On the way to David Lamelas’s latest show, which inaugurates Jan Mot’s new location in Brussels, I wondered how much of an artist’s practice is trapped in the discourses surrounding its inception. After all, aren’t artworks entangled with, if not contingent upon, the conditions that govern the time of their creation? In particular, I was thinking of those proponents of Conceptual art, who simultaneously created their own discourse. Does the language of Conceptual art have a fixed temporality? If so, what is it? Is it still evolving with the changing times or is it doomed to remain forever in a fixed historical category?

Perhaps my thoughts were influenced by Mot’s decision to open his new space with an austere, conceptually driven exhibition that so perfectly represents the spirit of his program. (Isn’t supporting Conceptual art an old Belgian affair, taken up brilliantly by the gallery into its many afterlives today?) Or maybe it was the uncanny experience of finding myself in a maison de maître in the distinguished Rue de la Régence, a location that has just surfaced as a hub for several galleries, instead of the messy downtown corner where Mot’s white cube previously resided. This change not only marks the decisive move of the Brussels’s art world away from the downtown sectors to more elegant parts of town, but also reflects its shift away from Antwerp to Brussels—exemplified by the relocation of Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, which now occupies the floor above Jan Mot. While this inclination away from the urban center had already emerged last year, it comes on the heels of more and more foreign galleries having already taken up residence in the city’s affluent areas over the past several years.

Jan Mot’s space itself—the former premises of a well-known publisher of legal books and its bookshop—invites a reflection on time. The high, ornate ceilings reveal their age, while the bookshop’s empty, wooden shelves still entirely cover the front room, making me think that artworks should more often be surrounded by books instead of walls. This library sets the framework for the show, which includes three films about text, reading, and absence.

On two different monitors, Lamelas’s two 16mm, black-and-white “Reading Films” from 1970 are shown. In Reading film from “Knots” by R. D. Laing, the viewer is first invited to read the typed text of a poem written by Laing, the controversial British psychiatrist; then the words—consisting of abstract and paradoxical statements—are spoken aloud by a woman on the screen. In Reading an Extract from “Labyrinths” by J.L. Borges, another woman reads Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges’s 1944/46 essay, “A New Refutation of Time,” but instead of sound, the words appear as subtitles. Both works use texts built on labyrinthine arguments which mirror their methodical application of contradiction in order to disassemble the notion of reading into as many elements as possible—visual and audio perception, information and form, meaning and repetition.

This technique seems to be taken further in the third—and newest—piece in the exhibition: Mon Amour (2014), in which the blurred text of a script scrolls on a freestanding projection screen. In it, we recognize a dialogue between two characters—Elle [“Her”] and Lui [“Him”]. Occasionally, a word or two comes into focus. A soundtrack can be heard, but it resists linear comprehension. Although the source is not referenced, the visual and sound clues hint at Hiroshima mon amour, French filmmaker Alain Resnais’s 1959 film and its screenplay by French writer and director Marguerite Duras.

In contrast to the clear-cut strategies of fragmentation and accumulation of the source material found in Lamelas’s older works, Mon Amour seems surprisingly poetical, abstract, and dependent on technique. Here, he closes down perception by rejecting a script and cinematic reference in favor of a generic narrative structure (elle, lui, amour) and an atmospheric setting (the sound), an approach that reveals both the conceptual rigor and irreverence present in his practice.

Language, perception, and form—determined by following random but strict rules—are all concerns present in the exhibited works, which we might generally associate with Conceptual art. Yet, what history tells us about Lamelas is that he was an atypical, unorthodox, and almost marginal example of Conceptual art (transgressing boundaries and categories, re-introducing an interest in narrative, fiction, and image). If there is a gap between these works’ historical determination, and the way we experience them in the here and now, it is probably because a globalized and heterogeneous field of contemporary art has absorbed Lamelas’s heterodoxies from the 1960s and 70s. Our perception of Conceptual art practices is thus limited to its only remaining particularity—a somewhat caricaturized image of a dry, administrative, black-and-white aesthetics.

Back in the 1970s, Lamelas’s films enacted a critique of media, information, and the very institution of art. Today, this historic work, now viewed within a contemporary context and alongside new projects, could also be read as a critique of the authority of conceptual form. This might also be the reason why we find a wall of empty bookshelves in a gallery so appealing today—it reflects the need to fill a void and recapture the spirit that made Conceptual art necessary and possible in the first place.