To the English the Menin Road, to the Germans the Ypernstrasse. Whatever the name, the trail connecting the cities of Menin and Ypres was a crucial strategic artery in a four-year battle over Belgium’s sovereignty. Now a rather mundane looking regional road, few would suspect its historic value while passing through. This upcoming summer, the four municipalities that were caught up in its war zone aim to change that. The drive from Ypres to Menin with Zonnebeke and Wervik in between has become the scene of an artistic effort rich in context and variety. Rather than spending 20 minutes on a boring car ride, you can now spend half a day discovering the artworks scattered all along the road.
Fitting into all sorts of initiatives to remember the First World War, a group of national and international artists was given free reign to design a creation inspired by the battle fought here. To the German duo Matthias Böhler and Christian Orendt this meant a collection of life-size soldier statues, each squirting red fluid out of guns and body cavities to create a pond of blood underneath their feet. Until September 25th this will be the haunting view in the middle of Menin City Hall. While the German team fashioned their monument especially for the occasion, works from local sculptor Georges Dobbels – who saw what the war did to his community up close – start off the tour in the City Museum ‘t Schippershof.
Outside of the traditional art havens is when the real journey starts though. All through the small villages of Geluwe and Geluveld, unusual locations reveal surprising creations. A high wooden pole by Flemish duo Robbert&Frank/Frank&Robbert carries the words: ‘Go away, sorrow of the world.’ If you’re a fan of the message and fancy having it on your jacket as you complete the rest of the tour, you can get a pin at the bar Het Kanon (The Canon). Another neon sign by French artist Claire Fontaine in a former town hall begs: ‘Please God make tomorrow better.’
These pleadings speak to the power with which the warzone disrupted the lives of the inhabitants along the Menin-Ypres Road. When these communities got shaken to their core, of course so did nature. For four years on end, the entire landscape was dominated by massive ditches hiding soldiers. With that in mind, parks and meadows along the road form a special stage for reflecting on one of the greatest tragedies of our time. Sometimes curious – like the monumental white statues by Belgian curator Johan Tahon – and sometimes striking – like the geometric sarcophagus that you can step inside to look out of a peephole onto a cemetery – these creations by 40 different artists have us looking back on a period and place that cannot be forgotten.
The exhibition runs from June 4th until September 25th. All of the institutions housing artworks are open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 10am until 6pm.