‘For some reason, ping-pong came very natural to me, so I started playing it all the time. I played ping-pong even when I didn’t have anyone to play ping-pong with.’ Forrest Gump
If we take artists as the barometer for the changes happening in contemporary society, then the work of the duo F&R R&F offers up a richly varied, full-colour readout. Like a well-oiled machine, completely in tune with the zeitgeist and marching to the rhythm of an increasingly globalised world, they are quickly amassing a diverse oeuvre. Visual art, video work, theatre shows, performances, … the multidisciplinary world of F&R R&F forms an unimpeded supernation unto itself.
Robert&Frank first met at the age of 15 during their secondary-level education at the Koninklijk Atheneum in Kortrijk. A shared passion for American culture, everyday life in space, spiritual symbolism, all manner of rituals and political rhetoric formed a solid basis for their close bond of friendship. This comradely collaboration grew into a shared professional practice upon their graduation from KASK Ghent as Masters in Multimedia Design.
In A Bit Beyond PINGPONG, the duo take us on an adventurous journey. For the first time in a museum setting, we are given the keys to unlock a deep understanding of their artistic working method. Four exhibition spaces become mini-universes, each with their own corporate identity and unique aesthetic. The spaces are each named after nigh-forgotten table tennis brand names dating from around the turn of the last century: Gossima, Flim-Flam, Pim-Pam and Whiff-Whaff. F&R R&F play a game of conceptual ping-pong, constantly firing ideas at each other. Out of this reflective doubles-dynamic and their shared artistic ethnicity there arises an image-centric code language that is uniquely their own. With their shared cultural context as a point of departure and with an arsenal of visual elements from Western pop culture, they shore up a new reality around themselves. No cultural, religious, political, economic or scientific context is safe from their associative game of recapitulation. Between the 1001 layers of meaning in their work, you can also be sure to find carefully-placed references to previous F&R R&F projects.
In creating this exhibition, F&R R&F opted for a specific thematic approach with a socially-critical and -engaged attitude. In the exhibition, this translates into a kind of analogue search engine that is physically navigable – an accumulation of links and nested windows of meaning. Evil spirits and demons are kept at bay thanks to the feng shui scenography, while the whole space is liberally peppered with lively humour and tongue-in-cheek details. The chosen themes are incorporated throughout the entire exhibition route, but with a different flavour in each individual space.
In Gossima, we see the destructive power struggle in the oil and (super)food industries exposed and paradoxically linked to the universal human search for happiness and the perfect self-image. Or how a perversely run economy of mass self-realisation might lead to an extreme form of pedigree freak. The video work in the Flim-Flam space makes it clear as day that central to the whole debacle is an ideology dictated by the enigmatic pantheon of top athletes, glorified ad absurdum. The soundtrack here was co-created with the artists’ go-to sound collaborator, Koenraad Vandersyppe.
Mass hysteria is staved off by the splendid vistas that open up as one reaches the summit of the exhibition in the Pim-Pam space. This is followed by the pièce-de-résistance in Whiff-Whaff, where the quest for world cups is shown as a cultivated form of tribal warfare. No, the world of professional sport is no picnic; the same could be said about the making of bricolage guns – though, on the plus side, this does stand to boost the creativity of the individual. Is this space a paramilitary weapons depot or a commercial theme park? Does your experience depend on whether you enter from the left or the right? And what prize is up for grabs?