Dreaming of a Mega Renaissance

The latest project by Boris van Berkum consists of a quartet of fascinating sculpture groups realised using unusual materials.

Boris van Berkum, Kalki, 2008, glazed pottery, ostrich eggs, fountain pump. Height 90 cm. Photo: Erik Hesmerg
Boris van Berkum, Kalki, 2008, glazed pottery, ostrich eggs, fountain pump. Height 90 cm. Photo: Erik Hesmerg

Boris van Berkum, a co-founder of Showroom MAMA in Rotterdam, will be presenting his sculptures at the museum this spring. Van Berkum’s investigation into the history of art and culture has resulted in four groups of sculptures, made from ceramics, plastic and unusual materials such as chocolate and sugar. Van Berkum drew inspiration from works that he admired and touched him, from images of deities and warrior masks to classical torsos and female figures. The result is a series of sculpture groups in which major world cultures and religions merge, together forming a new sculpture, a ‘mega-Renaissance’.

Q&A with Boris van Berkum
1. How do you choose your materials?
The idea of using sugar for sculpting came from Sjarel Ex. I then followed a crash course in cake decoration, so that I could clad the life-size sculptures with vibrantly coloured sugar fondant.
2. Which of the world’s cultures do you most admire?
The classical ones, but also less familiar cultures, such as the Kingdom of Ife, part of present-day Nigeria. When I saw the exhibition in the British Museum last year, it felt as if the makers of the Ife bronzes and their whole community were in direct contact with me. I try to capture that energy in my work.
3. How do you stand in relation to religion?
I’m fascinated by religion and draw a lot of inspiration from it. I study Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Animism and the classical gods. I can personally relate to the theories of the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, but at the same time I’m becoming increasingly intrigued by my Roman Catholic roots.
4. Are you busy with new works?
I’m working on an altarpiece-cum-wine bar where people can drink the ‘blood’ of Christ. It isn’t meant cynically or ironically, by the way. I try to depict Christ’s suffering and aspects of the sacrament in a different way.
5. How does Rotterdam inspire you?
I recently opened my studio in an old clubhouse built in 1934 on the Brienenoord Island, which is as big as the Noorder Island but totally green. We’ll be opening the premises under the name ‘Brienies’ in mid-April. It will be a new sanctuary for the visual arts and ecology, meant for the people of Rotterdam and artists.