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Liesbeth Labeur

Freely gathered from
the anthem of Zeeland

Not words but pictures. For Liesbeth Labeur, this is the colloquial translation of ‘pietistic use of form’ and ‘Babylonian image confusion’, two characterisations that pop up in every piece that is written about her art. She immediately nuances her statement: “Certainly, a picture speaks more than a thousand words. On the other hand, I have great respect for words. Words have a lot of power.” The artist has been demonstrating this dual love for years. She creates artistic exhibitions and has published, among other things, the graphic novel ‘Op weg en reis’.

For Façade 2022, she has also chosen a combination of word and image. On the wall of the bicycle tunnel under the railway from the Kanaalweg to the Segeerssingel, she has tiled a sentence. In cobalt blue. Words that are images as well: ‘Geen oord ter wereld meer beschermd door dijk en duin’ (meaning: no place in the world is more protected by dikes and dunes). “Freely gathered from the  anthem of Zeeland”, she says. And that is true. The first four lines of that song, sung for the first time in 1919, are: ‘Geen dierber’ plek voor ons op aard, / Geen oord ter wereld meer ons waard, / Dan, waar beschermd door dijk en duin, / Ons toelacht veld en bosch en tuin’. (meaning: No dearer place on earth for us, / No place in the world more valuable to us, / Than, where protected by dikes and dunes, / Fields and woods and gardens smile at us.)

Liesbeth Labeur: “You can read the sentence ‘No place on earth more protected by dikes and dunes” in two ways: optimistically and pessimistically. It clearly refers to climate and everything concerning it. On the one hand, we have to deal with drought, and on the other hand there is the rising sea level. I think it’s a beautiful thing to devote a work of art to precisely that.”

The text will be placed on the wall in the wide curve of the tunnel. One metre high, in total about eighteen square metres. “It’s a serviceable work of art”, she says, “serviceable for the climate and nice for people who like the Zeeland anthem.” And – as is already obvious – the tiles can stay in place after Façade. Middelburg has a new work of art.

The artist has an orthodox reformed background. She was born in Middelburg. After her first year of life, she and her family moved to Curaçao. She lived there until she was ten. “My father worked in Curaçao as an expat. I have very good memories of that time: the very colourful island, the daily visits to the beach, the wonderful birds, the most beautiful fish. At our school, we were the only ones from the church. I didn’t find it strange, since I grew up this way. Returning to the Netherlands was a big thing for me. I still have the feeling that since, then all colour has disappeared from my work.” She kept the orthodox reformed background, but she did not keep the faith. She says: “I have lost my faith. Of course, it’s in my genes because of my upbringing. Hence my respect for words, but not for the Word.”

She calls herself a graphic artist: “I love drawing, that’s the basis. The drawings are a starting point for my installations and other objects. I prefer working with commonplace materials. In museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, I used a ball pit for the installation ‘De brede en de smalle weg’ (the wide road and the narrow road). In museum Vleeshal in Middelburg, I worked with a lowered suspended ceiling. Below the ceiling it was light, above it, dark. If you climbed a ladder to the top, you could see a whole tangle of wires above the ceiling, as well as the beautiful arches of the hall. It had become a wonderful ‘non-place’.”

The tiles with which she writes her text in the tunnel are square, twenty by twenty centimetres. It took some figuring out to form letters with them. They are capital letters, made up of square blocks. To form an N and a D, a difference of one more block for the D is sufficient. For the G, on the other hand, one less cube than for the D is needed. Liesbeth: “This way, the letters are surprisingly close to each other. But anyone can read them, I have tested it.”

Liesbeth Labeur (Middelburg, 1975) lives and workes in Middelburg. She is a graphic artist. In 2006, she graduated at St. Joost School of Art & Design in Breda where she studied Autonomous Art. In 2009, she got national recognition for the publication of one-off glossy ‘Calvijn!’ In 2011, she won the  Stripschapsprijs with her graphic novel ‘Op weg en reis’. She was awarded many prizes  – among others the SBKM/De Vleeshal Kunstprijs in 2013 – and exhibited in various museums, including   Kunsthal Rotterdam, Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, Zeeuws Museum, Bewaerschole in Haamstede and Vleeshal in Middelburg. She was advisor on the film ‘Dorsvloer vol confetti’ based on the novel by Franca Treur. Last year, she was one of the artists involved in the project ‘Look At Me Now’  in Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

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