Martine Gyselbrecht lives in the middle of the countryside near Zomergem. She enjoys her splendid rural environment and the fruits of the earth. For years, she has been integrating elements from nature into her works of art. Since the seventies, recycling has been an integral part of her work, in other words, years before the recent 'back to nature' craze. Out of respect for nature, she recuperates natural materials for her works of art. She has never bought materials and she is very proud about the fact that she has always found or received the materials she uses. Getting back to nature is no trendy whim for her, but an attitude towards life. Her continuous dialogue with her materials enables her to deal with the more technical aspects in a creative manner. Martine Gyselbrecht is always in search of the movement between emotion and intelligence. She uses textiles and hand-made paper as supports for her message. She often includes texts and poetry in her works of art. These symbols transcend the more formal aspects of her works. Her works of art, which have been disintegrated by means of recycling techniques, visualise an inner process. Martine Gyselbrecht invites us to participate in this process. At times, her visual work is a visualisation of a purity, of a state of serenity reached in the battle between the body and the mind. Her works of art are not meant to survive the ravages of time.
Some older works have simply decayed or she has reintegrated them into more recent work. In doing so, she remains faithful to Joseph Beuys's idea that works of art must not necessarily be eternal. Transient works of art are the expression of a transient race: mankind. Emotion and spirituality lie at the heart of these works. She is also attracted by the emotive aspects of cultures and their diversity. When Martine Gyselbrecht travels, no distance is too far. She has undertaken several expeditions to distant regions in order to discover the force of other cultures. And just like those primitive peoples, Martine Gyselbrecht makes a living by the producing of functional objects, i.e. textiles. She also worships nature by creating works of art. These two means of expression constantly merge and are completely integrated into her life. And there is also a constant interaction between these two means of expression. The one certainly is a breeding ground for the other. Martine Gyselbrecht's goal is spiritual and materialistic.
We had to wait until 1981 to see the first work by Martine Gyselbrecht. That year, she participated in an exhibition held at the Campo Santo Graveyard in St-Amandsberg, Ghent along with the artists' collective "Werkgroep +". Monique Herreman, Lieve Brusselle, Martine Gyselbrecht and Leo Rombouts presented weaving, wicker and knotting work as well as ceramics (-fragments) in the still atmosphere of this sacred space. Martine Gyselbrecht wrapped the altar - the heart of the sanctuary - with a blood-red bow that was draped in front of the chapel. Next to the bow, she hung 'The Stations of the Cross' made of small white fabrics. Martine Gyselbrecht had a subtle way of expressing the spiritual force of the colours white and red in this sacred space.
In 1985, at the Dhont-Dhaenens Museum in Deurle, she exhibited a birch wood in the collective exhibition "Om en rond tekstiel" (On textile). At that time, she used to cycle through a birch wood everyday on her way home. She succeeded wonderfully well in expressing its intriguing rustlings and misty haze in a long winding paper wall. She shrunk different strips of parchmentlike paper and glued them together. Thanks to the various angles of light falling onto the paper wood, the rustling of the leaves came to life. It created a suspended moment of delicate stillness. Martine Gyselbrecht has integrated words and sentences into her works of art on a number of occasions. One can give several meanings to the word "zin" (sentence, sense, mind, liking, meaning ...). Martine went in search of the force of different expressions such as "giving meaning to life", "is there any sense to it all" etc. In order to get a better picture, she began examining these various positively and negatively loaded notions. She arranged them and placed them on a fresco called "Bezinning" (Contemplation - photo 1). The wall painting was composed of papier maché tiles which she had produced herself with the help of her neighbour - a farmer - and his hay loader. She stitched the words on paper surfaces with glass fibre. The letters became silvery in the light and contrasted sharply with the mattness of the paper tiles. The arrangement of the positive and negative forces was emphasized by stitched lines. These functioned as beacons. Only fragments of the work have been conserved. The remainder is to be shown at the Triennial as an example of the transience to which she consciously subjects herself.
Her two "Papiersnippers" (Scraps of Paper) date from that same period. What can one do with a newspaper filled with information. All that data is blinding. There is too much information. Martine Gyselbrecht therefore recycled these newspaper pages, transforming them into scraps of paper with which she made large murals. She stitched descending horizontal newspaper lines together, turning them into a very large rhythmical surface which she arranged across the entire wall. Subsequently, she painted some of the strips. The pastel tints merged. The scraps of paper were a dubious expression of an oscillation between the senseless and the aesthetic. Very soon, the decorative made way for a subtle protest against hollowness. It raised the existential question of the relationship between all beauty and ugliness of this earth. In her visual work, Martine Gyselbrecht searches for the deeper meaning of life. But she is also sensitive to nice things and refined materials. She exploits this affinity especially in her textile designs. In 1991, Martine Gyselbrecht's woven work "Communication Wire"25 (photo 2) was selected for the 3rd International Textile Fair in Kyoko, Japan.
She describes the work as follows: "The story that is going around is one of a talk carried on by a thread, lead into the warp and performed by the weft, languaged by the weaver, the writings are legibly arranged in the up and down movements of the contents26." From a distance, the fabric looked like a large piece of paper. It was nearly three meters high and two meters large and carried a calligraphic message. Martine developed an alphabet using black jute and ecru linen. The signs were of the language spoken between warp and weft. Martine Gyselbrecht developed a technique for creating endless variations by using a limited number of 24 shafts. In height, the variation was characterised by its step-like sequences, while in the breadth it was visible in the crossings and threading of the warp.
Together with Nora Chalmet, Martine Gyselbrecht was the driving force behind the exhibition "Stof tot nadenken - 12 x textiel" which was held at the Museum for Decorative Arts in Ghent in September 1993. The exhibition presented the work of 12 former students of the Artistic Weaving Department of the Henry Story Institute, which was celebrating its twentieth birthday. Martine Gyselbrecht participated with her "Meta'phora" (photo 3). The work was an assemblage of hundreds of portraits of individuals Martine had photographed during the last four months before the creation of the work. Her sole means of expression was handwriting on tracing paper27. An overlap represented the dialogue between the physical expression - the appearance - and its cultural manifestation. Once again, the message was more important than the form.
As early as the seventies, Martine Gyselbrecht started experimenting on the loom as well as creating her paper designs. In 1984, she won her first prize: D'84. In 1984 also, the ITBC - Institute for Textile and Confection of Belgium - organized its first competition for textile designers. The theme was household linen. Martine Gyselbrecht received an honourable mention for her graphic designs. Her drawings for bathroom, bedroom and table linen have been produced by several Belgian companies. The bed linen was printed by UCO, a company for which she is again designing today. Martine's designs are characterized by the subtlety of the various colours and their graphic interplay. Under the chairmanship of the late Janine Kleykens, the 'Fondation de la Tapisserie' (Foundation for Tapestry) organized a textile competition in 1986. Martine Gyselbrecht won the third prize for three upholstery designs. At the time, Martine was making a living as a teacher and was forced to learn about her trade herself. She discovered the possibilities of her 18-shaft loom. Her search for material effects led her to ikat. She would continue her experiments with these graining techniques. She would also continue to be awarded prizes for her weaves. So, in 1993 she was selected for the Design Preis Schweiz in Solothurn, Switzerland with her woven sample books. Even the famous architect Aldo Rossi showed a lot of interest for her fabrics during the opening festivities. She wove winter linens for Fibelin, based on designs by Li Edelkoort for two years running. A splendid collection of linen yarns was developed by Belgian spinning mills for promoting winter linen. The fabrics were put on display during the "Première Vision" fair for clothing fabrics in Paris, in March 1990 for the winter of 1990-1991 and in March 1991 for the winter of 1991-1992.
Aesthetic and Functional Designs
In 1988, Martine Gyselbrecht was awarded the nv Kortrijkse Textielmaatschappij AFW Collection prize which was granted during the design competition 'Design for Europe' during Interieur 88 in Kortrijk28. Her first project consisted of 12 samples of upholstery fabric, classified in three groups (photo 4). In group number one, 3 ikat stripes stood out between black and white linen weaves. In group two, there were 4 ikat stripes, while in group three, the basic fabric consisted of ikat. Her presentation of those infinite variations between basic weave and stripes in all sorts of combinations is so pure and powerful that it had to be short-listed for the prize of the best jacquard upholstery creation. But one of the most moving works by Martine Gyselbrecht was her rocking chair (photo 5). This rocking piece of furniture was built of folded and welded metal tubes 25 mm in diameter. The horizontal tubes were kept together by a clicking and screwing system. The seat consisted of a longfibre-flax fabric with an alternating black and white warp and four warp stripes. The weft consisted of black linen and cotton in a linen weave and every 35 mm, a 7 mm rubber loops was woven in. The loops functioned as anchors around the metal tubes of the seat. The force of this chair resided in Martine Gyselbrecht's attitude who, as a craftswoman, had immediately integrated the production elements. It goes without saying that making a piece of furniture like this is time-consuming. And yet, the result could not be simpler. Martine Gyselbrecht registered the chair. From then on, she had acquired a taste for working with furniture designers and producers. For the Jori competition in 1989, she recycled leather. She cut leather leftovers into strips and wove them together. For this leather fabric, she conceived a classic rocking chair in wood. In integrating furniture and upholstery, she also opts for honesty. And by this, Martine means that "everything can be seen". The shape of the piece of furniture depends on the features of the material used. The choice of the material contributes to a large extent to the general 'line' of the furniture. The connections between the piece of furniture and the upholstery remain visible and are an integral part of the design. The systems must be technically and aesthetically sound. And a third option is her preference for natural materials. These are more durable in use and also acquire a patina and an identity. footnote 3. And indeed, Martine Gyselbrecht actually designed a piece of furniture together with Rafa‘l Swerts for Kafétee in 1994. It was a 2,2 meter long undulating settee which could seat four persons. The metal frame was ultra simple and highlighted the natural colour and weave structure of the linen fabric. In 1992, Martine Gyselbrecht was selected to present her roller blinds and mats (photo 6) at the 'Design for Europe' exhibition during Interieur 1992 in Kortrijk. In keeping with her philosophy of life, she wove long surfaces which included twigs. Material taken directly from nature has now become the subject of her creations. Moreover, because of the challenge she faces in mastering the technique, she can adapt the features of the materials as she wishes. She strengthens the fragile veneer wood in the roller blinds through the weave for example. She created a very Japanese looking roller mat as a wall for a loft which can be easily rolled up and stored away.
Here too, the three fundamental notions in her creative process are present: an aesthetic integration of the functional, the honesty principle of "everything may be seen" and the use of natural materials as an ode to nature.
25 A.M.S., De Gentenaar, 20th of March 1992.
26 Application form for the 3rd International Textile Fair, Kyoto, Japan, 1991.
27 Kwintessens, n° 4, 2nd year of publication, VIZO, Brussels, 1993.
28 See application form for the "Design for Europe" competition , Interieur, Kortrijk, 198l.