On Friday, the 20th of October, Something Beautiful, the festival of visual art and poetry, opened in LaVallée in Molenbeek with the unforgettable chorale Equinox de Bruxelles. Under conductor Zeno Popescu’s larger-than-life guidance and encouragement, children from across cultures and communities sang among paintings and sculptures to create, quite simply, magic. Unforgettable. Their voices were pure, some crystalline, others grave, a few rich and powerful, others hauntingly delicate, barely whispers that we strained to hear. The children’s collaboration gave us all hope in these troubling times of global conflict.
The art on display, too, gives us hope. We see too clearly the destruction humanity is capable of in the news, so it is good to take a moment and remind ourselves of the wonderful things people can create. Here, I share a first appreciation of five artists, complementing the eight already introduced in A first peek at ‘Something Beautiful’ and Joint Creation: One Plus One Equals Two.
Stéfan Tulépo creates a living cityscape out of recuperated broken glass, forming a jagged circle held up by rubble in a dark room. Buildings from a derelict site are etched on each shard, lit by revolving lights from the centre, projecting onto the surrounding walls and the watching faces. One building after another emerges and fades, catching our momentary attention and then a shadow, a hard-to-grasp memory, until again targeted by the lightbulbs’ illuminating gaze. Mesmerising.
Stéfan’s work explores the evolving space of derelict cityscapes. It is up to you whether you find this dark, given the loss and the destruction, or hope-inspiring as memory hasn’t faded. A light still shines. Plants, too, are etched into the glass, showing the tenacity of life, forever ready to reclaim land.
Nature also features in the works of Gabrielle Herveet and Aurélie Gravelat. Gabrielle shares her fascination with a river, capturing different moments and levels of its yearly life cycle through a million pencil strokes. Time travel in graphite. If only more people could show such dedication to the lives of our rivers. Imagine a river full to bursting its banks and powerful rapids, calming into a steady flow, then weakening to a trickle meandering hesitantly through rocks, seeking the sea. In the exhibition’s main hall, Gabrielle presents a piece of a shipwreck with a double shadow – first as fragments of decomposing wood, and second, the shadow from the beams of light, exploring the texture of loss and memory. Or at least that is my interpretation.
Aurélie Gravelat, on the other hand, focuses on landscape materials and materials that make landscapes. She explores their texture, their interactions, how one material mirrors, echoes, complements another. You can’t get this just by walking past and glancing. Slow, stop, lean over and take the time to see. And you will. Clouds emerge from one slice of found slate while a glass plate becomes a silent black sea. In another, the texture draws a coastal panorama that doubles as abstract art. There is so much to see if only we take the time.
Kiran Katara also follows a passion for form, creating an inventory of brushstrokes on found antique paper, each almost a hundred years old. Tiny writing labels each stroke. At first sight, they look like a collection of feathers, seeds, and flowers, evoking Carl Linnaeus’ taxonomic study of nature (Systema Naturae), yet lean close in, and the writing is simply form; not words or letters. Were we duped? No, the strokes are not devoid of meaning. By not giving a key, Kiran somehow unlocks something in the way of looking. Our view has changed, attention heightened, allowing our eyes to take the artworks in before we name them.
I want to end with a particularly poetic highlight – Haleh Chinikar’s performance: Women of My Life. I didn’t think anything could move me like the Equinox singers, but art is full of surprises. Haleh Chinikar projects photos of women in her life, with a double exposure overlaying plants with family and friends, creating not just a texture but adding a meaning of home, landscape, culture – personal relationships generously made public. Behind the screen floats another screen, and the image of the first filters through to the second. It is not just a memory or echo. There is an embroidered poem between the two screens, and the poem is a message connecting the two. The double exposure has two more layers that combine. Life is a poetic palimpsest.
To make things more magical, in a dark room with only the light beaming on the screen, Haleh stands in front of the screen, herself a surface projected upon, and speaks a poem, first in a way we could just hear, then a whisper, then silent, fully private, before again being audible, in one language then another. A statement of heritage. The delivery is delicate and slow, like a murmuring brook, calming us, pulling us into a private moment. Her performance partner, the artist Kimia Nasirian, invites one member after the other of the audience to join, each to repeat a phrase, some clear, others a murmur. Two recurring phrases will never leave my mind – “Je connais une femme” (I know a woman). “Elle est légère et tendre comme une feuille” (She is light and gentle as a leaf), the latter spoken by Mimi Kunz, who, together with the curator Lucie Pinier, co-founded and organised Something Beautiful. And it truly is.
Come to Something Beautiful, at LaVallée, until the 29th of October. There will also be poetry readings, workshops given by artists and poets, and guided tours given by the curators who will share many more meanings with you than these few words can communicate. And Zeno Popescu promised, for a yet to be revealed date, to repeat and add to the choir’s magical opening – matching the singers of Equinox with the Singing Molenbeek choir that brings together children from across nine schools – an augmented power of hope.