Interview with Phillip van den Bossche (curator and director Mu.ZEE) on Beaufort04, by Pieter Vermeulen
March 6th, 2012
Pieter Vermeulen: When and how did Beaufort come into being’
Phillip Van Den Bossche: Beaufort is a triennial for art in public space that started in 2003, so this is the fourth edition.
I’ve been artistic director since the third edition in 2009. If one would try to summarise Beaufort in a few sentences, you could say that we are inviting contemporary artists to realise a new work in the public space along the Belgian coast, which is only 65 kilometres long. 30 artists are invited for each edition. The works can be seen at the seaside, but also in the dunes or in special places, buildings or in the city centre.
PV: Who initiated the triennial’
PVDB: In 2003, the first edition was made by my predecessor, who was also the curator of this museum (Mu.ZEE, formerly called PMMK). It started out as an art exhibition that wanted to extend itself beyond the museum walls. Beaufort is made by vzw Ku(n)st, a non-profit organisation that takes care of the entire production and communication. It is the most important organisation in Belgium focusing on contemporary art in public space.
At the same time, Beaufort is bringing contemporary art to a new audience. It’s not always easy to attract visitors to the museum. The context of the Belgian seaside is a very low-profile way to openly invite them, over a period of six months, to engage with contemporary art. The triennial is a way of tickling people, stimulating them to see contemporary art. From the very beginning, there was also the idea of making a public art park over the years.
One of the nicest things about Beaufort is that we have a temporary exhibition with approximately 30 artworks and another 18 remaining from previous editions. Which makes a total of 48 artworks, spread over a small distance of 65 km.
PV: Do you have any personal favourites among them’
PVDB: My favourite is Le Vent souffle où il veut, a work by Daniel Buren, made especially for the third edition of Beaufort. He produced it in De Haan, but it was bought by the city of Nieuwpoort and installed as a permanent artwork.
Another personal favourite is Caterpillar 5bis by Wim Delvoye in Middelkerke. And there is a light sculpture in a water tower nearby, a work by Tamar Frank from 2009. The inhabitants of Middelkerke are very happy with it. In the evening, they are comforted by the light that is transforming this unattractive building. The works in Beaufort are very different, but they’re created with a specific location in mind.
PV: Can you highlight a few artists for this edition’
PVDB: We’re still a few weeks before we’re opening, but I’m very curious for the work of Folkert de Jong. Martine Feipel and Jean Bechameil worked with Lars von Trier for the decors, so that could be something as well. I also look forward to see works by Marco Casagrande, Bernar Venet or Nedko Solakov because they really open up your head. And then there’s still Hans Op de Beeck, Adrian Ghenie, Claire Fontaine and so many others’
PV: So who’s commissioning the artworks for Beaufort’
PVDB: Once the artist is invited for Beaufort, a long production process starts. We look at the work and potential locations that could be interesting. More than 75 percent of the artists make new work in this way. They want to get into a dialogue with the environment itself. Which also explains why visitors, cities or collectors become interested in buying the work afterwards, or why a lot of works stayed in their place.
PV: Any controversial examples you can think of’
PVDB: Of course, there will always be artworks that people like from the very beginning, and others that need more time to be appreciated. In 2009, for instance, we had a decayed façade made by a Polish artist [Robert Kusmirowski]. From day one, there was a lot of media fuss around it. The city didn’t like it, the inhabitants didn’t like it either. The artist’s idea was to make a replica of a house in Poland from the 1920’s, and to put it in a Western European, luxurious context. The resulting confrontation is what made it a very important work.
For this fourth edition, we also search, together with the artists, for places that one would otherwise never visit. Art in public space is not necessarily a large and monumental work at the seaside. This year we are using an art nouveau villa in Nieuwpoort, which stands empty for the moment. Nedko Solakov will install a work there, existing of written text fragments on the ceiling, the floor, the doors,’. When people heard about this, they where shocked by the fact that he was using graffiti, ruining a beautiful place and inviting people to write even more stuff on the wall. Even when we explained that he used washable materials, they where still shocked. So there might be some controversy around his work, even though we’re not directly looking for this effect.
PV: The Belgian seaside is also close to national borders with the Netherlands, France and the UK across the Channel. In the Beaufort communication campaign, the Belgian coast is visualized as a kind of epicentre, stretching itself out across the borders. What’s the idea behind it’
PVDB: The visual campaign of Beaufort works with the idea of areas of high and low pressure, just like in weather reports. We came to this image because this fourth edition is very much about Europe. We invited artists from the 27 European countries.
You could see the coastline as a border, but also as a cross-border, peripheral area. In this sense, as a border, the coastline is both the end and the beginning of something.
Joseph Beuys was really fascinated by Ostend. In the mid-sixties, he wanted to make an artwork, a bunker in the public space of Ostend. He saw Ostend as Ost-End, the end of the East. It was part of his mythological project. Those are the stories you can tell artists invited to Beaufort, something I used a lot in the third edition. Artists have always been fascinated by this element. Marcel Broodthaers, for example, also made a work in De Haan at the end of the sixties.
For Beaufort 4 we wanted to pose the question: what kind of Europe do we want to become’ On a small scale, artists can answer this question. My goal for this edition of Beaufort is not only to bring people in contact with contemporary art, but also to make them think about this larger European question. What it means to be an individual and how important it is to have a national identity, and what kind of propositions artists can make in this context.
PV: Is this cross-border approach something you want to consolidate more in the future’
PVDB: It’s definitely interesting, but perhaps one of these future scenarios can be worked out on a smaller scale. For instance, we could expand Beaufort to Middelburg [on the Dutch side] or to Dunkerque [on the French side]. There are lots of ideas.
2012 is also an important year for me and for the art world in Belgium in general. People can go see TRACK in Ghent, Beaufort at the seaside, Middelheim in Antwerpen or Manifesta in Genk. And in summer, there is Documenta in Germany. So a lot of people will be staying here, going from one exhibition to another. That’s why we initiated Visual Art Flanders, a platform that bundles all these different events. I think Belgium has a very good reputation, we have a lot of contemporary artists with an international career, and a lot of Belgian curators working abroad, like Ann Demeester or Chris Dercon.
Moreover, we have by far the largest concentration of private collectors on such a small scale. The public often doesn’t know about the hidden treasures or the museums here in Flanders. In the past few years, we’ve started working together more and more, to see how we can promote the region by using culture in a positive way.