Contour Biennale is one of the most easily recognizable, large-scale exhibition platforms in Belgium: a unique initiative engaging with local and international artists who focus on the moving image and its wider representation in installations, sound and performance. The 9th edition of Contour will take on a whole new form.
The projects presented during Contour Biennale 9: Coltan as Cotton are inspired by and relate to the city of Mechelen, its inhabitants and, more broadly, Belgium’s recent colonial history. It also poses more general questions about how to position a biennial, whom a biennial addresses and whether we can find sustainable ways to work on a biennial. The curator, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, has designed this edition in phases: a continuum of projects in various formats, in contrast to earlier editions when the biennial ran for 10 weeks. Between September 2018 and October 2019, three major public presentations and several other events will shape the Contour Biennale 9: Coltan as Cotton. These phases will be aligned with the lunar cycle, one of our most natural rhythms, which induces a cyclical conception of time. The title is borrowed from the poem The Bear/Coltan as Cotton by the slammer, musician and poet Saul Williams.
Artists will show newly commissioned films, installations and performances that explore entanglements between the decolonization of structures, mind and history in Belgium (in particular Mechelen), and the need for practices of degrowth and solidarity to be intertwined more profoundly with contemporary artistic practices. Many of the works have been made collectively with residents and organisations in and around Mechelen. During the three phases (in January, May and October 2019), there will also be a programme of talks and debates, including roundtable discussions and workshops led by the artists and invited contributors.
Contour Biennale 9: Coltan as Cotton will be held on 11-13 January, 17-19 May and 18-20 October 2019.
About the Curator
Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez is an independent curator, editor and writer. Among the projects and exhibitions she curated are Show me the archive and I will tell you who is in power at Kiosk, Ghent (2017, with Wim Waelput), Let’s Talk about the Weather at the Sursock Museum, Beirut and Times Museum, Guangzhou (2016 and 2018, with Nora Razian and Ashkan Sepahvand), Resilience. Triennial of Contemporary Art in Slovenia, Ljubljana (2013), transmediale.08 at HKW, Berlin (2008). She was co-director of Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers (2010–12) and co-founder of the network Cluster. She was chief editor of L’Internationale Online (2014-2017), and chief editor of the Manifesta Journal (2012–14).
The Waxing Crescent Moon Phase – 11-13 January 2019
The lunar cycle is one of our most natural rhythms. We are attuned to it either consciously or subconsciously. Its movement in time is cyclical, and it resembles the mediaeval hermetic symbol of the Ouroboros, the snake biting its own tail. In our conception of linear time, the three phases of the Biennale that will be aligned to the lunar cycle – the three public presentations that will be held in 2019 – can be seen as forming a dramaturgical triangle with its peak at the full moon, growth as its prologue and degrowth as its epilogue. It includes an opening onto a future that repeats itself, at least to an extent, time and time again. In one of his recent talks, the choreographer Faustin Linyekula evoked the word lóbí in Lingala, which literally means adjacent day, and can stands for either yesterday or tomorrow, according to the context and verbs in the sentence. In analogy to lóbí, the three phases of the Biennale will place an emphasis on the present moment in which they are actually happening, but in that presence, there is always a certain evocation of the past and the future.
The first of the three phases is aligned with The Waxing Crescent Moon Phase, the moment which follows the New Moon. During two days, lectures, performances, screenings, installation and discussions will address the themes and associations related to a state that comes just before the completion, of a phase that is in progress and in growth. With a special attention to the past and how it carries within it the seeds for any moment in time, particular questions will be situated in contemporary Belgium: who is writing the history of colonisation and migrations, who is struggling for decolonisation, and who is creating the futurity of blackness within Europe.
The Full Moon Phase – 17-19 May 2019
The second weekend is aligned with the Full Moon Phase. This is mainly associated with completeness, sustainability, responsibility and accountability. The projects presented in this phase are critically engaged with the ongoing state of colonialism in former empires such as the former French and Belgian colonies, where colonialism makes itself felt in multinational extractivism activities or national and international laws for newcomers.
The final exhibition and presentation of the collective research by the alliance of schools and academies from Belgium, France, UK and Hong Kong will be held at Thomas More University in Mechelen. This Transnational Alliance accompanies the Contour Biennale and focuses on discussing certain practices with the new generation of cultural and social producers and artists. Topics such as ecological debt, environmental racism, decolonizing social relations, degrowth, hope, care, and solidarity represent not only the content with which they work, but also the materials, techniques and methods of that work.
Enough Room for Space, Brussels, and Marjolijn Dijkman have been organizing LUNÄ Talks at the time of the full moon, in reference to historical Lunar Society meetings in the second half of the 18th century in England. Their talk for Contour will address the intersections between technology, infrastructure, extractivism and Silicon Valley culture, as well as the possibility of lithium replacing silicon as the key technological resource and element. The LUNÄ Talk is part of the On-Trade-Off research collective.
2019 marks 25 years since the Rwandan genocide. Christian Nyampeta has been engaged with the question of how to live together. Christian situates this question in post-genocide Rwanda. He will lead contemporary Rwandese poetry and philosophy readings inspired by the “evening school” format designed by the Senegalese writer and cinematographer Ousmane Sembene, along with a group of guests, and present his new film.
After a symposium co-organised with Netwerk in Aalst in October 2018, Daniela Ortiz will present her video The Empire of Law, a proposal for transforming colonial monuments and a testimony to the artist’s anti-racist activism concerning the European law for the newcomers.
In collaboration with the social organisation Straathoekwerk Mechelen and their project Piraten van de Dijle, Maria Lucia Cruz Correia’s Flotation Island will launch a raft that will literally float on the Dyle in the centre of Mechelen. On it they will stage an attempt to create a real utopia that will evolve over several hours, involving a handful of experts in future survival techniques.
Coyote is a cross-disciplinary group concerned with art, ecology, ethnology and political sciences. Their project from the root to the transplant will follow the entanglements between the concepts of grounding and transplanting and their historical, territorial, and political paths through a series of meetings, workshops, drifts and collective exercises with local groups of agricultural ecologists.
A continuum of projects, workshops, debates and events will span from September 2018 to May 2019 and address the current critical political and ecological moment through the lens of the particular urban, social, and political conditions of in and around Mechelen. Topics such as ecological debt, environmental racism, decolonizing social relations, degrowth, hope, care, and solidarity will represent not only the content within which to work, but also the material, technique and method of that work.
The cross-disciplinary alliance We Cannot Work Like This: Decolonial Practices and Degrowth brings together several departments of academies and universities in the region in Belgium, France, England and Hong Kong, and enables that students work together in each of their schools on a proposal for sustainable, decolonial and inclusive practices in relation to, on one hand, cultural institutions, and on the other, their own professions (artistic, architectural, design or research- related). The students are invited to look at sustainability through the self-reflexive, intersectional feminist, anti-capitalist and anti-racist lens. The participating professors prepare a joint curriculum and discuss it with the students in each of their schools.
The aim of this alliance is that it stirs interest for creation of a legal document or charter that would promote sustainable and decolonial practices for the institutions and for the practitioners themselves.
Members of the Transnational Alliance are HISK (Ghent), Department of Architecture, Hong Kong University (Hong Kong), St. Lucas School of Arts (Antwerp), School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art (London), Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Antwerpen), Thomas More University (Mechelen), Ecole de recherche graphique (Brussels), Ecole européenne supérieure d’art de Bretagne (Rennes), Open Design for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, KASK (Ghent).