All shades of Brussels. Why So Serious?! – A photo exhibition

Why so serious posterWhat comes to your mind when you hear Brussels? Politics, terrorism, rain? Or Magritte, beer and waffles? We are 5 Cultural Studies Students from KU Leuven who decided to shift the stereotypes about the “heart of Europe” and show the fun side of Brussels. The photo exhibition “WHY SO SERIOUS?!” will be held in the city center from 7th MAY till 24th MAY 2018.

Make laugh, not war

Serious faces on the news, worrying reports from the borders and difficult agreements during the EU summits: the media space makes life in Brussels quite sad. But Belgium and its capital are more than grey skies and grey jackets: the joy of creativity and the unique sense of humor never abandoned this place. Whilst designing the exhibition, we all fell in love with the idea of promoting a positive visual image of Brussels.

How to start?

When the initial idea was born, the next step was to dig deeper. And what’s better to dig deeper than jumping into the past: How did the ‘Bruxellois’ have fun 30, 50, 70 years ago? In our quest for the vintage ‘Bruxellois’, we bumped into an immense photo archive – shout-out to EUROPEANA, apparently the place to be when it comes to images. We found photographs that made us laugh: cows in the streets on a leash like they were dogs; well-dressed, seemingly serious men making fun of themselves by jumping over the friend’s back in an elegant suit… No need to say why we wanted to display these pictures.

Why so serious

© KIK-IRPA, Brussel

Competition and the prize

While vintage photographs are a great way to have a look into the past, we realized that  there is much more going on right now in Brussels. We began wondering how we could capture (and display) the fun and humorous side of today’s Brussels, and the answer suddenly presented itself to us: a photo competition. Fun, surreal and completely crazy photos from Brussels’ streets and houses are welcome – anyone can participate. What do you get? To exhibit your picture right in front of the Central Station in the touristic downtown of Brussels. We already received plenty of the most amazing, weird submissions and had lots of fun arguing whether the portable toilet in the middle of the road is more hilarious than the boy carrying a huge zebra on his back. All in all, we are close to the final selection and look forward to seeing your smiles at KU Leuven Campus Brussels very soon!

We willl open the expo with a VERNISSAGE night on the 7th May from 19:00-21:00 where drinks and snack will increase your visual joy of the exhibition.

Do come, have fun and please, don’t forget to reserve your place for the vernissage here:

Riana Musschoot, Margaux Bertier, Elizaveta Dmitrieva,

Mira Caroen and An-sofie Tratsaert

Why So Serious?!





KU Leuven Campus Brussels

Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères 26, 1000 Bruxelles


Dates & Hours

7-24 May

7:00 – 19:00 Monday-Thursday

7:00 – 18:00 Friday

Closed during weekends and public holidays

“Analyser une adaptation. Du texte à l’écran”

By Jan Baetens


Jean Cléder & Laurent Jullier

Analyser une adaptation. Du texte à l’écran

Paris : Flammarion, 2017 (« Champs Arts »), 410 p.

ISBN : 9782081395954 (15 euros)



For many years, adaptation studies have been the core business of film and literature studies. The often sterile debates address issues of fidelity as well as the progressive opening of adaptation studies to other media than just film and literature. Co-authored by two leading French film scholars with an impressive pedigree, Jean Cléder and Laurent Jullier, this important book helps reframe both issues, while breaking new ground in this vital field of research.

On the one hand, Cléder and Jullier propose to study adaptations as interpretations, that is, as new works that offer a certain point of view and a new perspective on the adapted work. A clever and nuanced answer to the many problems raised by fidelity discussions, since it avoids direct comparison of source and target, while at the same time keeping a creative relationship between both. On the other hand, Analyser une adaptation demonstrates the usefulness of sticking to close-reading and meticulous exploration of the verbal and the audiovisual, whose medium-specific features should not be discarded in favor of a more generalizing, for instance historical or cultural examination (which does not mean that the historical and cultural context of the analysis is neglected in this book).

The importance of this publication exceeds, however, these global and more institutional considerations, for Analyser une adaptation, which I hope will soon be translated in English, is really the book for which all film scholars, theoreticians as well as teachers, have been anxiously waiting (in that regard, I would like to compare the possible impact of this book to that of Jacques Aumont’s 1990 The Image, a game-changer in the field of visual studies). I would like to foreground here four qualities, each of them already remarkable in itself. First of all, this book demonstrates the possibility of making a technical, even microscopic analysis of adaptation, and it does so with the help of many, excellently chosen examples. The analysis of the “distance” between character and camera, an often -overlooked feature, is a significant renewal of the well-known but not always correctly understood close-up/medium shot/long shot approach. Second, the book succeeds in encouraging its readers to start loving this kind of technical analysis, sometimes considered boring or shallowly mechanic. Cléder and Jullier show very convincingly that extreme close-reading matters and that it discloses key aspects of film adaptations. Third, this book also offers a two-way approach of film and literature, paying as much attention to the verbal adaption of images as to the audiovisual adaptation of texts, thus creating (finally!) a more encompassing reading of word and image in the field of film studies. Fourth (but certainly not last), Analyser une adaptation is a work that proves helpful to both scholars and students. The former will find in it an invitation to rethink many of their concepts and perhaps attitudes. The latter are offered a hands-on approach of adaptation that will prove supportive in more than just the classes on cinema.


Arty as Experience

By Jan Baetens


John Updike

Always Looking. Essays on Art

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

This is not a new book and many readers may find it pathetically old-fashioned. Yet this collection of writings on art with a capital A by an author often discarded as typically WASP is doing what so much modern art criticism seems no longer “capable and willing” of doing, as we are asked by the air hostess when boarding the plane and being offered an exit seat: to make critical judgments, taking into account one’s personal, subjective, individual point of view, but always in a kind and gentle way, written in an elegant and jargon free language, and addressing the reader as a partner in a polite and cheerful conversation.

Updike is never on the lookout for the new or the surprising. The selection of the art shows he discusses may even seem horribly conformist and conservative, unpleasantly biased toward the Western canon, and dramatically reluctant to revise canonical values and classifications. With some slight American exceptions, Updike’s taste –even in the hypothesis that he is doing nothing else than accepting well-paid commissions– almost naturally brings him to the masterpieces of Western painting (things become suddenly American when sculpture is involved, and this sculpture is always bigger than life as in the case of Oldenburg and Serra). And his writing is that of the mild and smiling guide, who hints at what is to be seen and discusses what others –mostly the authors of the catalogue, which is as important a part of a big budget exhibit as the works themselves– have to say on it. It reads marvelously, a real feel good experience for those who do not want to read romance novels.


Yet Updike is also a very sharp and ruthless judge, who is not afraid of saying things nobody else would say. As an outsider –after all, he did not have to make his living as an art critic– he is not only repeating what the artistic community so noisily repeats, he also dares to show the emperor’s new clothes. His remarks on Serra are exemplary in this regard. While underscoring the strength of some of his sculptures but quoting some sophisticated babble of the specialists, Updike concludes “All this steel devoted to scrambling our habitual perceptions? Wouldn’t the funhouse or Ferris wheel at the country fair do just as well?” (p. 192).

This remark ties in with the preface of the book, in which Updike, who first wanted to become a cartoonist, shows the modest, if not “silly” books that made him an artist: the Mickey Mouse “Big Little Books” of the 1940s serious readers would no longer allow their children to read. That a high-brow and apparently conservative writer such as Updike opens a book like this with praise of what is anything but “the best of the best” is a kind of manifesto –no fists raised of course, since this is Updike, but a lesson on the lasting effects of a real artistic experience (to quote John Dewey, that forgotten founding father of cultural studies).


A universal Belgian

By Jan Baetens

In these days of globalization, including global culture, it might be useful to recall the old humanist ideal of “universality”, that of the uomo universale (and please do not read the term “uomo” in gender-biased terms) who develops his faculties in as many fields as possible and who manages to do so thanks to the general (that is: nonspecialized) education s/he receives and eventually implements in his or her life as scholar, artist, scientist, but also citizen. Today, this ideal has come under pressure, but many examples of great men and women remain to demonstrate how challenging and necessary this ideal of universality remains in today’s society.

img768Simon Leys (pseudonym of Pierre Ryckmans, 1935-2014) is a great example of this humanist ideal. As a law and art history student in Leuven and the representative of a students’ magazine, he was offered the possibility to go to China for one month, an experience that dramatically changed his life. He started to learn Chinese and, after his graduation, left for Taiwan where he defended a PhD on Chinese painting before moving to Hong Kong and eventually Canberra and Sydney, Australia, where he became a professor of Chinese culture. Ryckmans had to take a pseudonym when publishing the book that made him world-famous, The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution (1971), the first critical account of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

It would be unfair, however, to reduce Leys’ work to his political writings. The anthology just released in the Espace Nord series, which had already reissued his best-known novel, The Death of Napoleon, gives an excellent overview of his exceptional diversity. It gathers essays on his three main passions: China (Leys is considered one the best scholars on Chinese culture and painting; he has also translated Confucius in French as well as in English); the sea (in this book one finds for instance an amazing personal testimony of his journey on an old-fashioned sail fishing vessel and thought-provoking comparisons of literary and nonliterary authors fascinated by the sea), and of course literature (a field in which Leys has worked as critic, translator, and novelist).

What strikes most in all these texts is the quality of writing as well as thinking –and it is of course the convergence of these qualities that make Simon Leys such a “universal” author. Leys’ prose is as fluent and crisp as it is jargon-free and permanently open to broader questions, while the discussion of more general issues is systematically supported by literary and cultural examples and insights. Read, for instance, the essay on his experiences as translator, which are also a great example of how to live with, and thanks to, the other (if not in service of him or her). Or take the essay on the issue of heritage in Chinese culture, which departs from a paradox, at least for us Westerners: China is simultaneously the country that succeeds in keeping its traditions alive and that systematically destroys the material traces of its past (all those interested in heritage policy should read this text in order to understand the problematic character of our Western definition of “authenticity”, which we have ridiculously fetishized).

Oh, you don’t read French? It’s never too late to learn it (as Leys himself understood very well after his first trip to China). In the meantime, you can have a preview by reading these texts in English (and Leys is smart and universal enough to repeat that the original is not always better than its translation).

Simon Leys, La Chine, la mer, la littérature. Essais critiques (Brussels : Espace Nord, 2018)

ISBN : 978-2-87568-250-5 ; 378p., 9,50 euros