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PhD defence Els Dietvorst

Partisans of the Real
How art can strengthen the individual and play a role in the transition to a socially just, sustainable society

Defence of the PhD research 'Partisans of the Real', conducted by Els Dietvorst between 2019 and 2023 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp (AP Hogeschool) - within the research group ArchiVolt - and the University of Antwerp (ARIA).

Jury: Johan Pas (promotor Academy), Pascal Gielen (promotor ARIA/ UAntwerpen), Benjamin Verdonck, Kurt Vanhoutte, Carine Fol, Viviana Checchia and Alanna O’Kelly.


“To be a human being among people and to remain one forever, no matter in what circumstances, not to grow despondent and not to lose heart—that’s what life is all about, that's its task.”
(Fyodor Dostoevsky)

My work is driven by an ongoing exploration—a quest for beauty, a connection to the collective subconscious, and what I see as the 'missing link' between art and society. I truly believe in the link between art and society. This goes beyond the narrow institutional focus on issues like poverty, exclusion, and marginality, encompassing broader social and human concerns. These include life stories, interpersonal dialogues, migration, cultural diversity, human aspirations, and the broader spectrum of the human condition in the society of today. 

This also incorporates the impact on human nature of a predominantly capitalist and Western society which leads to major themes such as life and death, anxiety, alienation and desire. I view art as a poetic and vital force that generates diverse dynamics, serving as a social process and a catalyst for uniting individuals from varied backgrounds. My work frequently reveals what often remains invisible, preferring wonder to denunciation. 

Experiment & serendipity, primal intuition and dialogue are the foundations of my work. I firmly believe in the role of art as a catalyst serving to bridge social divides and enhance social cohesion. My work has the power to work across diverse communities, artists and non-artists transcending boundaries and barriers. In this sense I perceive art as a collaborative effort—an amalgamation of shared experiences, warmth, and vitality arising from people coming together. It is within this collective engagement that art takes form, evolves, and becomes a dynamic force. 

My approach to creation is holistic and inclusive, permeating the world, embracing both the living and the deceased, as well as overlooked objects and people. Working collaboratively allows me to connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds, bridging boundaries of culture and societal norms. All these experiences contribute to my growth as both a human and an artist. 

My aim is to stimulate a new ethical consciousness and promote a form of spirituality in which humanity does not dominate society, but rather exists as a small part of the natural world. In this view, individuals have the opportunity to transcend their physical and sensory experiences by living less rationally and more intuitively.

Working holistically and regeneratively, this interaction has led to the emergence of a new form of art. The objective of this emerging art form is to actively participate in the entirety of social reality, transcending boundaries between artists, institutions, urban and rural environments, and public spaces, ultimately fostering empowerment.

(Els Dietvorst, April 2024)