words by MARIA MOTA

Questioning gay shame, freedom of sexual identity, and gender expression in relation to the human body, Stef translated their questions into video installations, photos, sculptures, and performances, as an attempt to reflect and dismantle the performativity of human behavior. The dialogue between gender expression and body politics birthed the idea of his iconic sculpture bags.

“Playfully mimicking our social conducts along with visual culture, my work moves towards a surreal gesture.”
— Stef Van Looveren

We have to hear more about your iconic bags! How did the idea come to you? And do you have plans to extend the collection? 

The concept of my Intersex Pussy, Dick Ass sculpture bags originated back in 2017 when I made body casts from a variety of real body parts and genitals from a diverse group of people which I turned into silicone prosthetics for a video installation called ‘O’. Later on, I archived these silicone prosthetics in my studio through a metal ring that hung on a clothing rag.

They looked like purses and it started a dialogue between gender expression and body politics that birthed the idea of the sculpture bags. Back then they didn’t have a function and only played on the idea of a bag, which was shown during an exhibition where I turned the space into a ‘fictional fashion showroom’ where people could walk in and out.

Performers were showcasing some of the bags while other bags were presented onto the walls. The Pavilion looked like a vitrine with big windows on opposite sides. On these windows, I placed stickers with several statements, one being: ‘I carry a Dick bag. This does not make me a man neither does it make me a Pussy. But if you disagree, it does make you an Ass,’ supported by a big logo to stimulate the illusion of a showroom, where the launch of a handbag collection took place.

Reflecting upon these sculptures and the dialogue they created with the spectators, I felt the need to elevate the connection between the sculptural bags and the audience more. I pursued the potential of adding a functional value, giving the spectator a concrete reason to interact and experience the interchangeability of our ‘sex’ by being able to wear the bags.

Simultaneously it made it possible to take the sculptures out of the white cube and onto the street, to further question how bodies are consumed and commodified. Representing a spectrum of genitals from the female sex, intersex to male sex in different shapes and colors immediately starts a conversation about the  sex and gender binary. The nature of the bags supports the vision that ‘sex’ should  be seen as a wearable accessory, something that the wearer can play around with;  challenging you to rethink the meaning of our body while celebrating the distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. These new functional sculptures took on different shapes in epoxy or silicone and introduced silver hardware, embodying the visual codes and characteristics of a ‘classic handbag’. The bags are made by hand and should be treated as sculptures. They are made as unique pieces or as editions and  come with a document of authenticity.  

Going forward, I will keep on creating new sculpture bags to expand the endless  variations in ‘sex’. They will mainly continue to come as unique sculptural pieces or  as limited editions. I intend to keep them as an extension of my art practice that can  continue to be in motion, cross over into different spaces, share their vision and lead  to new productive perspectives, or simply visibilise the remarkable diverse existence  of human life. Eventually, I will let them lead me to where they need to go.

What message do you aim to convey through your designs and art in general? 

I think my work can be a vessel or a mirror of how we view the world and how we relate to objects or elements. Revealing often overseen, normalized or hidden acts of violence has shaped my visual language and thus the qualities it entails.  Deconstructing or converting visual codes and their meaning challenges us to review the way we think about or relate to them. For example, look at the way we go about genitals, they are heavily censored and taboo yet they carry enormous importance and weight in the way our lives are regulated.

From birth, we are placed in a specific position and expected to move, talk or dress in a certain way because of the sex we are born with, all of those social demands are what is violent to me, but we don’t necessarily experience that as aggressive because we have naturalized these expectations and continue to pass this on to the next generations and uphold the status quo.

My work is an attempt to dismantle or reverse those elements in order to get a better understanding or a clearer awareness of them, So it is also a starting  point for further thinking about new forms, which would no longer be necessary for  ‘eternity’, but which recognize the constant repositioning and movement of human experiences and thought. 

When caught in a predicament, when trying to problem-solve, how relevant do you  find to explore your ‘Genesis’, your beginning? 

My life experiences are a source of inspiration, but also your own work becomes a source of inspiration when time passes and you revisit old pieces. In a way when you share your work, it’s not completely yours anymore, it becomes part of our visual  culture — it’s open to critique. That feedback can be very crucial because you can appreciate perspectives that you were not necessarily aware of while you were  making the work. So in that sense, it’s always something that grows over time  because the past reintroduces itself in different ways and I continue to learn from it.

And lastly, what would you like to see coming to fruition in your life? What is next for you on a  personal and professional level?  

First of all, my practice is the driving force behind my sanity. I imagine my work growing in multiple directions, finding new solutions to give more room for ‘live’ performance and sound, introducing elements of CGI and smell.  

Besides creating new sculptural works this year, I’m preparing a new live performance that will premiere in DE SINGEL in 2024, as a continuation on my previous performance Radical Hope – Eye to Eye.  

I envision a huge celebration where different mediums merge together, completely  transforming a space by defying limitations altogether; representing freedom from  society, from gender and everything that oppresses us, as artists, as gender-fluid  people; everything I stand for and the things that tend to hold me back. Even though it is a little melancholic, with its lively characteristics and humour, there’s always that hope within it.

‘BELGAIN FORCES’ from our latest print issue ‘Genesis’ feature Meyy, Sylvie Kreusch, Gabrielle Duchesse, LEVS, Stef Van Looveren and Bolis Pupul <3 Read all the interviews exclusively on our website

Photography @marie_wynants
Styling @tomeerebout
Styling assistant @vincentvlaeken
MUA @florenceteerlinck
MU assistant @marycorbeel
Hair @alexedstudio
Production @nono_c_productions
Light assistant 1 @tim_coppens
Light assistant 2 @evabeeusaert
Studio @nightingale_world
Editors @timiletonja @maria_smota