With its roots stretching back to the forties, the Prix de la Jeune Peinture Belge has earned its position of prestige as Belgium’s seminal art prize. Since its first run in 1950, the main Gillion Crowet Prize has been granted to names like Pierre Alechinsky, Ann Veronica Janssens and Berlinde De Bruyckere. In an attempt to keep pace with the changes that have been shaking up the art scene the past few decades, from this year on the Prix de la Jeune Peinture Belge will have a new moniker: The Young Belgian Art Prize. The Word spoke to laureates chosen by the international jury from a selection of dozens. We kick off the series today with Paris-born Brussels-based Félicia Atkinson. Next up: Jean-Baptiste Bernadet.
How did you end up taking part in this year’s edition of the Young Belgian Art Prize?
The people behind Komplot (where I have my studio) encouraged all the artists who share a working space there to apply. They’ve always been very supportive and pass all the opportunities they hear about on to us. And then there’s Bartolomé of course, my partner with whom I run Shelter Press. He encourages me a lot too. Every single day.
Which themes do you touch upon most in your work, and what defines and shapes your approach?
My work deals with matters of abstraction, with avant-garde as a resistance to established shapes. I adopt improvisation, colour, space and time through drawing, painting, sculpture, noise music and installations. Space and colour are of highest importance to me.
Almost everything I do is made in-situ, transforming the exhibition space into a studio during the week prior to the opening. For the Young Belgian Art Prize, I set up an installation called Through the Quiet Axis, All the roads Are Circular, with Bozar’s Rotonde Bertouille as the location. It revolves around the concept of revolution: while it’s turning, it’s changing its axis. Constructed out of wood, paint, paper, plants, clay and silk materials, it’s a quiet and colourful riot inside of the museum. I look at it as a deconstructed reference to Radeau de la Méduse or Prise de la Bastille; I’m making a statement.
The organisation that runs the Art Prize asks participants to show recent or new work. In what way has your personal oeuvre evolved throughout time?
During the month of May alone, I exhibited at the Artist Comes First festival in Toulouse, at Lieu-Commun Art Space, as well as at the MUCA Roma Museum in Mexico City. I sense that due to this intensive concentration of exhibitions, my work has shape-shifted. Regarding every new exhibition space as a temporary studio makes my artwork very receptive to the space and context in which it is made.
I began working at Bozar on the very day I got back from Mexico, with the spirit of the Teotihuacan pyramids and the crowded streets of Mexico still burning within me.
This time, for the Bozar show, I asked Valerian Goalec to help me with the wooden structures, which I painted and installed afterwards. It was the very first time that I needed to prepare in advance. I found it both challenging and interesting. Making schemes and plans was totally new for me; it made me feel like an actual adult.
Do you have any expectations concerning the influence this nomination as finalist will have on your life or career?
I don’t know. So far, it has already been a great experience; the entire preparation process, being able to benefit from a production budget, the support that I get from my friends… I’m a free bird, though. I produce experimental music as well as running Shelter Press, a non-profit publishing house. To me, art is crucial and existential, but I don’t use it to express power or strategy. I don’t have a career plan, I just want to be able to keep on doing what I want to do, preferably with the support of genuine people who understand, exhibit and support my art, even though some others will perhaps never understand it. It’s an everyday battle, but one that’s filled with joy and surprises. Like Neil Young said: “Keep on rockin’ in the free world.”
Which other artists do you feel should have been nominated?
As I don’t know that many artists in Brussels, I really can’t say. I hang out more with musicians and graphic designers than artists. I think the jury made their decisions wisely and was composed of very interesting people. I must say that I am impressed by all of the nominees from this year’s edition. The show was promoted properly and it’s going to be great. I feel honoured to be a part of it.
How do you feel about the idea of art being judged and promoted through competitions?
I’m used to being judged in the sense that when you make and perform experimental music, you can feel the audience. Sometimes they like it, sometimes they don’t. They can be pretty harsh actually, but I like to take risks, I’m a tough one. That’s why I do noise music and pretty raw art that explores the ephemeral, non-commercial objects, abstract forms and sometimes even chaos. I like to play with the unknown.
What I can tell is that I did my best and that I feel honest and convinced about what I’m showing. What happens next doesn’t depend on me anymore. I can only keep my fingers crossed.
Opening 26 June , 18h45
Bozar Centre of Fine Arts, Rue Ravensteinstraat 23 – 1000 Brussels