“Flexibility is crucial.” How OUTLINE reflects on surroundings and its inhabitants to create art.

The best things in life are free, and that includes the annual art festival PLAN B in the rural town of Bekegem in West Flanders. As a counterweight to the numerous expos and performances one finds in urban cities, PLAN B gives young and emerging artists the opportunity to create an artistic free space in this not-so-common scenery. Through residencies, they enter into a dialogue with this environment and its inhabitants, showcasing their results between 1st and 2nd September. During these two days, various art forms will be explored, boundaries will be crossed and the unexpected is to be expected as Belgian artists and creatives from further abroad will showcase new and existing work. We’ve selected five artists and projects you cannot miss.

OUTLINE perfectly fits in with this concept of exploring the influences of your surroundings: an initiative created by two graphic designers and two photographers who all graduated from Utrecht University of art, they frequently collaborate with a dynamic mix of other artists. The project, which is a continuously evolving platform to encourage exchanging stories and references, was first started in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the group organised several events and workshops as an analysis of locals’ scepticisms, but soon became a celebration of community and creativity. Here, the creators tell us how the process of making art can become art itself.

At its core, what is your work about? How would you describe it?

OUTLINE is a continuously evolving platform for exchanging stories and references. For the past year we’ve focussed on Sarajevo, and this summer we’ll be diverting our attention to Bekegem. The project was initiated by two graphic designers and two photographers – Tjobo Kho, Wouter Stroet, Maite Vanhellemont and Jan-Pieter ‘t Hart – but also consists of a dynamic mix of individuals who have participated, shared and contributed along thee way. Until this point, we’ve realised several events such as workshops, film screenings and exhibitions as well as releasing a publication. Although these outings may sound all over the place, they have always had the same starting point, more or less: facilitating exchange and dialogues between individuals. At its core, its hands-on research on immediate environments through encounters with the people we meet and your personal surroundings. Having an action-reaction approach to that specific moment in that specific context will always result in something personal and time/context-based.

What is its starting point and statement?

Our starting point is curiousity towards unknown territories and its inhabitants, with an awareness of our own context in someone else’s stories, home, history or habits.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

In our case, flexibility is crucial: we consciously choose to not plan everything out in advance. We feel it’s important to leave room for improvisation. A lot of the time, improvising and going along with whatever comes is the only possible way to artistically deal with situations that are unknown to us. That being said, the main thing we can prepare for are the facilities to start archiving these encounters and observations. So, in the end, we’re (hopefully) drowning in content and ideas to work with.

What characterises your work?

It’s worth mentioning that it’s never just our work. Although OUTLINE is initiated by the four of us, we meet people along the way during our research, who then become a part of OUTLINE as much as we are. Amongst others, they are artists, writers, filmmakers and teachers. It’s this collaboration – in the first place between the four of us, and then with everyone who is interested in participating – that’s characteristic of our practice. The four of us are all different makers and personalities, with varying working methods and frames of reference, which is very stimulating in an artistic collaboration. And as mentioned before, the process kind of becomes the purpose in itself, so archiving becomes a big part of our practice and characterises our practice the most.

How do you actually work on a piece from start to finish? And how did you start making your specific piece for PLAN B?

As stated above, we don’t plan much. In the case of PLAN B, we have an idea of what we’d like the outcome to be. We’re looking to make (live) radio and/or audio works and are aiming towards a physical publication. But how we’ll do this and what exactly it’ll be comprised of is still partly undecided.

What were your initial thoughts and expectations on Bekegem? Did they change, and how do you plan to counter them?

We didn’t expect much: we already knew beforehand that Bekegem is a small, typically Flemish village, and therefore would be very different from the working conditions in Sarajevo. There’s no creative community (that we know of yet), no busy, vibrant streets, no unknown urban districts to wander through. We’re excited to see what comes out of us being here, how the people of Bekegem will respond to us, our questions, our ideas and what we ask of them.

A lot of the time, improvising and going along with whatever comes is the only possible way to artistically deal with situations that are unknown to us.

What is, in your opinion, inspiring about Bekegem’s rural context?

We’ve only been there once so far, but we really liked the picturesque surroundings and the almost filmset-like streets.

Do PLAN B and Bekegem lie outside of your comfort zone, and do you happen to have a step-by-step approach getting out of it?

It definitely does. The only plan is to see where the friction brings us, and to be flexible along the way. We just want to get there and see what happens!

What series and/or project are you currently working on?

Currently, our entire focus is on Bekegem and PLAN B – but we’d also really like to return to Sarajevo in the near future to continue the collaborations we had during our project over there.

What does success look like to you?

Meeting people and holding conversations on the verge of agreement and disagreement; recognising and discovering.

To you, what role should contemporary art occupy in the community?

Art should, in this case, work both ways. It would be a pity if the inhabitants of Bekegem would view the artistic manifestations in their village as a closed door, as something that doesn’t fit into their frames of reference. Then again, we don’t have any reason to believe that this will be the case. We hope that all parties involved get something from the experience.

Art festival PLAN B will be taking place on the 1st and 2nd of September, in and around Bekegem. Additionally, an extra exhibition in which the works are reinvented will take place from 20 to 23 September at Gouvernement in Ghent.