Nel Aerts (b. 1987, lives and works in Antwerp, BE) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work spans painting, collage, sculpture, drawing, video, and performance. Aerts’ practice is known for its simultaneous specificity of aesthetic vision and breadth of materials. After focusing on video and performance in the early 2010s, the artist delved into a painting and collage practice that translates the sense of atmosphere and story offered by time-based media into the domain of static objects. She traded the camera for a panoply of materials and an interest in iterative representational motifs. Towels, doormats, sheets, flannels, and scraps of lace—especially those that show signs of wear and age— all get a second life as the building blocks to Aerts’ roughened, textured landscapes of the unconscious. To these surfaces, she takes knives, lasers, ink, fire, pencil, acrylic, oil, spray paint, foam, plexi, varnish, and sandpaper, transforming them with gusto.
Aerts’ work is marked by a thematic interest in identity, sexuality, masking, and entrapment. The human bodies represented amid her art-brutish, grungy, and heavily worked surfaces are tubular, feminized forms that often reduce the figure to essential, biomorphic parts: hands, genitals, eyes, and sometimes faces that resemble the profile views of Egyptian bas-relief. They uncannily appear and re-appear throughout Aerts’ works, primarily in bent postures that seem interchangeably humbled, reverent, and consumed in the act of masturbation. Though Aerts’ figures morph with each work, they all belong to the same hermetic world. This world contains both the snake charmer and the self-devouring, charmed snake. Aerts’ world is oneiric—it is at once lonely and erotic; based in materialism and in fantasy; comprised of fixed objects and charged with the movement of oblique narrative.