Hans Everaert: Deep Time

We find no sign of a beginning, nor a prospect of an end - James Hutton (1788)

The Scotsman James Hutton opposed with determination against the prevailing belief that the rocks of our earth's crust derived their form and origin from the deluge. The myth surrounding this prehistoric super-tsunami was told almost everywhere: in the Bible, the Koran, the Gilgamesh epic, the Indian Vedas and also the Masai were convinced of this story. In 1788 Hutton wiped this off the table as nonsense and declared the long-running cyclic effects of sedimentation and erosion the most important geological events. Because in his investigation of the layers of the earth he finds no indication of a starting point for the origin of the earth, Hutton launches the concept of ‘deep time’. Brutal and unheard of, because - according to him - the earth is not 6,000 years old as always told, but it has been around for millions, possibly even billions of years.

Even today, our awareness of the phenomenon of time is so insanely exceeded by such time periods that it makes the mind dizzy. With such dimensions we are catapulted far beyond our everyday limited experience of time, but it is precisely that feeling of limitlessness that Hans Everaert wants to depict in his artistic oeuvre. On the other hand, one can ask whether it is alltogether possible to pry someone out of the everyday by means of images. This pictorial ambition in any case explains his painterly evolution, whereby the artist has steadily moved away from figurative or recognizable forms. Now the ability to name things offers us some insight and a certain degree of grip on reality - a fact that (hopefully) nobody denies. But there is, of course, an essential difference between ‘sight’ and ‘insight’, where people gauge what transcends everyday experience. That search for insight corresponds to the artistic escape line that Hans strives for. It leads to a different focus and wants to offer a new perspective.

The artist's fascination for the concept of ‘deep time’ allows a geological vocabulary to articulate his painting practice. The genesis of his paintings is comparable to the effect of sedimentation and erosion. Similarly, his paintings evoke the same primary dynamic and reminiscence of growth and development. Detached from a figurative endpoint, he accumulates pictorial material and lets it sink on the canvas. This process is alternated with an eroding component, in which matter is scraped away and only remains as a trace. Furthermore, the vigouresness of the brush strokes always remains clearly legible in the composition, so that the whole is experienced as a colorful force field. By using glazing, transparent paint, underlying layers remain visible to the eye, creating a convincing depth effect. Through this method a real stratigraphy is created that evokes a temporal dimension.

Recently Hans broadened his painting practice to the medium of film, a discipline in which he has been professionally active as a producer for years. In this way he develops a dual track in which figuration and abstraction enter into a dialogue with the complexity of the phenomenon of time.

Continuing in the spirit of his paintings, it is not surprising that Hans uses a variety of expressive means in his films. To obtain a standard nice image, the rule prescribes, the image must never be under- or over-exposed. In Hans' video work, one notices that he explores the dynamic range of light and consciously chooses for noise on the image. The cinematic material regularly becomes so saturated that it is almost absorbed by the light, resulting in a fascinating atmosphere. Combined with a sophisticated play with depth of field, a surprising environment is created that unites factuality and fiction.

The video films ‘Deep Time # 1A’ and ‘Deep Time # 1B’ form a diptych and share the same soundtrack. And this last is not the least: Hans was allowed to mix 2 soundscapes from ‘Lost Highways’ by Lee Ranaldo, the co-founder of noise rock band ‘Sonic Youth’. An interesting detail in this context is that Ranaldo turns out to be an avid admirer of Robert Smithson. This land art artist managed to merge art and landscape in an intriguing way. In an email conversation about ‘Lost Highways’ with the Dutch critic Roland Groenenboom, Ranaldo writes: ‘The road is serving as a metaphor for a particular psychological state of mind, one that includes the idea of escape and also the freedom of the open road, as representative of endless possibilities – around every bend a new adventure, a new life perhaps’.

In ‘Deep Time # 1A’ images slide over each other like layers and the flow in the editing is dominated by blending. The camera roams the landscape like a human eye and sometimes the lens blinks as if it has become anthropomorphic. The conscious use of blur draws less attention to objects, but more to primary elements such as grayscale. By alternating close ups and panoramic images, a captivating kaleidoscopic effect is created. The landscape appears as a silhouette and therefore seems indeterminate, but in fact it is very concrete: the Kalmthoutse Heide - a place with which the artist has a close relationship. The most beautiful parallel between this specific dune landscape with its sand drifts and the film can be typified by ‘the perpetual movement of being blown away’: the author does not want to fix reality either.

In ‘Deep Time # 1B’, landscape and natural elements penetrate the edge of the city and reversals are suggested between them. For example, fish bounce - free but in distress - on dry land, while people seek entertainment in or near the water. The majestic verticalism of a tree from one video transforms into a skyscraper in the other. A rotating fan on a ceiling forms a leitmotiv in this cinematic poem. Analogous to the opening shot with dripping water, the propeller (as a mechanized form of wind) refers to the eroding forces in nature. From a walking figure that is portrayed from the back, a similarity arises with the solitary characters that the romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich presents. The landscape has also become a mental environment for Everaert. He evokes an experience in a landscape in which people are merely passers-by. True to the mindset of James Hutton, he creates a universe that zooms away from the everyday image frame - to be able to look at a larger whole, without beginning or end.

Stef Van Bellingen, September 2019