In these troubled times, in which covid-19 is driving our bodies apart and the cultural sector is facing untold challenges, centre for audiovisual arts ARGOS in Brussels is nonetheless dedicated to reconnecting people through the binding power of the arts. In line with their commitment to involve an even wider and more diverse audience in their activities, ARGOS now wants to stay close to home and strive for further engagement with their neighbourhood, the Quartier des Quais / Kaaienwijk. We want to contribute to this endeavour by setting up a community building project that aims at connecting the residents of the Quartier by means of the audiovisual arts.
QUARTIER DES QUAIS?
The Quartier des Quais, or the Kaaienwijk in Dutch, is the old port district of Brussels, a neighbourhood with a century-old history. What used to be a traditional working class-neighbourhood, is now also an area known for its trendy shops. It’s a quartier that brims with life: asylum seekers, migrants, sex workers, city dwellers, … all of them try to make themselves a home here. Important landmarks are the Royal Flemish Theatre (KVS) and l’église du Béguinage – places where people come together to show their solidarity.
Who are the people living there? Do they feel at home in the Quartier? What does ‘home’ mean to them? And how did the pandemic affect their sense of belonging?
By sharing the individual experiences of the residents of the Quartier, we want to shed light on the cultural differences inhabiting the collectively shared commitment to ‘stay at home’ during the lockdown. But at the same time, we also believe that the audiovisual arts are able to address something universal in the individual of these stories.
That is why we put the stories of the people living in the Quartier des Quais at the centre of our project by linking them physically with places in the neighbourhood that are meaningful to them, while at the same time giving it resonance in the audiovisual works of the ARGOS archive. This concept resulted in our project called Quartier des Quais, Quartier de qui?
QUARTIER DE QUI?
Quartier des Quais, Quartier de qui? is a free audiovisual waking tour along characteristic places throughout Brussels’ Kaaienwijk / Quartier des Quais in collaboration with ARGOS, Kiosk Radio, iMal and Nadine, and is funded by the Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie (VGC).
We spoke to the different people living in the neighbourhood, collected a multiplicity of voices in English (e.g. of Andrea, ARGOS’ curator), French (e.g. of Mohammed, a young man who is participating in the manifestation for sans-papiers at the Béguinage) and Dutch (e.g. of Selim, co-founder of Toestand vzw) and made their stories available in seven podcast episodes. Visitors of the tour pick up a map with the route at the ARGOS bookshop or at iMal (or download the map online), scan the QR codes on the posters they can spot at the audio locations, and listen to the podcast episodes on their smartphones. In that way, the voices of the residents will guide you through the neighbourhood, while their stories bring the city back to life: we will be thinking of Léonard when we will pass by the washing saloon at Rue de Laken, reminding the life-lessons of Kadhija while crossing the Canal, as well as recalling Marie-Christine’s story when strolling through the small streets that connect the Canal with the Marché aux Poissons.
Brussels-based laboratory for contemporary transdisciplinary arts Nadine forms the video stop of the tour, where we present an experimental video selected from the ARGOS archive: a short film by Ria Pacquée (Running Around, 2015), who makes the experience of walking around in the city during lockdown very tangible. This video will only be available during the first weekend of our event (17 – 18 of April). Afterwards we will show a music video of Lucia Kagramanyan she made during lockdown, provided by KIOSK radio. Over the course of one month, every weekend we will make a video from the ARGOS archive available online, via ARGOS tv.
Of course, the challenges posed by the global health crisis have severely impeded the execution of this project (we had to adjust our concept many times), but at the same time these circumstances have made the need for intrapersonal connection even more urgent: paradoxically, they precisely formed an impetus to carry on and keep believing in the importance of a community building project.
Nevertheless we have come across some fragile points, inherent to any socio-cultural project fixed in time and space and bound by corona measures.
The first concerning accessibility: during the launch weekend, we did the tour with one of our interviewees who has a smartphone but no wireless Internet access, which caused him not being able to scan the QR codes. The same problem arises regarding the online screenings of the ARGOS videos. We had originally planned to solve this by placing screens and speakers at each location or volunteers who can hand out MP3 players and headphones, to prevent restricting ourselves in making another online event as much as possible. However, the Brussels police gave us negative advice on this at the beginning of April because of the new corona measures, which made us drop these alternatives in favour of a more coronaproof, but less accessible event.
The second being the aspect of sustainability: how to sustain the connections that are made over the course of the project, not only between the different socio-cultural players, but also between the residents that participated in Quartier des Quais, quartier de qui? Our goal was to create a dialogue with the neighbourhood itself; to get its residents open themselves up to the wide array of voices, living at the borders of their perception but within the same quartier. The stops/locations on our walking tour all share the same hopes for the neighbourhood they love and are nested in. However, a project that is fixed in time and space and subject to so many restrictions because of Brussels’ corona policy, complicates this wish severely.
Recently we received nonetheless the unexpected great news that VGC has granted us a project subsidy, which gives us the opportunity to carry out our original plans for the Quartier des Quais (uniting the people of the neighbourhood and its various socio-cultural players) this summer and organise a part II of our project – hopefully in better circumstances.