Something Beautiful, the festival of art and poetry organised by the artist-poet Mimi Kunz and the curator Lucie Pinier, is coming back to LaVallée in Molenbeek, Brussels, and I thought I’d give you a sneak preview into three of the fifteen artists: Laure Forêt, Nina De Angelis and Marianne Csaky.
1. Laure Forêt
Laure Forêt, who works on both micro (tiny, beautiful glass sculptures) and macro-scale (space-filling installations, such as the intriguing Pensées at l’Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud in France), presents a delicate and intriguing installation in red. Near the ceiling, glass beads are woven into patterns found in dragonfly wings, foams, and plant cells. Hundreds of red threads hang down as curtains that define a space.
There are as many meanings as viewers who take the time to see. The installation first evokes intrigue and admiration at its odd beauty. This then morphs into concern as I interpret the sculptures as an amputated limb and raw wounds leaking blood down to form tendrils of life snaking along the ungiving floor, rejecting the offer of connection, of nourishment. I wonder what would emerge if the installation threaded into welcoming soil.
Inspiration comes from many sources, and upon Laure sharing that one was a forest of cut trees, my interpretation morphed from flesh into the partial silhouette of decapitated trees, the trickles of life-blood, the weeping sap. But the woven glass beads don’t form tree rings, so the image turns into a mycelium heart that gives life to a forest, weeping its loss from our destructive acts. What have we done?
These are my first interpretations and feelings. Pull back the curtain of red threads, step into the space, and imagine being a spirit in the cut tree trunk, a visitor to the underground bleating mycelium forest’s heart. Step into another and feel the warmth, the cocoon of flesh, safety. It is a momentary womb nourishing us with ideas and memories and reminding us of the amazingness of life.
Laure Forêt said that her work is born once it is in an exhibition, and the viewers give it meaning after meaning. Go to the installation. Step inside. What do you feel? What does it mean to you?
2. Nina De Angelis
Now to Nina De Angelis, a master of movement and master of Indian ink (encre de Chine for francophones). She spreads rivers of black on white, creating a landscape of motion, of energy, of communicated emotion. They are powerfully beautiful and mesmerising. It is worth standing there and following the movement of the brushstrokes. You may find your head, arm or whole body sway, directed by the painter’s brush.
In the first image, set against a glowing yellow, a rich blank anchors the painting, and it flows right and left, right and left, like a sinusoidal river, leaving a trace of its passage on paper. A slow, deliberate motion of Nina De Angelis’ hand, holding multiple brushes nailed together onto a plank to create the breadth of stroke to make these monumental paintings that transmit immense energies despite being in black. She says that to paint a mountain, you don’t just go there and paint it; you have to go there, be in its presence for five days, beholding it, feeling it. And then, once it is inside you, you go back and paint, and the mountain emerges. So it is with her painting – a long contemplation and then, when the moment is right, the slow release of paint.
The second piece is sculptural. Nina De Angelis paints on a wooden board and cuts out the captured movement so only the ink’s passage remains. The board is flexible and stands on two legs, a strange biped. The flow of ink captures a permanent motion and momentary emotion, eliciting a new flow of wonder in each who stands before it. Wonderful.
3. Marianne Csaky
Still beautiful but focusing on themes of human behaviour across ages, politics and history are Marianne Csaky’s The Other Planet series. These combine and contrast holiday-inspiring photos of the Belgian coast with shadows of history. She employs embroidered silk silhouettes borrowing from historical photographs. The Other Planet nr 8 (Fugitive) shows a migrant woman from Honduras at the US-Mexican border in 2018, while The Other Planet nr 9 (Flag) shows Russian separatists in Dobalcev, Ukraine, in 2015. However, by using the shadows, Marianna Csaky moves away from these specific incidents. She notes that her works refer to “the vulnerability of people, the way they live their daily lives, and at the same time they are puppets of a game taking place on another level, of which they are not the actors.”
When I first saw the shadow scenes set against an idyllic coastal landscape, I felt the tension between the beauty of nature and the harsh reality of humankind demanding close attention. Csaky’s work shatters the oasis of nature and demands we reflect on the world around us with its racism and social injustice, politics of power, questions of national identity and war. The artworks made me think of Trump’s wall, of the suffering of migrants that is still far too real today in far too many places, and of the conflict in Ukraine, an ongoing catastrophe and one of humanity’s open festering wounds.
Speaking to the artist, I understand a more nuanced ambition to her work – to explore the role of leaders and the led. In The Flag, what struck the artist upon seeing the original photo “was the way these four people marched as lone demonstrators, the ability to lead and guide their people. Just as people, driven by their own unclear and misguided desires and limited possibilities, willingly stand behind a leader, behind an inspiring, but often misleading idea, looking for security and guidance.” Come to Something Beautiful and see what you take away from the artwork. Meet the artist and she may share other insights and maybe answer your questions on whether those people in The Fugitive are walking on water.
Being drawn into the challenges of the human condition in our complex times doesn’t mean we skip the beach, but that we take time to contemplate the shadows of the past and contemporary history in the making. The Other Planet series asks – how much of history will we remember? How much of today’s reality will future generations remember? And how much of history in the making are we aware of?
Voila, three of the artists who will be at Something Beautiful. Themes explored also include reflections on “nature and texture”, exploration of “movement and form”, and “material attention”, where time is taken to behold the beauty and meaning of surfaces. It is also a momentary node of cultural heritage creation and dialogue, nudged along by the poets and performance artists, and at the opening, a performance by Singing Molenbeek, founded by the inimitable tenor Zeno Popescu.
This is the third in what is hopefully a recurring biannual festival, a type of Molenbeek Biennale. The last one was held in November 2021 (if curious, see the article that introduces the work of Stéfan Tulépo, a sculptor who works with recuperated materials, and Mimi Kunz, who catches movement with a delicate and unforgettable touch). Come to LaVallée on the 20 October for the opening night and then come again and again during the week until 29 October to see Something Beautiful.