, consumerism, nostalgia and history.This is where the direct act of consumer appropriation plays close with the root form of the original image, but this image is often cropped, distorted, or embedded in memory in a way in which the reception of the image is challenged to its original form. It is embedded as being of an era or quality that is almost memorable, but in effect with the manipulation by Maelfeyt becomes a tangential non-memory not unlike the hauntological musical meanderings of John Maus or Ariel Pink. The images float into our consciousness and are enforced, but do so in a way that challenges the reality of our collective proximity to their function. The function of these images is to become lucid and shift in several possible directions that never actually cement a representation of meaning within its function as an “aged” universally-aimed or borrowed consumer image. The collective design unconscious registers the approximation of such an image within a target group (which will change with time like hauntological music), but then parlays into a dream state or lucidity that cannot clearly be defined, instead it is approximated in a fugue state, drifting in and out of possible meaning, which selectively engage triggers that enable different quasi-nostalgia’s in the individual viewer’s mind.
“The collective design unconscious registers the approximation of such an image within a target group (which will change with time like hauntological music), but then parlays into a dream state or lucidity that cannot clearly be defined, instead it is approximated in a fugue state, drifting in and out of possible meaning, which selectively engage triggers that enable different quasi-nostalgia’s in the individual viewer’s mind.”
Lips continues to function within the patterns as mentioned above. On top of this, there is reference within the design of the book to Andy Warhol and Hans-Peter Feldman with the repetition of theme. Further to that, I am reminded of the Photo Poche series of books published by Robert Delpire. Lips is successful and a continuation of Maelfeyt’s interest in anachronisms, but also the “precious” in an image. I am also reminded of how well this book works on a functional level with his “Les Pierres”. Les Pierres was a book in which Maelfeyt made a similar fantasy catalogue of images of gems-precious things, sensuous in their own way in which is not so far for the way the images within Lips function. They also exist, due to their color in particular, in a state of nostalgia and era, in particular the 70’s and 80’s, but in doing so are at odds with how we perceive images in production from the present in their cropped and challenging forms, begging the viewer again to enter into their performance of function, anachronism and intent.
With all the work that Maelfeyt and APE is responsible for, it’s always a small epiphany when he takes a moment to publish something of his own. His books are modest and he puts them out with no huge affair of ego unlike a good number of “publishers” these days who set up a not so serious publishing house then damage its reputation by using it as a showcase for their personal (often poor) work while claiming its directives as “blah blah blah works with emerging artists to publish unique blah blah”. Art Paper Editions actually functions as a business and in doing so promotes a large number of artists and their products. As we continue with the end days of the photobook craze, I suspect APE, Chose Commune, SPBH, Skinnerboox, MACK and few others whom are actual publishing houses and not vanity projects will continue as the rest fade back into finding other fadwagons to jump on. As for Maelfeyt, I hope he continues to create his own work and continues to inspire with his publishing and design projects.