15 Belgian artist talks (Part 2/3)

For the Third Rate Edition of the magazine, we talked to artists on exercising their métier in Brussels – capturing visual and personal accounts of what happened the day we invited the upper crust of Belgium’s art scene to our brand new offices and got talking. They talked on Belgium’s linguistic divide, what ‘making it’ really means, the undeniable impact of the web, the quality of Belgium’s art scene, frustrations, teaching, the country’s low-key demeanour and how Brussels fared in comparison to Berlin (Brussels’ better, in case you were wondering).

Ismael Bennani and Orfée Grandhomme

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Ismael is originally from Tunis, Tunisia and Orfée from Evian, France. They have both lived in Brussels since 2005 and have a 1 year old son called Blixa. They are founders of Überknackig graphic design studio.

In Brussels it’s easy to meet people, to get talking and start projects together. We run a graphic design studio and we are often approached by artists or art organisations and asked to collaborate in projects. We get involved in the overall concept and scenography, or maybe the editorial concept of a book. It’s all word of mouth, we bounce from one network to another. There is less hierarchy and a lower profile in Brussels compared to bigger cities; it might not be as vibrant as Berlin or London but it gives you a sense of concrete reality, it favours quality over buzz and hype. We used to live in Berlin but this is why we came back. We decided to establish our graphic design studio in Brussels because even though it has a low profile, it’s a better profile. There is a very high standard of exhibitions here. We have the impression here that every project is intended to be professional, even if it’s a small garage space doing an opening of young artists. We try to think more about how to do what we want rather than what money we can make from it. Or else you go crazy and get frustrated. 

Brice Guilbert

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Originally from Montpellier, Brice is a sound and visual artist living in Brussels since 1997. He Studied at La Cambre, Brussels, and has had a solo show, Roland Garros, at Island Project Room (April 2013).

After I graduated, I made music. I made an album and it sold well. Then I was a teacher at La Cambre for six years. I started my art career as a musician, professionally speaking, and I was able to live off my music for a few years but I never stopped drawing. At different points I had a studio or I worked at home. I tried to survive on my art, and I’ve sold a fair few pieces at expos. It would be nice to be represented because it would offer a certain level of comfort, but I’m not in a hurry to find a gallery. In fact, I signed contracts too quickly when I was involved in the music business and I realised that sometimes I would have been better off waiting for the right people. It’s the same in art, I’ve had offers from galleries, but I am waiting for the right one. Maybe when we are young we are less selective because we think being represented must mean we are successful.

I co-founded a space called Island one year ago with Sebastien Bonin. We knew there was a rich local scene that wasn’t represented and we decided to make a place where we can show our own work and also the work of people who, like us, have not found a gallery. In Brussels, we found that there were people who had a hard time finding a place and remaining free, without getting swallowed by the gallery. We want to offer shows a bit on the fringes, that allow the artists to remain free. I think it’s good that anyone can start an independent art space; we are not a gallery. In New York and Paris, you have either galleries or art in squats. We wanted to do something between the two.

Kelly Schacht

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Kelly is originally from Roeselare but lives in Ghent. She studied Sculpture and Installation at KASK, Ghent and is represented by Meessen De Clercq, Brussels.

I’ve never had a regular day job, not on a permanent basis. For short periods I was a guest teacher in an art school and I did run a couple of workshops. My graduation project turned out to be the start of my ‘career’ as an artist. It was selected for ‘Coming People’ and presented at S.M.A.K in 2006. I got in contact with my first gallery and I have been working with a gallery ever since. It’s a combination of luck and hard work, I guess. I also won the Young Belgian Painters Award, which also helped a lot of course. I’ve never considered doing anything else, although I have my doubts about the large number of structures and systems that tell me how I should work. I think  I’m in a moment of transition. I got a bit tired of the way some institutions – or people inside institutions – work. The other week I sent myself a letter saying I was resigning. But how can you resign if you don’t really have a job? Maybe I should make myself one? I don’t mean business-wise, it’s not about the money. I think I have to find a different approach. Maybe the question should be: “Who am I reaching? How do we move people?” Last year, I participated in a Chinese and South Korean Biennial. Even there I was confronted with a very Western and archaic way of handling things. I also realised there is a lot of politics involved. We’ve constructed a very complex art system. I think we need to question our objectives. I really love art for what it is. But maybe I want to take it somewhere else. I realise I am also a product of that Western art market. I just wonder if this is the way it’s supposed to be. Even art schools have been institutionalised now. The market is structured around that as well, although the art world is only a small section of society. One of my goals would be to get connected with a broader as well as a different audience, not only the ones who go to galleries and who are ‘trained’ to look at art. It’s just too limited for me. I think it should not only involve this audience. The premise of art should be broader.

Vadim Vosters

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Originally from Colmar, France, Vadim came to Belgium when he was six and today lives in Brussels. He is represented by different galleries.

When I was 16, I was making wall paintings and earning money. Eventually my paintings became darker and less “likeable”, and they didn’t sell well anymore. But I think an artist has to challenge himself constantly. The outside world won’t think you’re credible if you keep on doing the same thing again and again. You have to surprise yourself to surprise the audience. I make work to communicate, to have a relationship with society and human beings. I studied Law for one year, and I wanted to become a politician. But art is something that lasts a long time, while in politics one moment it’s this kind of politics, and then suddenly … In the arts the message can be written in all messages in all times. The ultimate goal would be to make a masterpiece that many people around the world understand. There is a big art scene in Ghent. I went to Berlin seven years ago and after a while I came back to Belgium. It’s at the center of everything. It’s close to London, Cologne, Frankfurt… and many international artists and galleries came to Brussels. Every city tries to be the place to be. But Brussels doesn’t do this.

Anna Michalska

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Originally from Poznan, Poland, Anna moved to Brussels in 2001. She studied Sculpture in the Royal Academy in Brussels. She is an installation and performance artist.

I present myself as an artist, but it’s a very big word. I say that I’m trying to be one. I have a day job in an art shop, but I would love to be able to survive from my art. I think everyone dreams of that. There is something very interesting about working in a shop: you’re in the real world, you talk with people. You’re not in this bubble of the art world. It’s important to know how life is outside. Art is for everyone, and if you don’t know the needs of people, it’s very hard to be on the right track. I think I’m somewhere in the middle between the art world and the real world. I’m not very good at selling my work. It’s not very easy to sell, since installations need a big space and aren’t easy to move. It’s easier to sell photographs of the installations. It’s very important to me to know how people are feeling when they see my installations, when they walk in these spaces. It’s important to know how people feel inside, and if it’s important for them. If you don’t do something that is real, then people will not react. I think people will notice it if you don’t put your heart and soul into it. I prefer to feel things. Creating is my ‘raison d’être’, I have to create. I can’t do otherwise. When I’m not working on my installations I’m making stuff for my apartment or for my friends. I’m really unhappy when I’m not creating things. It’s more than therapy – it’s what I am.