Refugee crisis inspires at Jan Fabre's Ostend art festival

Until April of next year the seaside resort of Ostend is hosting a major contemporary art festival. Curated by the leading Flemish artist Jan Fabre « The Raft. Art is (not) Lonely » includes the work of 75 artists from at home and abroad that can been seen at Mu.ZEE, the contemporary art museum in the city, but also at venues across the seaside resort.

It was three years ago that the city of Ostend first launched the idea of a three-yearly contemporary art festival during the winter months with « The Sea », a homage to the Flemish art guru Jan Hoet. Three years on the Ostend Triennial is once again a fact thanks to Jan Fabre's « The Raft ».

Jan Fabre was asked to curate the festival and to enlist his contacts in the international art world. « The Raft » co-ordinator and Mu.ZEE curator Mieke Mels: « Jan Fabre contacted a host of artists from at home and abroad and asked them to take part in the project. 75 different artists, not only painters, but also performance artists agreed. The result is a collection of 120 different works that are on show at various venues across the city. Jan Fabre asked art historian Joanna De Vos, his longstanding collaborator, to serve as co-curator and together they were able to secure the participation of numerous big names. »

Mieke Mels: « Jan Fabre chose « The Raft » as this triennial’s starting point. The contemporary art museum Mu.ZEE hosts the main exhibition that is the starting point, but countless other venues allow you to discover art in various settings across the city. Some venues are used to display art. Others have not been used in this way before and some are usually not readily accessible. »

« The raft in the triennial’s title refers to two works that Jan Fabre brought together for a first time: his own work « Art is (not) Lonely », a model from 1986 that sets you thinking, and « Le Naufrage du Radeau de la Medusa », a work by the French artist Théodore Géricault. Because of its critical and questioning nature Géricault's work caused scandal when it was first shown 170 years ago. Today the giant original is in the Louvre in Paris. In Ostend, at the heart of the Mu.ZEE building, Jan Fabre's raft is brought together with studies for Géricault's masterpiece. »

« Fabre has always been fascinated by the physical nature of man, the body's stamina and physicality. These are also issues dealt with in Géricault's countless studies. ».

Jan Fabre says that a raft is a means of transport, a way to save lives, but also a place of reflection, doubt and encounter. It can symbolise a voyage with a set destination or an adventure without a known heading.

Mieke Mels: « Given the contemporary context, the refugee crisis, right from the start Jan Fabre indicated that he was aware that the festival would be connected with this event, if only through the works of some of the artists. For Fabre, the raft is also a metaphor that questions how art is created. For Fabre that is equally important. »

One of the works most clearly inspired by the refugee crisis is Bruna Esposito's « La Zattera di Lampedusa ». Scenes from the Italian island of Lampedusa, the destination of so many refugees from Africa, are shown underneath the glass of a table decked with exquisite glasswork.

« Jan Fabre is a visual artist, but has always also been interested in performance art and theatre. New York performance artist Penny Arcade is only one of the artists who will be performing in the Grote Post cultural centre in Ostend during the course of the Triennial. Mikes Poppe will be at work at the Ostend courthouse. It's not usually a venue connected with art or one that many people are eager to visit, but Poppe will be chained to a chunk of Carrera marble while he executes a new work. He has no experience as a sculptor of marble, so we have no idea how many weeks he will stay chained in there! »

« The exhibition includes existing work, but Fabre was also eager to encourage artists to produce works especially for the Ostend exhibition. This is what Juliao Sarmento did. Géricault's giant masterpiece hangs in the Louvre, but you can get some idea of its size by admiring Sarmento's « Nada » that mirrors its exact dimensions. »

Dutchman Aernout Mik filmed a video on the streets of Ostend. Actors dressed as policemen adopt the physical movements of those shipwrecked on the raft of the Medusa. The work questions the role of police officers, often used to maintain order in the refugee crisis.

The exhibition may start at Mu.ZEE but it allows you to discover a wealth of locations across Ostend. An animated video projection by Luc Tuymans features at the Stables of the Wellington Hippodrome. A grid of skins, a work by Berlinde De Bruyckere, hangs from the Peperbusse, a church tower ruin, while a 20th floor apartment in Ostend's sole skyscraper, the Europacentrum, has also been enlisted as a venue for works by three different artists.

« The Raft. Art is (not) Lonely » runs at Mu.ZEE and at various locations across Ostend until 15 April 2018.

Top stories