Artist Patrick Van Caeckenbergh: ‘I was born a pet’

In 1997, the artist Patrick Van Caeckenbergh moved from Ghent to the small village of Sint-Kornelis-Horebeke. In the small community, he developed calm art, with the village in the main role. Museum Parcum in Park Abbey in Leuven shows the result in ‘Fragile’.

It is rare that Parcum, museum and center of excellence for religious art and culture, teams up with a contemporary artist. With Patrick Van Caeckenbergh, who has lived at Zeno X Gallery for 40 years, it does so because the artist and the museum share the same values: tolerance and humility.

The essence

  • ‘Fragile’ is an exhibition by Patrick Van Caeckenbergh at Parcum in Park Abbey in Leuven.
  • She shows works he made between 1997 and 2017, when he lived in Sint-Kornelis-Horebeke. There he immersed himself in the small village community.
  • Van Caeckenbergh is a self-taught artist who jokes and fiddles.

The exhibition is dedicated to the 20 years, from 1997 to 2017, that Van Caeckenberg lived in Sint-Kornelis-Horebeke in the Flemish Ardennes, a village of around 500 inhabitants. ‘If I put leaflets in all the buses, I would have to use 314’, he says during the tour at the fair. Van Caeckenberg engaged in intense dialogue with the village. His art beat to the rhythm of the small community.

The choice to move from Muide in Ghent to the Flemish Ardennes was not really his. ‘As an artist, I liked living in the city, and the family chose nature. It really was that simple. I quickly noticed that the art world reacted strangely to it. Suddenly I was a recluse. That was not the case at all. I have never been as social as in the 20 years in the village’.

Home shoes

Van Caeckenbergh found humility and tolerance in Sint-Kornelis-Horebeke, two key values ​​in his life. He points to the first work of art in the exhibition: ‘De Hemelpoort’. It is an installation with two suits of armor with soup kettles as bottoms, slippers and an image of a cat and a bird together at a dinner plate.

They are references to the village where he found all the objects for the installation. But the gathering took place in London. ’25 years ago, the Belgian embassy in London moved into a new building. The ambassador asked me to create an installation that separated his office from his staff. The man thought a lot. He took me on a tour of London to show which tailor he got his suits made and where he bought his expensive shoes. In response, I made ‘The Gate of Heaven’ tailored to humility. The ambassador had to bow each time to enter through the gate.’

They called me a recluse, but I’ve never been so sociable as in the 20 years in the village.

Patrick VanCaeckenberg


He got the slippers from ‘De Hemelpoort’ at Jules and Elza’s village café, where the residents went to drink a draft beer in their slippers. One day Van Caeckenbergh said his own slippers were still too new for the installation. He failed to make them look ‘old’. A few hours later, ten bags of worn-out slippers hung on his garage door, including those belonging to café owner Jules.

It sounds like a banal anecdote, but it says a lot about the closeness of the village community and Van Caeckenbergh’s place in it. From a strange element, he grew into a connecting artist.


But what is his art? Van Caeckenbergh is not a painter or sculptor. Bricolor or tinkers are better descriptions, but then the important aspects of knowledge and research to his oeuvre are missing. ‘I’m a horizontal artist, I read a lot. I don’t go out into the wide world to get impressions. I was born a pet. 95 percent of my art takes place in my head. The effect will then follow.’

Van Caeckenbergh left Sint-Kornelis-Horebeke in 2017. ‘It was over for me, sometimes too much knowledge can explode in your face. I left the village and haven’t gone back since. Too many memories.’ Those memories meander through the exhibition. There is a recreated school class where Van Caeckenbergh studies animal instinct. On the walls hang pictures of animals that according to the laws of nature are enemies, but in the picture live peacefully together and tolerate each other.

This is how he sees his relationship with the villagers. They quickly tolerated him, the artist from the big city who immerses himself in village life. You can see how it takes place in a room where, in a large screen – a metaphor for the closed life in the village – are the works that Van Caekenbergh has made with and for the villagers.

Left ‘De Hemelpoort’, with which the exhibition opens.
©saskia vanderstichele

The procession which Van Caekenbergh organized and which connects him with Parcum is striking. When the village priest retired in the late 1990s, there was no replacement. It threatened the procession for St. Kornelis, the patron saint against childhood diseases, which ends in July.

Van Caeckenbergh saved the day and devised a new concept with the local Franciscan friars. The children of the village were central to this. He designed a 12 meter blue cloth that the village elders carried as a sky over the children during the procession.

He later created the canopy for the children in the large installation ‘Le Dais’, which can be seen in the last room of the exhibition. She is standing next to the beautiful vehicle ‘The shell’. With this, Van Caekenbergh travels around the world – in his head – to collect all the world’s adventures.

‘Fragile’ runs February 26 at Parcum in Heverlee.

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