MIDI/ZUID

05/05/2004 - 23/06/2004

AgencyAline Bouvy & John GillisNathalie MertensSophie Nys

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Les interventions artistiques étaient de l’ordre de l’infiltration  du tissu urbain. Il s’agissait principalement de performances, d’imprimés et d’objets qui mettaient l’utilisateur et l’habitant en relation avec l’artiste dans l’espace public. L’idée de se concentrer sur le quartier du Midi était motivée par le déficit de représentation de ce quartier dans le Parcours d’artistes et par le manque d’ancrage symbolique du quartier en général qui est souvent vécu comme un non-lieu.

Nathalie Mertens a travaillé sur l’interaction avec les habitants en distribuant une carte postale représentant des vues du parc Germaux à la Porte de Halle. Le jardin public fermé depuis quelques années est devenu une véritable réserve naturelle de plantes sauvages en pleine ville. Les habitants ont beaucoup apprécié cette manière de profiter du devenir de cet espace public.

De la même manière, Alain Géronnez donne une image « touristique » du quartier de la Gare du Midi dans sa brochure J’irai revoir ma norme Midi. Associant textes et images, il retrace l’histoire récente de ce quartier en pleine mutation. Le ton oscille entre mélancolie et fascination envers cet espace urbain plein de surprises. A la manière du flâneur de Baudelaire, il arpente les rues de la commune depuis des années pour y capter des images du quotidien dont il relate les petits accidents. Cette brochure déjà culte, fut distribuée à la Gare du Midi dans les bureaux de tourisme, au marché du Midi, dans des cafés à Saint-Gilles et dans le Parcours d’artistes.

Alors que ces artistes exploraient l'in-visibilité et la rupture dans le flux de la vie quotidienne, Kobe Matthys a travaillé sur l’invisible : la gare la nuit. Que s’y passe-t-il ? Il est annoncé sur les portes qu’elles seront fermées entre 1h45 et 4h du matin. L’artiste invitait chaque samedi, les gens à venir à l’heure de la fermeture pour une rencontre inopinée, sans but, si ce n’est d’être là. La première rencontre fut mal vécue par les gardiens de la gare qui se sont sentis agressés par cet attroupement incongru. La deuxième rencontre a plutôt créé du stress pour les participants qui n’arrivaient plus à sortir de la gare. En effet, il est possible de rester dans la gare pendant sa fermeture mais on ne peut évidemment pas en sortir. Le lieu public devient un espace clos dans lequel on peut se retrouver enfermé. Le troisième rendez-vous s’est déroulé encore différement dans le sens où les gardiens n’ont pas fermé les portes. Aucun réglement intérieur de la SNCB ne mentionne cette fermeture.

Yvonne de Grazia a abordé la fictionnalisation de l’espace public en redoublant le son de la rue par une bande son de rue issue de films. Cette intervention sonore permettait de souligner l’aspect énergique et dynamique de la ville mais elle était aussi vécue comme une pollution sonore par les passants. Diffusé dans une voiture ou sur une chaîne hi-fi portable, la bande son voyagait dans le quartier pour un décalage sonore en couverture du son ambiant.

Sophie Nys a produit 15.000 sacs en plastic jetable à l’effigie de I LOVE BRUSSELS distribués sur le marché du Midi. Ces sacs qui ont inondé le marché de leur logo en forme de cœur rouge, ont rencontré un franc succès. Les maraîchers les trouvaient attractifs au point de vouloir les acheter! Même si le message du sac était ambigu quant à l’appréciation du devenir architectural du quartier.
 

La diffusion de l’imprimé s’est déroulé autrement pour la brochure WAKE UP d’Aline Bouvy et John Gillis. Distribuée à l’aide d’un mini mégaphone par des faux prédicateurs dans la Gare du Midi et le Marché du Midi. Proposant un voyage intérieur, textes et images inspirés du psychédélisme et de l’écriture sous influence constituent une alternative ludique et parodique des mouvements spirituels. Les passants étaient sollicités par un groupe de trois personnes qui les enjoignaient à changer leur vie. Les réactions étaient aussi diverses que les personnalités rencontrées. Certains, amusés s’arrêtaient pour prendre une brochure, alors que d’autres détournaient le regard. La performance fut autant perçue comme une mise en scène que comme une manifestation de prosélitisme d’une nouvelle secte.

La pièce la plus visible était celle d’Olivier Stévenart puisqu’elle était la seule à être fixée dans l’espace public pendant trois semaines. Il s’agissait d’un boulard ou bitte d’amarrage située à l’entrée de la gare du Midi côté avenue Fonsny. Encerclée de couleur jaune au sol, le boulard en forme de champignon géant, se détachait très fortement du fond de pierre grise du porche. Dans ce lieu de passage très fréquenté  où les passagers attendent leur taxi ou leur chauffeur, la sculpture s’est transformée en mobilier urbain. Les adultes l’utilisaient comme banc et les enfants comme élément de jeu. A la fois complètement intégré urbanistiquement et complètement saugrenu dans une gare, le boulard était à la fois symbolique et pratique.

Natacha Clitandre invitait les habitants à la rencontrer au café Verschueren pour éditer leur portrait audiovisuel ou textuel sur internet. Elle a fait sa publicité à travers des affiches qui la représentaient. Son image de jeune femme de couleur était accrochée en pleine période électorale sur les vitrines des commerces. Dans les cafés devant la gare du Midi, ce fut une expérience intéressante de voir cette affiche voisiner avec des femmes limitées dans leur liberté par leur profession de péripatéticiennes.

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Published in Arhitext, 2005:

 

Dear Estelle,
To avoid sounding like we are 'shouting the praises' of one of our own projects, I propose we create a sort of mnemonic ping-pong on the MIDI /ZUID project.
It took place in June 2004 in the neighbourhood of the same name around the TGV terminal at the South train station in Brussels. We lived close to it and were shocked by the style and the function of the new buildings around the international station. No trees, no places for children, inhabitants expulsed, squats and then a grey zone. It resembled a catastrophic erasure and we wanted to point to this situation with the money of the government! After inquiring about the process of speculation that had taken place there, we realised the public and private powers had aimed at the same goal. They wanted cheap offices to maximize profitability but in the end planned too many and could not even afford to finish them all. The local council simply wanted to 'paper over the cracks' and use art in an instrumental role, however we saw this as a starting point for a public space art project that would implicitly imply the public. We asked Brussels based artists, not exclusively those who were concerned with public space issues, what they would do in this particular context to create a piece that would exist for one month and catch the eye of the public who moved with great haste through the surrounding area, not wandering or stopping, since it is not a pleasant place to be. For example Alain Géronnez made a tourist brochure about the space, with images of the trash, refuse and demolished buildings that proliferated around MIDI/ZUID put together with a text which evoked the elements that had disappeared from the landscape. This brochure was then distributed at the tourist desk in the station... But what do you remember from the project?

Dear Sonia,
I arrived in Brussels in September 2003 and I was implied in the project from March 2004, a month before it started. I was especially intrigued by the proposal made by Aline Bouvy / John Gillis who asked me to participate in their project Wake Up; a street performance that referenced the type of slogans used by American "street preachers" who announce the end of the world and exhort people to be conscious of social and political problems. Aline and John coached us : Wake Up would take place in the train station between 5 & 8 pm on a Friday night, we would try to sell a pamphlet for 1€ which contained drawings and texts by the artists and would preach with a microphone, proposing a mental trip to the passers by : “ Wake up, the world is waiting for you”, “Buy Wake Up and miss your train”, “ Do not leave before reading it”, etc. What was intriguing was the naivety of people, only a few asked questions and were suspicious towards us whilst others immediately understood that it was an artistic performance. We were able to mimic the fundamentalist discourse of religious sects and almost nobody reacted. It was in a way a very cynical approach to the use of public space. Aline and John adopted a religious posture (predication) to introduce their own work and sell it to people who assumed it was real predication. What was the truth? Where is the real lie? We would answer honestly to people asking questions about the pamphlet confirming it was made by a couple of artists living in Brussels. But we would also retain an element of confusion by not stating it was an artistic project in the public space. The artists critique was also to raise awareness in people about what surrounds them, about what is happening principally in this distinct neighbourhood. Another compelling experience was the project by Agency; unfortunately I could not be there. What was the project exactly and how did it work?

Dear Estelle,
I remember being in the train station at 1AM with Kobe Matthys (Agency) witnessing it being closed and locked up. He wanted to make visible a “detournement” of the law by the station authorities: they close the train station at night whereas by law it is considered as a street with rights of public passage. On the contrary, the local authorities consider it not as a train station but a mall bought by a private company to be used as a zone of commerce. Kobe invited the public to visit the station at closing time, every Saturday for one month. Some people show up to participate and were imprisoned in the station when the guards locked the door along with the homeless and those who had missed their last train. The guards started to recognize our group and adapted their behaviour from one week to the next:  they went from being openly aggressive to finally ignoring us which prompted a member of our group to break a door to escape. That reaction to a claustrophobic moment of imprisonment was spectacular, as it followed a meeting with the local council where they tried to put a stop to this action by Agency; arguing it was putting the public in danger and highlighting an "unfriendly" part of the neighbourhood. It was a surprising experience for Kobe who in addition handed out a copy of the legal regulations concerning the use of the space to both the guards and members of the public who were supposed to have a public transport ticket to remain in the station for the night. No object resulted from this action which took as its subject the invisible and I find that attitude very elegant in this situation. Not to leave a physical trace of the action but for it to rest only in the memory of the people present who then pass the story on to others. But do you remember the other actions we made during the market that takes place every Sunday next to the station?

Dear Sonia,
I recall the Sunday market which was literally swamped by the white plastic carrier bags “I Love/Hate Brussels” of Sophie Nys. It was a very remarkable infiltration vis-à-vis the surrounding social architecture. I found it interesting to draw attention to this popular Sunday market where there is still what we can consider a "real" cultural mix between the migrant population of Moroccans, Turks, indigenous Belgians and curious tourists. These white plastic bags which were handed out for the use of each market trader, were in a way a metaphor for globalization and standardization, something which today also impacts upon the street market, as one finds it is no longer an inexpensive place to buy food and it is possible to buy the same produce at the same prices in the supermarket or corner shop. Diversity, along with a creative relationship to consumption, has disappeared.

...

Dear Estelle,
As a last example of what happened in the project MIDI/ZUID, and in opposition to most of the others, which were oriented towards actions made through interaction with objects, publications and the public, I wish to speak about Olivier Stévenarts (OSTA) piece. It was a bollard that he had taken from a harbour: a very heavy object that he placed at the entrance of the station and highlighted it by means of a yellow square on the floor. The sculpture very quickly was recuperated by the public and became a seat for people waiting. In a way it evoked in the minds of the passer-by travel by boat which is much less common today as a mean of transportation. The object which pleaded for a romantic vision became a piece of urban furniture and I liked the idea that it was pragmatically used, a banal and also a beautiful object. To conclude I will ask you if you remember how hard this project was to set up and how good it was as an experience. How strong were the reactions to it in positive and negative?

Dear Sonia,
Yes it was quite difficult to set up as we had to work with the local cultural council whose artistic interests where completely antithetical to ours. However the project was a success in relation to the array of proposals that were carried out which reflected a diversity of critical approaches. In spite of the fact that there were street performances, postcards, publications, sculpture, collective actions, the project was in the end quite homogeneous and not formatted. Not all the projects were successful but there was a kind of 'anti-establishment' tension in the different actions and performances which brought a real sense of vivacity to the project.


To conclude on the possibility to criticize the urban environment and look at changes that occur everyday, I would say that most of the proposals made by the artists for the MIDI/ZUID project were on one hand ephemeral actions and on the other hand very cutting and effective. It is a utopia to think that artistic actions such as street performances can change something but I think that even a minuscule action can change the way people look around them. It makes life livelier. What is significant is the ability to intervene, in a small way, into people lives and propose something alternative, new or simply curious.

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