Gökcan Demirkazik on the occasion of the opening of the “Full Moon Phase” of the Contour Biennale 9

YOU HAVE TO BE THE FULL MOON cloud my judgment. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a mini heart attack every time the French information screens on the Brussels-Antwerp intercity line read: “This train is heading for Antwerp. To my knowledge, I got on the right platform in the direction of Antwerp just in time to attend the Contour Biennale 9 “Full Moon Phase” press tour and I would have been pissed off if I found myself in Antwerp (a sad little corner of Wallonia on the border of France?) or Mechelen, which certainly could not have been the Latinized name – look at it! – the Flemish city of Mechelen. In that part of the world, where the nation-state fashion first spread, I had already ruled out the possibility of liberal acts of translation and was not prepared for such radical defense of multiculturalism.

Delighted not to have been screened in a remote corner of Wallonia, I entered the main center of the biennial, kunstencentrum nona, while the curator Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez finished her spiel on the first installation – the forensic presentation by the architect-writer-editor Léopold Lambert on the violent reaction of the police to the demonstrations of the “The Theo Affair” in Bobigny, on the outskirts of Paris. Beside, Daniela Ortiz proposed plans for new stained glass windows for the nearby Saint-Rombaut cathedral in order to rectify the presence of the Belgian king Leopold III, successor of the genocidal king Leopold II of Heart of darkness glory – by beatifying activists of color recently murdered by the Belgian state and by representing Frontex officials on fire in hell in homage to the so-called illegal immigrants sailing across the Mediterranean (On your knees you will receive the anti-colonial spirit, 2019). As the European Parliament elections approach this week, which Petrešin-Bachelez expected to “turn really badly”, the six artistic proposals seemed to converge here in a call to memory, responsibility and the decolonization of life. public and private.

To my surprise, I was not put off by the appearance of one textual presentation after another, since each installation was “activated” by a public program that made the urgency of the language tangible. For example, Robin Vanbesien’s research on Rzoezie, a community center in Mechelen run by and for people of Amazigh or Moroccan origin in the 1980s and 1990s, was beautifully complemented by a poetic walk, during which the Mechelen read verses from the youth centre’s progressive zine and responded to the authors’ reflections on racism, alienation and loneliness in places they deemed appropriate, including the panoramic roof of a parking lot. (Unlike some, I was not very disturbed by the predominantly white Belgian profile of the readers, but I remain convinced that the main audience for this tour should not be people from the art world but residents of Mechelen. from all walks of life.)

Petrešin-Bachelez’s “Full Moon Phase” was, refreshingly, far from the art genre of “a triangle, a stone and a phrase on the wall” (the description of a participating artist of contemporary art in Berlin) or, for that matter, that of most of the other biennials I have attended. This concerns not only the one-year duration of the biennial – programmed on three nodes of “phase of the moon” – but also its curatorial disobedience directed towards the community against the biennial regime, its modest gestures in scale and execution but not in sensitivity and in spirit. A stone’s throw from the headquarters in Mechelen of the Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang, we saw the portrait of Sara Sejin Chang Dutch Cabinet, 2010-12, line the main axis of the Mechelen Art Academy, which is full of studios named after white American and British artists (with the exception of Louise Bourgeois). In an attempt to “spellbound” the liberal-conservative coalition featuring the anti-Islam and anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV), Chang daily painted a watercolor of a former Dutch cabinet.sometimes fashioned from wood imported from the colonies or bearing exotic motifs, taken from the inventories of the Rijksmuseum or Christie’s, among others. It stopped when the coalition collapsed 558 days later.


Artists Christian Nyampeta, Laura Nsengiyumva and Sara Sejin Chang.  Photo: Joachim Ben Yakoub.

Before leaving Mechelen on Sunday, I attended the launch of Maria Lucia Cruz Correia Common dreams, 2019. In collaboration with the Straathoekwerk Mechelen association, Cruz Correia has designed a community space and a future edible garden floating on the Dyle for the homeless of the city (part of which is built and already floats rafts, presenting themselves like the “Pirates of the Dyle”). A confusing mix of music – from Take That to Mumford & Sons – rose from the top of the embankment, so I went to see the festivities. Amidst squid, oysters and beer, I spotted campaign posters for the mayor of Mechelen, Bart Somers, who in 2016 won the ‘World Mayor’s Award’ (!) And, a few minutes later , to my amazement, the man himself. He appeared sympathetic in person and smiled profusely, just as he did above the words “Choose a positive Flemish parliament” on the poster. But I was also told during those few days that ‘choosing the positive’ meant minimizing the negative by advocating against public funding of militant organizations and making it as difficult as possible for religious minorities to have their own schools. , although I have heard that 75 percent of schools in Mechelen are Catholic. While Somers may have taken steps to better integrate immigrant communities, the reluctance of a well-meaning employee of Straathoekwerk to comment on the mayor’s shortcomings spoke volumes about Europe’s hypocrisy and its illusions. on the safeguard of utopia: “It is he who pays for the association!” A permanent problem, whatever the phase of the moon in which we find ourselves.

About Wesley V. Finley

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