From grey, rainy London to grey and rainy Flanders this last few days. Somehow we slipped through the net of transport strikes, but noted the very visible army presence at the stations we passed through. 2016 here feels nervy, but in spite of all the tensions the spring is beautiful. All the roadside verges are lush with tall grasses and wild flowers, the trees and fields an almost impossibly brilliant green.
First stop was M HKA, the museum of contemporary art in Antwerp and a solo show by Aslan Gaisumov. This is the artists’ first solo museum show, though he has been included in a number of international group shows recently and was part of Glasstress 2015 Gotika during the 56th Venice Biennale. The first of two large scale HD video projections, Volga, 2015 comes with the following statement: “In 1995, during the war in Chechnya, the artist’s family and some of their relatives escaped the bombs falling on Grozny: 21 persons in one ‘Volga’ car.” The video isolates this act as one by one people insert themselves solemnly into a battered car in an otherwise empty field. The grim absurdity and human indignities of war could not be more vivid. In People of No Consequence, 2016, the scene is an interior, a large hall filled with chairs. One by one elderly men and a few women file in and take seats, sitting quietly without talking. These are 119 of the survivors of the forced deportation of Chechen and Ingush nations in 1944. Only half of the half a million people who were deported to Central Asia survived. Those who did were only allowed to return home four years after Stalin’s death in 1957. This is powerful testimony, simply and brilliantly conveyed.
There is a thriving art scene in Antwerp, with a slew of commercial galleries supporting it in addition to the public spaces. Tim Van Laere Gallery represents a roster of important international artists so we pay close attention when they show someone as young as Ben Sledsens, who at 25 has only very recently graduated. An astonishingly confident show of large-scale figurative paintings with multiple reference points in the 20th century history of the medium, this is clearly someone to watch out for in the future. Objectif Exhibitions is run by Antony Hudek, who is also Curator at Large at our own Raven Row, in London. The current show in the meandering spaces of this not for profit gallery is a solo presentation of video and photographic work by the late Hugo Roelandt, a photographer, performance and installation artist who played a pioneering role in the Antwerp avant-garde of the 1970s and 1980s. Let’s Expand the Sky – in Black and White is the first of two exhibitions that are intended by curator Marc Holthof to position this little-known artist within the history of European performance and photography.
Over at Zeno X Gallery they have just opened a show of new work by Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven. An artist engaged since the early 70s with feminist discourse and digital media, Van Kerckhoven makes work in a variety of collage materials but in the current show has her first ever tapestry. Flanders has been world famous for tapestry since the Middle Ages, but this medium, of interest to an increasing number of artists these days, lends itself nimbly to the translation of digital images on a large scale. Alongside the tapestry is a group of three pencil and oil pastel drawings. Quickly achieved, these attest to the artist’s phenomenal draftsmanship underlying the conceptual complexity of her work. Van Kerckhoven was the partner of Hugo Roelandt, who died last year, and this show is in some way a coming to terms with his loss.
Extra City is Antwerp’s kunsthalle, and the current show Riddle of the Burial Grounds was first shown at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin last year. Curated by Tessa Giblin, this show takes a long, dispassionate look at our Anthropocene age, an era in which the effects of man’s activity on earth are as pervasive and devastating as the geological events of prehistoric eras. Looking particularly at the freight of nuclear waste that we are interring every day, Giblin asks us to consider how we shoulder a responsibility to future generations inhabiting this planet, a responsibility that extends to 240,000 years, or ten times the half-life of plutonium.
Far too quick a trip to do it justice, I’ve come away with the conviction to check in much more regularly with this city that has so much going on.
M HKA (Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen), Leuvenstraat 32, 2000 Antwerpen, België. Open Tuesday–Wednesday and Friday–Sunday 11.00–18.00, Thursday 11.00–21.00. Entry is €10. Exhibition continues until 4 September 2016. www.muhka.be
Tim Van Laere Gallery, Verlatstraat 23, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium. Open Tuesday – Saturday 13.00-18.00. Exhibition continues until 18 June 2016. www.timvanlaeregallery.com
Objectif Exhibitions, Kleine Markt 7-9/26, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium. Open Wednesday–Saturday, 14.00-18.00. Entry is free. Exhibition continues until 4 June 2016. objectif-exhibitions.org
Zeno X Gallery, Godtsstraat 15, 2140 Antwerp Borgerhout, Belgium. Open Wednesday – Saturday 13.00-17.00. Exhibition continues until 11 June 2016. www.zeno-x.com
Extra City Kunsthal, Eikelstraat 31, BE 2600 Antwerpen–Berchem, Belgium. Wednesday to Sunday, 13.00 – 18.00. Entry is free. Exhibition continues until 17 July 2016. extracitykunsthal.org