Vincent Meessen has been selected to represent Belgium at the 56th Venice Biennale this year. For his exhibition title Personne et les autres: Vincent Meessen and guests, Meessen has invited several international guest artists – all research based artists like himself – to create work focussed around the Belgian colonisation of the Congo Free State.
The title, Personne et les autres, is borrowed from a lost play by André Frankin, a Belgian art critic affiliated with the Lettrist and Situationist Internationals. As its points of departure the exhibition takes the history of the Belgian Pavilion and the international context of the Biennale. The Belgian Pavilion itself was the first foreign Pavilion to be built during the reign of King Leopold II in the Giardini in Venice. King Leopold II was principally remembered for the founding and exploitation of the Congo Free State, which was subsequently handed over to Belgium in 1908. Meessen’s work and artistic research have consistently explored the history and afterlife of colonial modernity.
The artist’s project moves away from the traditional format of a solo show and opens up the Pavilion to include multiple positions and voices. Working in close collaboration Meessen and Brussels-based curator Katerina Gregos have developed a thematic exhibition and invited a number of international artists to participate. By bringing together the practices of research-based artists from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe, Personne et les autres challenges traditional notions of national representation at the Venice Biennale.
Central to the exhibition concept is a new work by Vincent Meessen filmed in Kinshasa. This piece will explore the largely unknown participation of Congolese intellectuals within the last international vanguard of modernity: the Situationist International, whose final conference took place in Venice in 1969. Belgium’s colonial history and its strategic role in the Situationist International – through key figures such as Raoul Vaneigem – form a crucial backdrop for understanding twentieth century political and artistic avant-gardes in Europe. In exploring this aspect of the Situationist International, Meessen’s work uncovers hidden episodes in the interrelated histories of art, popular music and activism, which are considered within a larger musical and trans-cultural context.
Personne et les autres examines a shared avant-garde heritage, marked by an artistic and intellectual cross-pollination between Europe and Africa. The exhibition investigates unknown micro-histories and revisits a range of hybrid cultural and intellectual forms challenging the idea that modernity as we know it, is an entirely European concept.
The exhibition focuses not on the colonial history of Congo and Belgium, but on colonial modernity and its ongoing relation to artistic and intellectual radicalism. Exploring both adverse and positive cultural outcomes of colonial history, it reveals artistic and intellectual dialogues and exchanges formed during colonisation and liberation struggles in the aftermath of independence.
Participating artists include amongst others:
Mathieu K. Abonnenc (1977, French Guiana; lives and works in Metz)
Sammy Baloji (1978, Democratic Republic of Congo; lives and works in Lubumbashi and Brussels)
James Beckett (1977, Zimbabwe; lives and works in Amsterdam)
Elisabetta Benassi (1966, Italy; lives and works in Rome)
Patrick Bernier & Olive Martin (1971, France; 1972, Belgium; live and work in Nantes)
Tamar Guimarães and Kasper Akhøj. (1967, Brazil; 1976, Denmark; live and work in Copenhagen)
Maryam Jafri (1972, Pakistan; lives and works in Copenhagen and New York)
Adam Pendleton (1984, USA; lives and works in New York)
The exhibition is curated by Katerina Gregos.