Polyphonic worlds: justice as medium

The Garage (starting point)

The Garage, a contemporary arts center prominently located in the vicinity of the St. Rumbold’s Cathedral is a key venue for Contour Biennale 8. Repurposed as a white cube, the site still bears evidence of its former lives as a guesthouse of the nobility, a butcher’s shop, a brasserie, and a city parking lot. The Garage hosts an annual program of contemporary art exhibitions and has traditionally been a key site for previous Contour Biennale editions as part of Cultuurcentrum Mechelen.

Alderman's House

Alderman's House, at the city’s main square, built in the thirteenth century, is most likely the oldest surviving stone-laid city hall in Belgium. With Gothic elements being added to this iconic structure in the fourteenth century and with the expanding geopolitical significance of Mechelen, the Schepenhuis remained a central agent in the daily operation of regional governance as well as a space for exercising justice after the establishment of the Great Council in the fifteenth century. Until the Great Council’s relocation to the Court of Savoy in 1616, this building was symbolic for the popular expression used during legal disputes: “Let us go to Mechelen!” that denoted a visit to this influential judicial seat in the Low Countries as a last resort. Two wall paintings in the main courtroom where the Great Council assembled reveal the Crucifixion of Christ and on the opposite wall the Last Judgment which holds within it a mirror that reflects the council in session—dated 1526. As divine allegories and exemplia iusticiae, it was believed that these paintings guided the judges to reach just verdicts. Various rooms within the three-storey building have been previously used as a prison, a fencing school, an art academy, and a city archive. For the first time, this Contour Biennale edition is hosted in the entire building premises.

House of the Great Salmon

The House of the Great Salmon, located next to the wharf, is one of the finest examples of early Renaissance architecture in the Low Countries. Often referred to as the Dijlestad (“city located at the river Dyle”), Mechelen maintained an important connection with waterways in terms of trade as well as mercantile transport. Building upon this legacy, Contour Biennale 8 examines links to the neoliberal settler state, water bodies, and extractive commerce. Originally owned by a monastery for lepers and later bought by the fish merchants’ guild, the entrance door features an engraved golden salmon alluding to the commercial wealth and global networking prowess of Flemish guilds.

Court of Savoy

the sixteenth-century Renaissance site, was rebuilt as the Palace of Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Habsburg Netherlands, and currently houses the lower courts for criminal and civil proceedings. The building’s façade is decorated with a sculpture of Justitia that pushes notions of imparting balanced judgment and the representation of truth to the foreground. As Margaret of Austria was a great patron of the arts and music, influential figures of the Renaissance period, painters Bernard van Orley, Jan Gossaert, and Albrecht Dürer, as well as humanists such as Erasmus, visited the former palace. Franco-Flemish polyphonic music flourished in the Habsburg-Burgundian Court with musical offerings led by composers Pierre de la Rue, Josquin des Prez, Johannes Ockeghem, and Jacob Obrecht. The texture of polyphonic music is based on an equivalence of different voices singing or playing simultaneously, capturing an intrinsic collectivity in which each vocal part becomes uniquely interrelated with the whole. Margaret of Austria’s favorite scribe, a music calligrapher, instrumentalist, and mining engineer, who went by the pseudonym Petrus Alamire (referring to the musical notes a-la-mi-re), produced several lavishly decorated illuminated manuscripts, which played a strategic diplomatic role in the course of establishing the sovereign’s image amid the networks of European governance. Alamire is a mysterious personality who is also alleged to have been a spy—let us call him an historical double agent. Contour Biennale 8 artists will make use of the civil court’s waiting room (the former throne room), and the baroque garden.

House De Clippel

Locally referred to as “The Empress,” the House De Clippel is a fifteenth-century manor that played host to various figures of the Dutch nobility as a private residence, and later as a hotel and a wine merchant. This building came into the ownership of the Michiels family in 1890, who have been Mechelen city’s watchmakers for generations. The family’s reputation goes back to the year 1860, when Edward Michiels invented a way to operate tower clocks electronically. Luc Michiels, his grandson, continues to maintain his workshop, which extends into a lush backyard garden where aged clock motors, minute pointers, tower bells, and gigantic clock dials await repair and future implementation. During Contour Biennale 8, the wine cellar in the house will be transformed into an oceanic zone where bioluminescent agents partake in environmental justice.

Warehouse and Co-working space

Moving from the city center, the closing venue of Contour Biennale 8 is an industrial warehouse and social working site at Battelsesteenweg 50, which was formerly a furniture factory and now hosts a collectively run space including a carpentry workshop, cycle shop, and experimental theater group. Since the late 1970s ROJM, a popular youth center, also shares the premises. In this venue, the biennial brings together commissioned works that reflect a common poetics around informal labor, postindustrial subaltern narratives, and self-governance; the lighthouse and the colonial frontier are set in resonance with the multiple functions of this layered site serving different demographic groups of Mechelen.


19-05-2017 — 12:05

Agency: Assembly (Polyphonic Worlds)

May 20 and May 21, 15:00–17:00

Agency will host two gatherings to respond to readings of legal case questions.

Venue: Alderman’s House, Steenweg 1, Mechelen.

RSVP required due to limited seating via contour@nona.be.

Art practices often involve non-humans (animals, birds, plants, rocks, etc…) and other-than-humans (death, spirits, extra and intra terrestrials, etc…). Yet, intellectual property is only reserved for humans. Although the copyright law definition of “authors” does not explicitly refer to humans, the jurisprudence doesn't consider non-humans and other-than-humans as possible “causes of art works”. What if non-humans and other-than-humans become mutually included within art practices? For Assembly (Polyphonic Worlds) Agency will depart from this speculation by invoking two cases:

On Saturday, May 20, Agency invokes Thing 001652 (Monkey's Selfies), which concerns a controversy between the macaque Naruto represented by the animal rights organization PETA and the wildlife photographer David Slater around a series of photos made by Naruto and published inside a book of David Slater. Respondents: Sari Depreeuw (intellectual property law), Steven Humblet (art history), Jane Reniers (animal rights), Anna Vanhellemont (animal law), Jan Verpooten (ethology)

On Sunday, May 21, Agency invokes Thing 001621 (Dead Son Drawn by Psychic Artist), a conflict between the psychic artist Frank Leah and A.P. about a journal reproduction of a picture of a drawing of the spirit of the son of A.P. by Frank Leah. Respondents: Mieke Abel (clairvoyance), Julien Cabay (intellectual property law), Steve Michiels (cartoonist), Florentine Peeters (art), Katarzyna Ruchel-Stockmans (art history), Christian Vandekerkhove (theosophy), Jana Willems (psychic art)

During each gathering, Agency invites a group of concerned practitioners to respond to the court cases. Rather than re-enacting the trial, these assemblies invoke moments of hesitation during the case hearing.

The Assemblies take place between 15h and 17h on May 20 and 21 in English language.

Check the event on Facebook.

26-04-2017 — 05:04


Op woensdag 26 april organiseert Contour Biennale 8 een nocturne. Alle locaties zijn dan geopend van 17 tot 21 uur: een ideaal moment om de biënnale te bezoeken naast de gangbare openingsuren. Je kan ook tijdens deze avond een gids reserveren via contour@nona.be

20-03-2017 — 04:03

Café Univers

Café Univers is a nomadic radio project by Syma Tariq and Francesca Savoldi hosted during the opening weekend of Contour Biennale 8.

The episodes navigate mainstream radio stations via the Radio Garden, with biennale artists, guests and passersby warmly invited to contribute. The project melds sonic exploration of south/south solidarity and the collapsing of physical/digital spaces via the changing format of radio. It hopes to address questions such as: What is the relationship between music and social justice? In what ways does music (re)territorialise and bind the diaspora? Whose sound is it anyway?

The project is supported by Radio Apartment 22 (R22), founded by Abdellah Karroum in Rabat. Edited episodes of the audio recorded will be published on R22 and the Contour Biennale 8 website.

20-03-2017 — 03:03


Op zondag 19 maart organiseerden Contour Biennale 8 en OP.RECHT.MECHELEN. de Contour Biennale 8 lerarendag in samenwerking met Klasse. De educatieve werking van de biënnale werd er voorgesteld. De educatie map is vanaf nu beschikbaar op onze website.

13-03-2017 — 07:03

The Stealing C*nt$ and Toxic Sovereignty

The Karrabing Film Collective (Gavin Bianamu, Rex Edmunds, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Ben Williams) presents The Stealing C*nt$ and Toxic Sovereignty at the Boghossian Foundation on the occasion of their participation in Contour Biennale 8. The screening will be followed by a talk moderated by Natasha Ginwala. Please find all information here.

11-03-2017 — 07:03

Public Programme

Contour Biennale 8 collaborates with Dutch Art Institute for a two-day Public Programme organized on March 11-12, 2017 entitled Planetary Records: Performing Justice Between Art and Law with a dynamic schedule of keynote lectures, artist talks, film presentations and performance as part of DAI’s Roaming Assembly #12 conceived by biennale curator Natasha Ginwala and poet, critic-curator Rachel O’Reilly. All information is on our website under 'public programme'.



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