I met Peter in the unattractive atmosphere of a green-toned breakfast room in Madrid. It was almost frighteningly neutral, but the tea was hot and the view of the street was noisy. The conversation was fluid, full of references and metaphors, full of complex paths, discovered after much soul-searching.

The day before, Peter presented his new solo-show « A Dog with Eyes for the Blind » in Madrid, also marking the inauguration of Hilario Galguera’s new space in the city.

Peter's pieces, in their own solitude , stand out and contrast with the white walls in an unusual sobriety. Unusual because there is nothing sober about them at first glance: the materials clash, tear each other apart, almost fight, but they do so with a disconcerting coherence, without the need for understanding. These complex, indeterminate pieces do not seek meaning and do not invite any imposed meaning.

The dialogue I had with Peter, between smiles, nods and seriousness, was for me a turning point not only in the perception of his work but also in my perhaps sometimes too explanatory approach to art.

It forced me to question my systems of thought and even beyond: I have since tried to identify the unconscious lines of my understanding in order to perceive the bias that pushes me to always explain everything, to put words on everything, to reduce my thoughts in this way.

Portrait of Peter Buggenhout and Hilario Galguera during the installation of the exhibition The Blind Leading the Blind in Galería Hilario Galguera, 2017.© Galería Hilario Galguera.

To start with, it always intrigues me to know the connection of an artist with the place in which he exhibits. I already knew that Hilario Galguera chose Madrid because, like Athens, Rome and Constantinople, it has been a center of artistic and political ideologies at a certain moment. This, along with the many cultural and architectural links that Spain has with Mexico, initiated Hilario’s choice on Madrid for his second gallery space – but what about Peter?

— How did your complex masses end up in Madrid ?

It started of course with Hilario asking me but I was pretty excited about it as I believe I have anyhow a spiritual link with Spain. I think Spanish approach of things is pretty much tragical. But, first, it is good to define what I mean by tragical: I see it as the upper form of drama. Drama is about making justice all the time. It is about what one man or woman does to another and it's just between humans while tragedy is what the gods do with us, what the world does with us - it goes far beyond the drama. That is why I like Spain so much, because my work is partly about that thing: what is happening to us all the time, with all the impulses and how we have to deal with it.

And then, going further, you can even talk about the Spanish duende.

To name a thought is to kill it

Before talking to Peter, I had already encountered the duende, in its spiraling force during a performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring ballet in Paris in 2017. The choreography was by Pina Bausch. The lead dancer, "l'élue", in her final solo, stepped out of her own. I had the cheapest seat at the Opera, so one eye only could see it but I felt it fully, deep in my bones. She was no longer her and yet, at the same time, very much her. Her soul was spinning and embraced the public with relief.

The duende has become the heart of the article I am writing because many parts of our dialogue have taken on the character of this absolutely untranslatable word, even more indefinable. Either because it belongs to the realm of the unspeakable, maybe also because of its immense power in all its complexity or because of the link it makes between people.

When I asked Peter where his strong relationship with Hilario came from, he said: 'Hilario has the duende'.

The duende originated in Andalusia and is considered the epitome of Andalusian genius. The poet Federico García Lorca offered a theoretical approach to the phenomenon in his lectures 'Juego y teoria del duende' dedicated to the subject between 1932 and 1935 in various cities, notably in Spain, which he described as 'a country open to death'. The sources and references are multiple: it is a complex set of myths, tales and plants, with the aim of capturing an intuitive knowledge for which words are not enough. It gathers a sensation, a form of trance, of possession where the person in duende is possessed by a force, truthful to what seems superior to him or her. It then implies a visceral tension, an abysmal meeting of two fundamentally opposed forces to manifest themselves. This is particularly expressed in flamenco or corridas (bullfighting) and it tries to enclose - to reduce - in this word, the moment of ethereal grace when the flamenca or the torero enters the trance of precision, on the border of danger and imbalance, approaching a symbolic - or not - death, in the name of fundamental beauty. This transcendental force is not only to be found in the movement, but also in the cante jondo of flamenco. Originally, the words of the cante reflected life events of those who sang them, without steady choice or reduction of words, in a rustic and tragic lament. George Bataille, the French writer, perceived the sacrifice of the corrida and the cante as the last vestiges of our humanity.

The duende is also and above all in its perception by the spectator and it is not to be confused with the thrill of pleasure felt in front of an incredible performance: it is in the desire to cry, in this tipping into the deep abyss of inexplicable forces, in the depths of our questioning which then dissolve, very simply, in a vertiginous spiral.

The more I immerse myself in the duende, the more I realise its elusiveness. A bit like quicksand. The more you try to escape, the more you get sucked in. Finding myself in this way, in the complexity of the unspeakable, pushed me all the more towards Peter's work. Our conversation was there, constantly echoing everything I read: the reduction by words, the impossibility of getting to the heart of a work, the Spanish tragedy. The duende thus provided, in spite of itself, a common thread in our conversation.

Installation view of Peter Buggenhout’s Post Tenebras Spero Lvcem, 2020, in Galería Hilario Galguera Mexico City.© Galería Hilario Galguera. Photo by Victor Mendoza

Installation view of Peter Buggenhout’s Post Tenebras Spero Lvcem, 2020, in Galería Hilario Galguera Mexico City.© Galería Hilario Galguera. Photo by Victor Mendoza


In 2012, Peter presented a work at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, entitled The Blind Leading the Blind, in reference to the Gospel of Matthew: "If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a hole" (Matthew XV, 14). In 2018, Hilario Galguera opened an exhibition with the same title. This new exhibition in Madrid is called A Dog with Eyes for the Blind.

— What is your link with blindness? Why this repeated reference?

I think we can continue with this idea of tragedy in a way.

I will split it up in two parts: on one hand, I pretty much consider that we are not aware about what is going to happen, which way we are going to or how we will end up one way or another. We are blind and that's why this blindness always returns in my work by the titles. But also, on the other hand, my way of working while I'm creating the pieces is blind and this process has become the content of the work. When I start making a piece, I take one element, then I add a second one and a fourth and a fifth. So this complete unpredictability, how it's going to look like in the end, is very often a blind way of working. Because, sometimes, I decide to turn it completely over, and then I see the result and I'm surprised to see that the other side is more communicative - deciding then to continue it this way. This kind of blindness of not knowing where to go to is the reason I always refer to Brueghel and this painting of the parable of the blind. To sum up, this way of working has become the content of the work but not only for these artworks, for all the ones I produce.

Installation view of Peter Buggenhout’s Post Tenebras Spero Lvcem, 2020, in Galería Hilario Galguera Mexico City.© Galería Hilario Galguera. Photo by Victor Mendoza

But then, does it mean that the work is creating itself in a way?

In a way, but it's much more complex. It's also decisions that I make and it's also some good luck or bad luck while making it. Sometimes a work is hanging on the wall, it isn't well fixed and falls: it then becomes something else and it is a new starting point in the creation process.

— The process of creating the work thus becomes its content. But how to approach it then? Why do these complex forms, with no search for content but the one created by their process, have such a presence?

So it goes back to the tragedy. The outside world is cold, distant and brutal, very brutal and no one cares if you are happy or not happy. Sade was saying that what is ugly, brutal, repulsive is bringing more intense emotions than what is beautiful.

— Meaning that the artworks are smaller incarnations of the outside world tragedy?

It is this tragedy but in a smaller size, on a human scale -Claude Levi-Strauss was saying that it was in the reduction -and because when you can see it and feel it, you feel comforted by it; the small scale makes it comforting and also kind of reachable. It is the idea of dividing a huge problem in smaller sizes so we can actually deal with it. Indeed, as the reduction is made by humans, we expect human reflections from it, which reassures us because we can recognise something there. Unlike the great natural beauties which impress us but do not encompass us.


Throughout our conversation, Peter was a stickler for the use of words, because all words are reduction. Indeed, in my first approach, I affixed the words chaos and anarchy to Peter's works. Almost like convictions. Peter then corrected me, saying that these were my interpretations and that I should absolutely not put them in his mouth. It's an intransigence that I respect a lot and even admire, because sometimes we tend to be so eager to be approved that we end up accepting words that are too vague for situations that are precise for us. Or that we want to remain vague.

The word Peter uses to talk about his work is complexity because "it means that we cannot grab it, we cannot understand it while chaos has a negative connotation". I had always seen the word chaos as a kind of complexity with infinite possibilities, with an almost positive connotation: any path is still imaginable within the chaos. Again, it is, without doubt, my way of reducing things to be less afraid of them, to try to achieve a kind of mind control towards my thoughts.

— But how do we get to this complexity?

It's not that as an artist, you say: « what am I going to talk about today? what am I going to make today and what is going to be the content of the work? » It really grows gradually.

A long time ago, I started as a painter. And I consider that paintings are always symbolic. I didn't want to make symbolic things anymore - symbolic meaning that it is the symbol of something, that it is referring to something. So as I didn't want to do this kind of stuff anymore, I did the whole investigation that the informal painters had done in the 50s and made it all over again. It took me about eight, nine years because painting was my very first love. And I had to conclude that it was impossible to escape a form of symbolism when making paintings. (…)

Painting is, already because of its frame, symbolic as it is always a reduction of something else.

As I wanted to make concrete things that only refer to themselves, that act autonomously and not to something outside themselves, I was looking for a way to escape this problem.

Peter Buggenhout, I am the Tablet # 6, 2021, marble, plastic, wood, iron, wood, glass deco, silver tape, aluminium, cardboard, epoxy, synthetic plaster, textile, PET, 262 x 268 x 47 cm.© Peter Buggenhout. Photograph: Dirk Pauwels. Courtesy: Galería Hilario Galguera.

Escape the Symbolism

There were two possibilities: one was to start making performances as it is a real life thing, as you do something at a precise moment. Then the other one was making sculptures. Of course sculptures also have the possibility of being very symbolic. For instance, if you make a sculpture of a duck or whatever, that's also reduction. Thus I started my investigations on making things that are very autonomous, independent.

I then started to do sculptures with intestines, gradually finding a way to what I wanted to do. But, you know, I was also wondering at that time why intestines were working so well in my process: it is because they are abject materials. So I started to look for other abject materials, using dust, blood and other things, escaping from something very symbolic to something that is autonomous. But that also means that my work is hard to deal with.

To give you some ideas about the field I am operating in more or less, there is this Wittgenstein’s sentence: « What can’t be shown, cannot be talked about » and a way of thinking from the second half of the Middle Ages called « nominalism ». It bears the idea that every object deserves to have a proper name.

Indeed, nominalism is a movement from the second part of the Middle Ages (11th-13th centuries) which denounced the human construction behind general concepts whose names are only conventions of language. Beings and things do not carry the concepts by which we apprehend them.

Meaning that « a cup » shouldn’t designate all the cups in the world. Every cup should have its own name (Tup, Cupt, {insert cup names}, etc.)

But, if we had to follow these precepts, we could not communicate with each other anymore, we could not talk about things. However, in the end, every object is autonomous. To look at things this way makes the world very complicated, but also much more adventurous and much more precise.

Peter then made me realise the symbolic importance of every act, of every word, this symbolism fatally bringing a linguistic reduction to our thoughts and exchanges. Yet this is necessary to communicate with each other. This nominalism seems to be the most genuine way of apprehending the world, the only true reflection of the world.

We really need this kind of reduction but it tears us away from the real world.

The reference to the duende on which I began this article comes back once again: the impossibility of apprehending an intuitive phenomenon and the desire to lock it up in a concept, which would then be applicable to everyone.

— Then, how to approach your work at the end? In the acceptance that I am not going to understand? That I must not try to?

You will always try but in the end, I make my work in such a way that there is no other conclusion than to stop thinking what you are seeing and accept that this thing is there, just as you, human being, is here. I am forcing you not to think. When you look at my work, you directly have this Gestalt in your head and see, for example, a dragon. When turning around, you then see a car, for instance. Then another form, etc. After making the whole tour of the work, you realise that all the different approaches, all these different Gestalt, they do not make any sense as units. The only way then is to accept it and so you can have a communication with the object.

People trying to put words on it, it means that they didn’t look properly.

However, I don’t want to talk in terms of what is right or what is wrong, that is why I don’t answer yes nor no to your assumptions. That would simplify again the work. It is important to say that any word that can be used to describe it, doesn’t come from nowhere, however, there are so many parts in the work, they come all together and I put them in one big stack. When you try to take one part out of it, then the stack comes with. By taking one end, you take the whole work. Just like a plate of spaghetti: when you try to take one spaghetti, the whole plate comes with. So there are plenty of entries to “read” the work, there is not just one ‘right’ entrance.

What is your relationship with your work?

I sometimes describe my work as a hooker. It is very indifferent on one hand but open on accepting whatever on the other hand. Same on my side though, when I look at my work and I consider it finished, I am quite indifferent towards it. We had a path together while making it but when it is done, is done.

Installation view of Peter Buggenhout’s A Dog with Eyes for the Blind, 2022, in Galería Hilario Galguera Madrid.© Galería Hilario Galguera. Photo by Rodrigo Pérez Castaño.

— In the exhibition, there seems to be an opposition between the works: one comes from darkness and the others are colorful, seem quite … happier. Where does this use of colors come from? Was it a hazard that you used the colors as material for these works?

When you want to talk about complexity, you cannot reduce yourself to dark pieces. So that was the reason why I started working, for instance, with colors, with other textures and why I was looking for other abject materials to work with, aside from dust and blood, pollution, all this. Because I wanted to be complete in a way, you know, as complete as possible, not in one work only but with the complete « oeuvre », because every series talks about the same basic item but from another angle, from another perspective. And none of these perspectives is the right one, it's just an attempt from a certain perspective. Then some aspects are more enlightened, or made more clear, in some series and then other aspects in other ones.

At the very start of my process towards my practice, I was wondering what was the real meaning of this autonomous complexity and gradually I had to define it for myself. Once I had defined it more or less for myself and maybe for the audience, I wondered how to deal with it, with this complex outside world. This outside world which we cannot really grasp. With these more colorful works I think I found the solution to profoundly deal with it: by not trying to include things but by leaving everything as it is. Since then all kind of materials, sentiments, colors are bouncing up to each other in my work. Sometimes the contact is hard and cold and different parts are bumping up to each other. Sometimes, these parts are caressing,intertwining, discussing, arguing, whispering. The final secret to it is to let things be, not try to interfere. This is not the kind of approach that is common, since we are obsessed with controlling things. But in the end it’s far more fruitful to let things be, even if it ends up in a confrontational way. To believe things will settle in the end, is not too bad.

With these considerations, Peter then took me into a more chemical territory, unilaterally stating that: nothing mingles, not even water. Another metaphor for his work: nothing mixes, everything stays separated except sometimes when you stir it, however, when you try to grab one end, everything comes with. In my view, I see in this the absence of automatism in the encounter. The need to put energy into it to create the mixture.

In the ocean, you have warm water and cold water and it doesn’t mingle. So let things be things. Every now and then, people stir to mingle. Yes, fine, but from that moment on, it becomes something else and it won’t mingle again.

— The will to make everything mingle is a form of control in the end. Indeed, everything is put together and everything looks the same, it is therefore easier to control. What is the dimension of control in your work and in your use of materials?

There is control, there is lack of control. As I said before, the working process is becoming the content. There are no rules but one: for every series, I use another abject material. For instance, the Blind leading the Blind series is always with dust. With the Gorgo pieces, it is always with blood. For the King Louie series, it is always paint used in a very abject way.

Peter Buggenhout, King Louie III, 2022, glass, epoxy, oil paint, silicone, textile, plastic, ulano screen filler, 200h x 105w x 8.50d cm.

Under the skin

My perception of Peter's work before this conversation was that of a painter. In fact, he mentioned this past as a painter during our meeting. I was unaware of this the day before, when someone asked me about Peter's work. Spontaneously - perhaps naively - I told this person that these works were, in my eyes, paintings, constructed, with a place for every object. When I told this to Peter at the end of our meeting, he asked me a question.

Do you know what is the biggest organ in our body?

The skin.

The skin is our contact with the world. It is a very painterly statement. When you look at the painting, you look at the skin of the painting as it is what makes contact with your eyes. You are not the first person that makes the link with paintings and it is through this awareness of the skin that I explain it. It is about the surface and how the surface communicates. It is not just the form, or the shape, or the material. The part that takes contact is the skin of the sculpture.

Simple statement: it is true that you can’t go inside of the sculpture. Even if you cut the sculpture in two, you will have to cut more and more.

And more and more. When you start to go inside, it is your imagination that starts going. Myself, I don’t know what is inside of the sculpture. Because there are so many layers. It is like a snake that every time gets another skin and gets bigger and bigger. Then sometimes I cut it in two or three, I take off a piece and the insight appears again, then, I will add something new. The way I am working to make the sculptures is completely unpredictable.

So we only see the skin of the works as we only see the skin of the people. All this obsession with going to the depths of something, with going beyond the skin, is because we are reduced to a world of appearance. The interior is protected, inaccessible, of the order of the unspeakable. It is fortunate, though, because sometimes lie inside contrary, inexplicable forces, like the duende.

Portrait of Peter Buggenhout during the installation of his exhibition The Blind Leading the Blind in Galería Hilario Galguera, 2017.© Galería Hilario Galguera.

Intellectualising to reduce

For me, the problem also arises when we discover a new perception that challenges our own approach because we want to theorise it, to put a strong touch of intellectualism on it in order not to find ourselves confronted with the vagueness of these questions. So we go in search of complicated words, tinged with obscure concepts, we read a lot of different theories in order to find a form of familiarity in our own heads and we end up writing things that are absolutely incomprehensible, convinced that they are brilliant and pushing the readers into an individual vagueness that we are happy about because we are not the only ones who are lost.

An artwork that is only approachable in an intellectual way is no good. You always need different edges, some being intellectual, some absolutely not. However, intellectualizing things is sometimes very important. For instance, I am working at the moment about a book and its title is going to be Erotism and refers to Erotisme, the book by Georges Bataille, which is one of the hardest book to read I guess but it is all about what I am doing.

We concluded our conversation on this. On the importance of unpretentious intelligence. It is important, of course, to always go beyond what we know, to learn, to listen, to read, to write. It now seems to me even more important to leave room for the unspeakable, for an instinctive, mysterious part behind the skin of all appearances. Finally, by the simple fact of learning, we feed this elusive blur, this slumbering duende, which can only be touched by breaking a handhold.

Installation view of Peter Buggenhout’s A Dog with Eyes for the Blind, 2022, in Galería Hilario Galguera Madrid.© Galería Hilario Galguera. Photo by Rodrigo Pérez Castaño.


Peter Buggenhout is a Belgian artist, born in Dendermonde in 1963. His work can be discovered at Galería Hilario Galguera’s new space in Madrid from the 7th of September to 5th of November of this year - his first solo show in Spain. Peter Buggenhout has shown his work individually and collectively in institutions all over Europe and beyond.

Galería Hilario Galguera is located in both Mexico City and Madrid. As a parallel programme and platform for specific and independent projects with artists, curators and writers, in 2016 Galería Hilario Galguera also opened El cuarto de máquinas, a space for inclusion, collaboration and experimentation in Mexico City.

A Dog with the Eyes for the Blind on view until the 5th of November at Galería Hilario Galguera, Dr. Fourquet 12 in Madrid, Spain.

To go further:

Bataille, George, « Courts écrits sur l’art », éditions Lignes, 2017 (in French).

Bataille, George « L’Erotisme », Minuit, 1961 (in French).

Biard, J. (2009). Nominalism in the later Middle Ages. In R. Pasnau (Author), The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy (pp. 661-673). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

de la Rosa, Paco « Le duende, une primitive et profonde catharsis », La pensée de midi, vol. 22, no. 3, 2007, available in French.

Garcia Lorca, Federico « Theory and Play Of The Duende », Conferences of 1932-1935, available in English.

Smith, Barry, « Gestalt Theory: An Essay in Philosophy », Foundations of Gestalt Theory, Philosophia Verlag, 1988, available in English.