We speak to five foreign-born, Brussels-based artists about the particular appeals the capital city holds for the growing class of creatives that decide to call it home, and the kind of impact the city has had on their work. A throwback from the Contemporary Art Special in last year’s April-May edition, Outcasts.
Visuals by Thomas Ost (c).
Douglas Eynon (1989)
When I first moved to Brussels back in 2011, it was a cocktail of things — including wanting to learn a new language, studying in a new city — that catalysed the move. I quickly met other artists and was soon collaborating and working on projects in and around the city. In Brussels, I began meeting people, and living in tight-knit communities really helped my work. It’s cheaper than bigger cities like London and Paris, and also central — travelling to and from Brussels is easy, which helps when you’re an artist. A lot of spaces presented themselves as a possible place to transform or alter, sometimes becoming spaces to expose work. The random frontiers I experienced in the city led to installations and constructions of space, that are a central theme in my work. There is a chaos to the city that comforts me and a kind of haphazard logic that allows everything to exist together, making unusual things appear commonplace.
It’s a melting pot of class, religion and language and it wears all this with a sort of nonchalance
Kendell Geers (1968)
I was born in South Africa in the 1970s, and lived during the apartheid. I was involved in a lot of political activism, but like Nietzsche once said, I became the monster I was fighting. The corruption and fear mongering began to get inside of me and I moved to London in 1980 and then New York where I worked with Richard Prince. In 2001, I moved to Brussels where I’ve lived ever since. It was in the market at Place du Jeu de Balle that I fell in love with Brussels for the first time.The physicality of things and the way they function in the world inspires me as an artist — and the way artefacts had travelled the world and ended up in one place fascinated me. Brussels perfectly embodies how the value of a thing isn’t fixed. It’s a melting pot of class, religion and language and it wears all this with a sort of nonchalance. All this political tension makes for an odd kind of beauty which helps me add depth to my art, and also engage with the city on a daily basis. It’s cheap, collaboration is easy, there’s also a large community of dancers, and artists from other genres that makes it an exciting place to be. The chaos of the city could be exhausting as a citizen, but as an artist, it’s a treasure.
Audrey Cottin (1984)
I grew up in the suburbs of Paris, in a place that was a collection of people and stories from everywhere. It wasn’t an idyllic setting, but as an artist you take things from where you exist. In December 2008, I moved to Gent to study, but soon, everyone began gathering in Brussels — it was like some magnetic field! I slowly moved myself and my stuff, got a studio space and began meeting and collaborating with other artists. I think Brussels works in it’s own way but the inevitable impact on it by Belgian politics and now even global politics, lends it lots of colour. It’s centrality brings to it lots of cultures, some unpredictable ones too, and it makes it stimulating to live in as an artist. The international atmosphere also makes it a great place to different people and engage with different streams of thought. If Gent was the incubator in which I sowed the seeds of my artistic vision, Brussels is the garden on which it will grow. You cannot stay in incubators, or sheltered spaces as an artist forever. If you don’t follow these seeding cycles, you and your art will most surely die.
The diversity of Brussels, the whole energy, the way people deal with being alive and being human and aware in every possible way is something I really enjoy.
Nicolas Party (1980)
I lived for a while in Glasgow, which was a wonderful city — but full of conflict and contradiction because of the post industrial meltdowns. It was nice to be in an environment unlike the one I grew up in because, and as an artist, you’re always curious about what’s going on in the world. So when I wanted to move from Glasgow in 2013, I came to Brussels because a lot of people were talking about it. There was this double (and now multiple) culture that defined Belgian realities. The many languages, the various cultural landscapes, they provided these profound cultural intersections — it was all the complexity Europe concentrated into one little spot. As an artist, this confluence can be enriching. When I left Glasgow, I knew I wanted to be in a place that represented everything going on in the world in a somewhat apparent way – this exposure to everyday life and its nuances have been great for my art. The diversity of Brussels, the whole energy, the way people deal with being alive and being human and aware in every possible way is something I really enjoy.
Elena Betros (1988)
I grew up in Melbourne, Australia where I studied and practiced as a visual artist for almost 10 years. I have lived in Brussels for almost a year now, and though I moved here without an attachment to an institution, I’ve navigated my way through the city through the conversations, advice and support I’ve gotten from other artists that live here. I recently attended the Lizzie Borden screenings at Cinematek, and it was inspiring and surprising to see the work of a female film-maker in showing. The markets – Les Abatoirs and Marché du Midi – as well as the Bois de la Cambre are some of my favourite spots in Brussels. I’ve also been taking French classes and learning a second language as an adult has definitely changed my perception on things. I can’t say yet how Brussels has influenced my art, but being exposed to many new things, and being in a place where conversation with other artists is possible will I think definitely be a benefit.