Geert De Proost, representative of the Flemish government in the UK and Flanders House greets the audience with a short welcome referring to the thriving arts scene in Flanders with excellent curators and artists but also art institutions that flourish. Flanders is also home to arts managers that have gone beyond borders and established international careers all over the world, referring hereby to this evening’s host Chris Dercon who joined Tate Modern as of April earlier this year. 2012 is the year of not only the world’s largest Olympic event but of an artistic pentathlon with “penta” representing the 5 events; however not in competition (“athlon”) with one another. The 5 events have teamed up as a cluster to communicate together internationally, yet the reason for tonight’s gathering with the 5 curators being present.
Chris Dercon, director at Tate Modern, gets the stage and announces he is joined by some very good friends and is happy to be able to present contemporary arts from his home region beyond fashion with Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, dance with Ann Theresa De Keersmaeker or industrial design and architecture with Paul Robbrecht being among the curators tonight. Flanders is home to interesting and historical cities such as Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, but tonight contemporary art will get the main stage. Art in a region that is home to a large group of influential collectors –for over decades- and that has seen events such as “Chambres d’Amis” (by Jan Hoet) and “Over the Edges” originate and claim fame. A region where curators, critics and artists from all over the world find their place. Chris announces he is more than happy to assume the role of ambassador for the visual arts scene in Flanders and that he is proud to be Flemish, yet a truly global citizen.
He introduces the panel members: Philip Van den Bossche, director of beautiful mu.ZEE in Ostend and curator of Beaufort04, a coastal festival with in-situ sculptures along Belgium’s beaches; Paul Robbrecht (Robbrecht & Daem) curator of Middelheim Museum 2012, a renowned open-air sculpture museum in Antwerp that was host to a large Paul McCarthy exhibition; Katerina Gregos, curator of Newtopia (Mechelen) and co-curator of Manifesta 9 (Genk) together with curator Cuathémoc Medina and co-curator Dawn Ades, a former Tate trustee and last but not least Philippe Van Cauteren, director of the legendary S.M.A.K. in Ghent and Mirjam Varadinis, curator at Kunsthaus Zürich, curating TRACK together.
Philip Van den Bossche then presents Beaufort, an event that runs both east and west of as well as in Ostend, the interesting town of James Ensor. The coastal line can be travelled by coastal tram over 75 miles, or alternatively by bike. The art works are presented on beaches and in the dunes. The first edition was set up in 2003 with the basic vision of a sculpture park. Nowadays a more sustainable approach is used with Daniel Buren’s artwork on permanent display in the city of Nieuwpoort. The fourth edition will kick off end of March and will include artists from the 27 European member states. Seen the timing - early spring – the conditions during set-up and installation can be hard on the in-situ art. Visitor ambitions stretch beyond 600.000.
Philippe Van Cauteren explains that Ghent builds on the tradition of “Chambres d’Amis” (1986) (where art was displayed in private houses) and “Over The Edges” (2000) where outdoor works were shown by an equivalent number of artists. The reflection started again in 2005 from those two previous concepts to further develop what art could be and leading to the invitation of 35 artists to Ghent in 2012. There will be 6 different themes linking into a city framework, Mirjam Varadinis explains, like different sound tracks on a CD, with each cluster offering a different atmosphere and experience. The 35 artists will be invited to grow beyond the city context and reflect on issues of cultural importance. A manifesto has been conceived a year ago and has been translated into 10 languages to imply that the exhibition is connected to the world. Each cluster becomes periphery and periphery becomes centre, Philippe explains, and so the project will reflect on what a city can be. Ghent also acquired an artwork by Daniel Buren as to leave a trace. TRACK intends to leave traces, tracks as guiding lines for future projects.
Paul Robbrecht stresses the fact that although Flanders is most known – still but for how long seen the explosion of valuable contemporary arts projects? - for its master painters, it is also home to a wonderful place, the open-air museum Middelheim, established in the fifties. It has been expanding over the years into 75 acres but the time has come to reread the landscape and work with its boundaries. Therefore the exhibition will be focused with a restricted invitation to artists. The past years large-scale monographic exhibitions have come to Middelheim such as Paul McCarthy and Erwin Wurm, or Paul André. The museum offers an open, cultural experience with free admission. Visitors are often confronted with art for the first time, when picnicking on the site representing a very mixed audience. Ai Weiwei will create a bridge that will link the existing park to the new part; Roman Signer will install a ramp. The pavilion built by Robbrecht & Daem will house an exhibition by Thomas Schütte with ceramic works, but also new creations in glass. The pavilion is conceived as an open, blank space – a curator’s dream - but will at the same time offer protection to sculptures that require shelter from rain and sun.
Katerina Gregos takes the stage and states that she too (like Chris Dercon implied before) is a cultural immigrant in Belgium and will be co-curating “the European Biennial” Manifesta, 9 first established in 1996. Manifesta is always strongly linked to the history and political situation of the regions it is hosted by. In this particular edition the region of Limburg will be host and has been chosen thanks to its particular geography on an axe that runs from Limburg through the south of Belgium, the Borinage region all the way to the Ruhrgebiet. There are other particularities to this edition worth mentioning, i.e. that none of the curators is under 40 and that everything will take place in one venue, the historical mining building of Waterschei in Genk, built in 1924. The edition aims to turn or at least contribute to counteract the inflationary tendency of biennials.
There will be reflections on social & industrial engineering, the history of mining, and the industry and its legacy. The exhibition will be composed of three parts: an art historical & legacy section (covering 1800-1950), 40 contemporary artists with in most cases new work and a heritage section with elements from the wider region.
Katerina is also the curator of Newtopia and she introduces Mechelen – Newtopia’s guest town - as an important historical tradition town in the midst of Belgium at equal distance between Antwerp and Brussels. The festival will coincide with the re-opening of the Kazerne Dossin as a human rights museum and documentation centre. The title being hypothetical (“newtopia, the state of human rights”) it will reflect on cultural relativism and post-kolonialism. Five chapters will be the building blocks for the Newtopia experience . First generation rights such as right of speech, right to vote (post 1948), second-generation human rights (rise of the welfare society) and third generation rights beyond social and civil rights. A fourth chapter will raise questions of genocide, ethnic cleansing and holocaust while a fifth will project leaps of faith for a better world, the utopian dimension.
Chris Dercon then questions the panel and he kicks off stating that all but one used the word “event” when presenting their projects. CD (Chris Dercon): Is the word exhibition disappearing? How do people look at those concepts?
PVDB (Philip Van den Bossche): Beaufort is truly cross-border, with a deliberate aim to open up to Europe. For many it is a first encounter with art, hence the arrival of the word event as people tend to look at it that way.
KG (Katerina Gregos): I am making an exhibition and feel that the mechanisms of event promotion take their place and I value that but leave this to other people to manage so I can focus on curating and working with the art.
CD: Can the event factor be linked to in situ sculptures or art in the public space, an element that is present in most of the Visual Arts Flanders 2012 exhibitions?
MV (Mirjam Varadinis): Art has become over popularised, specifically with exhibitions and installations in the public space
PV (Philippe Van Cauteren): Many of the exhibitions are referred to or obtained the “event” status only in hindsight (such as Chambres d’Amis).
PVDB: Artists approach us to exhibit at Beaufort; if we could we would like to see them squat, as this would contribute to the event status.
CD then turns to Paul Robbrecht, who was involved in Chambres d’Amis, has been advising Jan Hoet on the evolution of in-situ art and has worked with Dan Graham. PR (Paul Robbrecht): There is a conscious idea to think about the public space in a new way, slowly redefining this public space and moving on the borderline of private and public space so that art relates and connects to the audience, reaches out and engages. CD: Allow me to question the choice of Thomas Schütte for the Middelheim project as a hermetic artist.
KG: Relational aesthetics beyond the museum space are twofold with formal interventions on the one hand and social interventions that are epidemic.
At Manifesta there will be a strong focus on the venue, with all side and live events kept to a minimum.
MV: There is a new openness with ephemeral and performative works where performers will bring social choreography within the TRACK project. Artists strive to create amazing experiences for the audiences, leaving a trace (track).
PVDB: We cherish sculptures that offer a stage for events.
CD: Looking of what Flanders has to offer as well as the neighbouring countries there seems to be saturation of events. Why not withdraw in the museum and organise quiet exhibitions?
PVDB: Mu.ZEE and Beaufort have been deliberately disconnected so that the museum could reflect on its future role.
KG: I don’t have a museum to retreat to.
CD: So it’s a trend created by free-lance creators? ☺
KG: A project is a means of giving back to the audience and that is what exhibitions need to do: provide incredible experiences that enrich the audience.
PR: I am in love with art, have been all my life. In fact it is all my life. It brings me the same passion as I have for architecture. Together with artists I have always tried to create unforgettable projects within exciting new spaces, like with the fountains project of Christina Iglesias in Antwerp or Franz West’s work. Traces are important serving sustainability.
PVC: Coming back to the mechanisms of city marketing, there should be a positive abuse of the curator’s capabilities. It is all about receiving money, getting into the festival and turning it around. There is the real responsibility.
CD: Projects have many lives, many forms and the purity is over, with the role of sponsors intensifying...
KG: Acknowledging this reality does not mean that you are a slave of it (or them).
CD: Are you accepting coproduction models with collectors, galleries, and dealers?
PVC: : If this option is the only valid one and conditions are right, we are open to evaluate coproduction formats.
PR: To create an unforgettable project all funding is welcomed.
CD: What’s with the trend of not disclosing the full list of artists, but just to name a few and then to retreat in secrecy? Everyone seems to be doing it, including dOCUMENTA, Berlin Biennial ... Until when do you keep those names under non-disclosure?
KG: We would never deliberately conceal names, as that would be an empty statement.
PVDB: We simply do not have all the names yet, hence disclosing is simply not possible at this stage.
CD: If you would get money from promotors and you could collaborate with Margate and Folkestone, would you do it?
PVDB: Yes, definitely. This Beaufort edition is a collaboration with the FRAC in France.
CD: All Belgian collectors are selling out at large auction houses. Why not use all that money (that is being invested in exhibitions and events) to acquire those works and establish a large museum of contemporary art in Belgium?
PVDB: The buzz about the Belgian collectors has been going on since the sixties. My answer is yes but there are financial, economical and legal conditions that need to be created and pushed forward. It is also largely due to a tradition where collectors need to feel welcome. It is our mission and obligation to establish close relations with these private art collectors.
CD: We have a government but have yet to invent governance☺
More information and a video on http://www.cobra.be/cm/cobra/expo/111212-sa-dercon-visual_art_flanders