For centuries, Umbraculum has signified a place where one shuts oneself off from the material world.* A place in the shade in which to think and work, far from everyday life. Jan Fabre has re-created this place in his own way. Seven old mechanical saws stand there on wooden blocks, no longer fixed to the floor as would normally be the case. They have been stripped of their former lives and stand here as a silent reminder of dogged and dirty work.Amidst the machines hover two figures made entirely of slices of human bone. They are reminiscent of pilgrims or medieval monks. They do not have faces, but exist solely of a casing. Arms and legs, also made of slices of bone, hang on the walls. From the ceiling hang crutches, walking frames and walking sticks, covered entirely in beetles’ wing-cases. They hang there like ex-votos in a medieval church. They have been stripped of their function and are like reminders of the thanks given by the cripple who is able to walk again. A gesture of thanks to the strength granted to continue living once again.
Sound can also be heard in the room. The sound of old sawing machines emerges from an indeterminate source as a reminder of an industrial past.
Umbraculum seems indirectly to have anything to do with ourselves. It creates a context out of man, the industrial world, dangers and mysterious spirituality, around which everything revolves and which forces us to reflect on labour, life and our own vulnerable human existence.** The two pilgrims invite us to turn ourselves inside out, to wear our skeletons on the outside. They invite us to put a suit of armour between us and the world.
Eric Mézil* refers to sjamanism. By contact with the spirits of our grandfathers, whom live in magical objects like animals and bones, we can have outer body experiences. Using rituals, sjamans get into a state of trance, and depart from this world. From those rituals a new human being emerges, one who can reconcile the cycle of life and death.Umbraculum calls for new rituals. Rituals that allow us to give the spiritual self a place in this world.
Umbraculum looks like a place where several pasts meet, where time stands still. It is armoured time, time as a shield between me and my busy existence. Or rather, it is a place outside time, where the cycle of life and death has come to a standstill. It is a place that eludes the world. It is a place where we elude our worldly selves.
* Mézil, E., Umbraculum I en Umbraculum II, 2001.
** Kilger, G., preface to Umbraculum, 2001.