Where to encounter the counterculture? Mister Moon’s Night Shop Chez Madeleine is a good guess. Between its cans of beer, cigarettes, pampers, and frozen pizza, artist and driving force Eric Vanuytven has been organizing radically open artistic events for almost a year and a half. And they clearly strike a sensitive chord. On 2 March, the neon-lit venue for creatures of the night is setting up shop at Recyclart.
"Rien que des bêtises,” Mister Moon laughs playfully. “Eric only gets up to foolishness here.” The charismatic owner of Night Shop Chez Madeleine doesn’t mean a word of it. Eric Vanuytven, artist and driving force behind the events that have been turning the Bloemenhofplein/place du Jardin aux Fleurs upside down for the past year and a half from within the night shop, is at home here. Mister Moon simply calls him “family”.
The seed of their joint Night Shop Chez Madeleine family parties was planted during a holiday in Ostend in the summer of 2017. Eric Vanuytven started wondering where all the typical Belgians on the beach promenade go to consume art and culture. The thought followed a problem that he had witnessed earlier, while working in the cultural sector in Brussels.
“There was a kind of dislocation in the institutional. The cultural centres wanted to bring people in, wanted to facilitate them, but had no vision of how to do that. Take ‘Yo!’ at Bozar, for example, which was targeted at the Brussels hip-hop scene. That was as such a great idea. They invited the community into their space, but what they didn’t do was to invite their people to the hip-hop community. As a result there was no interaction and it became a fake participation process. That is how institutions themselves maintain that dislocation. Even though there are so many opportunities out there.”
COME ON IN
“In essence it comes down to the question of what it means to be an open house. How do you create a genuinely common space for art and culture? Well, I open the door, block it with my foot, and say: ‘Come on in.’” That is how Eric Vanuytven describes the basic principle of his Night Shop Chez Madeleine events. It is no coincidence that this door is hinged to the neon-lit paradise that Mister Moon opened for hungry and thirsty creatures of the night.
“It is a place with a face. And with history: Mister Moon opened Brussels’s first night shop 35 years ago, not far from Manneken Pis,” Eric Vanuytven tells us. “‘There is always somebody at the counter of a night shop, like a museum, it is geared towards consumption, like a concert hall, and it has neon light, like a gallery… It is a venue where I, you, passers-by, people from the neighbourhood, or basically anybody can just come inside. It doesn’t matter who you are, we’re all the same here."
"I walked in here one day and I said: ‘I want to create a counterbalance to the dominant arts and culture market.’ I started explaining what I meant and after a while, he asked: ‘Mais tu veux faire quoi?!’ (Laughs) I said: ‘Listen, I want to organize events in the night shop. It’s a win-win: you’ll have more customers those evenings and you’ll sell more beer, while I will be able to conduct my research, and the artists that I invite can exhibit their work for a bigger audience.’ And he said: ‘Oké, c’est bon!’” (Laughs)
That is how, on 23 November 2017, Eric Vanuytven held open the door of Night Shop Chez Madeleine for the first time. About 200 people came to the first edition, for the launch of the first Junkster Magazine. “It was totally unexpected,” Eric Vanuytven says.
But the young guys behind Junkster know better. Melvin Podolski, who along with Pim Notebaert founded the multidisciplinary, underground-exploring Bxhell-based magazine: “Every Belgian goes to the night shop at some point. At the same time, it is and will always be a place of the street. Even if you put a gallery inside a night shop, it’s still raw and real. It reaches people who would otherwise never encounter this world and invites them to participate in it. When was the last time you saw a homeless person or loitering teens at an exhibition opening? In that sense, this has a lot of similarities with the punk movement: it is by and for ordinary people. And that is a breath of fresh air.”
Stimulated by that raw energy, Eric Vanuytven organized new events, in close collaboration with curator Zsolt Kozma. “Among other things, via four USB sticks that I gave to four different artists in Brussels and which travelled from person to person, all the way to Budapest. Every Saturday between April and August 2018, those artists could do something here. Those “Saturday Happenings” ranged from a live tattoo session and exhibitions to video art, performance, and DJ sets… Once the space was well-known, people automatically started coming. The result was what we call the ‘après-USB happenings’, with people who came to the night shop directly to present their projects. I think it has become so successful because we’re not chasing after the ball or after the facts, we are the ball. This is the new wave, after the dislocation.”
“There is a collective spirit that I feed and that feeds me,” Eric Vanuytven says. The former graffiti artist and founder (with Benjamin Boutin) of the Do Not Open pop-up project space, where he opened up his artistic practice and space to host other artists, has found a new way to share, to go outside the four walls of his own artistic practice in the Night Shop Chez Madeleine events. “I think of my work as a living being,” he says. “And what I do here is an extended research project, and the four security screens are the documents that attest to it. This is an artwork as such, an environment, a performance, an enormous installation in which people can do their thing and where things happen. There is something quintessentially Brussels about it: the night shop as a kind of readymade creative centre.”
It grows, makes noise, expands, finds its way like a viral infection. “It isn’t something local. It has become bigger than myself. It is not just an artwork, it is a community.”
And that community is growing ever bigger, and the counterbalance to the dominant art and culture ever weightier. “We’re sitting right opposite gallery Office Baroque. What goes on at many of those galleries is magnificent, but to me it is like taxidermy, dead art. The purpose of art is to make people think, and to bring change and progress. You have to make it radically open, not close it up in a white cube. That’s not an act of critique. For me it is about using that counterbalance to find a balance, an equality.”
Eric Vanuytven has ambitious plans for “a kind of Nuit Blanche for night shops," but before that day dawns, Night Shop Chez Madeleine is itself taking a trip, including the night shop as such. He is taking it outside Brussels, to Stelplaats Leuven for example, but first, on 2 March, they’re coming to Recyclart.
“Recyclart is a perfect example of a cultural centre that is engaged with what’s happening in the city and in the underground. They also throw open their doors and say: ‘Come on in.’ The sixty artists that I have worked with are being invited to do something there. And they in turn will invite new people to join in. Beyond the network, I have also launched a call for text-based participation in the event. We’ll see what happens. I don’t meddle too much.” (Laughs)
> Night Shop Chez Madeleine
2/3, 20.00, Recyclart