How much politics can art bear? Dare to know!
How much politics can art bear? Dare to know!
After six years, Cis Bierinckx is stepping down as director of the Beursschouwburg, but not without setting his seal on the arts centre’s revival with a festival that bears his stamp and which explores the relationship between art and commitment.
“It is a special occasion, of course, as it is my last major programme here,” says Cis Bierinckx. “The rest of the current season is my work too, but from 1 April I won’t be physically present any more in the Beursschouwburg. This is my farewell.
Is it hard to leave?
Cis Bierinckx: It was a conscious choice to pass on the torch, but it does of course feel strange to go back to being a freelancer. I have a few projects in mind that I may be able to carry out while waiting for a new long-term assignment. I am thinking rather along the lines of a festival, because the dialogue with the artists is more concentrated and creative then. Dare to Know! is important in that context. I like to reflect on art and I try to offer the public those artists that I think say what needs to be said at this moment.
What has stayed with you from the last six years?
Bierinckx: Most important of all, I believe, is that I am leaving (the new director) Tom Bonte a centre that once again has its foundations in place and a national and international reputation. I have developed good friendships with a number of artists. This season was special, as I was able to bring Angélica Liddell and Gisèle Vienne here.
What have you learned or seen thanks to those artists?
Bierinckx: That there is, after all, more of a collective sentiment among artists and that artists are now showing more interest again in what is going on around them. They are expressing opinions on developments on the political and economic level, without going back to consciousness-raising theatre. That was already happening before the Arab Spring and it is one of the things this festival is about.
But there have always been two constants in my programmes: they are about things that are worth showing now, which often means by young artists, while still trying to have something socially committed to say. Artists are free spirits, but they are increasingly asking themselves what contribution they can make to the world.
On the other hand, there is also the question of what contribution the world can make to art – which is the subject of Nina Felshin’s essay collection But Is It Art? The Spirit of Art as Activism, which the festival takes as its starting point.
Bierinckx: That is a book that was published in the early 1990s and that stayed in my mind. When does something become art, that is still the big question. How much politics can art bear? Where is the boundary between art and political activism? We have invited a number of people to have their say about that.
Including Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern, and Gerard Mortier (former director of, among other institutions, the Salzburger Festspiele and the Paris opera house).
Bierinckx: People I myself have learned something from. Chris is my cousin; we used to go look at things together quite often. It is great that I can have him along to open my last festival here. He has a point of view and also looks to the future. I worked with Gerard Mortier for four years in Salzburg. He has never shied away from public debate.
What the festival has lined up:
The visual art exhibition on show (21 March to 25 May) during the festival is entitled “Paradise Now”, after a legendary performance by Julian Beck of The Living Theatre. Works by Beck, Gil Scott-Heron, and Santiago Alvarez recall the protest movements of the late 1960s. From that historical material the exhibition moves on to the work of contemporary artist-activists. There will also be a chance to see work by the German graphic artist Klaus Staeck. Staeck was a lawyer, but was also a good friend of the artist Joseph Beuys. In the 1970s he opposed the German Christian Democrats with a series of sensational posters. Back then, his political posters were to be found on the walls of Cis Bierinckx’s study. You can see a selection of them in the Beurskafee during the festival (21 to 31 March).
Where is the boundary between art and political activism? Michiel Vandevelde sets out to establish it experimentally. Vandevelde is a student at the P.A.R.T.S. dance school, but wants to do more than just dance. Stageproject (A space for ideas and action) (25 March, 7 pm) is a two-part event that begins with a “soundwalk” through Brussels – inspired by the Canadian composer and environmental expert R Murray Schafer. The audience meets up outside the Central Station, opens its eyes and sharpens its ears. When it arrives at the Beursschouwburg a free discussion takes place (about the homeless and about pollution, among other things), followed by a workshop about non-violent action organised by Vredesactie/Action pour la Paix. Theory immediately translated into practice.
Another artist who will be in the limelight to an extent during the festival is the independent US film-maker Jem Cohen. The programme includes three projects by him. The Beursschouwburg is screening his documentary Instrument about the US noise-rock band Fugazi (28 March, 9.30 pm). But the main focus will be on Occupy Wall Street – Newsreels, a five-part documentary about the tenacious demonstrations against the financial sector that began last year in New York. Says Cis Bierinckx: “Cohen adopts the position of an observer in those documentaries. He is a film-maker who doesn’t want to force himself on people. Via images he hopes to convey what is going on, without taking a position. Although he is sympathetic to the movement, you also get to see the downside of it.” (29 March, 8.30 pm)
One of the highlights of the festival will undoubtedly be the play Hate Radio by the International Institute of Political Murder. The German-Swiss duo Milo Rau and Jens Dietrich’s play has now been selected for the Theatertreffen in Berlin, which means that it is regarded as being one of the ten best productions of the last year. Cis Bierinckx decided to co-produce the play after seeing their film about the trial of the Romanian dictator Ceausescu. Hate Radio includes some material that is sensitive in Belgium, as it is about the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, in which the incitements of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines played a particularly nasty role. The play is acted by one white actor and four Rwandan actors who live in Belgium. (21 to 23 March, 8 pm, in French, with Dutch subtitles).
Sapere Aude!/Dare to Know!
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