Belgian Pavilion 'Personne et les autres' by Vincent Meessen and guests at the Venice Biennial

From 9 May until 22 November 2015

The Belgian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale will present the work of the Belgian artist Vincent Meessen, together with international guest artists, curated by Katerina Gregos, from 9 May until 22 November 2015.

'Personne et les autres' breaks with the tradition of Belgium’s representation in Venice to date, which has mostly featured solo exhibitions of recognized or well-established artists. Instead, it presents the work of a younger-generation Belgian artist who is less known to the general public in his country of origin, though he exhibits in significant international institutions. The artist’s project, selected to represent Belgium at the Biennale, challenges the notion of national representation, by moving away from the traditional format of a solo show and opening up to include multiple positions and voices.

Working in close collaboration Meessen and Brussels-based curator Katerina Gregos have developed an international, thematic, discursive, contemplative group exhibition of a poetic-political nature, which is grounded in research-based practices, and welcomes ten other artists from four continents and – for the first time – artists from Africa, all of whose work has probed the question of colonial modernity, and most of whom are producing new work for the exhibition.

The title of the exhibition, 'Personne et Les autres', is borrowed from a lost play by André Frankin, a Belgian art critic affiliated with the Lettrist and Situationist Internationals. The exhibition takes the history of the Belgian Pavilion and the international context of the Biennale (both derived from the colonial exhibitions and world expositions) as its points of departure to explore the consequences of political, historical, cultural and artistic entanglements between Europe and Africa during the time of colonial modernity, and in its aftermath. The Belgian Pavilion itself was the first foreign Pavilion to be built in the Giardini in Venice, during the reign of King Leopold II. Meessen’s own work and artistic research have consistently explored the history and afterlife of colonial modernity. Personne et les autrescalls into question the Eurocentric idea of modernity by examining a shared avant-garde heritage, marked by artistic and intellectual cross-pollination between Europe and Africa.

The exhibition traces a timeline of references that connects the critique of colonial modernity with Dada, CoBrA and the Situationist International (1957-1972), the last of the international avant-garde revolutionary movements, whose final conference took place in Venice in 1969, as well as with the emancipation of black people, Pan-Africanism, African independence movements, and ‘Global 68’ (the lesser known off-shoot of May 1968 in the Global South. The exhibition probes unknown or overlooked micro-histories, brings into view alternative or ‘contaminated’ versions of modernity that emerged as a result of colonial entanglements, and recounts stories that unfolded outside of and in reaction to accepted colonial hierarchies. The project aims to provide insight into the diverse forms – whether artistic, cultural, or intellectual - that were produced by colonial encounters. Central to the exhibition concept is a new audio-visual work by Vincent Meessen, which revisits the role of largely unknown Congolese intellectuals within the Situationist International.

The artist discovered a totally unexpected and unpublished document: the lyrics of a protest song, signed by a former Situationist, Joseph M’Belolo Ya M’Piku. Written in Kikongo in May 1968, the discovery reveals a totally unknown episode of the group’s history. Meessen re-interpreted this text in the form of a musical work: a rumba, recorded in Kinshasa in the nightclub Un Deux Trois, established in 1974 by the legendary Congolese musician and bandleader Franco Luambo (1938 –1989). Belgium's colonial history and its strategic role in the Situationist International – through key figures such as philosopher Raoul Vaneigem, who with Guy Debord and Mustapha Khayati, constituted the intellectual backbone of the movement – form a crucial backdrop in understanding the 20th-century political agendas of the artistic avant-gardes in Europe. In exploring this obscure aspect of the Situationist International, Meessen’s work will uncover hidden episodes in the interrelated histories of art, popular music and democratic activism by shedding light on the emancipatory praxis pursued by practitioners of Congolese music. It is important to point out that Personne et les autres, however, does not focus only on the colonial history of Congo and Belgium as such, but on colonial modernity more broadly, and its ongoing relation to artistic and intellectual critique. Exploring both adverse and positive cultural outcomes of colonial history, the exhibition reveals fruitful artistic and intellectual dialogues under colonization, during liberation struggles and especially in the aftermath of independence, while at the same time reflecting on the meaning of radical, oppositional practices in light of the present global situation of unrest and crisis.

Participating artists, include, among others:

Mathieu K. Abonnenc (1977, French Guyana; lives and works in Metz)
Sammy Baloji (1978, Democratic Republic of Congo; lives and works in Lumumbashi and Brussels)
James Beckett (1977, Zimbabwe; lives and works in Amsterdam)
Elisabetta Benassi (1966, Italy; lives and works in Rome)
Patrick Bernier & Olive Martin (1971, France; 1972, Belgium; live and work in Nantes)
Tamar Guimarães and Kasper Akhøj. (1967, Brazil; 1976, Denmark; live and work in Copenhagen)
Maryam Jafri (1972, Pakistan; lives and works in Copenhagen and New York)
Adam Pendleton (1984, USA; lives and works in New York)

With the support of: the Fédération Wallonie- Bruxelles and Wallonie- Bruxelles

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