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Gallery FIFTY ONE : Bruno V. Roels : Woke Up Laughing


For his fifth solo exhibition at Gallery FIFTY ONE, Belgian artist Bruno V. Roels (°1976) presents new work and delves further into the possibilities of the analog photographic process. In ‘Woke Up Laughing’, his images navigate between aesthetics and experimentation, escapism and a historical consciousness.

Inspired by artists like John Baldessari (1931-2020) and Ed Ruscha (°1937), who approached photography in a conceptual manner, Roels also questions the properties of the image: how it operates, influences, and deceives. What defines photography as photography? And how do viewers interpret it, in an era marked by image manipulation and production, where visual communication sets the tone? These are significant questions embedded in his body of work.

While Roels’ artistic practice is primarily rooted in analog photography, he combines analog techniques with other art forms, non-photographic processes, or Artificial Intelligence and generative imaging. This allows the artist’s imagination to reach its peak, as nothing is deemed impossible. Additionally, the artist plays with the reproducible nature of the medium, creating unique works often consisting of multiple variations of the same negative, compiling them as equivalent images within the same frame, rendering no image perfect or superior to another. He also produces overprints, where the same negative is printed several times, causing the images to blend. The yellowed, coffee- coloured prints give his work a recognizable vintage look. Artistic imperfections and incidental elements, such as creases and stains that occur during printing, remain visible and characterize his visual language. By imprinting text on the prints or by drawing and painting on them, Roels adds surreal elements and layers of meaning.

‘Woke Up Laughing’ presents a vibrant universe of palm trees reminiscent of vacation, luxury, paradise and adventure. Roels celebrates their beauty but also sheds light on their darker sides, as, much like photography, they are not entirely trustworthy. A palm tree in Monaco tells a different story than a tree in Fallujah, Iraq, or in Palmyra, Syria, occupied by ISIS. These seemingly pristine and peaceful universal icons ruthlessly resonate with memories of our colonial history. Each image serves as a silent testimony, compelling the viewer to reflect, illustrating that paradise lurks around the corner but remains elusive and unattainable. The bright colours that Roels added to the black and white images make the confrontation lighter and more playful. Due to his background in literature and linguistics, his titles also play a crucial role in his work. Often embodying historical and contemporary references, they create confusion through their ambiguity.

The title ‘Woke Up Laughing’ refers to the eponymous song by British pop musician Robert Palmer and encapsulates the concept of Roels’ exhibition.

Woke up laughing
You make yourself a fortune out in Hong Kong
You sit at home and wonder whether you were wrong You take a small vacation just to keep sane
You find on your return your home is blown away

With ‘Woke Up Laughing’, the artist presents a series of perspectives, techniques, and approaches. There is much to observe, not only about photography but also about what lies behind it. His images serve as both an escape from and a reflection on the reality in which we live. While he does not seek to impose criticism, he cleverly elucidates the challenges we face today.


Bruno V. Roels : Woke Up Laughing
5th December 2023 – 27th January 2024
Zirkstraat 20
2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

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