Bruges clears its gardens

Bruges (Belgium). From the Garden of Eden to the organized or wild gardens of today, the garden has accompanied the history of humanity and the history of art. The flagship exhibition of the Bruges Triennale, “Rebel Garden”, focuses on representations of the garden as a metaphor for our relationships with nature, today governed by the threat of self-destruction and extinction. Divided into nine chapters, it confronts ancient, modern and contemporary art by taking over the city’s three major museums in a labyrinthine journey, not always very clear but original and generating very pleasant surprises.

From refuge motive to ecological activism

At the Groeningemuseum, the subject is deployed in two rooms located one at the beginning, the other at the end of the permanent route. The garden and the artist, it is the garden as a motif of refuge or warning signal. The spectator can see himself and question himself in the installation by Roger Raveel (1921-2013) with his mirror and his empty cage, and in front of the bronze trees by Giuseppe Penone (born in 1947), the refreshing portrait of Van Gogh in her garden by Rose Wylie (born in 1934) or the photographs of Lise Duclaux (born in 1970) capturing the rebellious vegetation which insinuates itself into the interstices of the city of concrete and bitumen. The Groeninge is six centuries of Flemish and Belgian art. Between the masterpieces of Jan Van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch, Hugo Van der Goes, Gérard David and Hans Memling, the visitor will be destabilized by the disruptive presence of the bronze plants of Caroline Coolen (born in 1975), organic forms by Maartje Korstanje (born in 1982) which take over the walls and floors, small mushroom cabinets by Sofie Muller (born in 1974), delicate sculptures which blur the boundaries between fungal organisms and genitals. With his “Jheronimus” series, Peter De Cupere (born in 1970) offers a captivating olfactory art to look at as much as to smell. Leaving the landscapes of 19th century painting, we are immersed in those of the plasticene era with the plastic reef of Maarten Vanden Eynde (born in 1977) and the nuclear power plant of the duo HeHe – Helen Evans (born in 1972) and Heiko Hansen (born 1970) –, floating on a sea of ​​clouds.

The striking grass sculpture by Per Kristian Nygård (b. 1987) in the courtyard of the Gruuthusemuseum and the recycled plastic sculptures of Tatiana Wolska (b. 1977) remind us upon entry that something is now growing crooked in the world. In the former mansion you can admire, among other things, engravings of the interior garden and old natural history textbooks which reflect the vision of nature in the 17th century, a nature that was feared as much as we admired him.

Adrien Tirtiaux, Under the Carpetview of the installation at the Bruges Triennale 2024.

© Filip Dujardin

The last part of the route, nestled in the attic of the Saint-Jean Hospital Museum, reflects the need to take care of the global garden disrupted by climate change. The sumptuous tapestry by Otobong Nkanga (born in 1974) entitled Unearthed-Sunlightevokes the regeneration of the forest devastated by megafires. The plant sculptures of Dorota Buczkowska (born 1971) demonstrate care and respect for the material that nature offers. Collector Philippe Daelemans developed a passion and fascination for the dodo, the extinct bird of Mauritius. By its inability to fly and by its eradication following the arrival of the first settlers, the large bird with the broad beak becomes the metaphor of the sixth extinction which threatens natural species. In this cabinet of curiosities there are bones, remains of extinct animals and dried-up plants, minerals, paintings and documents relating to the dodo.

Activist artists

The very last space is dedicated to climate activists. We can see a video of the performance of Emilio López-Menchero (born in 1960) in a Roman toga and wearing an olive wreath who drags signs decorated with slogans from the climate marches, in homage to the performance of the Austrian activist Waluliso (1914-1996). While on colored paper posters are the poetic slogans of Lise Duclaux which make the rhizomes of “art-ivism” grow. “The roots have no fixed ideas” Or “Our lawns are too short”, she writes.

The Bruges Triennale is also a series of installations where contemporary art meets architecture. Scattered throughout the city, there are 12 of these orders for this edition. Integrated into the urban landscape, they take the form of brick drops (Shingo Masuda + Katsuhisa Otsubo Architects), a wooden tower to ring the bell (Bangkok Project Studio) or a hidden tunnel made of recycled fabric (SO-IL ). They sometimes change the way we look at the city like this pair of giant bronze boots which seem to float on the canal (Iván Argote), this old roadway unearthed and cleared of a layer of grass which rolls up like a carpet ( Adrien Tirtiaux) or this swing located inside a stone trench in the garden of a psychiatric hospital (Mona Hatoum).

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