Transatlantic Modernism, Art and Cultural Mediators between Belgium and Argentina, 1910-1958

Picture1Have you ever thought of arts modernism beyond a Eurocentric perspective? Have you ever imagined modernism can be expressed alternatively? Have you ever known that there was a huge connection between Belgian and Argentine arts?

You’ll find all the answers in the exhibition “Transatlantic Modernisms” in which Cultural Studies Master students Sophie Baert, Anna Laganovska, Joachim Meeusen, Dahai Zhang and Catherine Zubkow participated as part of the course ‘Cultural Policy’. We are a multi-lingual, multi-national group of students from very different backgrounds, each with a unique perspective and strength to bring to the project.

Our project is part of the upcoming exhibition hosted by the Mu.Zee in Ostende that is about the artistic relationships between Belgium and Argentina between 1910 and 1958. “Modernism exists only within western and Eurocentric frameworks of thought”, but by following the connections, influences and exchanges of three key figures from both Argentina and Belgium during this time, the exhibition seeks to explore alternative histories in the trajectory of Modernism on a global scale.

The exhibition is built around three figures: the artist, the critic and the collector, as they are the personifications of the transatlantic relations and serve as the through-line of the exhibition. Victor Delhez was an artist from Antwerp who moved to Argentina at the end of 1925 where he continued to work and paint until his death. The art critic, Julio Payro, was an Argentine who spent his youth in Brussels where he made friendships with influential Belgian artists such as Paul Delvaux, which he maintained even after his return to Argentina. Finally, you have Ignacio Pirovano, an art collector and benefactor who maintained an intense friendship with Georges Vantongerloo, a successful Belgian artist. It was Pirovano who exhibited Vantongerloo’s art in Argentina and thus contributed to the overseas fame of this artist.  Thus, we decided to film a short video to introduce this fascinating relationship between artists from Belgium and Argentina.

The exhibition, which will be held at the Mu.Zee in Ostende, is scheduled to take place from February 20th to June 13th 2021. Please, follow the link to the museum’s website for more information about the exhibition:

IN/BETWEEN PLACES: and now online

Organized by the artists platform Place, the exhibition IN / BETWEEN PLACES was scheduled from March12 to March 19, 2020 at Ecole de Recherche Graphique (ERG) in Brussels. The show had to close the day after the opening for health reasons due to Covid-19. This special issue of Place devoted to the exhibition gives an overview of the works on display.


Curator’s word (Alexander Schellow):

We have been working on this exhibition for almost a year. From the very beginning it was clear for us that we wanted to create a space that could be experienced both physically and on screen – an online PLACE, if you want. It was also very clear from that the material realization of the exhibition should reflect our reflection on this paradoxical relationship between a real place and a virtual platform. For us, this proved the best way to answer the invitation made by an online magazine to transfer its works to the physical space of a gallery. In addition, this way of working seemed us most appropriated in the larger context of the shifting relationships between private and public spaces, which tend to merge through social media and other communication platforms.

What we could not foresee, of course, when planning the exhibition was how suddenly social and aesthetic realities would be turned upside down in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Suddenly everything that looked solid seemed to melt down and our usual ways of communicating and interacting were abruptly unsettled by new procedures and regulations which questioned all habitual social, political, and economic processes. What used to be smoothly handled behaviors and exchanges were blocked almost overnight. Our first reaction was a sense of loss and frustration when moving from actual people to their virtual doubles, endlessly multiplied but nevertheless insufficient when having to solve real problems. At the same time, the wish to make room for these new practices and experiences forced us to find solutions capable of relocating and rebuilding them in hitherto unknown and not yet imagined forms. This is what happens in these new places beyond physical contact and this is where our new lives are taking place these days.

On exactly the day of the opening of IN / BETWEEN PLACES the Belgium authorities put the country under lockdown. The decision came into effect the day after. As a result, we had to cancel the lectures and performances event we had planned for that day, while the exhibition itself could not last beyond the night of its opening, when the public was already marked by the gap between private and public spaces. What we had tried to achieve in the exhibition suddenly proved very consistent with what the visitors that evening had started to experience.

Both the exhibition and the conference program with its lectures and performances have now been translated, relocated and materialized as virtual spaces one more time, so that our project is capable of tackling the questions of place from a supplementary point of view. The IN / BETWEEN PLACES project undoubtedly gains a new meaning and pertinence: in the given circumstances, it comes to the fore as urgent, concrete and unintentionally prophetic.

This special edition of the online publication PLACE allows the project to evolve into a new hybrid space, going back and forth between a (in)accessible physical environment and a virtual one. By producing this move, the online (re)translation of the works and practices involved in the original exhibition, which it is now no longer possible to visit, offers the possibility to continue and reinvent its material and virtual traces in a new and open space.

Project Climate Crisis: WARM ALARM

Warm alarm logo

The fight to save our climate is certainly no new battle. As globalisation, access to information, technology and its accessibility have inevitably increased in modern times, with all the positive aspects it has brought, has also created  suffering and detrimental elements.  One of the largest negative impacts, brought on by numerous factors, is to our natural environment.  Often, the state of our climate  leads back to causes found simply in the habits of people’s daily lives, even by those amongst us meaning to cause no harm, and not meaning to induce global warming or break a hole into our ozone layer.  We contribute by simply enjoying  long, hot showers, driving alone in personal cars to work, or eating those delicious, yet very well-travelled, Argentinian steaks.

So what would be our approach in attempting to make a difference in this? Firstly, we wanted to reiterate and feed through our stream of ideas that this battle cannot simply be about telling people to stop using their home comforts and small ‘pick-me-ups’. Whilst they often do provoke climate issues, not only has recent history proven this approach to fighting climate change results in  little success, but the point is that there are people and organisations with far greater responsibility, whose influence and power hold much greater ability to make change. And so we would place our focus there: we would go to the government. Our second important factor is that it must be realised that the ‘climate issue’ is not a radical idea. We wanted to draw away from this perception that seems to have built up. The problem is simple, so let’s keep it that way.

At the time our project started out, we noticed that the Flemish government had very little policy regarding environmental issues. Their goal for 2030 was behind the goal set by EU standards, and there were no sections of policy with an environmental focus. Whilst there has been some improvement on this since October 2019, it is certainly not enough (forgive us for thinking that reducing a speed limit from 120kmph to 100kmph on a usually  slow-movement highway -due to traffic- is the most productive way to save this world). Our group questioned how we can expect people to make small changes, if the central government is not leading by example and implementing the changes that can have a big impact? So we decided to make it our goal to bring this to the attention of the Flemish government, with a focus on Flanders: on a small area, where we can make a big impact. And who knows, with the involvement of media outlets, perhaps our story could inspire others all over the world?

The idea was to fuel a letter campaign, to gather as many people as possible to ask the government for change. To do this we looked to two main sources: by utilising our student position in Leuven, and through involving members amongst Flanders’ influential and famous.

After carrying out research of our own and reaching out to organisations with expertise in both campaigning and environmental issues, we drafted the letter that we would use to approach a list we had collated of famous and influential people of Flanders, who we hoped would get involved. We were fortunate that our commissioning organisation, 30CC, held a number of links and contacts within the arts and cultural sectors to provide us with a starting ground.

Throughout the process, we thought long and hard about the best way of involving our fellow students. We planned to engage with student groups and use social media at its fullest force. We continued with these ideas throughout, but somewhere along the line we had a light bulb moment (a little later than we would have hoped, perhaps). We realized that one thing that so many students love is beer (or an iced tea for some), and enjoying each other’s company. With this in mind, we went about planning an event that would provide this social aspect, while adding to the impact that we wanted to make. The event was to take place in April at Fak Bar Letteren. The idea was that if people wanted to join in with our campaign, or at least find out more, we would be in Fak Bar Letteren, with music and beer, to tell you more and provide the writing equipment should you choose to join us. Our task and goal remained simple: we want the government to take action, something to help our climate. We want them to utilise the power and responsibility they have, and our voluntary participants could write this in whatever way they wanted. Participants during this event, would have a beer on us. “Save the world, have a beer”, as the saying goes (or as we say, anyway).

Warm a Logo

A sketch of our logo

Social media was going to be a great friend to us throughout this event, Not only to communicate that our plan to help the climate crisis need not be difficult nor scary or overwhelming, but to also share the web platform where example letters would go. This was to be a section on the website of 30CC, and would hold the example letters written by our famous supporters. On top of this, social media would allow the influence of the influential people to grow exponentially, both by increasing engagement with our pages and contributions, and by finding engagement among their fans and following, those who we may not have the chance to reach otherwise.

We were just about ready to go with these plans; the preparations were in place. We had contacted the influential figures, and the responses and letters to the government had begun to return to us. Fak Bar Letteren was booked, and the drink tokens were ready for our guests. Our web page was in the making, waiting for the letters to be uploaded and to be shared across Instagram and Facebook feeds. And then… well, we all know what happened next.

Even though our project cannot go ahead, in some ways it is not all bad. Research is showing that this tragic epoch may actually do some good for the environment; a silver lining if there is to be one, perhaps. And whilst we cannot host our event now, and it is certainly not the time to be asking anything from the government (we think they certainly have enough on their plate), we will pass on our research, plans and ideas to 30CC, so that they can be carried out, or at least be inspiration for related projects in times ahead.

We have, as a team and as individuals, learnt a great deal in this time, especially that the process of brainstorming and fixing ideas may take longer than expected, even if the solution, the bright idea, appears to have been there all along. And that’s okay. We’ve also learnt that the energy needed for making a project a success often comes from within the team, and whilst it may drop at times when the progress seems small, it will no doubt return fuller than before. And we have, without doubt, not given up the fight to change climate policy to be treated more importantly  by authorities. This plan might not go ahead now, but who knows where its inspiration will take us in the future, and what small parts of it that we will each take away will grow to become in future times and settings.

Digital D.I.Y. CAFe

According to annual tradition, the cultural policy event of the Cultural Studies program takes place towards the end of the academic year. This year the event is called D.I.Y CAFe and is organized by us: Cathelijne Jennes, Lan Jacobs, Laure Verstreken and Rani De Leener. The name stands for Do It Yourself Cultural Arts Fair event.

In normal circumstances the event would have taken place at STUK in Leuven on April 2nd. On this day the organizers would have provided a fair with multiple stands where the different groups could present their projects to the visitors. This would have happened within a cozy and homely atmosphere with appropriate lighting, plants, seats and of course a bar and buffet. The master students themselves would’ve provided the food for the buffet. Entertainment-wise, a screen printing workshop and a live concert of a band from Leuven, Arrandt, would have made this day complete.  

However, the corona crisis forced everyone in quarantine. As an alternative, the D.I.Y CAFe-team will present its online fair on May 25th. The Master’s students of Cultural Studies are busy creating fun digital presentations to explain the projects they have been working on for the past few months. Some of them will also talk about their experience during the organization of their own project or about the work process. This way, the online presentations will hopefully bring the same vibe of the original event into a digital space.

The name of the event is then easily explained. We named our project a CAFe, because we wanted to create the same vibe as a living room or a cafe where students of our age spend their spare time. Now, not only students can experience this living room style. With the digital CAFe everybody can learn about culture in the relaxed setting of their own living room. ​Moreover, we wanted to enhance the fact that the students started from scratch and finished with a complete cultural project. That is why we called our cafe, a D.I.Y CAFe

Our fellow students have put together some creative and original presentations of their projects. These projects varied from an exhibition to a video dialogue.

With this alternative version of the event, the D.I.Y CAFe team wants to reach everyone who is interested in the cultural field. Mark May 25th in your agenda and come over to have a look! We invite you to take a look at the interesting cultural projects of the students!