31 August 2013

'The Magritte Project'

The Magritte Project / Charleroi - Marchienne Au Pont

Dear Ms. Aliboni,

For my contribution to the Hotel Charleroi project, I would like to cooperate with the ‘Musée des Beaux Arts de Charleroi’. The intervention that I wish to make consists in the relocation of the René Magritte painting ‘l’éclair’ (1944) from the museum to a house in Marchienne-au-Pont throughout the course of the Hotel Charleroi exhibition. From the museum (fig 1), where the painting is usually displayed, it would move to the living room of a house of a family in Marchienne-au-Pont that is still to be determined (fig.2). There it would be kept as a ‘guest’, and displayed to the public. The spot where the painting is usually exhibited will remain empty throughout the course of the exhibition, which links the museum to Marchienne-au-Pont and to the Hotel Charleroi project.

The choice for the painting of Magritte is not arbitrary. What is striking about the surrealist works of Magritte is the inconsistencies they create in the way we can read them. Perhaps the most exemplary is the famous work ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ that creates a striking discrepancy between word and image. L’éclair embodies a similar duality. The painting shows a vase with flowers in an interior, but instead of the flowers, there is a somehow abstract spot of paint. This ‘blind spot’ as a place that is not occupied, where the imagination is allowed free scope, plays an important role both in the Hotel Charleroi project and in the specific intervention that I want to make.

Like many of my projects, this intervention aims to draw attention to the environment in which the art work is created or in which it is displayed. By moving the Magritte painting from the museum to an average living room, I want to illuminate both places from a new perspective. The functions of the museum as a place of reference for history and the living room as a place of living in the here and now become unsettled. The proposed action is not only a symbolic act, but also demands the collaboration of all the parties involved, including the museum management and the family members that must take care of the painting, which for the latter will also involve a real interference in their living environment. But not only the intimate and institutional scale are being explored, at the same time the action makes us aware of the broader, socio-cultural and economic environment of Charleroi and Marchienne-au-Pont. The painting as a symbol of a city’s cultural and economic wealth, of possibilities, sensitivity and intelligence is being moved to a place that may be shaped by other beauty standards, but also by other day-to-day worries, like making a living, finding a job,…. Many open questions arise, questions about power, habits, culture, value,…. The surrealist quality of the action makes free space for utopic thinking as a catalyst for change. As such, the painting of Magritte is being actualized and new life is being breathed into it. The mental open space that the action creates is connected to both the content and the political discourse of Hotel Charleroi, which aims to occupy the abundant and lost space in and around Charleroi as a place for art/the artist and, from that point, as a think frame for the future.

Moreover, I think that my intervention can be a nice and interesting way of putting the fine arts museum of Charleroi in the spotlights. I visited the museum several times, and I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful collection the museum exhibits. I really think it contains many hidden treasures. Due to my intervention, the Hotel Charleroi project’s active communication with the press will also explicitly highlight the museum and the cultural patrimony of Charleroi.

I am fully aware of the fact that the project is particularly challenging with regard to ensuring the safety of the painting and that appropriate measures must be taken. However, I am confident that we can discuss this and find satisfactory solutions to this matter. That even in extremely difficult situations solutions can be found, is exemplified by the 2011 ‘Picasso in Palestine’ exhibition organised by the International Art Academy Palestine, in which a masterpiece of Picasso was moved from the Van Abbe Museum to Ramallah, Palestine and exhibited for the Palestinian people, yet under armed surveillance (http://blog.frieze.com/picasso-in-palestine/) (fig.3).

Furthermore, it is not the first time that I have planned projects in unconventional contexts. For instance, for the ‘Short Cut Leuven’ (2010) project, I took a group of more than sixty people through Louvain’s city centre along a ‘short cut’ line,  through houses, gardens, public and private property (fig. 4). This project involved the negotiation with and cooperation of many public entities and private citizens, and overcoming many practical difficulties, including safety issues.

Stijn Van Dorpe

René Magritte (1898-1967) 
L'éclair, (1944)
Coll. MBArts Charleroi - Inv. 1167
Photo. Luc Schrobiltgen
(c)  Ch. Herscovici - Sabam Belgium 2013