This essay will analyse the installation Kreupelhout (Cripplewood) by the Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere. It will explore the theory of metamorphosis through the tree’s transition from its natural state to a vulnerable and disfigured body and how emotion is conveyed through its physical state. The installation is found within a dark atmospheric room, illuminated by a single muted light source of a skylight covered in hessian sacking giving the piece a theatrical feel. It is this threadbare-covered light that expresses the installations humanistic features.
The tree has a flesh-like surface made from wax and silicone displaying the branches as twisted tendons and limbs. The trunk of the tree has exposed wounds made up from the knots on the tree surface from underneath. Both the tree and the skin layer are working in unison to reveal not the physical but mental state of the being as it contorts and transforms from a dead tree into a fragile, deformed body.
The installation is tied with ropes and is cushioned by pillows and bound by red cloth representing bloodstained bandages of a body that has been nursed. The recovery of the body is symbolic of the emotional state slowly healing from being hurt. This piece is a representation of Saint Sebastian, the Saint the Venetians assumed saved them from the plague. Saint Sebastian has become the tree healing from the suffering he has been through revealed in the scars and tears within the tree exposing brittle skin tissue.
The body doesn’t seem to have any identity to it as there is no face or genitalia to suggest who it is. This is a significant aspect of the piece as the audience can find recognisable features of themselves within the installation.
Berlinde De Bruyckere’s installations reflect her childhood of having a father who was a butcher. The slaughter she witnessed as a child is revealed within her work, however she forms her installation as looking alive yet suffering, making the audience feel their own fragility and recognition of the human condition within her installation.
This transformed tree is captured within a room quite like a mausoleum. This dramatic yet subtle change in the light creating darker shadows brings the audience to the realisation of their own mortality. This tree-like body is recuperating, but is in fact close to death as it is shown in such a delicate state.
In conclusion Berlinde De Bruyckere has effectively created an installation that has characteristics that the audience can identify with. We are all human beings made of flesh and bone and we may not look like the installation “Cripplewood”, however, our mental state may recognise the feeling of being in that state of suffering. “Cripplewood” is a very powerful piece as it symbolises the psychological image of the body rather than a figurative image. The tree has transformed into this distorted human figure and illustrates the body of our minds being in some ways twisted and disrupted due to the reality of everyday life.