An aerial view of the King Baudouin Sports Stadium in Belgium, with a huge image of a figure wearing a silver fire-resistant suit laid out across the pitch.


Canvases come in all shapes and sizes, but few would consider the pitch of Belgium’s King Baudouin Sports Stadium as a suitable surface for a work of art. However, Belgian artist Wim Tellier views the world differently and no location, expanse or material is out of the question as a suitable place for unveiling his work. The scale of his art is such that only aerial or drone images can do it justice, as he installs his huge photographic commentaries across beaches, a tidal river and even the Antarctic.

Tellier has made his name through enormous visual statements on people and planet, and this latest project is no exception. His trademark is to not simply produce and install one artwork, but to create a journey of the piece that tells a longer story. For example, his famous 2015 work ‘Time’ (a 3000m2 magnified image of a vulnerable crab) was composed of thousands of photos, printed onto cloth and then cut into twelve pieces before being taken to various locations around the world, including The Great Wall of China and the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia. His latest work, while not spread across the world (yet!) makes a series of statements, connected and layered, and is very much created and viewed through the lens of 2020/2021.

Feelings of invincibility

The suited man represents us all, enclothed in a technology designed to protect us from heat. We feel invincible, smart enough to match the power of nature. Or are we? 

‘Closer’ starts life as a 90x55 metre canvas print, but it subtly changes over time, not once, but twice. It begins as a huge, printed image of a man in a fire-resistant suit. Tellier, supported by technical specialists from Canon’s Large Format Graphics team, spent four months producing the stadium-sized figure, designing and printing its 500GB file piece by piece onto sixty rolls of banner material, using a Canon Colorado printer. It was then delivered to the empty 50,000 capacity stadium and painstakingly stitched together by a team from Zeilmakerij Borremans, a small Belgian family business who specialise in making shade sails and pergolas. It was an incredible task to stitch the 3000kg of material, simply because of the sheer size of the undertaking was almost as though working blindfold.

An aerial view of the King Baudouin Sports Stadium in Belgium, with a huge image of a figure wearing a silver fire-resistant suit laid out across the pitch.
The figure’s arms and legs are spread wide, open and vulnerable to what comes next.

Nature wins

Enough tiny sunflowers can overgrow and overpower a person.

Eventually, Tellier will make perforations in the printed material and plant small sunflowers inside. As the flowers grow, they will be filmed to produce a time lapse video as a means to see these little flowers, slowly but steadily become dominant. A gentle symbolism, perhaps, but the juxtaposition of the huge, prevailing figure as it becomes progressively engulfed by nature serves as both a metaphor and a warning that even when we try to shield ourselves from harm, we are still vulnerable. 

Let us come together to learn and grow

There is a distance between us – and our planet. An arena is a place where we come together to share unique moments.

The final scene of this artwork’s tale is found in its destruction and rebirth. The entire fabric of the human figure is taken apart, removed from the stadium and recycled into beach chairs. They are then returned to the stadium for a special viewing of the time lapse film of ‘Closer’. Vulnerability and a need to be together are something we are all familiar with right now, and by bringing the artwork to a close in a place that is traditionally one of physical closeness and shared emotion, Tellier’s tale tells us what we need to do. To overcome our will to separate ourselves from the world around us and instead, treat it with respect and kindness. Ironically, only by getting ‘Closer’ can we make our planet safer for the future.

Written by Filip Vandenbempt