Lina Lapelyte at Kunstenfestivaldesarts: 'I'd rather work outdoors than in a gallery'

Artist Lina Lapelyte at Brussels’ temporary open-air swimming pool Flow. “The work that Pool Is Cool does is social and necessary.”© Saskia Vanderstichele

The Kunstenfestivaldesarts returns at the beginning of July with an impressive eight-day programme. The musical performance What Happens with a Dead Fish? by Lina Lapelyte will certainly be an eye-catcher.

The Flow outdoor swimming pool next to the Pierre Marchant bridge over the canal in Anderlecht and built by Pool Is Cool and Decoratelier, is a statement against the shortage of outdoor swimming facilities and public recreation in the city. It will remain accessible throughout the summer by appointment. But this week you can also enjoy live performances by a sixteen-strong choir of amateur singers from Brussels, led by Lithuanian musician and artist Lina Lapelyte.

When we speak to her, she is still in Rome where, at the grand baroque Teatro Argentina, she is reprising her successful production Sun & Sea, a “beach opera” with singers in swimsuits in the sand, with which she, along with Rugile Barzdžiukaite and Vaiva Grainyte, won the Golden Lion for the best national contribution at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and was subsequently picked up by the Kunstenfestivaldesarts. A swimming pool at the canal in Anderlecht is quite something else than a baroque theatre.

Lina Lapelyte: “I am certainly familiar with the story of the lack in Brussels of a place for outdoor swimming and the general problem of recreation in public space behind that. The work that Pool Is Cool does is therefore social and necessary. The fact that our performance takes place outdoors means that the work embraces its surroundings and can be seen by everyone. I'd rather do that than work in a white cube or in a gallery.”

In Sun & Sea, the singers are lying on the beach. Lina Lapelyte also put up the show Candy Shop next to a swimming pool. Now she is jumping in with What Happens with a Dead Fish? Does she have a thing for swimming and water? “Before, that was simply a coincidence,” laughs Lapelyte, “but now the invitation to work with the pool was very concrete. For some reason, I was often reminded of fish during the lockdown, while also thinking a lot about our dealings with death. In nature, death has a certain lightness, because one living organism absorbs the death of another organism, as it were, to make new life possible, so that nothing is lost. There, death is part of a positive cycle.”

Common voice
Does that message then linger in the libretto? “In my own work, the text plays a minor role compared to the music. The little text in this piece is rather poetic, and the music is mostly atmospheric and interprets a state of being. We are a large group of sixteen singers, but I approach them as one body, that's how the piece was composed. The choir represents a kind of collective thinking, it's like a small society trying to find a common voice.”

How the performance will eventually look is still a bit of wait and see. “The pool has only just been filled, before that we worked on the basis of plans. That makes it all the more exciting. The installation in ceramics by the Brussels-­based duo of artists Frizbee Ceramics will also play an important role, but I can't give too much away about that yet. We will also try to sing in the water. Hopefully it's not too cold. (Laughs) We still have a lot of testing to do, but for the singers and the audience it will be a nice experience.”

2 > 6/7, Flow swimming pool,

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