Back to your roots

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How do our ancestors, the land we walked on and the struggles we fought shape our identity? The new exhibition Mother(Land) in Z33 in Hasselt is looking for an answer to those questions. It’s the ninth edition of Currents, an annual group exhibition with work by recently graduated artists from academies in Belgium, Germany and the south of the Netherlands. We talked to the curators, Fenne Saedt and Lieneke Hulshof, about the theme of the exhibition, the background of the artists and the importance of physical art.

The artists deal with the people, moments and places that have shaped them. How did you arrive at that theme?

Lieneke: We visited 14 art academies in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, but we felt uncomfortable with the idea that we had to select a 'best of'. I mean, who are we to say what’s best? That’s why we looked for a theme that would allow us to approach the selection from a different angle.

Fenne: And the graduation works that appealed to us most all had something to do with the history of families and countries.

L: The theme also fits in with this time in history. The artists graduated in a very strange year. Many of them weren’t allowed to physically attend classes and studios, which is why they turned inward to their personal stories. It’s great that we can show this tendency within the exhibition.

Many of the artists weren’t allowed to physically attend classes, which is why they turned much more inward

The artists have different nationalities. Does that make them look at the past differently?

L: Definitely. Denys Shantar and Anne Arndt grew up in countries with communist histories. This background makes them look at their past in a completely different way than some of the other artists. The quest for their identity goes hand in hand with the quest for their motherland.

F: The title of the exhibition, Mother(Land), is also derived from a work by Denys. We found that term relevant for all the artists. It’s the place where you and your ancestors were born. Or the place where you got to know your friends because they can be part of your family too, as Seppe Vancraywinkel shows in his black-and-white pictures.

A family tree can be shaped in different ways. Is there a lot of variety at the expo?

L: In terms of content, the works have a lot in common, but they express this in a completely different way. There are paintings, epoxy works, sculptures, videos, textile art and even installations that are made on-site. Furthermore, the artists tell their own stories. They all started with the question: who am I, and how is that anchored in my history? But each answer is unique. For Telma Lemarchand, for example, this leads to her close family, whereas Theresa Weber made a sculpture based on the Greek gods Diana and Ephesus because she has among others Greek roots.

The artists all started with: who am I, and how is that anchored in my history? But each answer is unique

Were you confronted with your own history when composing the exhibition?

L: I come from a farming family that has lived on the same square kilometres in the countryside for a long time. When you grow up in a village, everyone knows each other and your group of friends often remains the same. Seppe Vancraywinkel’s pictures beautifully capture the enormous love that exists between friends who have known each other since childhood. When he told me about the village where he comes from, I recognized it a lot.

F: What also touched me in his story, is that although those childhood friends have moved to different cities, they like to return home from time to time because they know that those people will always remain a part of their lives.

L However, the search for your history can also be very hard. I have the privilege that my story is so clear because my ancestors have lived in the same place for a long time. But for Denys Shantar the quest is more intense because his past is torn by politics. And Lou Cocody-Valentino's has moved from Martinique to Europe and now lives at a great distance from a part of her family. She gives this distance a place in her installation by working with her memories.

You were selected as a curator with your proposal for a physical, tangible exhibition. Why was that important?

F: In the period that we pitched an idea, museums and galleries were closed and I sat in front of my laptop all day. What can you say about an artwork if you can't see the brush strokes or the fingerprints? I wanted to stimulate my senses again.

We selected very material works. You really want to see them in real life

L: Moreover, many academies are increasingly working from a theoretical, conceptual approach. With this exhibition, we provide a counterbalance. I believe that making art is also thinking from a certain material, not just coming up with a concept and then looking for a shape.

F: We selected very material pieces of art. When you see these pieces in a picture, you probably think: How big is it? What is it made of? You really want to see them in real life. At least I do.

What message do you want to spread with Mother(Land)?

L: We were looking for a story that everyone can relate to and don’t we all have a background, a family that shapes our identity? I would love it if someone who doesn’t know much about art visits the exhibition and recognizes his own story in a piece of art.

F: I hope that the exposition stimulates the visitors to think about their own identity. And many works talk about generational differences, so it would be great if grandparents brought their grandchildren to the show.



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