Letting everyone enjoy an exhibition, with the sea and the beach as the exhibition room. That’s Beaufort. For the sixth edition of the art triennial at the Belgian coast curator Heidi Ballet made a selection of eighteen artists from in and outside Belgium, and the result is a pearl. A selection.
Discovering and experiencing art with your feet in the sand. You will find it nowhere except at the Belgian coast. Beaufort is a three-yearly art event that started in 2003, covering the length of the Belgian coastline. Heidi Ballet curated the outdoor exhibition in collaboration with the nine participating coastal towns.
Art project without a title
‘I started to ask myself a few questions, and one of them was whether the triennial needed a title or not. Finally, I decided to leave the door open. But that doesn’t mean there is no storyline,’ says Ballet. The uncontrollable sea that connects us with the rest of the world, takes centre stage. That’s why each of the eighteen artists come from countries that border one or more oceans.
The first theme is monuments. On the one hand monuments are part of the public domain, what gives meaning to the place. On the other hand the public also gives significance to the statue. Also the question arises what will happen to the memorials in time. With artworks in the public domain it is the same thing.
The second theme is ecology. Or the realization that today we marked a turning point. And that we, humans should show more modesty, since the oceans or the elements of nature are omnipotent. Hence, several artists give expression to the changing relation between humans and nature.
From web browsers to dogs
So does Stief Desmet. The artist from East-Flanders couldn’t think of a better location for his ‘Monument for Cervus Vitalis #2 (Malus Sylvestris)’ or monument for a lively reindeer. The life-size statue of a reindeer stands at the border between nature of the underlying nature reserve, and culture with the surrounding houses.
The artist sawed the sculpture in half and deliberately left out parts. The work is inspired by the lions and reindeers one can still spot in some front gardens. City parks or gardens are after all artificial constructions of nature, whereby people control nature. This imperfect reindeer stands against it.
Apple tree branches of the Malus Sylvestris (a variety of apple trees) grow from the inside out of the reindeer what may refer to the beginning of a new story. The sun on the polished parts makes the inside of the body shine bright what makes it communicate with its looker-on. But it is also a metaphorical way to say that inner beauty is sometimes more beautiful than outer beauty.
In Nieuwpoort, it looks like knights are coming out of the sea. The Danish artist Nina Beier bought up discarded statues in antique shops, and made a new art installation called ‘Men’ with it. An army of jockeys and soldiers on a horse appear or disappear with the tide. Or the ebb and flow of power. In early history, in Ancient Rome men on horses were already depicted in combat. Even for Louis IX a man on a horse was the symbol of power. Very impressive.
Down the road, at the King Albert I memorial there’s the performance act of Edith Dekyndt. As a child, she heard her grandparents often talk about the Great War, and the opening of the sluices and the flooding of the banks of the river Ijzer. Hence, visiting the statue of King Albert I with granny and grandpa was an annual event.
An airport stairway helps a woman to meet the height of the statue of King Albert I. The woman, dressed entirely in white, polishes the statue with a white cloth. Because white is associated with peace. With this performance Dekyndt demonstrates the impact of the First World War on women’s lives. Husband and son fought on the front line, while women were forced to take over men’s roles. They ran the farms or they went to work in factories. After the war many women remained working, even the clothing became looser or freer.
In Middelkerke-Westende, the Dane Simon Dybbroe Møller planted an impressive rudder in the sand. ‘The Navigator Monument’ takes us back to the beginning of the internet when web browsers such as Netscape Navigator were on the rise. The rudder was part of the Nestcape logo. The internet too exists because of old fashioned cables. Thousands of miles of submarine cables are the physical backbone of the internet.
The rudder has no backside which explains the short lifespan of Netscape Navigator. At the end of the nineties the web browser lost its dominant position to Internet Explorer, Microsoft. And will be of no meaning for the next generations.
A monument is built to honour a person or an event. And sited by preference at a prominent location, such as the Leopoldpark in Ostend. There, the Antwerp artist Guillaume De Bijl replaced the person with a dog. A passer-by who doesn’t know any better, probably thinks this is how it should be, whereas it is a work of art. That’s why the installation got the appropriate name ‘Sorry’. Herewith, Bijl apologizes for this faux pas to the looker-on. But he also makes us think about the validity of memorials.
I’m ending my visit at the breakwater near the Zeeheldenplein. Walking down the breakwater you can see the huge whelk of twenty tonnes from afar. To find inspiration, Stief Desmet often went for a walk in Ostend. During one of these walks, he bought a bowl of hot whelks from a stall at the fisherman’s wharf. ‘Everything I feel in the sea, reflects in the whelk,’ explains Desmet ‘The smooth, polished interior and the rough exterior that’s the sea, the fisherman. The saltiness, the sand and the wind will affect the whelk, it will get the colour of the North Sea. You can view it as some kind of offering to the sea’. The ‘Monument for a Wullok’ isn’t just an aesthetic work. You are welcome to go inside the shell, feeling enclosed in a cocoon.
Bike or coastal tram?
Beaufort 2018 takes place from 30th March until 30th September 2018. The participating coastal towns are De Panne, Koksijde, Nieuwpoort, Middelkerke-Westende, Oostende, Bredene, De Haan-Wenduine, Zeebrugge en Knokke-Heist. For those who love cycling, it is possible to explore the art route by bike. Not fast enough? Hop on the world’s longest coastal tramline, the kusttram. There’s also a free downloadable Beaufort map available on the website of Beaufort 2018. The catalog is for sale at the local tourist information office and costs five euros.
Photos: Bieke De Clercq except for the reindeer