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.

Events

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

Lerarendag

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'.

Hearings

06-03-2017

Video Temporality and Hindsight Evidence

Since 1991, when Rodney King’s beating was captured on video by a civilian named George Holliday, the medium’s use as legal evidence has increased immensely. Understanding the functions and consequences of this shift demands a deep consideration of video’s relationship to temporality and memory. For years, artists and media theorists have been pursuing this question. […]

06-03-2017

L for Lai Teck

A fleet of illegible and nameless specters haunts the political landscapes of early and mid-twentieth-century Southeast Asia. British Special Branch reports from this period tended to present its Communist enemies as faceless statistical digits, revealing few personal details about them. The abstraction of these reports is further exacerbated by the fact that the most frequent […]

06-03-2017

Diaoptasia – Our Future Will Be

Fractures can sometimes be identified As light falls on its aching path How do you see the cracks that appear? Would it be rough and irregular? Maybe shell like, smooth and curved? Or maybe jagged and sharp edged like broken metal Forming elongated splinters Breaking like clay or chalk? Our future is to live […]

06-03-2017

I Will Burn Myself Again and Again: Notes on the Self-Immolations in Tibet

I am walking thus on the path of light, to become the living proof of truth I am sacrificing myself thus on the face of actuality All my brothers and sisters, young and old, living in misery and sorrow All people throughout the world who love freedom and peace And to you, tyrants of violence, […]

06-03-2017

Visual Script: Vietnam the Movie

—Did you see her? —The lobby was full of people. Police, security, barriers. I realized how ridiculous the situation was. I pictured myself jumping on an Indo-Chinese woman, yelling: “Mama!” So I thought a miracle had to happen. I hoped one of the women would shout: “Etienne, my son!” I waited. A long time.[…]

06-03-2017

A Tragedy in Two Acts

This is a slightly adapted version of a conversation that took place over e-mail in 2006 between art historian Els Roelandt and visual artist Ana Torfs, on the occasion of the first exhibition of Torfs’ installation Anatomy at daadgalerie in Berlin.

06-03-2017

America, de Bry 1590-1634

Whilst sitting in the rare book division of the New York Public Library in Manhattan, awaiting the arrival of an original 1724 edition of Le Code Noir, I picked up another book: America, de Bry 1590-1634. As I moved through the pages, looking at Theodor de Bry’s coloured engravings, I was witnessing documents from history that reported apparent truths about the colonisation of the Americas […]

29-09-2016

The Littoral

The year 2160 is the last year of the legacy-management activities under the Puerto Rico Power Authority and the now-defunct United States Atomic Energy Commission. The decommissioned reactor has been closed for fifty years. It was a model thermonuclear plant for seven years, between 1960 and 1967, but it required too many modifications to work […]