Vivre d'Abord [To Live, Above All]

Danny Matthys


Photography, 71 x 129 cm, 115 x 135 cm, 74.5 x 122.5 cm.
Materials: photo, paper

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. S0315a).

Throughout his oeuvre, Danny Matthys has always explored the possibilities and limitations of amassing knowledge by visual means. He believes one can obtain an insight into the world by creating images. Some of the concepts that arise most commonly when discussing Matthys’s work are order and measurement, analysis and systematisation. These concepts can also be applied to the reasoned, considered and almost classical-looking composition of Vivre d’Abord, which comprises old black and white photos, some of which the artist himself has tinted. The photos he uses originate mainly from the thirties. The naked human body is everywhere. The photos show the dogged pursuit of perfection in that decade, and the pre-war mentality whose aim was to link physical purity with mental purity. Matthys unmasks this German Freikörper-Kultur as a major part of the Nazi visual culture. But Vivre d’Abord goes much further than this negative, historical version of physicality. The work is in fact more an evaluation of every aspect of the human body (athletic, childlike, male and female bodies all make their appearance), in which beauty is inseparably linked to mortality. The photos attract and repel us at the same time. The pictures radiate feelings of hope and despair, power and powerlessness, the individual and the collective. The work also expresses a certain melancholy and a sensitive, subtle and at the same time hopeless sensuality.

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