Toon Leën

Toon Leën (1981) studied painting at Sint Lucas Antwerp. His work moves between painting, video, and lecture performance. Currently, he is a PhD candidate in Artistic Research at Hasselt University and PXL-MAD, School of Arts. His work is represented by Fred&Ferry Gallery in Antwerp.

→ antonius.leen(at)

Homage to an Absent Pony
Lecture performance

23 March, 2023, 20:45pm
Conditions of Spectatorship, interdisciplinary symposium on artistic research
RITCS School of Arts, Antoine Dansaertstraat 70, 1000 Brussels

Language: English

more information and full conference program PDF

Homage to the x
Lecture performance

15 October, 2022, 2:30pm
Bildsituationen, conference organised by the University of Hamburg
Warburg-Haus, Heilwigstraße 116, 20249 Hamburg

Language: English

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Correspondances mystérieuses

Wednesday, 24 August 2022, 9:00 pm
Vita et Pax Kapelconcerten, priorij Regina Pacis, Sint-Amelbergalei 35, 2900 Schoten

Language: Dutch

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Everything is Interesting #3
Two lecture performances

Saturday, June 25, 2022
In the context of 48 Stunden Neukölln
Kunstraum Ossastraße, Ossastraße 38, 12045 Berlin

3:00pm: Interruptions are Interesting (ca. 160 minutes)
6:00pm: Homage to the x (60 minutes)

Language: English

→ more information here.

Correspondances mystérieuses

Monday, May 23, 2022
Konzertsaal der UdK Berlin, Hardenbergstr. / Ecke Fasanenstraße, 10623 Berlin

Images and text: Toon Leën
Piano: Lucas Blondeel

Language: German (translated from Dutch by Bärbel Jänicke)

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Homage to the Dash
Lecture performance

19 May, 2022, 6:30pm
@MAD Music, Research Festival PXL-Music & PXL-MAD
Villa Basta, Vissersstraat 2, 3500 Hasselt, Belgium

—Sarah Bal—
Exhibition at Fred & Ferry Gallery in Antwerp, from 6 February until 12 March 2022

Zwischen den Bildern (2020)
Video, 13 minutes

This short video was created for an anonymous exhibition, titled x, that took place at KIOSK in Ghent from 23 January until 28 March 2021. Rather than showing an artwork without revealing the artist’s identity, the video portrays an artist without revealing his work. Standing outside the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin, the artist talks about his fascination with art historian Aby Warburg. An exhibition had been put up by the HKW showing a reconstruction of Warburg’s Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, but it was closed due to the Corona lockdown in November 2020. The video goes on to show the artist in his study room, where he is seen drinking tea and studying the works of Warburg. Interviewed at his studio, the artist talks about his collection of found photographs, presented on his studio wall, which serve as a source of inspiration for his work.

The video was later shown (again, anonymously) at the exhibition “From the Collection. Gifted” at S.M.A.K., Ghent, from 26 June until 3 October 2021.

In Retrospect (2018)
Lecture performance in four chapters by Toon Leën, 40 minutes

This lecture presents a journey through images of people and animals who are looking back. Apart from sharing the gesture of turning their heads and trying to see what is happening behind them, these figures don’t necessarily have much in common. Yet, although it may seem absurd to compare them solely on the ground of this superficial similarity, this lecture sets out to investigate whether there is a shared premonition behind their retrospection. Could it be that their gesture of looking back is demonstrating something to us, something that is beyond our grasp unless we embrace the absurdity of comparing what was never meant to be compared and indulge in seemingly unjustified connections – an exercise in that which art historians have come to term “pseudomorphism”.

Correspondances mystérieuses (2019-2021)
Concert-lecture, 106 minutes

Images and text: Toon Leën
Piano: Lucas Blondeel

Like none other, the French composer Claude Debussy managed to evoke images through music. Debussy was passionate about the sea and the sound of rustling leaves, but also extremely attached to the city. A resident of Paris his entire life, he immersed himself intensely in the visual art and literature of his time.

This concert-lecture, with Lucas Blondeel on piano, offers a meditation on the interaction between music and images in Debussy’s work. In short lectures, interspersed throughout the concert, Toon Leën presents an intriguing investigation into the visual universe that inspired Debussy, while Blondeel provides pithy insights into the composer’s musical innovations.

The concert-lecture was broadcast as a livestream by deSingel in Antwerp on May 20, 2021.


Sarah Bal, Student of Colours (2019)
Lecture performance by Toon Leën, 35 minutes

Through a close reading of the work of Sarah Bal, a Swiss painter featured in Ludovik Vermeersch’s project Personally, I’m Most Interested in the Shapes and Colours, this lecture deals with the discrepancies between colour theory and a practicing painter’s subjective decisions. Focusing on colourblindness and the deceptive nature of colour perception, the lecture presents an empathic account of Bal’s approach to colour.

The Case of the Ridiculous Curator (2018-2019)
Lecture performance by Toon Leën, 70 minutes

In 2015, curator Ludovik Vermeersch published the book Personally, I’m Most Interested in the Shapes and Colours. The publication claimed to investigate the “continued potential of abstract art as a disruptive practice”. It was accompanied by an eponymous lecture performance by Vermeersch himself, that combined a theoretical reflection on the concept of “transfigurative recontextualisation” with a personal account of his manipulative collaboration with six young abstract artists based in Berlin.  

Toon Leën takes Vermeersch’s lecture as the starting point for a lecture performance of his own that grapples with the destabilizing effects of deception as an artistic strategy. Leën explores the significance of authenticity for the attribution of agency to artworks and the dynamic between the self and the artist persona with regard to the establishment of authorship and authority – the most striking issues at stake in Vermeersch’s project.

Personally, I’m Most Interested in the Shapes and Colours (2015)
Lecture performance by Ludovik Vermeersch, 90 minutes

This lecture performance is a monologue by a curator called Ludovik Vermeersch. It presents a narrative that invites different levels of speculation and immerses the viewer in a multilayered world of abstractions.  

The lecture presents both Vermeersch’s theoretical investigations into the origins of abstract art and his experimental collaboration with six promising young abstract artists. This collaboration, consisting of a series of exhibitions and presentations in Berlin between 2013 and 2014, revolved around one basic question: “What can abstract painting still achieve today?” In order to challenge the artists into radically questioning their own practices, Vermeersch confronted them with a number of provocative and increasingly deceptive interventions in the presentation of their works. After the lecture’s analytical first section, Vermeersch looks back at these interventions, framing them as part of a curatorial strategy he terms “transfigurative recontextualisation.” By drastically intervening in the contextual level, he suggests, the viewer’s attention can be diverted from the artwork itself toward the narratives that surround it, in order to provoke an experience of bewilderment, which ultimately brings forth the “transfiguration” of the abstract work in question.

As incongruities accumulate in the videos, and the absurdities in Vermeersch’s theory exacerbate, the audience starts to realise that it may be dealing with a parafictional setup, staged to lure them into the very state of bewilderment that is theorised by Vermeersch: the experience of “contextual abstraction.” No longer sure about what is real or fake, the spectator is left with the suspicion that, along with the six artists, the dubious persona of Ludovik Vermeersch could equally well be another fictional device in the narrative construction.

Personally, I’m Most Interested in the Shapes and Colours

The Ego Trip and the Research Pill (2016)
Lecture performance by Ludovik Vermeersch, 35 minutes

Commissioned by Artesis Plantijn University College Antwerp as a keynote for Articulate, a festival on artistic research in 2016, this lecture performance reflects on the institutionalisation of artistic research. Curator Ludovik Vermeersch confronts two lines of thinking in the prevailing discourse. He sees the emergence of a new type of artist, the “artist-researcher” or the “expert in visual culture” who blends in effortlessly with the academic world without laying claim to the romantic notion of the artist’s singularity while a majority of authors still stress the importance of the idea of singularity and defend the preservation of a unique position of the arts within academia. Vermeersch himself takes an exaggeratedly enthusiastic stance for the latter position, that advocates the idiosyncratic and exceptional nature of artistic investigations.

By ironically embracing the “power of narcissism” and the artist’s “narcissistic libido” as a crucial driving force for artistic creation, the lecture ridicules the romanticised beliefs that pervade the debate about artistic research.

The title of this lecture is inspired by Daniil Kharms’ cruel absurdist dialogue from 1937 called ‘Investigation from all sides’:
YERMOLAYEV: Oh. Ooh! What a vile, disgusting taste! What did you give me?
DOCTOR: Nothing, nothing. Don’t worry. It’s a sure remedy.
YERMOLAYEV: I’m hot and everything is turning green.
DOCTOR: Yes, yes, yes, my dear friend, you’ll die straight away.
YERMOLAYEV: What are you saying? Doctor! Oh! I can’t! Doctor! What have you given me? Oh, doctor!
DOCTOR: You have swallowed the research pill.