The Sky Seemed Not a Sky

Curator: Eline Verstegen
13.12.2017 – 13.02.2018


Özge Enginöz l huber.huber l Douglas Mandry l Jacqueline Roditi l Maarten Vanermen l Matthias Yzebaert

While on the perilous ridge I hung alone,
With what strange utterance did the loud dry wind
Blow through my ear! The sky seemed not a sky
Of earth–and with what motion moved the clouds!

In 1799, British poet William Wordsworth recalled in his Prelude one of his first sublime experiences. Perched on a rock face, he sensed the dazzling yet dangerous power of nature. Caught in this liminal moment of absolute splendour and terror, the sounds of the wind became incomprehensible, the sky unrecognizable, nature denaturalized. What remained, was an unbound space.

The passage is emblematic of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, when Romantics found nature to be the first and foremost source of the sublime. The profound encounters with vast celestial skies, endless oceans or magnificent mountain views too large to be taken in at once enabled awe-inspiring experiences, seemingly outside space and time.

However, within contemporary art practices today, there is a perceivable rise of Romantic concerns at large, including increased attention to spirituality and magic, escapism, emotions and affect, socio-political or socio-economic narratives, and indeed nature and its sublime dimension. It begs the question: why now?

Arguably, there is a growing unease with the world, similar to that of the Romantics: people and artists alike are searching for refuge from and alternatives to a society of disquieting political, economic and ecological instability and incredulous technological advancements. It has led Dutch philosophers and cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin Van den Akker to believe that this neo-Romanticism is the main manifestation of a new “structure of feeling”: metamodernism.
Epistemologically, metamodernism is based on the Kantian ‘as-if’: it asserts that people acknowledge a natural telos in human history does not exist, yet pretend as if it does. The effect is a seeming confident progression to an unknown goal, whilst being acutely aware it will never be achieved. Ontologically then, metamodernism oscillates between modern commitment and utopism on the one hand and postmodern detachment and irony on the other hand. The word oscillation is crucial to fully comprehend metamodernism: it signals that the structure of feeling is not a perfect, static balance between “hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity”, but that it constantly repositions itself between them like a pendulum. Metamodernism thus comes after, yet simultaneously sways back and forth between modern and postmodern approaches, resulting in what “can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism.”

Given this framework, the exhibition The Sky Seemed Not a Sky then would like to bring together artists who are exploring related concepts and whose work emanates this neo-Romantic sensibility of metamodernism, with a particular focus on the natural sublime. They aspire to address and to evoke the all-encompassing, overwhelming experience of the simultaneously delightful and fearsome, of the unknowable in the knowable, of the infinite in the finite.


Translation: Verda Sigura

The artist featured in this exhibition:


Douglas Mandry

Jacqueline Roditi

Maarten Vanermen

Matthias Yzebaert