An interview with Ilke Cop & Margot Van den Berghe — In residency at Pilar (VUB)

29 March 2022

Margot Van den Berghe is a Belgian textile artist. Ilke Cop is an art historian.

Both are residents at Pilar, an artistic laboratory in Brussels for young people, located at the VUB. It is an exhibition area for art by young, innovative creators and established figures, cross-fertilised with the ground-breaking knowledge of scientists.

As part of the weKONEKT.weekMAD had a talk with Margot and Ilke.


Margot Van den Berghe

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Last year, I graduated as a textile designer from Luca School of Arts. I position myself as textile artist as well as textile designer as I explore the boundaries between art and design, between autonomous and functional work. I don't want to choose one or the other as this boundary is very interesting to me. 
Right now, I am a resident at Pilar (VUB) and I have my studio at See U in Etterbeek. Because of the lack of space, I was obliged to choose which technique to work with, sewing, weaving or embroidery, although I always prefer to work with different tools at the same time. I react quickly to impulses. One work flows out of the other, but with a lack of space this is difficult. At See U, I was given the space to experiment. I also get guidance, which means there’s always someone I can go to with my questions. The residency also offers new opportunities, I just designed a seating area for Pilar on the occasion of the ASAP festival, for example. Now, I work from deadline to deadline. I get lots of different assignments, which makes work fun. Curating the Young will be organizing a solo exhibition of my work and later this year I will exhibit during Design Fest Gent.

I am an art historian by education. I studied art sciences at the University of Ghent. After this I pursued further studies in fashion design as I had the feeling that I wanted to be more creative. I then founded my own fashion company (ILKECOP) and designed a total of six collections. For three years, I presented a new collection every six months at the fashion weeks in Paris and Amsterdam. After a while, I got the feeling that I could not fully express my creativity. I had always wanted to paint, so three years ago I finally started. Soon I was painting every day and started to incorporate other media into my practice. What I make now, is made because I want to, not because of its reason of functionality. My fashion business imposed too many boundaries on me, I yearned for complete freedom of my creativity. Something that is clear to me now.
Since September, I have been in residence at Pilar. This residency gives me the space to make great work. Since then, things have moved fast. I just finished my first solo exhibition at Tatjana Pieters Gallery, in May I will show work in New York for the very first time and this summer a large canvas of 6 by 2 metres will be shown at Watou Arts Festival. At the moment you can see my work at MAD and a few other works in the group exhibition Ruby & (more) Friends at Ruby Gallery Brussels.

"Sustainability is important to me. I often work with old fabrics that are unusable for others, or I buy almost all my yarns at the thrift shop or at stock sales. I find this interesting as I find inspiration in the limitations that are unconsciously imposed on me."

Margot Van den Berghe

You are both artists in residence at Pilar. Tell us about your work.

In my works, I combine different techniques: weaving, embroidery, sewing and patchwork. My works of art are made both mechanically and manually, but I have a strong preference for handiwork. The human touch in my work is very important to me. I also paint and draw a lot. These 'sketches' can be an inspiration for a new work, but are not a design in itself that I stick to. It is the materials that lead me, rather than me leading the materials. 
I collect yarn or fabrics and then work with the materials I have. Sustainability is important to me. I often work with old fabrics that are unusable for others, or I buy almost all my yarns at the thrift shop or at stock sales. I find this interesting as I find inspiration in the limitations that are unconsciously imposed on me. 
My works are on the border between autonomous and functional. I find it interesting to search for the boundary between these two. For example, I previously made a carpet from which I cut a large piece. In this way, the functional aspect disappears but the reference to the carpet is still clear. I find the fact that a work also has a back and/or bottom very intriguing. A textile object is often shown one-sided. A striking front or top often makes us forget that the object also has a back or bottom. For example a tapestry or carpet, the wall or the floor block the visibility of a back or bottom. I do not want to exclude the visibility of these sides. I want to invite the public to be curious.

In my work, I focus on myself. I started my practice with self-portraits because it allows me to relate to my own image but also to the images that have been made of women in art history. Nowadays, I notice a tendency not to depict myself explicitly anymore, nevertheless, I still call them self-portraits. I can only look at something with my own eyes and make something with my own skills, this way the work remains very personal. Spectators say that there are surrealistic elements in my work, although I would never say that I make surrealistic work. I am not concerned with the subconscious, but rather with being conscious. I find it interesting to send images and memories from my memory through a kind of prism in order to create a new image. A new image that in turn has an impact on the viewer.

Furthermore, some major themes are present in my work. The role of women in art history and in society, and the relationship between presentation and representation, has been very important to me since the beginning. More recently, I have also been addressing Belgium's colonial past. Feminism and colonialism are topics I deal with a lot in my daily life. I am an activist thinker, and this is reflected in my work. I try to say something about these themes from my own limited point of view, but the last thing I want is to take away the voice of the other. I am very aware of my position as a privileged white woman in this society and want to explore what this means. My works are meant to ask questions and explore issues, not provide answers. I hope my work touches people and makes them think.

"I have always had an enormous bond with textiles, it is a very layered theme for me. The clothes I wear in my paintings are often my own designs. This is important to me because it is symbolic of the evolution I have gone through in my career, from fashion designer to artist."

Ilke Cop

Ilke Cop

You both have a relationship to textiles; can you explain this a little further?

I have always had an enormous bond with textiles, it is a very layered theme for me. The clothes I wear in my paintings are often my own designs. This is important to me because it is symbolic of the evolution I have gone through in my career, from fashion designer to artist. For my textile installations, I often work with fabrics I used for my collections, thus integrating that part of my story into my artistic practice.
Textile is also important in my work because it has a deeper symbolic meaning for me. Here I return to the feminist aspect, textile has always been a female medium. The decorative nature of textiles can almost be equated with the decorative role of women throughout history. This role was to be beautiful, not to cause any trouble and not to have an opinion. Women have always been pushed aside, the women who have had a significance in history have mostly been written out by men. 

My close relationship with textiles is of course quite obvious as I work exclusively with this material. Textiles are very easy to manipulate and deform. You can make a whole surface with just one thread. Textiles grow, literally. I am a haptic observer and want to touch everything. My head is in my hands. Textiles make me slow down and feel. This is something I have never experienced with other media. It is also the texture of textile that appeals to me. People can touch my works; it is not only the aesthetic aspect that is important to me. This way, my works often interact with the space and the spectators.


What will you be exhibiting in our showcase on the occasion of WeKONEKT?

I am going to exhibit a work that should evoke interest and involvement by the visitor. Blue Portalcould be a curtain, a room devider, a (closed) passage to another space. It creates a tension between front and back. What is hidden at the other side? We look beyond the surface. We look behind the surface. We look underneath the surface. We look for depth in the surface. For the first time, I am making a very large work. usually, I make small pieces, but this time I wanted to step out of my comfort zone.

The work I am exhibiting is part of a triptych called 
State of Things. They are three self-portraits in which I am fully represented in the centre. This triptych deals with the social roles that are expected of a woman. The first work is about the erotic role of a woman, who is the object of the male gaze. The second deals with motherhood, how this is something that is expected of women, how one expects this of oneself and how one deals with women who are childless. 
The painting I am showing here is about domesticity. A few centuries ago, a woman's greatest virtue was domesticity. One was not allowed to live or think too far outside the walls of their house. Her artistic activities were therefore confined, which is why women often painted with watercolors on small canvases, played music or embroidered. I personally find it very special that this work is shown in Brussels. I am originally from Antwerp but I found my home in Brussels. For me, Brussels is a symbol of freedom in my personal story, it is symbolic of certain things I wanted to escape from. This is the first time I exhibit something publicly in the center of Brussels, in a space literally every passer-by can see it. I am curious about the interaction of the work with the city and the passers-by.

Ilke Cop  © Laurence vander Elstraeten
Margot Van den Berghe