Let's Religion

Vanderborghtgebouw / Bâtiment Vanderborght

Vernissage 16/05 – 18:00 - 20:00
Exhibition opening hours:
17, 18, 19, 20/05 – 17:00 - 23:00
Performances every day at 21:45
(±30min)
NL / FR / EN

Famous for continually reinventing theatre practices and having a taste for collaboration, the Brussels collective Transquinquennal is now joining forces with visual artists Denicolai & Provoost on a surprising project. Appearing to rekindle the close relationship that has long united art and religion, the team invites us to an art fair of sorts. This will feature works produced after a simple request to the people in charge of all the religions – official or otherwise – in Belgium: what can we as artists create for you? An indictment against religion? Not at all. Created as respectfully as possible, these commissions do not question religion; instead they question art, this contemporary form of transcendence. By gradually becoming liberated from its relationship with patrons, has art acquired true autonomy? Or is it a myth, lulling us in the illusion of freedom while reinforcing the dominant ideology? Let’s Religion or the promise of one holy experience!

A project by
Transquinquennal, Denicolai & Provoost

Performed by

Bernard Breuse, Simona Denicolai, Stéphane Olivier, Ivo Provoost, Miguel Decleire & guests

Assistance

Léa Mayer

Technical direction

Charles Gohy

Management

Céline Renchon

Presentation

Kunstenfestivaldesarts


Production

Transquinquennal (Brussels)


Co-production

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Netwerk/centrum voor hedendaagse kunst (Aalst), BUDA kunstencentrum (Kortrijk)

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Panorama

In the autumn of 2008, the group Transquinquennal set up a project entitled Blind Date. It took the form of a series of ten shows performed at the Théâtre Varia in Ixelles, a real-time blog published throughout the period of creation and performance, and later on a publication.
As is apparent from the title, one of the driving forces of the project was the group's desire to produce some unlikely professional encounters, leading to original and even uncomfortable work and therefore introducing some dynamism into the creative process. The principle was as follows: over a ten-week period, this group of three writer-actors - Bernard Breuse, Miguel Decleire and Stéphane Olivier - created a new show every week based on a subject suggested by a surprise guest who works in a different domain, for example in science, psychoanalysis or journalism. On the Monday morning, they discovered the identity of this surprise guest, found out the subject which the latter had put in writing and also met new collaborators chosen by a trustworthy person without their involvement. They then put together the show during the week until the Friday evening when a single show was performed at 7pm.
These collaborators, in contrast to the guests suggesting the topics, mainly came from the arts world, but not necessarily exclusively theatre. A comic strip artist, film-maker and dancers therefore took it in turn, working alongside the group to produce a variety of propositions, testing not only everyone's artistic practices but also the general conventions of theatrical performance which can suddenly appear behind the features of an inhabited sculpture, an imaginary landscape suggested by a silent and mysterious arrangement of objects and characters in the space, or even a psychedelic TV series, multiplied on screen and in reality.

For the tenth and final performance in the Blind Date project, Transquinquennal met the duo of visual artists, Simona Denicolai & Ivo Provoost - in the same impromptu way. They worked on a topic suggested by a lawyer, Emmanuelle Bribosia, which dealt with the complex legal question of "reasonable accommodation in religious matters". This can be synthesised as the expression of the legal difficulties encountered in maintaining consistency between equality in law and equality in deed: in other words, the obstacles that should be avoided so that laws which are supposed to guarantee everyone's freedom do not by chance lead to the discrimination of some. This legal consistency proves to be particularly fragile in religious matters, both associated with and removed from the civil domain, which can contain personal principles that do not always echo the ones on which society as a whole is supposed to be based. One example that has attracted the most media attention is the law banning clothing which obscures the identity of the wearer and leads to the exclusion of women wearing the full veil in accordance with their beliefs.

Back from this ad hoc collaboration and in the process finding that they share strong artistic affinities, boosted in particular within the concentrated setting of the Blind Date project on the religious topic mentioned above, Transquinquennal and Denicolai & Provoost devised a follow-up collaboration and added an additional dimension.

Under the generic title of Let's Religion, they set out to explore the kind of social issues revealed by a proposition like Emmanuelle Bribosia's by taking the first and highly incongruous step of writing to all religious congregations that have even the smallest contact with the public in Belgium. In the letter, they sincerely and respectfully ask: "What kind of commission could religion give artists today?" The various religions, from the most official to those most on the fringes, were invited to come up with a commission on a topic and in a formulation of their choice to which the artists try and respond using their own artistic methods: answers that are then presented to an audience in the unusual context of a "performative fair/ exhibition".

Starting from the belief that artists and men of religion are motivated by the same faith in an absolute which was shared for millennia until both sides worked out what this meant and what its consequences were, Transquinquennal and Denicolai & Provoost want to resume the dialogue. The aim is not to postulate a new form of mystical or transcendental creation, but rather to question the idea of belief and above all its propensity for creating social cohesion based on so-called universal foundations (in the same way that justice, personified by the lawyer Emmanuelle Bribosia, attempts in its magnanimity - but doubtless still lagging behind - to encompass all sensibilities under the same benevolent rule). Meanwhile this is all taking place in a period in which the evaporation of belief and social cohesion is being accentuated.

In the case of Denicolai & Provoost and Transquinquennal's initiative, this ambitious reunion of art and religion is not being done in ignorance of the general context in which they are operating. The idea is not to create yet more individuality by isolating the hypothetical duo of art and religion in an ivory tower from the world as it is today without even questioning their profound differences. Rather it is about immersing them in it fully, putting them to the test in order to obtain the desired outcome. The entire circumference of the panorama has to be presented, like the one in the Waterloo Museum where - in a single 360-degree view - all the battlefield details are depicted on a 110x12 metre canvas by the French military painter Louis Demoulin.

To ensure this panorama is faithful to reality and comes at the most suitable time and in the most suitable space for welcoming a range of discourses, in the spirit of liberal democracy in which it is taking place and that characterises the start of the twenty-first century, it is important to find a compromise for its place and formula which is likely to suit everyone. In other words, one that is sufficiently neutral and malleable so that everyone can commit to it. This gave the idea for the space of the performative fair/exhibition on the one hand and the principle of a commission on the other.

The performative fair/exhibition seems to be the most versatile place, one in which the artistic practices of Transquinquennal and Denicolai & Provoost meet, as well as religious practices and those of many other factions, since it can resemble a council, an internet forum, a parliament or an art fair (like the famous ArtBrussels fair held in spring every year in Heysel which is preceded by the wedding fair and a property fair) or indeed even a TV stage or shopping centre. In other words, spaces that could not be more familiar or globalised.
As for the commission, it is what historically unites art and religion on the most prosaic level. It proves to be the smallest common denominator between these two worlds, but also the most concrete one, and this relationship of the commission of a product or service (here, an artistic one) is also what undeniably characterises a large number of exchanges taking place in the contemporary world. While the performative fair/exhibition and the commission are believed to be a good compromise, they may also prove to be counterproductive if viewed from another angle.

Let's Religion, conceived by Denicolai & Provoost and Transquinquennal, suggests that audiences and anyone approaching this project - including its designers - become aware of the ambivalence governing the project which also metaphorically governs society as a whole.
Going wherever people's sensibilities take them, arguments are developed for and against the metaphors of the performative fair/exhibition and the commission. Some say that the performative fair/exhibition is a good example of the type of minimalist, depersonalised space that surrounds us increasingly (to the point of guessing its design and materials in advance). Meanwhile others believe that, like seating in a metro train, in a space where a growing number of people have to live and move round, it is preferable to go for the simplest, the most practical and the most robust.

As for the commission, some state that it is the symbol of a growing commoditisation in human relationships, of our tendency to impose restrictions on others and, through it, our vision of the world and our impossibility of conceiving of a relationship that is not about economics. In contrast, others maintain that in the principle of a commission you can glimpse a real plan for society. Or that the commission would definitely introduce a basic debate concerning beliefs and opinions. Or that rather than stifling everyone's creativity and convictions, the commission and its limitations could introduce some dynamism and emancipate them. In the meantime, everyone involved in this project - from the artists and religious congregations all the way to the audience - will have taken a stand.

Yoann Van Parys (April 2012)
Translated by Claire Tarring

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Simona Denicolai & Ivo Provoost have worked together as visual artists since 1997. Within the aesthetic and political intimacy of their artistic digestive process, they repeatedly test the artistic freedom that is tolerated. In their work, the right to exist of places on offer to the artist in our so-called western democracies is challenged using several media and manifestations and in various fields. Denicolai & Provoost explore the signs and limits of public space and the public image in relation to intimate space – a means of diversion from the real by establishing temporary occupations. They examine exchanges between different worlds through the use of familiar languages such as customs and popular codes. For them it is about circulating energies, establishing systems of exchange in a collective mode. They willingly open themselves up to collaborations with others.

Transquinquennal is a Brussels-based theatre collective set up in 1989 by Bernard Breuse and Pierre Sartenaer. The company’s work is based on representation on the one hand and collective functioning on the other. Theatrical representation is regarded as a reality shared by the actors and spectators which is allowed for as such. The collective dimension implies the autonomy of the project’s actors and creators, and their support for all the terms of representation, in order to exceed conventions and come closer to the representation of a multiplicity of forms. By confronting proposals, the challenge in the work is to achieve the greatest radicality possible, both in form and substance. The group explores contemporary writing, either in collaboration with authors (such as Philippe Blasband, Eugène Savitzkaya, Rudi Bekaert and Oriza Hirata) or by experimenting with various forms of collective writings. As of 2012, the collective consists of Bernard Breuse, Miguel Decleire, Stéphane Olivier and Céline Renchon. Recent projects include Capital Confiance (with the Toc group, 2010), Fishing Around (with Olga de Soto, 2011), L’un d’entre nous (by and with Tristero, 2011), and La Estupidez (by Rafael Spregelburd, 2012).

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