Can you describe what you do? Where you are based, the neighbourhood you live in, your daily routine, the people you work with, the scene you feel the closest to.
I’m a filmmaker and photographer living in the 2060 district of town. I primarily make visual essays that use the tension between literature, film and photography by emphasising specific textures in image, sound and word. When constructing soundscapes for my films, I like to work with sound artist Lydia Debeer and sound designer Bert Aerts. The words in my films took shape in the past through collaborations with Charlotte Van den Broeck and Maartje Wortel, among others. I don’t really have a daily routine, even though I sometimes do long for one. My films and photographs are primarily based on landscapes, and I try to travel a lot to shoot footage, which makes it hard to have a certain daily routine.
How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
Antwerp is a city easily understood and covered. Everything is accessible, everyone knows everyone, and one can feel at home very quickly. That is, at least, seen from my comfortable position as a white, middle class citizen. Because of this, a village-like feel is never far away. However, Antwerp possesses a few characteristics of a metropolitan city. There is, for example, a great cultural diversity (even though it isn’t always visible). The tension between Antwerp as a village on the one hand, and its ambition to become a great metropolis on the other, offers interesting dynamics for newcomers. Yet, after having lived in Antwerp for 24 years, I feel that Antwerp-the-village is gaining too much of the upper hand. I notice that I go out to other cities more often, and feel perfectly at ease with the anonymity I have there. This sudden urge to disappear into anonymity is a recurring feeling whenever I’m making a new film. I mentioned my urge to generate a strong, suggestive narration by combining images, sounds and words, which often confronts me with my personal relationship with images, and text. I discovered that I feel safe when making images and vulnerable when writing text. The restrained silence of the images I create seems more powerful than the explicit uttering of the words I write. Whereas text gives me a sensation of absolute exposure, making images provides me with a sense of shelter and comfort. It is exactly this tension, the dialogue between exposure and shelter, as well as a search for balance between these two extremes, that defines me as a person and therefore inevitably ends up in my films and shapes how I perceive living in Antwerp.
What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?
The fact that Antwerp finds itself at a junction of city and village seems to be the town’s strength. It’s a comfortable place where projects are easily realised when you compare it to other cities. It is, however, possible to break free from that comfort: when the village becomes too claustrophobic, we only have to redirect our gaze towards the city, and we’ll always find impulses and influences from a greater world outside of Antwerp. The city may well be a safe haven with family and friends, but on the other hand we are under constant threat of right-wing politics, which do not favour the cultural sector. This of course precipitates a great emergence of artists with a strong or radical opinion, and we know how to quickly find each other in a village-like metropolis such as Antwerp. This does not necessarily mean that the films I make are of a political nature, but rather that certain collaborations have become possible because I live here, because of the stronger self-presentation and presence of artists from all disciplines in Antwerp. Such collaborations are essential in these times of Trumpian mania, in which all things pointing to profundity and refinement are driven out of the spotlight.
The tension between Antwerp as a village on the one hand, and its ambition to become a great metropolis on the other, offers interesting dynamics for newcomers.
How would you say Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
By growing up in Antwerp, I’ve had the opportunity to develop at peace, yet was stimulated enough to sufficiently nurture that development. If I had grown up in a metropolitan city, I would have experienced the constant confrontation with the complexity of the city as overwhelming. Antwerp has always offered me the possibility to choose: it is a warm home, from which I only have to detach when I have the necessary energy, or when I feel the need to tread in lesser known territory. I’m quickly inclined to break away from places of comfort, and luckily this is possible. But the fact that it is my own choice when I do this has always given me a great sense of freedom. At the moment I feel a strong urge to travel, for which Antwerp is a perfect operational base. After some time I suppose I lean more towards a life in the metropolis: carefully guarding my boundaries has been very valuable in the past, but I’m starting to notice the urge to face the challenges of a more complex city, a city that is more difficult to fathom.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?
I find that there is a lack of diverse cinema. The few movie theatres often show the same, obvious choice of films (with the notable exception of Cinema Zuid). I mostly head down to Brussels for a bigger, better curated choice. Fortunately, De Imagerie recently started their interesting film nights (for example “Visite”) at Het Bos. Hopefully this can be the beginning of a broader-minded cinefile culture in Antwerp.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
I prefer to explore new cities by foot: most of all I love to stumble from one neighbourhood to another by coincidence. Therefore, I mostly find it important to create time to be able to notice the transitions between different areas. This is very attainable here: the city is small enough to walk through, the centre being only a small part. The thing I find particularly misfortunate about Antwerp, is that the city is partitioned in such a way that certain neighbourhoods are placed entirely outside of the “logical” parcours through the city. One will not cross the Seefhoek to reach a tourist attraction, even though this neighbourhood in many ways portrays Antwerp much more accurately than, say, the new “Quartier National” in the city center. There are, furthermore, several unique stores (for example the Solarshop) and restaurants (then I think of the Tibetan restaurant, Kunthun) to be found in Borgerhout and the Seefhoek, that make up an important part of Antwerp’s identity. I could not pinpoint one specific place that symbolises Antwerp, but fortunately the town is small enough to be experienced as a nuanced place.
A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth?
The best place to learn about legends and anecdotes of a city remains, in my opinion, its cafés. All stories about the city used to come together for me at café Witzli Poetzli, where I have worked for several years. It would be a shame, however, to reduce these lively narrations – inextricably connected to the world of the café – into one anecdote in this interviewing format.janacoorevits.be Photography Joke De Wilde