After months of imposed distance and isolation, VUB celebrates and forges a connection with these two exceptional photographers, to consciously build a bridge between science and art. “Artists and scientists are pioneers, mindblowers. After all, they both work from a place of curiosity, wonder, freedom, creativity and critical thinking. The work of photographers such as Stephan Vanfleteren and Dirk Braeckman proves that,” says Caroline Pauwels, “I think that, given the challenges facing our 21st-century society, we all have an interest in bringing artists and scientists together more often. Away from the silos in which we have put them, back into a mutually challenging dialogue and exchange full of wonder.”
The award for Vanfleteren was pronounced by Olga Van Oost, the general director of heritage organization FARO and a part-time professor of sociology of art and culture at VUB. “A time of isolation, illness, loss, loneliness and emptiness dawned on us all. Raw and bleak. But it was also a time of warmth and hope,” she said. “In difficult times we need artists and thinkers to guide us. Who show us that emptiness does not always have to be synonymous with decay and finiteness. That is what this great artist does.”
Prof Dr Fabienne Brison, who teaches media law and intellectual rights at VUB, addressed the award for Dirk Braeckman. “Dirk Braeckman offers us not so much photos, but images,” she said. “And he is very selective in doing so: a counterpoint to the multiplicity and speed with which we are overwhelmed today. Dirk Braeckman is socially committed, but as an artist he does not preach.”
After the official awarding of the honorary doctorates, host Fien Sabbe welcomed writer Peter Verhelst and musicians Mauro Pawlowski and Brihang to pay further tribute to the laureates.
Stephan Vanfleteren has been an internationally acclaimed photographer for 30 years. He studied photography at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels, worked as a freelance photographer for De Morgen from 1993 to 2009, and is co-founder and art director of publishing house Kannibaal/Hannibal. Since 2010 he has been a guest lecturer at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Ghent. He is known for his black and white portraits and reportage at home and abroad. His work is characterised by sobriety and character photography. Vanfleteren expresses desire in his work and provokes thought with light and dark, white and black. He connects past and present, life and death, concrete and nature, grief and hope, defeat and resilience, loneliness and togetherness with the four primal elements as a background: water, earth, fire and air. Each of his initiatives is preceded by careful observation and critical analysis of the subject and is underpinned by authentic humanist values.
Dirk Braeckman is internationally appreciated and renowned as a photographer, sculptor and pictorial artist who seeks interfaces and cross-fertilization with other art forms. He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent from 1977 to 1981. In 1982 he co-founded the Galerie XYZ in Ghent with Carl De Keyzer. Between 1994 and 1997 he taught photography at the National Higher Institute for Fine Arts in Antwerp, and in 1999 he was a lecturer at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. Former Flemish minister Sven Gatz commissioned Braeckman to represent Belgium at the 57th international art exhibition La Biennale di Venezia from in 2017. Like an explorer, Braeckman seeks out the boundaries in photography. He pushes them and invites us to explore the multi-layered meaning of his art. Braeckman also invites the viewer to embark on their own quest and gives them the freedom to interpret.