Installation view, “Seduction of a Cyborg” at Waldburger Wouters (September 7 - October 28 2023). Photo by Luk vander Plaetse. Courtesy of Waldburger Wouters. Written by Àngels Miralda.
Brussels is known around the world for its strong gallery scene and culture of collecting. This year, the Brussels Gallery Weekend launched the art season in the Belgian capital with the participation of 45 galleries. There is a lot to see so if you find yourself in town for a day, here is a selection by our editor Àngels Miralda on what not to miss:
Harlan Levey Projects presents a solo exhibition of Belgian artist Emmanuel van der Auwera titled A Thousand Pictures of Nothing. Upon entering their space, multiple backs of screens first greet viewers, revealing a technological materiality rather than a televised image. Cables and microchips lie strewn on the floor, leading to the verso of scratched screens displaying images of the January 6 US Capitol attack. The piece is a reflection on how the media influences our perspective of reality and the infrastructure necessary for it to do so. It serves as a relevant example which is concurrently producing judicial decisions in the United States - demonstrating how social media, news broadcasts, and the pervasiveness of moving images and digital technology have created the need for society to rewrite its social and legal codes.
The video White Cloud is played in a loop in its own space. Created using AI digital imaging technologies, it is a dystopian view of the future of humanity. The film follows characters around mining cities in China from which rare minerals are extracted for mysterious purposes. The glitches of AI in which the patterns of fish, human hands, and moving water become eerie and strange gives the impression of overall toxicity throughout each scene. In one segment, a contaminated lake gurgles and boils in surreal scenery of devastated landscapes that have been the source of wealth for tech and weapons industry at the expense of the health of local populations and workers - unlicensed companies send workers without hazard protection into the cancerous lake for larger profits. Underlying this are eerie scenes of love and intimacy against backdrops of industrial chimneys and perfectly gridded cities - a cautionary tale about the loss of individuality and the dystopia to come at the hands of big-data predictability.
Emmanuel Van der Auwera / VideoSculpture XVII (January 6th), 2023, installation view, A Thousand Pictures of Nothing.
Installation view, “A Thousand Pictures of Nothing”
Installation view, “A Thousand Pictures of Nothing”
Emmanuel Van der Auwera / Memento, 17 (Red IV, Study for Nuit Americaine), 2018.
A Thousand Pictures of Nothing at Harlan Levey Projects, September 7 - December 16 2023. Photo credit Adriaan Hauwaert.
This Brussels and Basel-based gallery has become known for its exciting inter-generational exhibitions that mix the new with the historical and the heavyweights with new voices. Named after a video piece by feminist media-art pioneer Lynn Hermann Leeson, this exhibition hinges on the themes of technology and media within our ever-advancing fascination with AI and robotics. The eponymous artwork Seduction of a Cyborg (1994) is a short film that follows the journey of a blind woman as she is given a treatment that allows her to see for the first time - but only what appears on television screens. Her mind and being are consumed by the televised image. Next to this film, Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven’s Re-Pain (1999) references early computer works and the abstraction of shapes and colors that followed through from early computer pioneers to the HTML aesthetic of the 90’s.
Belonging to a younger generation of artists, Eli Cortiñas and Elen Braga continue the dialogue on digital pervasiveness and social order. Cortiñas’ Not Gone with the Wind (2020) is a work firmly embedded in her long-standing research of media histories and film archives - this time with the inclusion of a cynical robot who laments on the corroding human condition. Braga is concerned with human and non-human relations mediated via technological means in her piece Schatteke (2023) in which she fails to relate to a barking dog in a mirrored circular environment. Not far away, an embroidered tail wags away to the syncopated exclamations. This exhibition is woven together seamlessly through the commissioned text by Brussels-based curator and writer Evelyn Simons who adds a third generation to the mix through a poetic text dedicated to the gallerist’s new-born daughter.
Eli Cortiñas / Not Gone With The Wind, 2020, Single channel video.
This solo exhibition titled “Gratitude is a Colored Vessel” presents an evolving body of ceramic work from this recent HISK graduate. Originally from Taiwan, Wang emigrated to the United States in her teenage years - a change that led her to investigate her own subjectivity as an East Asian woman and that of her family within their new environment. The central piece in the exhibition is an exquisitely delicate glazed ceramic titled Huddled Mass (Tree of Aunties), (2023). In this work, Wang’s connection to family and to Taiwanese mythology is illustrated through symbols and the entwined limbs of several generations of women. They twist and turn together into a column-like sculpture that could reference ancient Karyatid’s or the Baroque sculpture of Daphne and Apollo (1622-25) but always grounded within distinct East Asian symbols and mythology.
Another work titled Two Sisters (2023) is a stained-glass piece that depicts histories and myths from ancient China. The story contains guidance for how to travel from one place to the next over land and sea. Wang intends the piece as a tribute to her sister who was the first of her family to relocate to the United States - a strong female role model leading the way for a whole family. The work’s colourful work uses traditional lead stained glass method which holds it together in intricate metal casings most commonly seen as biblical stories found in European Cathedrals. The combination of inspiration and method bridges the gap between origin and destination - leaving a testament to our ever-morphing identities while valuing the richness of our roots and origins.
Installation View, Pei-Hsuan Wang “Gratitude Is A Colored Vessel” at Ballon Rouge Collective installation image. Photo by Silvia Cappellari. Courtesy the artist and Ballon Rouge, Brussels. September 7 - November 11 2023.
Pei-Hsuan Wang / Ahma Holding Up The Sky With One Hand, 2023
In this large-scale exhibition, Elsa Brès presents several works around the themes of ecology and social re-organisation. Titled Connivéncia - or the translation of Connivance in the Occitan language - the works centre around the figure of the wild boar and its worrying transition from natural to urban habitats. In the first exhibition room of la Loge, the film Les Sanglières shows haunting night-scenes that reveal the connection between humans and our non-human neighbours in the region of the Cévennes forest in Southern France. Here, the animal is positioned as a symbol of the natural world, rural life, an anti-patriarchal and anti-capitalist revolutionary figure that emerges from the margins of human zones.
Mythology and history continue through the following works and regional language figures strongly as a linguistic position connected to territory. A map at the entrance delineates habitable zones in a “boar-centric” logic, considering their preferences for access to food and distance from buildings rather than according to human preferences. In a series of prints in an adjoining space, the historical revolutionary text titled the Twelve Articles can be read in the Occitan language. These principles were the demands of peasants during a 15th century revolt against enclosure policies. The posters include demands for democracy and self-determination revealing the strong progressive political will of the peasants at this time. The installation as a whole is a poetic and re-enchanting stance (reference to Silvia Federici) for non-linear trajectories of futurity which are often mirrored in historical episodes and relations to the non-human.
Exhibition view of Connivéncia by Elsa Brès at La Loge September 7 - December 3, 2023. Photo by Lola Pertsowsky, courtesy of the artist and La Loge.
For those with an appetite for painting, head straight to Laís Amaral’s solo exhibition Estude Fundo. The exhibition is traversed by an overall tone of black materiality that traverses the artist’s new body of abstract paintings. Impastoed pigments create sculptural undulations on surfaces that confront Western concepts of image and linear time with non-Western modes of communication. Circular golden imprints lend the work lights and shadows that reveal fractured scenes of varied painting techniques. Paint is scraped and brushed into organic geometries that speak to our innate connection to nature. The artist gains inspiration from landscape, especially the crisis of deforestation in Brazil, which gives way to the cracked landscapes discernible in her works.
In the absence of codified forms, this self-taught artist exhibits forms as intimately connected to sensations and emotions creating modes of expression beyond language. The paintings are not only readable, but change the atmosphere of the gallery by appealing directly to the senses rather than repressed colonial rationality. One of the largest works in the exhibition stands in the centre of the gallery space embodying the sculptural qualities of its surface. Sculpture also seeps into the surfaces in other paintings in which nets are applied to the surface adding visual tactility. These works make a case for the fundamental human relationship to haptic influence and the ongoing presence of the artist’s hand in art.
Exhibition View, Laís Amaral, “Estude Fundo” at Mendes Wood Brussels, September 7 - October 28, 2013. Photography by Kristien Daem.