Art integration in Leuze-en-Hainaut prison


Architect Dirk Bigaré (DDS & Partners) asked George De Decker to come up with a proposal to integrate art into the new prison complex in Leuze-en-Hainaut (opening May 2014).

Together with Franca Ravet, he realised an all-encompassing project, involving sculptures, paintings, prints and stained-glass windows.

Under the title ‘LE BRUIT DE LA PENSÉE’ George De Decker designed a series of 4 sculptures (in bronze, walnut, aluminium and leather/lead), 4 stained-glass windows and 2 paintings.


The bronze sculpture at the entrance of the new prison in Leuze-en-Hainaut is a metaphor for the power of the imagination.

De Decker redefines the ‘ecce homo’ - behold the man – and in particular how he manages to survive mentally. That’s far from obvious for prisoners, who aren’t just isolated physically but also mentally. All they have left – in their forced cocoon of solitude – is their inner voice. Nobody can lock the camera obscura in their head. Thoughts are free.

By placing this sculpture at the entrance to a prison, De Decker stimulates our ability to interpret.

Why is that human figure there standing on his head? And why isn’t he placed centrally on that tall beam? Is the sculpture a prelude, put there to stimulate thought, the last refuge of those who are being punished by their loss of liberty?

Etymologically the word ‘man’ leads back to the Indo-European root ‘men’ - to think. It has the same roots as the Latin mentis – spirit or mind.


De Decker’s ‘ecce homo’ invites us to listen to our inner voice: le bruit de la pensée.

The paintings and the large stained-glass window De Decker designed for this art-integration commission complement the four sculptures.

It isn’t man who is central here, it’s the landscape into which man has been introduced: here the vertical figure of the sculptures is subject to the horizontal.

Nor does De Decker employ any facile, noncommittal realism. Using a strongly graphic and subdued colour palette, he draws the outside space into this world behind bars. Formally, he paints a counterpart for the grid of the bars.


George De Decker’s musical-repetitive approach throughout is striking. De Decker (not coincidentally also an acclaimed composer) applies the theme-with-variations technique, both to his sculptures (four different materials with the same mould) and to his paintings and the large, stained-glass window. Just like the Flemish polyphonists of old - the masters of the art of counterpoint - his brush applies multi-layered structures, like a score in which the voices sing out independently, but also simultaneously harmoniously ensemble.

Seeing becomes listening. De Decker thus dovetails nicely here with Victor Hugo’s quip: ‘La musique c’est du bruit qui pense’

(Music is noise that thinks).


© Guido De Bruyn