Bouke de Vries : Fragments of Memory at University College London’s Japanese Garden

Inspired by both an old soy-sauce bottle and the earthquakes and tsunamis of Japan’s perilous geology, Bouke de Vries unveils his sculpture ‘Fragments of Memory’ in University College London’s Japanese Garden this winter. Almost two years after the pandemic tore around the globe, this powerful affirmation of the beauty of overcoming trauma and owning one’s scars speaks to the power of resilience.⁠
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The sculpture’s form is drawn from a fractured 17th-century Arita soy bottle and echoes the geographical and social fragmentation of Japan’s later history, as well as reflecting on current global turbulence, by tracing Japan’s islands in the work’s fracture lines. At the project’s inception de Vries was introduced to the UCL research group, EPICentre, who work at the forefront of earthquake zones around the globe.

“Sociologically, a vase can symbolise fragility; the risks and damages caused by earthquakes on human and domestic life. Kintsugi, the Japanese tradition of repairing broken ceramics using gold lacquer, venerates old and broken pots, celebrating the traumatic damage as an integral part of the object’s history. My artworks reclaim broken pots after their accidental trauma. I call it ‘the beauty of destruction’. Instead of reconstructing them, I deconstruct them. Instead of hiding the evidence of this most dramatic episode in the life of a ceramic object, I emphasize their new status, and moving their stories forward.”⁠

Bouke de Vries

ABOUT Bouke de Vries

Born 1960 in Utrecht, NL
Lives and works in London, UK

Bouke de Vries studied at the Design Academy  Eindhoven, and Central St Martin’s, London. After working with John Galliano, Stephen Jones and Zandra Rhodes, he switched careers and studied ceramics conservation and restoration at West Dean College. Every day in his practice as a private conservator he was faced with issues and contradictions around perfection and worth: “The Venus de Milo’ is venerated despite losing her arms, but when a Meissen muse loses a finger she is rendered virtually worthless.”

Using his skills as a restorer (c.f. Ron Mueck’s model-maker skills), his ‘exploded’ artworks reclaim broken pots after their accidental trauma. He has called it ‘the beauty of destruction’. Instead of reconstructing them, he deconstructs them. Instead of hiding the evidence of this most dramatic episode in the life of a ceramic object, he emphasises their new status, instilling new virtues, new values, and moving their stories forward.

The more contemplative works echo the 17th- and 18th-century still-life paintings of his Dutch heritage, especially the flower paintings of the Golden Age, a tradition in which his hometown of Utrecht was steeped (de Heem, van Alst, van Huysum inter alia), with their implied decay. By incorporating contemporary items a new vocabulary of symbolism evolves.

These ‘dead natures’ – natures morts – give everyday household objects, a plate, a milk jug, a teapot, a modern poignancy that refers back to the vanitas and memento mori paintings of that period. An installation in de Vries’s London house is arranged in the manner of Daniel Marot with white Delft domestic pottery rescued in fragments from 17th- and 18th-century rubbish tips, now dug up and partially pieced together. Among them are two small artists’ paint pots with the pigment still in them, as possibly once used by – who knows? – Vermeer or Rembrandt.

 

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