In 2015, Mons – a small city in the French speaking part of Belgium, famous for its seasonal festivals and picturesque architecture – has the honor of being proclaimed the European Capital of Culture.One of the city’s ways of celebrating such an occasion was to organize a large, multi-spaced exhibition in collaboration with Wiels Contemporary Art Center, Brussels in the Manège de Sury, just a 15 minute walk from the Mons train station. The history and the background of this specific location are woven into the concept of the exhibition, which revolves around the issues of migration, diaspora and cultural dislocation.
The name – and the spirit – of the exhibition is inspired by the thoughts of the Martinican writer, poet and literary critic Édouard Glissant, whose books can be found in one of the installation rooms. His philosophical propaganda proposes a perfect cosmopolitan structure of a society, open to globalization and exchanges of culture and identity.Through his ideas, every artist in the exhibition invents a new utopia, an ideal city that represents global circulation and stepping out of frames.
The exhibition not only refers to these very current questions, but also puts parallels between the history of the Manège de Sury and the modern era of digitalization and unlimited communication. The place once used be a Civil Guard barrack, was later a convent school and then served as something that could be defined as a “place for a better life” while the early industrial emigration took place in Europe. In the near future, the Manège de Sury, renovated and relocated, will serve as a new cultural platform for the exchange of digital data and technology. Therefore, the Atopolis exhibition is an artistic reflection that is jammed in between the past and the future changes of this space.
The exhibition features new works of artists such as Saâdane Afif, Nevin Aladağ, Danai Anesiadou, El Anatsui, Kapwani Kiwanga, David Medalla, Vincent Meessen, Walter Swennen, Lawrence Weiner and Jack Whitten. For the first time on display are pieces by Yto Barrada, Vincen Beeckman, Benoit Platéus, and Thomas Hirschhorn. Also presented are works of Francis Alÿs, Walead Beshty, Huma Bhabha, Vlassis Caniaris, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Meschac Gaba, Jef Geys, Adrian Melis, and Diego Tonus.
Afif’s performative piece takes place outside the Manège de Sury, in one of Mons’ many little squares, and leaves behind a permanently installed object. Visitors can see this performance, as well as the live concert in Aladağ’s Music Room, on certain dates that can be checked with the staff at Manège. Hirschhorn’s interactive installation room, which visitors are welcome to transform, explore and write upon, also offers screenings. Guided tours and children’s workshops are available.
(SIC) asbl, a publishing house and gallery in Brussels, has produced what can be described as an entire book rather than an exhibition catalogue for the occasion. Four authors: Jan Baetens, Yves Citton, Yoann Van Parys and Elvan Zabunyan, have written essays investigating the link between the produced works and artists’ identities in the diapason of the socio-cultural questions raised. The outcome is twenty-something texts with illustrations, photographs and handwritten comments along with other texts more closely related to the subject of history, technology and communication.