The bizarre cityscapes of Bert Danckaert deal with the same paradox of abstractive simplicity and a complexity of meaning and metaphor. Danckaerts still lives breathe a superficial flavour, a strangeness that is found in the familiar. Coincidental installations of sidewalks, walls and street furniture refer more to minimalist art than to conventions of street photography. In these absurd scenarios a recognizable, all too banal reality appears stage-set, props and trompe-l’oeil included, while the actors are absent.
Sometimes it is as if everything in these pictures was moving but has come to a sudden halt. Or as if someone threw a handful of objects in the air, like in a children's game, and they landed in an unexpected way – waiting for Bert Danckaert to turn up to photograph them. The situations are ‘everyday’ but the framing removes them from their context and their sense. The funnier the pictures, the more tragic they seem. We are overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of the lives we've created for ourselves. The absurdity creates a crazy sort of theatre.
We see in Bert Danckaert’s work a strangely familiar universe: that of the unremarkable, undistinguished places in which all of us spend so much of our lives, places we pass through without giving them any notice, spaces that are just trajectories, parts of a line connecting one place with another. Places, in short, that define our lives and that of so many other people in the urbanized world.
Danckaert’s work thus becomes a landmark of intercultural understanding, something that manages not to be trapped in the easy imageries of the exotic-typical, but brings us back to where things begin and end: in real human life. In an age of globalization, such levels of understanding are real, valuable forms of knowledge.
Bert Danckaert photographs everyday places from Cape Town to Beijing, walls mainly. We see things up close. Composition happens when the camera defines the frame around a random assemblage. Danckaert maintains, that form and content engender each other, but the systematic application of a sense of balance, symmetry and proportion is not an end to itself. We are drawn into a two-dimensional world, without apparent depth, except for the occasional effect of spatial illusion. No further action follows, no story is told. What you see are backdrops to the now, the simple present: photography's primary tense. A complex cultural filter dissects, orders and shapes an inchoate urban environment. A man reacts to overwhelming forces of historical change, as he asks: what is my role in all this?
It is exactly because the things in these photographs look like props that the scenes appear so strange, even foreign. Bert Danckaert's work is less about taking photographs than about tracking down something in front of us, something or other that is, at the same time, not there. What comes to mind when we look at these pictures is precisely what is not there. It's not that there is something that the photographs lack but rather something lacking from them: people, the physical presence of living creatures, bodies, in other words, the active, noisy life of our contemporary cities.