Sentimental Brussels

Eric Mabille
24 novembre 2016
The Brussels Centrale for Contemporary Art welcomes BXL Universel, a subjective and sentimental story about our capital – a place where sense and nonsense, opposing sensitivities, collide in humour and contrary points of view; a place of dialogue between folkloristic traditions and contemporary creativity. BXL Universel exhibits the spirit of Brussels captured in archive documents, films, photographs and original creations by artists who live and work in our capital.

Following Connected, BXL Universel will be closing the Centrale’s 10th anniversary year. It is the first of a trilogy that celebrates Brussels by zooming in on its inhabitants, its artists and its singularity. Two other exhibitions will follow, on the topics of multiculturalism and the utopic city, in 2019 and in 2022 respectively.

The 1958 Brussels World Fair

Starting-point for this exhibition: 1958, the year of Expo ‘58, the big construction projects, Brusselization and, of course, the Atomium, the universal symbol that everyone embraced, not in the least the Austrian artist Franz Gsellmann, who put the Atomium at the heart of his Weltmaschine (machine of the world). Close by this peculiar structure, the iconic poster by Lucien De Roeck and several other documents share a first room. They depict a  time when the "Bruxellois" dreamt of travelling and freedom. In the adjoining room: Manneken-Pis revisited by Thomas Lerooy, which recalls the macabre universe by James Ensor.

On continuing our tour, we discover music by Brel, Thielemans and Stromae, the puppet theatre of Toone and that of ‘The Marriage of Mademoiselle Beulemens’, Elvis Pompilio’s hats and drawings by Kroll, Dubus, Gal and Schuiten. On the other side, a photograph with Marcel Broodthaers striking a pose with a camel in front of the entrance to the Palais des Beaux-Arts. We then wander past the fritkot of the place Sainte-Catherine, as painted by Gillis Houben, we hear buddies Fred Jannin and Stefan Liberski exchange Brussels’ invectives and we pass La Tour de Brol by Frédéric Etienne.

Contemporary creations

All these artifacts are scattered to the four winds by Christoph Fink's Vortex of Bliss, an imposing cylindrical giant whose head – the line of time in the history of mankind - dissolves into movement and noise before making room for contemporary creations. The photographs by Vincen Beeckman show Brussels as a historic melting pot. The pictures by Marie-Françoise Plissart reveal our capital’s buildings and architecture. The impressive piano of Charlemagne Palestine is adorned with second-hand stuffed animals, Palestine’s muses, divinities and gods. The Story Generator by Ana Torfs catalogues 500 years of Brussels history captured in 500 fiches – the evocation of an economic and political power acquired to the disadvantage of other territories and poor people.

South African artist Kendell Geers warns us against the alienation that objects, images and situations can generate with an unprecedented array of mummified, red- and white-striped objects. It’s unclear whether they censor, protect or warn us against a danger. Ann Veronica Janssens turns Brussels into an immersive and poetic experience, in her real-time film from the roof of the Centrale. To conclude this journey, there’s "the language of flowers and silent things", as Baudelaire calls it: an installation about the plants of Brussels, where artist Lise Duclaux invites visitors to adopt one of the plants.

In this way, this subjective story ends. This portrait of our collective memory of Brussels; made up of connections and confrontations, of a tradition that has since become art, often art to laugh at, sometimes art to denounce, yet always with this message to not take oneself too seriously. That’s a bit what Brussels is, a strip of land between reality and joyful fiction where a city draws its outlines on a fabric of tasty anecdotes, often many times rehashed, sometimes entangled in a difficulty to reinvent itself to the point of becoming a caricature.
BXL Universel
Centrale for Contemporary Art
44 place Sainte-Catherine
1000 Brussels
Until 26 March 2017
Wednesdays - Sundays, from 10:30h to 18:00h




Eric Mabille

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