Thursday, August 04, 2005

Paintings (and other things) at an exhibition


I wanted to go to the Museum of Musical Instruments, but I had underestimated the cheapskateness of the human race. The line of people waiting to take advantage of the "free entrance on the first Wednesday of the month" policy stretched well up the street. So I decided to head for the Palais des Beaux-Arts and its Young Belgian Painters Award. Entrance was, of course, free.

The first room I visited was Cindy Wright's. You can see my photos for yourself, but three things I found particularly interesting:

-She was the only painter present in the competition, which I found weird. Unless it's like one of those jazz festivals in which jazz is a minority interest.

-The photo-realism of her work disappears when you get close and it looks like, well, brush-strokes. I found this interesting, because it showed me that the effect was less a matter of technique than intent. So the real and not real are made in pretty much the same way.

- From a distance, I didn't like the portrait of the older man, but up close it really was really affection: heavy, present, powerful.

There was also a portrait of Che Guevara, which I found ugly, but that may have been because I don't like the Che very much. The cube of bacon and the sleeping guy were my favourites.

The second room was taken up by Kris Vleeschouwer's "Glasswerk." This was awesome. I entered with some apprehension: broken glass, which has clearly fallen from some height, tends to make one uneasy. At first I thought it was some boring conceptual thing and just when I was reading the signboard to find out what it was supposed to represent, the machine started to move.

The machine that pushes the bottles off the shelves is controlled by sensors placed in five glass recycling "bubbles" all around Brussels. Whenever someone deposits bottles into one of the bubbles, another is pushed off a shelf. Five webcams allowed gallery visitors to survey activity around these recycling points. The installation made me think of Flickr and the civic journalism that got talked about after the London bombings and how, in a networked society, information is distributed and used to unpredictable ends.

In the third room, they were showing a short film by Simona Denicolai & Ivo Provoost. It was about a couple of people who find out that they can't take plants to America. So they buy a small cactus, make a fake one out of clay, take both on the American Airlines flight, are told they have to leave the real cactus behind, drive and then walk out into the desert, plant the fake cactus and put a piece of yellow and blue cardboard behind it, thus substituting their imagined desert (sand, sky, cactus) for Death Valley's real one (a rather drab affair). I tend to take this kind of thing quite light-heartedly, but the signboard made grave declarations at me about paranoia and other stuff I can't remember.

Number four (out of six, and, don't worry, the rest will be quick) were Frenchman Sébastien Reuzé's unadorned, unmanipulated and sometimes bizarre, unsettling, confusing or plain... plain photographs of stuff stumbled across in Paris. Some photographs must have been quite recent: there was one of Angelina Jolie posing as Mrs. Smith. The cool ones used reflections on glass (a car or train window, for example) to skew perspective or happy coincidences to create unexpected meanings (a huge poster of a face (make-up, perfume?) trapped behind the shutters of a closed shop). The best ones created visual situations for which the source was untraceable, lost under myriad angles or a single glitch made the familiar strange.

To enter Carlos Aire's multi-part contribution, you had to step through the wardrobe, into a corridor with a bunch of framed b&w photographs hanging on both walls. Exactly the same photographs, arranged in mirror-image: Toots, Britney (several times), Prince Harry, porn stars, anons... Then there was a series of photographs of unusual people (a dwarf bull-fighter, a cross-dressing cabaret dancer...) and further still, a projection of a transvestite lip-synching in a night-club (aren't transvestites kinda 1999, though?). Fun, but there wasn't much more to it than that. Of course, the signboard disagreed, as always.

Finally (or, should I say, last and least), was Olivier Foulon's series of reproductions of reproductions of art. After about 5 seconds, I was thinking "Okay, that's enough of that." Still, it ended with a great installation: a slideshow (old-fashioned, not PowerPoint) of playing cards was projected onto a piece of paper folded in half and standing on its side a few centimeters away. It was a note one of the Bozar's press service people had sent to Foulon, asking him for the title of his piece, as it's useful for promo.

A final thing that impressed me was that the Bozar staff had painted stuff like directions, arrows and the name of the exhibition directly onto the walls. A classy touch.