Bruges Triennial: Nuns say "Yes" to tree huts at the beguinage

One of the most surprising works of art included in this year's Triennial in Bruges is formed by the Tree Huts by the Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata. The wooden structures have been built in the tree tops of one of the most peaceful places in Bruges: the beguinage.

The beguinage is an enclosed space including several lines of old houses surrounding a lawned courtyard with tall poplar trees. Inhabitants of a beguinage are called beguines. They are members of a Christian sisterhood founded in Liège in the 12th century. They pledge to follow an austere life, but do not take religious vows. Beguines have been living at the Bruges beguinage since 1245, but as modern times also encroached on Bruges, in the last century, the beguinage became a convent for Benedictine nuns who still live there today.

The Bruges Triennial faced many challenges bringing contemporary art to an historical setting. At the beguinage they also needed the go-ahead from the nuns for Kawamata's tree huts and fortunately for us the nuns said "Yes".

In bustling Bruges where tourists are never far away the beguinage can sometimes prove to be a haven of calm. It consists of a line of houses grouped around a garden with towering poplar trees. For the Triennial the Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata designed a dozen tree huts that have been fitted to the poplars that grow on the lawn of the beguinage courtyard. This was his answer to the question how can Bruges accommodate the five million visitors it welcomes each and every year.

Kawamata says that the tree houses in the beguinage garden are poetic sculptures that explore the boundaries between art, architecture and nature. They appear as fragile wooden anomalies that seem to hover like kindly watchers over the beguinage and all who pass there.

Flandersnews encountered a French couple, Mr and Mrs Roubaud in the peace and tranquillity of the beguinage. They hadn't heard about the Triennial, but were eager to learn more: "We are from the Provence, from Marseilles. Our city was Cultural Capital of Europe in 2013. We're well aware how art festivals like that can breathe new life into a city and transform a town. We're interested in art, both old and modern, but this wasn't the main reason for our visit. We just love to walk, se promener as we say in French."

"We encountered this scene in the beguinage purely by accident. The tree huts in this setting, yes, it is a bit of a surprise. It's a good thing that modern art projects can be realised in historical settings that enjoy protection. You can't stop development, you know! But it's fine, if like here, the modern matches in well with the historic."

Tree Huts is only one of 14 works of art that you will find across the city of Bruges as part of the Bruges Triennial. The curators of the art festival asked international artists to consider what would happen if the 5 million tourists that visit the West Flemish capital each and every year were to stay here. Today more and more of the world's population is gathering in the big cities, but in Bruges, as a result of its historical value and protected status, there are major constraints on urban development. The results of the artists' endeavours are on view until 18 October.