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Meet SOFT? artist: Nel Aerts

Wide shot of Nel Aerts in her atelier surrounded by her work
Nel Aerts in her atelier
Frederik Vercruysse

The fabrics you use share a lot of similarities with your paintings. What kind of fabrics do you look for? 
The search is a very intuitive process. I am attracted by specific structures in fabrics, such as corduroy. The different patterns and textures of fabrics often constitute the base for my paintings. A collage is the starting point for a textile work and those textile works then lead to paintings. Lately, I often allow collage, textile, and painting to come together in one work.

For these works you sometimes ask your mother and mother-in-law for help. What role do they play in the process?
I always involve them with my large-scale textile projects. First, I go fabric shopping, and then work together with them in the Kempen. I cut and paste the fabrics, while they sew everything together in the blink of an eye.

Nel Aerts pushes the boundaries of traditional media. With the flat perspective, characteristic figures, reoccurring patterns, and a signature colour palette, her visual language is instantly recognizable in every medium.

Collage of Nel Aerts' work 'Ontmaskerd Maske'.
'Ontmaskerd Maske', Editie van 20, 2017.
We Document Art

Can you tell us something about the evolution towards textiles in your work? At first you only used the medium in small quantities in your collage work, but now it also plays a scenographic role.
The very first project for which I made a textile work was an exhibition with my husband Vaast Colson, ‘Al draagt een aap een gouden ring, het is en blijft een lelijk ding’. My first textile work became a monumental in-situ collage. Later, I began to use fabrics more frequently on a smaller scale. Today, textiles are an important material in my studio. I have a library filled with boxes of fabric.

Left: 'Hide and Seek', 2014. Courtesy Carl Freedman Gallery. Right: 'Hide and Seek' (detail), 2014. Courtesy of Carl Freedman Gallery
Isabelle Arthuis

Your artworks in ‘SOFT?’ interact with their surroundings in the staircase. In what way do you play with the visitor’s experience? 
The piece ‘Hide and Seek’ will create a separate space on the staircase. The curtain invites visitors to physically participate in the exhibition, which hopefully stimulates a new way of looking. I exhibit fabric masks from the edition ‘Ontmaskerd Maske’. These masks are hanging on the wall like flags and consist of merely just two to three fabrics, two eyes, and a little mouth. The many ‘peepholes’ in my pieces encourage interaction and communicate our human voyeuristic desires. It’s very comical too because everyone will be able to see the people standing behind the works.

MoMu is closed for renovations, open to inspire at other locations. Read more about it.