BASICBELGIAN -Some Notes on my Exhibition for Sint Lukas Gallery, Brussels 2001


Thisexhibition addresses the opportunities and problems of multilingualism inBelgium. The show consists of a library of 45 individual interviews of peopleliving in Belgium, a poster with still frames of everybody interviewed, aseries of photographs, entitled “atomiumism”, one wall painting and2 works on canvas.


BasicBelgian, 45video interviews are a selection across the spectrum of the population, fromrich to poor, from politically powerful and socially active to sociallymarginal, from members of new immigrant groups, linguists and children toretired Belgians having lived in the former colonies . The interview selectionalso tries to more or less equally represent the multiple language status ofthe country with 3 official languages: French, Flemish and German and a myriadof languages that came with more recent immigration. The interviews were heldin French, English, German and Flemish. It gives a very interesting account ofthe current history of this complex country and its social, economical andideological fabric. The problems of right wing extremism in the political formof the Flemish Block and the Front National is also expressed in daily lifewith prejudices, jokes and verbal as well as actual discrimination and violencelooming over Belgium as it does over all Europe. The definition of nationalityin many countries in Europe - but also in Belgium - is often too exclusive andtoo discriminative and as such not representing large percentages of the givenpopulation. Amidst the many topics that have surfaced I was also particularlyinterested in Belgium’s experiences and reactions during the Nazi-terrorof World War II - with all its anti-Semitism - as well as its involvement inthe former colony of the Belgian Congo, personal property of the Belgian King.Impressive for me was also to learn about inner-European migration for theBelgian mining industry that left so many people in Belgium dead and crippledand sick. I tried to give as much time for answers and individual narrations aspossible. No catalog of questions was used.


Atomiumism,I - V consistsof a series of photographs taken inside the Atomium, a hyper-structurerepresenting Belgium at the world fair in 1958. At that moment Belgium stillwas controlling the Congo, the economic power was strong and the inner Belgiantensions between the Flemish and the French speaking parts of the countryhaven’t gained yet momentum and grown into major conflicts. As such theAtomium is not just a major tourist attraction but also an non-explicit symbolof the countries unity. Independent from the Belgian history of thisconstruction it is also representing the 20th century’s most importantand most dangerous discovery: the atom and its potential for war fare, totaldestruction but also for energy. This architectonically beautifully strangeconstruction is surprisingly not very appreciated by most people living inBelgian. This is something I found out during interviewing where even anarchitect pleaded for its destruction. A retired person, interviewed directlyon top of the atomium, selling postcards and t-shirts in order to make endsmeet since his state pension doesn’t provide him with the necessaryaccording to his story, tells us, that it is mostly foreigners who visit theAtomium: “very, very few Belgians visit”. Debates about the removalof this monument are regularly suggested on the political arena and thenecessary money for urgent renovation is not coming through which makes thevisit of this monument even more exotic with rain entering the building and aquasi-non-altered interior fading its way into decay. I also want to comparethe Atomium to the institution of the European Union having its main site inBrussels for which it is world wide recognized: But again - there seems to beno second entity in Brussels that is less appreciated than the European Unionwho is ignored at best or denounced and ridiculed most commonly in severalinterviews and in many talks I held in Brussels. For me, the European Union aswell as the Atomium represent a chance for unity and the overcoming of thenarrow minded, myopic national thinking that has since its invention in the19th century only brought wars and misery to all countries.


LeNéerlandais pratiqué, 13 phrases exposées (Basic Dutch, 13 sentencesdisplayed/shown) is a wall painting that uses 13 sentences from a Belgian studybook for French speaking people to learn Dutch. The sentences free someinternal narrative irony and intrinsic poetry when exported into a galleryspace. They also refer to the problem of language acquisition and to the one oflinguistic and cultural translation. Last but not least I see in these wallpaintings something that is playing with the tradition of painting and murals.


Opposite to this wall painting there are two canvases hanging with the pencil inscription Ecrivez les mots français un étranger devrait connaître (Please, write down the French words a foreigner should know) and its equivalent in Dutch. They invite the visitor to write directly onto the white canvas and as such leave traces, filling the canvas and propose a series of words and sentences. This offer was widely used and a kind of expressive surface is about to be established confronted with the thought of foreigners in the country.

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