'Going on going': an exhibition of artists under construction

© Heleen Rodiers

At what point do you become an artist? The graduates of Sint-Lukas’s fine art Bachelor’s programme home in on the issue and respond by taking matters into their own hands. We visited their temporary dwelling/exhibition 'Going On Going' at LaVallée, that will be open for the public during the long weekend.

"It’s happening, there’s no way back,” says Dilum Coppens, one of the nineteen students that will be graduating from LUCA School of Arts’ fine art Bachelor’s programme at Sint-Lukas Brussels next month. Instead of waiting for their degrees to validate their artistry to the outside world, they are plunging into the deep end by organising their own five-day exhibition at LaVallée in Molenbeek.

“The idea behind ‘Going On Going’ is that you can’t pinpoint the exact moment that you become an artist. It’s an ongoing process. There is no beginning, there is no end.” “We’re taking control ourselves and making our own show from scratch,” Boris Steiner adds. “We looked for the location ourselves, and then raised the money we needed – some of which comes from the school itself –, we are putting together our own publication… The school is what unites us as a group, but we are doing all of this by ourselves.”

After spending three days thinking critically but constructively at the Sint-Lukasgalerie, during which everyone presented their work and drew up the artist statements, the nineteen artists came together at LaVallée a week and a half before the exhibition opens. The space is buzzing with activity: a house for the works by Lise De Meulemeester is being built, the floor of one of the rooms is filled with the ten-second clay sculptures by Manon Van den Eeden, and against the wall, one of Dyllen Rubbens’s sculptures is reaching for some poetry.

Budget cuts
The reason for everyone rolling up their sleeves is partly the unbridled enthusiasm of this group of young artists, and partly the critical position that they adopted with respect to the institution that they have called home for the past three years. Manon Van den Eeden: “We are all a bit critical towards LUCA and the art school system in general. In what way can you teach art?”

“What should an art school be and do? And how do you relate to it as an artist?” Maud Gyssels continues. “These were questions that became very relevant when we were confronted with the budget cuts. How should we deal with that, now and in the future?”

Manon Van den Eeden: “Our lecturers are available for fewer hours and we have lost a lot of studio space, so we’re squashed together much more than we used to be. The school suddenly became much more notional: the framework is still there, but the concrete implementation has become much more chaotic. It felt like we were being left to fend for ourselves to some extent. But on the other hand, it also ensured that we became very cohesive as a group.”

“We can’t solve the big picture, though,” Dyllen Rubbens adds. “We make it work for ourselves, and we work well together as a group. We always manage with a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, but that won’t change anything for the students who will come after us.”

All together now
At least in this context, “the educational system is a reflection of the art world,” Arnout Spiessens says. The point could not come more sharply into focus than when faced with these young people. If you only praise the classics and completely undermine everything that is being made now, you short-sightedly create a barren landscape for the future. “Cut back on culture and you cut back on human values,” Stijn Van Hoof says. Cut back on a young generation and you put your whole future at risk.

Dyllen Rubbens: “The budget cuts gave us a taste of what to expect after our studies. Because you’ll keep hitting these big institutions along the way. The fact that we were confronted with this vision of the future wasn’t so much an eye-opener, it was the timing that shook us: we hadn’t thought to experience this kind of stuff so fast. Well, we don’t take things for granted anymore. Things need to be done, and you need to do them on your own…"

"The only problem is that this obsession with efficiency is actually eroding the foundations of our method," he continues. "You can’t run an art school only by writing papers and essays. The core of what we do lies in the personal reflections we develop in dialogue with one another and our teachers, who treat us like colleagues. It is impossible to universalise and generalise things in arts education.”

Dilum Coppens: “Watching a video screen in a lecture hall with 200 students only creates distance between students and their teachers. Putting everyone away in separate rooms, telling them to create something, and popping in once a week for feedback does not stimulate connection and cross-fertilisation. It is precisely via these conversations, getting together, face to face encounters that you create connections, which are vital once you have graduated and left the school.”

“This is very clear at the exhibition: there are so many people with so many different stories,” Boris Steiner adds. “As an artist, you aim to stimulate debate and create connections. Who knows, we might even enlighten someone. Or just make them sad.” [Laughter] Felix Carpio: “Art is a way of transmitting knowledge in a way that is not only academic but also poetic. It is about opening doors and giving people a sense of freedom. At a time in which we are continually being told what to think and how to behave, that is extremely important.”

Finding the balance
The collective forms a buffer with the world. Stijn Van Hoof: “It is as though you are creating a kind of institution of your own that can offer resistance to larger institutions and phenomena in the world. There is strength in numbers, but you can always still make your voice heard as an individual artist.” Manon Van den Eeden: “Finding the balance for the group show was quite difficult. Our work is very diverse, and covers almost all media. But in the end, that also strengthens your position in the group: you learn how to look at other practices.”

It is the first network, “the first social group in the art world” as Stijn Van Hoof calls it, in a city that is exceptionally rich internationally, socially, and artistically, and that attracts and challenges these young artists. Gilles Hellemans: “Look at the off spaces and the galleries working outside the system, like we are trying to do here. They are already active and demonstrate that it is possible. That is an encouraging thought.”

Arnout Spiessens: “We’ve reached the end of something. So we are inevitably a bit worried about our futures as artists.” Dilum Coppens: “Yes, it is like bungee jumping. But at least you have a rope.”

> Going On Going. 24/05 > 28/05, LaVallée, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek

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