Biënnale van Bëlgie at In De Ruimte
In De Ruimte is an artist-run space situated in the outskirts of Gent, Belgium. Six art practitioners run and organize the program, which mixes exhibitions of contemporary art with concerts, events, and presentations. The venue hosts a bar and studios as external income sources for their monthly exhibitions, assuring the total independence of the collective within the program choices.
This information is provided to make clear to the reader that In De Ruimte does not have any concerns in political affiliation with the city of Gent. In fact, the collective managing the space has to pay the monthly rent to the municipality, which became the landlord after a building company renovated this industrial, warehouse-like property.
Every two years In De Ruimte organizes Biënnale van Bëlgie, an exhibition that surveys the emergent scene of Belgian contemporary art, an ambitious initiative to respond to the lack of institutional support toward young artists. Even if Belgium is known to be highly oriented to contemporary art, also on an institutional level – let’s say more than any average European country – it may be too optimistic to state that national grants or fellowships might sustain any art initiative involving emerging, non-represented artists here.
Biënnale van Bëlgie is more than an agglomeration of different practices that are located within Belgian soil; indeed it is an attempt to present affinities and micro-canons that characterizes new tendencies within Belgian contemporary art.
Being that In De Ruimte is an independent collective, with a physical ground, the curatorial process is organic and natural, in the sense that it doesn’t follow pre-fixed briefs or limitations, selecting artworks and artists through rigid criteria – apart from them being Belgian, of course. The only concern they have is to answer to a simple question: “What is contemporary art in Belgium, now?”
It is surprising to see how much these artists are linked through their practices, maybe because the country they represent is smaller than Sao Paulo, or maybe because art schools here are predominant players within the global circuit of contemporary art. This coherence between the works, enhanced by shared aesthetic elements as weirdly playful forms, mixed with the tensional stasis of the subjects, makes Biënnale van Bëlgie a strong representation of a feeling: youth, maybe. The maybe-factor is embedded within this statement because “youth” is not used here as denigration for a childish, superficial work; instead it connotes the ironic depiction of our contemporary condition.
The sculptural series by Mathias Mu constitutes the grand overture of the Biënnale; a solid, seemingly functional work that generates a mini-landscape of tubular structures made of steel. The objects seem to be the reinterpretation of fitness machinery, typically implied in gym exercises, but twisted in their form not to resemble a ready-made object. These objects actually work as music devices, which the artist used during a performance on the opening night.
The same distorted reading of functionality may be found in the work of the art collective After Howl, whose practice resides at the intersection between experimental design and art. The works presented in the exhibition challenge the traditional meaning of the usable object, being configured both as paintings and structures logically recognizable as tables. In their process, the artists combine industrial materials, such as clay and wood, with organic elements like cooked pasta.
The pictorial elements of the first room are fragmented in terms of formal appearance, but grounded within the same matrix of abstractness. The works by Atelier Pica Pica, as the ones by Catharine Dhaen and Jolijn Baeckelandt, make use of linear forms and abundant colours to delineate two-dimensional scenarios. These visions may be painted in obscure and opaque tones, as for the firsts, or be surrounded by a playful smoothness that leaves room for a purposely-chaotic assemblage of sinuous signs, in the case of Baeckelandt’s squared canvas, or spray-painted raptus in Dhaen’s work.
In the same space, Dieter Durinck and Yannick Val Gesto reflect on digital information exchange and the cyber world through the manipulation of sci-fi textures digitally printed, for Val Gesto’s works, and through the acid-green silkscreens on which Durinck manually intervenes with black paint, in order to saturate the stunning contrast between colours and forms. The wooden, vertical sculpture assembled with rough materials by Kasper Devos achieves the closure of the first room of the Biënnale, with the same feeling of abstract assemblage shared with the pictorial works.
The second part of the Biënnale van Bëlgie is staged in a former parking lot, with the asphalt on the ground signed with yellow stripes. The sculptures by Mathias Prenen are disseminated within the space, and site-specifically adjusted to fit the height of the room. These roughly carved, vertical structures resemble the rudimental tools used to build primitive architectures, and they extend from the floor to the ceiling as to limit the path, to obstruct access with their totemic appearance. The large, rough piece by Xavier Mary is visible through the two vertical elements by Prenen; it is composed by an old transportation truck door, laminated and screen-printed with a black, imperial eagle in the middle of the composition. Its voluminous presence is even diminished by the enormous installation by Jo Caimo: an old pipe organ, electronically engineered to work with human breath.
The sculptural presence within the space is enriched by the brilliant work by Kasper De Pos. The sculpture is a suspended, foamy globe stuck inside a basketball hoop without net, on which top two presumably human legs are caught while striking a dance pose. The legs, which are dressed in Adidas track pants and fitting Nike Air Max, are a symbolic reference toward gabber subculture and its direct links to dance music and drugs. The name “Icarus” is, in fact, engraved on the basketball hoop, as to recall the mythological anecdote of the man who flew too high.
The spirit of independence is as predominant in Biënnale van Bëlgie, as it is in In De Ruimte’s curatorial commitment. It is astonishing to see such a proliferation of attendees, organizers and artists in Gent, a city with almost 250,000 people, and is probably due to its organic, non-structured method of exhibition.
Biënnale van Bëlgie is real, young, and of course, Belgian.
Images courtesy of In De Ruimte.