There was a time when, to me, art was a pretty picture. It was someone being good with a paintbrush and making something beautiful. They’d then put it in a frame and hang in on the wall and, bish bash bosh, that was art.
I’ve always found art galleries to feel forced and claustrophobic as everything is confined inside a square frame, like a little box that keeps art locked up. And then I visited TRACK in Ghent, Belgium, and everything started to make sense.
What is TRACK?
TRACK is an exhibition in Ghent that looks at art in a very different way; a way that is modern and exciting and frees it from the constraints of borders and white washed walls.
Artists from 17 countries have created works that have been placed all over the city. I found myself stumbling over art in the most unusual places; hidden beneath the trees in a park of way above my head on a busy street. Some took over abandoned buildings and empty spaces but it all entwined with the city in wonderful way.
Mirjam Varadinis, curator of TRACK, said: “I want to experiment with art breaking out of the museum walls. TRACK offers a great opportunity to further explore this idea of bringing art to unusual spaces and to offer a new perspective on both art and the environment in which it is shown.”
There are 44 works of art and installations around Ghent and here are some of my favourites:
Leo Copers – Museum Graveyard
This pure and simple display is found beneath the trees in the Citadel Park and, yes, they are granite tombstones from museums around the world. This is because Copers believes museums have turned into a leisure park of mass production and ‘art-tourism’. He believes that art should be authentic and mysterious and our over analysis, interpretation and classification is ruining art. So perhaps I should leave the description there.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset – Loose Leaves
I like this piece not only because of what the artists want it to represent but also what it means to me. On the surface it’s a bit of a disappointment, a display case full of leaves is hardly going to grab my attention when I’m in the middle of a leafy park, but when I read the explanation and understood what the artists intended it became one of my favourites. I realised here that just looking at art isn’t enough, you have to dig a little deeper and learn to understand the concept to truly enjoy it.
“These leaves are painted and have thin layers of metal added, so they look realistic but at the same time have become imperishable. This work illustrates a modern, romantic and nostalgic perception of nature and our desire to organise, conserve and hold on to it.”
This is one of the pieces that has deep, concrete foundations because if it didn’t it would almost certainly be stolen. I think this is art telling us a lot about society.
Massimo Bartolini – Bookyards
“Bartolini built an open air bookcase in the vineyard at St Peter’s Abbey, an oasis of greenery and tranquillity in the centre of Ghent. Visitors can borrow, buy or exchange second hand books in the symbolic shadow of the book tower. According to Bartolini, books too can broaden the mind, just like good wine.”
At first I thought ‘why the hell would you have an outdoor bookcase?’ but once I visited it I couldn’t help but think, ‘Why the hell wouldn’t you?’
There were about 15 people actually using the library while we were there. An elderly man in a wheelchair sat at the top of the hill while his granddaughter ran down to the shelves to select books for him. A group of students with thick dreadlocks sat in the sunshine, smoking and chatting in a circle around a huge stack of books they’d selected. A young couple smooched in the shade, their books completely forgotten as they lay scattered on the grass.
This is a place to enjoy books in a normal, real way. Not within the hushed confines of a library but in the outdoors where you can laugh, cry and shout at your book and discuss it as loudly as you damn well please. This is my kind of library.
Peter Fischili and Davis Weiss- Visible World
This one particularly appealed to me as it’s an archive of more than 7,000 photos from the artist’s travels.
“The artists embrace the tourist view on things. The sequences of towns and cities, snowy mountain peaks, pyramids and sunsets suggest that all these places will be captured on camera again and again, always in the same way yet always slightly differently. This gives the impression that even the most trivial snapshot is part of a collective project intended to record the visible world.”
This confused me for a long time until I looked it up and felt relieved to realise that it’s meant to confuse you. It is meant to challenge our hierarchical views and our western belief of an imagined position on the top of the world.
Philippe Van Cauteren, the second curator of TRACK, said:
“TRACK will fill the summer with surprising and enriching encounters and for me TRACK will succeed if it leaves a final track of reflection on contemporary urban reality.”
And here I am, reflecting on what reality is, what art really is and how we can use it to push the boundaries and beliefs of our lives.
You don’t have to be an art buff to enjoy this exhibition, you don’t even have to know anything about art, you just have to take the time to look at things and think about what they mean. I didn’t expect an outdoor bookcase to make me ‘feel’ anything but I’m suddenly contemplating every norm and belief that’s been ingrained in me since childhood and for this I think it’s safe to say, “Philippe Van Caulteren, TRACK is definitely a success.”