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‘Queen of the Bath Cities,’ Ostend is often defined by the grandiosity that ‘Builder King’ Leopold II envisioned for his seaside abode – just think of the Venetian Galleries or regal-looking squares named after princesses Stéphanie and Clémentine. Freshening things up on the far end of the city’s dike since 2011’s Beaufort is an otherworldly formation of monumental, dented rocks scattered over the Zeeheldenplein (or ‘Sea Hero Square’). Belgian conceptual artist Arne Quinze, who is no stranger to a little controversy, gave his Rock Strangers an electric orange hue, enhancing their appeal while at the same time alienating them further from their surroundings. It’s one of the most debated artworks in the Beaufort series, and recently, a lawsuit has been filed by an Ostend citizen who claims the piece takes away his view of the ocean.
Currently to be found overlooking the wide North Sea at Oostduinkerke’s Sint-André beach, Melita Couta’s faun is all black except for its golden horn that glistens in the sunlight. In its hands, it holds two gold fishes who display a vacant stare with their mouths hanging open, similar to the faun. The Greek mythological creature plays on an old superstition of Oostduinkerke’s fishermen and functions as a guardian while they’re out on the treacherous sea.
An alumnus of the very first Beaufort in 2003, the massive bronze sea turtle whose name references Thomas More’s 500-year-old book has become one of the best-known symbols of the Beaufort project. To discover the creative mind behind the giant creature, one only needs to look up at the figure riding it: the esteemed Jan Fabre himself. Both man and animal are looking towards the sea in this unusual self-portrait of the artistic jack-of-all-trades. Both are hoping for what so many people scouring the sea’s horizon hope for – a great, unknown Utopia. The work has left its former home on the Nieuwpoort beach for a thorough restoration, but will return to the same coastal town at a new location to prevent further damage.
Black baby sculptures with contorted faces climbing a public building – it could only be the work of Czech artist David Cerny. While their peers have been crawling up a Prague television tower ever since 2000, three of the babies made it to Belgium’s Blankenberge shores in 2006 for the seaside’s second triennial of contemporary art. They have stuck around ever since, disturbingly yet whimsically climbing the walls of the casino. In January of 2016, one of them tumbled down during a heavy storm, but the inhabitants of Blankenberge have been assured their third baby will be repaired and returned safely.
The other big Belgian name to participate in the opening edition of the Beaufort project alongside Jan Fabre, Wim Delvoye has conquered the conceptual art world with his Cloaca machine – a scientific apparatus that imitated the human digestive system to produce expensive turds – and tattooed pigs. Less controversial yet fascinating as well is the weathered steel Caterpillar sculpture the artist dropped on the Belgian seaside’s dike. Part of an ongoing series of Gothic works, the modern-day crawler tractor has been perforated with filigree, and a tower of the ornate medieval church kind has been added. The work meshes the worlds of today and yesterday seamlessly. While the original piece was moved to New York’s Ground Zero in 2003, Delvoye made a new version – indicated by the ‘bis’ in its title – that continues to captivate the passersby of the Westende dike.