There is an exhibition going on during the whole summer celebrating Belgian fashion in one of the most important art centres of Brussels. When I told my friend in Greece that I was going to go to it she smirked saying “Ha, what do Belgians know about fashion?”. I think it shows how much the general public ignores Belgian designers. But they exist and although they aren’t well known as Jean Paul or Giorgio or Calvin, they make their own history in fashion. A surrealistic and exquisite history as the country they come from. Why we should ever care for fashion and especially its haute couture side is another issue. But interestingly we do. Even the ones among us that will never wear a creation by one of these designers. Not only because they are outrageously expensive but mostly because they do not seem to be created to be worn but to be shown in catwalks and lately museums. So if we see it this way, the creation of clothes taken to the extreme, then yes, the art centre is the rightful place for fashion. I don’t know if the show in Bozar is quite representative of Belgian fashion – living here I had heard of a couple of names like Dries Van Notten and Nathan but that was about it. I didn’t know for example that Diane Von Furstenberg whose iconic wrap dresses are a hymn to feminity I love, was born in Belgium. I would like to have seen more about the early stages and the first fashion ateliers of Brussels but the curator has a different opinion. I would also like to have learnt more about the designers who work under other names like Dior for example. For me the most interesting part was the one showcasing three Belgian designers and explaining how their creations are interpretations of their personality.
Maybe because this is what I like about fashion too and why it interests me: because it is a chance to show everyday how you feel, to interepret and re-interpret yourself and play with gusto your minor role in the huge stage that life is.
The fashion show in Bozar left me with a bittersweet taste. Even the funny creations like the one made of supermarket bags or beach mats didn’t manage to supercede a taste of vanity and frivolity.
But then, my friend Florence had told me not to miss the exhibition by Pascale Marthine Tayou. And what a feast for the eyes and the soul that was. From the slightly cold rooms of the fashion exhibition you enter the exhibition of this Cameroonian artist and you feel you enter a warmer world. Immediately you are exposed to the most important things in life: food and sex. And after that it’s a whole trip to Africa, to the world, a back to basics view of the world. Tayou’s universe is one where many questions are set: what happens to all the plastic bottles of water we overconsume? What happens to the used pipes of fuel after they have been worn out? What is the place of tradition in a modern world? Why are women and men engaged in a continuous tug-of-war no matter which continent they come from? What are religions for?
Tayou was born Jean Apollinaire but he changed his name into Pascale Marthine (both his parents’ names and both feminine names) because he wanted to make a comment on how the frontiers between genres are not clear any more. In the same way races are (fortunately) not clear any more, you can find yourself deeply touched by a piece of art you don’t understand very well: The work called The Falling House made me think of my country (Greece) and of Europe. This is what I think is happening right now in Europe and people do not realise it: a typhoon is coming, our houses will fall on our heads and we are doing nothing to reverse the process. Tayou himself says: “This house suspeneded from the ceiling is the house of dogmas, of joy, of repsite, of fears, of frustrations, of unhappiness and happiness. We, the human race, are this house”. Maybe a disaster like this will save us after all…
The exhibition itself is a collaboration between Bozar and the Serpentine Gallery in London. From the photographs I see the works look much better in the London Gallery. But we have to do with what we have. For the people who live in Brussels I would say do not miss this exhibition. I would even propose to see it in combination with the Fashion one. If not for anything else because it will make you appreciate more the mere warmth and humanity of Tayou. If you aren’t persuaded you can have a sneek preview: Go to Bozar, enter from the main entrance and experience the huge colourful sculpture called Africonda: it smells of hay, of ground that was dry for a long time and then there was rain, it smells of childhood in a place that doesn’t exist anymore. It smells of something you long for but cannot name. It smells of desire, of sweat on a hot summer night when you can’t wait to take the clothes off your lover. It smells of how I imagine Africa.