The international art exhibition ‘The Raft – Art is (not) lonely’ is the sequel of ‘The Sea – a tribute to Jan Hoet’. The expo with curators Jan Fabre and Joanna De Vos is a fascinating voyage of discovery of 73 artists from different art disciplines, and 22 locations in and around Ostend.
‘The Sea – a tribute to Jan Hoet’ held in 2014 received almost 100.000 visitors from home and abroad. It was the last unfinished exposition of art connoisseur Jan Hoet. (Hoet died in 2014). Director of the Mu.ZEE Phillip Van Den Bossche completed the first exposition of this three yearly international exhibition.
Art gallery or museum?
For this second edition, Belgian multidisciplinary artist Jan Fabre and art historian Joanna De Vos were appointed curator. The theme of the triennial is ‘The Raft’. Fabre found inspiration in one of his own works from the eighties: the utopian raft ‘Art is not Lonely’ (1986). The model is equipped with a football pitch, a gymnasium and an athletic track. It is about the position of the artist and his quest. Or what it means to create. And what artistry means for Fabre himself. Even though an artist seeks isolation, he also wants to communicate, and engage socially. Hence, the allusion to endurance and sports as a social, shared experience to bring the game to a happy ending.
Also connected with the theme are portraits made by the French painter Théodore Géricault as an in-depth study for his most famous painting ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ (1818). The painting, that’s been hanging in the Louvre Museum in Paris, is based on historical facts. In 1816, the French frigate the Medusa, runs aground off the coast of Mauritania. Lifeboats were insufficient and the captain and the elite saved themselves. The other 150 passengers had been left behind on an uncontrollable raft. After a horrific journey of thirteen days the raft with the fifteen survivors was finally picked up. The captain got off with a light sentence. The work of Géricault was very controversial for its time, since it was the first time an artist questioned the establishment. He interviewed survivors, studied corpses and made a replica of the raft in his studio striving to depict meticulously the struggle for survival, the human suffering and the pain.
Both works have been the starting point for the participating artists from different disciplines. With a focus on dance, film and performance art in particular. The artists got total freedom what spontaneously led to 52 new works. Or as Jan Fabre said: ‘It’s like walking in a gallery store.’
Dialogue between art and city
Both curators also aimed to activate the city’s fabric by taking the visitor to public and private spaces, such as an apartment on the 20th floor of the Europa Tower, L’ Étage d’Euphrosine in the Beernaertstraat and Povorello of sister Anny Gruns.
The view from apartment 340 alone is fantastic. Entering the empty living room, you stand face to face with an impressive sea. (As if I’m on a raft.) Art works on the white walls create atmosphere. Eye-catching are the embroidered works of Berend Strik (Holland). Strik edits photographs with needle and thread. The scallop and the skeleton refer to James Ensor. The stove, he took from the other master of Ostend, Léon Spilliaert.
Coming in one of the stables of the Wellington Hippodrome you will see a wheel. ‘Molare’ is a new art work from Linda Molenaar (Holland). It is inspired by the cannibalism that took place on the raft of the Medusa. She used 1.750 human molars in the tooth wheel. Dentists from Flanders and Holland cooperated on the project. Also nice to know is that her last name is derived from the Latin word ‘molare’. In her performance act she rolled around the Royal Galleries inside the tooth wheel.
The original orange boat made of 5.000 PET Bottles couldn’t get through the fence of the Dominicanenchurch. So, Michael Fliri (South Tyrol) promptly decided to make a new one for ‘The Raft’. The accompanying video shows Fliri towing the boat in the sea. With his installation Fliri is drawing attention to the growing plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
In the Mu.ZEE, the new production of the Japanese Chiharu Shiota is also about boats. A carefully spun web of red threads across the rowboats represents the network of human relations we all have to do with. The rowboats is our life path: a tumultuous journey to an unknown destination.
The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this oil on canvas was: ‘This looks like a photo.’ As it happens, Katie O’Hagan always takes inspiration from five to twelve photographs when she starts a new painting. With a computer monitor, to zoom in or out, next to her easel. O’Hagan made ‘Life Raft’ (2011) in a difficult period in her life. She portrayed herself in an open sea, while painting the branches under her bare feet in a darker tone. Her light skin almost melting together with her white dress stands out from the almost jet black sea. She’s in trouble, and the only way to save herself is by painting.
Exhibition with a calling
Jan Fabre and Joanna De Vos did a wonderful job. They not only show the visitor good (new) art, they also take you to places you’d never thought to visit. Also nice to read are the quotes you find along the art route. I would like to finish with one of Johannes R. Mwamba, Pastor of the St. Joseph’s Church and translating perfectly what this expo really is: “Beauty is always an expression of what’s in a person’s heart. A church can be beautiful, but without a calling, there’s no ‘salt’. Beauty has to have flavour and speak.” Jan Hoet would be very satisfied.
The exhibition runs from October 22 to April 15 (2018). Ticket prices vary between 10 euros (in the week) and 16 euros (in the weekend). For those travelling by train to Ostend, ask for a B-Excursion ticket. More information about visiting, including opening time can be found on the website of the Mu.ZEE.