In June 2004, Eric Delayen paid a visit to The Commissioners of Irish Lights, in Dublin. The French-born artist, currently living in Belgium, was invited to a group exhibition celebrating the centenary of James Joyce's Ulysses- the perfect time and place to show his 'Cardinal One' project. This floating monument, to be seen from the coast, consists of a beacon flashing Ulysses in morse signals. Despite the authorities' enthusiasm, the fundings are still to be found… The project sums up some of the key features of Eric Delayen's work : isolation and (mis)communication (who understands Morse nowadays ?), in relation with language and litterature. However romantic these ideas may sound, it is remarkable how the artist succeeds in expressing them through a minimalist, nearly conceptual, way - a feature also to be found in his graphic works. Two videos (later shown in the Rotterdam film festival) were also presented : 'Wandering Words' and 'Wandering Love'. In the latter, a woman sits on rocks by the ocean, like Penelope awaiting Ulysses' return - or it may just be a holiday picture. Words taken from pornographic correspondence between Joyce and his fiancé Nora are pronounced by a computer-generated male voice while they appear below on the screen : indeed, before celebrating the writer, Ireland was more concerned with censoring his work.
'L'échelle de l'autre' (2002), commissioned by the city of Liège (Belgium), can be seen as a reference to Saint-Exupéry's lamplighter, which personifies the futility of adult existence. Placed below a street lamp equipped with a very bright light, a white, metallic ladder with a small - somehow ridiculous - platform in its middle invites the passer-by to climb up : to look at the light ? to be seen ? to speak up ? Most adults would not do it. '3 x 3 x 0,25 m', a sand piece (1995-2003), also deals with the conflictual relations between the children's needs and the adults' wills- a conflict that lives up in every grown-up. The title gives the dimensions of the sand castle to be built up - a large, shallow square with a tiny construction in its middle, a fragile symbol of power, which seems unreachable and isolated : fathers are proud to erect castles, while their kids would rather dig deep holes. For a personal show in Belgium, Eric Delayen turned the four levels of the gallery into a self-portrait, the 'head' of which would be 'Vanity' (2002), an anamorphic view a human skull which is lightly engraved into a wooden platform, and filled with constantly evaporating water. At once sensitive and complex, Eric Delayen's work truly shows a new path between neo conceptualism and the already exhausted 'relational aesthetic'. His complex, multi-layered and deeply original work does not lend itself to simplistic interpretation. Wasn't his latest show untitled 'L'hommalentendu' - the 'misunderstandingman', as he translated it. Or could it be 'manmisunderstood', or even, in a translation twist, 'manunheardof' ?

Pierre-Yves Desaive

Contemporary Magazine - Contemporary Annual 2006 - January 2006