Personne et les autres
Vincent Meessen and guests
9 May–22 November 2015
The Belgian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale will present the work of the Belgian artist Vincent Meessen, together with international guest artists. The title of the exhibition, Personne et Les autres, is borrowed from a lost play by André Frankin, a Belgian art critic affiliated with the Lettrist and Situationist Internationals. The exhibition takes the history of the Belgian Pavilion and the international context of the Biennale (both derived from the colonial exhibitions and world expositions) as its points of departure. The Belgian Pavilion itself was the first foreign Pavilion to be built in the Giardini in Venice, during the reign of King Leopold II. Meessen’s work and artistic research have consistently explored the history and afterlife of colonial modernity.
The artist’s project, selected to represent Belgium at the Biennale, moves away from the traditional format of a solo show and opens up to include multiple positions and voices. Working in close collaboration Meessen and Brussels-based curator Katerina Gregos have developed a thematic exhibition and invited a dozen international artists to participate. Bringing together artists from the Americas, Africa, and Asia as well as Europe, whose practice is research-based, Personne et les autres challenges traditional notions of national representation at the Venice Biennale. The exhibition aims to reflect upon the legacy of internationalism—understood as the labour-movement theory inspired by Marxism and libertarian socialism, grounded in revolutionary processes, and advocating international solidarity—as a global emancipatory project.
Personne et Les Autres challenges the Eurocentric idea of modernity by examining a shared avant-garde heritage, marked by an artistic and intellectual cross-pollination between Europe and Africa. The exhibition probes the unknown micro-histories and revisits a range of hybrid cultural and intellectual forms produced as a result of colonial encounters.
Central to the exhibition concept is a new work by Vincent Meessen filmed in Kinshasa. This piece will explore the largely unknown participation of Congolese intellectuals within the last international vanguard of modernity: the Situationist International, whose final conference took place in Venice in 1969. Belgium’s colonial history and its strategic role in the Situationist International—through key figures such as Raoul Vaneigem—form a crucial backdrop in understanding 20th-century political and artistic avant-gardes in Europe. In exploring this aspect of the Situationist International, Meessen’s work will uncover hidden episodes in the interrelated histories of art, popular music and activism.
Personne et les autres focuses not on the colonial history of Congo and Belgium as such, but on colonial modernity and its ongoing relation to artistic and intellectual radicalism. Exploring both adverse and positive cultural outcomes of colonial history, the exhibition reveals artistic and intellectual dialogues under colonization, during liberation struggles and especially in the aftermath of independence.
Participating artists, include, among others:
Mathieu K. Abonnenc (b. 1977, French Guyana; lives and works in Metz)
Sammy Baloji (b. 1978, Democratic Republic of Congo; lives and works in Lumumbashi and Brussels)
James Beckett (b. 1977, Zimbabwe; lives and works in Amsterdam)
Elisabetta Benassi (b. 1966, Italy; lives and works in Rome)
Patrick Bernier & Olive Martin (b. 1971, France; b. 1972, Belgium; live and work in Nantes)
Tamar Guimarães and Kasper Akhøj. (b. 1967, Brazil; b. 1976, Denmark; live and work in Copenhagen)
Maryam Jafri (b. 1972, Pakistan; lives and works in Copenhagen and New York)
Adam Pendleton (b. 1984, USA; lives and works in New York)
The official representation of Belgium at the 56th International Art Exhibition – Biennale di Venezia is commissioned by Wallonia-Brussels Federation and Wallonia-Brussels International, with additional support from Eeckman Art Insurance. It is organized by the non-profit association Normal asbl. Curator: Katerina Gregos. Exhibition design: Lhoas & Lhoas. Graphic identity: Speculoos. Catalogue design & distribution: Mousse. Exhibition manager: Monique Verhulst. Co-ordinator of Karawane, project research seminar at ERG – école de recherche graphique, Brussels: Lotte Arndt.