SUPER DEMOCRACY - The Senate of Things

Three cultural institutions enter into a dialogue with the Belgian Senate during the exhibition SUPERDEMOCRACY, which is on display throughout October. BPS22 in Charleroi, BOZAR in Brussels and M HKA in Antwerp provide a cultural dimension to the Senate’s current issues.

1.10.2017 - 31.10.2017


image: (c) M HKA

The voices of citizens are heard louder than ever in parliaments all over the world, while the diversity of who and what these institutions represent - people and things - is growing.

Social media now generate more regular interaction between citizens and their representatives, while many initiatives bring them together through all kinds of interest or action groups, whose objective is to broaden the decision-making base. Interaction and dialogue slowly come (back) to the centre of the decision-making process. Representative democracy is gradually transformed into a "deliberative democracy".

On top of that, what the parliament represents is also undergoing profound changes. It no longer merely represents an increasingly diverse "people", but also many "non-human" components of the world that also demand its attention. Animal rights, heritage conservation, technological development, energy use, and environmental protection are hot topics. It is increasingly evident that in order to survive, humans can no longer regard animals and "things" as just "possessions" or "at their service," but must instead see them as an integral part of the world, telling us something essential about this world and actual actors in the world. This is why, paraphrasing sociologist Bruno Latour, we are talking about the "Senate of Things".

By observing the increasingly turbulent and complex functioning of the political process, this exhibition is launching the concept of SUPERDEMOCRACY. Just as origin no longer suffices to explain the increasing diversity of our society, it is no longer suitable to reduce contemporary democracy to the voting booth and the hemicycle.

The SUPERDEMOCRACY exhibition highlights the concept of "con-certation". That it takes place in the Belgian Senate is no coincidence: as an assembly of federated entities, the Senate is the place of reflection and dialogue between communities on "cross-cutting issues". It is precisely on these subjects that three cultural institutions, BPS22 in Charleroi, BOZAR in Brussels and the M HKA in Antwerp, establish dialogue with the parliament.

The exhibition proposes a focus on fifteen topics in as many Senate halls. For each one, an artist of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and one of the Flemish Community will be teamed with a third artist, from another Community.

Combinations of paintings, sculptures, photos, videos, installations, etc. of the BPS22 and M HKA collections propose a possible approach to the themes. Visitors are invited to discover the relations with the topics dealt with by the Senate, and between the works themselves, and to participate in the dialogue proposed.

This reflection continues throughout the month of October, during discussion and conference sessions organised by the three partners on these same issues.



Pierre-Olivier ROLLIN


image: (c) M HKA

Concordia - literally "with heart" – concord – is what this exhibition is intended to show. The search for harmony between and within communities is the beating heart, and the sense of openness and exchange is the essential condition. This "con-certation" often requires much patience and great caution. Much like for two partners, the path to a societal "modus vivendi" is far from a simple task. But when it is achieved, the agreement can be the signal for a new start.

As an assembly of the federated entities, the Senate examines issues at the intersection of the competences of the federal state and the federated entities, through dialogue and in order to promote concord.

Many works by Narcisse Tordoir (°1968, lives in Antwerp) originate from collaborations. The painted canvases featured here were produced as part of three workshops organised in Bamako (Mali). The woven fabrics is the foundation and the local "Bogolan" painting technique is the medium for shared reflection and results. Cape shaped fabrics by Antwerp designer Walter Van Beirendonck also served as a basis.

Charlotte Beaudry (°1968, lives in Brussels) expresses a femininity trapped between the tumult of adolescence and the doubts of adulthood. Through the representation of anonymous bodies, she twists the nuances of an identity in search of its integrity. A vital balance, which goes through mutual agreement, as shown by this dance between two bodies.

The frozen images by Marina Abramović (°1946, lives in Amsterdam) and Ulay (°1943, lives in Amsterdam) comes from a series of performances entitled Modus Vivendi. While the artists continue to use their bodies as objects of art, their later common works accentuate the metaphorical and theatrical dimensions. They explore the male-female relationship, as well as their relationship to the landscape and rituals of other cultures.


Civilisations don’t appear out of nowhere and never reach a point of completion. They are created, grow and are renewed through cultural exchange. The coexistence of different cultures offers unprecedented opportunities. Through openness to what is foreign to us, along with understanding different traditions, it is possible to integrate them into our own mental processes and to innovate. This process, however, is demanding, slow, and requires trans-generational understanding.

The Senate, the assembly of federated entities, brings together and conciliates the communities and regions of Belgium. It thus embodies federal legitimacy.

In her research on the wayward Senegalese intellectual, scientist and politician Cheikh Anta Diop, Vanessa Van Obberghen (°1969, lives in Antwerp) translates her interest in genetics and DNA in a figure that confronts us with our stereotypes about Africa. Here, her Asian model has a stature that would generally be considered as ‘typically African’.

The South African artist Kendell Geers (°1968, lives in Brussels) produces works mixing preconceptions collected around the world. African fetishes are splattered with colour; as if the paint would reactivated their spiritual power. His works require relinquishing traditional explanations of art, and accepting an emotional body-to-body relationship with the works.

These djellabas by François Curlet (°1967, living in Brussels) deal with the identity problems encountered by some young people of immigrant background, torn between two cultures, one oriental (parental) and the other western (imposed by the media). The artist solves this identity-generated tension through a humorous synthesis between the traditional djellaba and streetwear: an apparent social, economic and political paradox.


image: (c) M HKA

Civilisations don’t appear out of nowhere and never reach a point of completion. They are created, grow and are renewed through cultural exchange. The coexistence of different cultures offers unprecedented opportunities. Through openness to what is foreign to us, along with understanding different traditions, it is possible to integrate them into our own mental processes and to innovate. This process, however, is demanding, slow, and requires trans-generational understanding.

The Senate, the assembly of federated entities, brings together and conciliates the communities and regions of Belgium. It thus embodies federal legitimacy.

Michaël Van den Abeele (°1974, living in Brussels) titled this Belgian tricoloured flag, of which only shades of grey remain, like in the black and white photos of yesteryear, Birth of a Nation. Is this the origin of the flag itself, the change it entails, or the similarities that emerge from it? Only in Belgium can a flag become grey and still remain Belgian, can't it?

An architect by training, Emilio López-Menchero (°1960, living in Brussels) develops an oeuvre marked by his dual Belgian-Spanish culture and focuses on the figure of the artist and the place he can occupy in society. His flag, printed with his fingerprint, expressing only himself, loses all political and collective sense.

In his work Voorstel voor een nieuwe Europese vlag (Proposal for a New European Flag), Christophe Terlinden (°1969, living in Brussels) merges the original twelve stars into one single continuous golden ring. Through this very simple, poetic but also political image, he expresses the interconnection of the countries of the European Union.

The figure of Medusa is the symbol of the woman who resonates as the primal force in male anguish. In her photographic self-portraits, Lilianne Vertessen (°1952, living in Heusden-Zolder) constantly takes the stage by provocatively using all sorts of feminine clichés, emancipating herself from societal pressures. Under these multiple apparitions, Vertessen’s self-portraits acquire some depth and are stripped of any anecdote: personality becomes diversity, identity is multiple.

Thierry Verbeke (°1970, living in Lille) blurs two references by associating them in this work: that of patchwork, long associated with an exclusively feminine form of expression, to which the western tradition refused the status of art; and that of piracy, which according to some authors must be regarded as one of the foundations of democracy.

For an exhibition in 2007, Pascale Marthine Tayou (°1967, living in Ghent) produced flags that represent the European Union on one side and the African Union on the other. Confronting African culture and experience with European culture and Western society, he questions the concepts of nationality and identity.


image: (c) M HKA

From women’s emancipation to homosexual and transgender rights.
In our society, relational patterns between and among the sexes are becoming increasingly fluid. The basic oppositions are no longer sufficient to grasp our sexual identity, as is also the case in other fields. The individual freedom that our democracy guarantees constantly requires going beyond the protection of linguistic communities and other minorities.

The Senate includes as many men as women and is presided, for the third time in its history, by a woman. The assembly drafted information reports on issues like co-parenthood and surrogacy, as well as to gender equality.

Jan Van Imschoot (°1963, living in Ghent) loves what is hidden, denied, excluded or forgotten. He thus features individuals living at the margins of society. In this striking portrait of a transsexual, he reveals a human being inhabited by feelings and internal conflicts.

This diptych by Jean-François Octave (°1955, living in Brussels) juxtaposes the face of a Russian sailor, which became a gay icon, and a sentence inspired by the song Just an Illusion by the funk disco group Imagination. Using the theme of masculinity, the work places the ideological divides of the Cold War side by side.

Miriam Cahn (°1949, living in Basel and Bergell) questions the role of the body in the cultural and social life as a place of oppression and expression. She’s a feminist and her work reveals a new form of body expression, as evidenced by this naked masculine body, a rare theme in the history of art, distorted by a particularly expressive and personal vision.


A community, whether country, city or enterprise, is often perceived and presented to the outside world as a univocal and coherent whole. United we stand, divided we fall! Yet, the value and quality of a community rests on its intrinsic diversity. As many men, women and children, as many physical traits and characters, as origins, aptitudes, specific interests, religious convictions, opinions ... It is this uniqueness that we seek in ourselves and in others.

The Senate's plenary assembly reflects the diversity of Belgian society. Representatives of the three communities and the three regions sit on the board: from Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels, and the German-speaking territories. The three national languages are spoken here. The Senate is also the only assembly where the representation of men AND women is guaranteed.

During a residency in Charleroi, initiated by the exhibition space Incise, Mira Sanders (°1973, living in Brussels) delivered a series of printed works, combining drawings, notes and photos, reflecting her experience of the particular urbanism of this city, as well as her interactions with the inhabitants. She thus delivers a portrait of the city, both visible and hidden, between stereotypes and discoveries.

Defining herself as a documentary photographer, professor and activist, Véronique Vercheval (°1958, living in La Louvière) visited the Royal Boch company in La Louvière after the announcement of its closure. Discretely she photographed the last 46 workers, of various origins, who would soon be made redundant, inviting them to share the memory of their first day at the company.

On a trip to Syria in 2001, Willi Filz (°1962, living in Eupen) took a series of portraits that testified to the individual, social, cultural and religious diversity of this country, which is still quite poorly known. Filz set out to go against the prevalent clichés by bringing together people and backgrounds, composing a nuanced and complex image.


Interpersonal exchanges, whatever their form, have constantly shaped civilisations; economic exchanges often being predominant. Yet individuals and cultures have always grasped their material concerns critically and sought to deepen their raison d'être. The disinterested cultural expressions in all countries and eras are clear witnesses of this quest.

Solutions to many societal problems require a complementary approach. The Senate offers this multiple perspective, for example in its information report entitled "A common approach in the fight against child poverty".

Through his works, Vaast Colson (°1977, living in Antwerp) constantly questions his relationship with the public. In the window of a Brussels art gallery, he made, with the amount of his fees, a sculpture composed of pieces of one euro, while a circular opening cut in the glass allowed the audience to help themselves. Thanks to three unsuspecting 'participants', the total lifespan of Colson's sculpture was exactly an hour and a half.

Angel Vergara (°1958, lives in Brussels) documents his own performances. One day in Cologne, in parallel to an artistic fair, he presented a supermarket where only apples, symbols of erotic and spiritual passion, were on sale. It thus evokes an alternative space of interpersonal relations, on the margins of trade.

In this animated film in the form of a video clip by the Spanish collective PSJM, armies belonging to the major multinational companies engage in a destructive war. The ultimate stage of economic imperialism, the third world war is no longer a matter of nations but of companies wishing to increase their global domination.


image: (c) M HKA

Since the Renaissance, inventio(n) has been a key concept in Western art. The painter, sculptor, architect, once a craftsman, became a "free artist", recognised for the concepts he came up with, more so than the execution of those concepts. But art does not have the monopoly on invention: every enterprise, institution and organisation must show inventiveness daily, under threat losing momentum.

The Senate is a unique, unusual, unprecedented parliament. It is composed mainly of indirectly elected representatives, it deploys its activities almost without intervention or pressure from the government and its mission is essentially one of advice and recommendation.

Time has been ‘standardised’ since ages now, and we believe in the objectivity of the vibrations of quartz and the ticking of seconds. Suchan Kinoshita (°1960, living in Brussels) reinvents time and develops mechanisms for deregulating the measurement; an ultra-fast instrument that measures only its own moment or the serene slowness of acacia honey flowing in a honey hourglass.

Biology teaches us that novelty always appears in the form of an anomaly, a monster. Jacques Lizène (°1946, living in Liège) postulates that we are all, as human beings, an accident, the accidental accumulation of two halves of genetic material. Once this monstrosity is accepted, the world turns into a grotesque celebration, whose exquisite corpse is the common thread.

For this work, Taus Makhacheva (°1983, living in Moscow, London and Makhachkala) has transformed three museum pieces into puppets, which she wants to see debating their role in history. While they seem animated, they’re just puppets reminding us of an important question throughout history: "Who has the floor?"


image: (c) M HKA

From a technocratic point of view, the term ‘mobility’ refers to road works, trucks, trains and airports. But mobility is also an existential phenomenon, both human and social. For alongside the mechanised ballet of our society, there is, more and more predominantly, our own ephemeral and nomadic feeling of existence, as well as the frustrating blockages and forced displacements of a fleeting world.

In an information report, the Senate made recommendations for more integrated public transportation, including a single ticket for the country and more intermodal transport.

In her video featuring short film clips edited together, Ria Pacquée (°1954, Antwerp) zaps between West and East, North and South. She thus confronts impressions of human actions – a sand storm in Morocco and a walk, with a headwind, of an elderly woman on the Belgian seaside – and questions: how to make the invisible visible?

A recurring figure in Johan Muyle’s works (°1956, living in Liège), the skeleton refers to the cycle of life and death, tragicomically, as in popular culture. Bearing the artist's head, they are motorised and mechanised, in a desperate attempt to replay the race from life to death.

The works of Johanna Kandl (°1954, living in Vienna) evoke the difficult living conditions in border regions. But it addresses the prosaic reality of contemporary news media through traditional historical painting. This monumental painting questions the rushed transition to capitalism, which was a harrowing experience for many in the former Eastern Bloc: “Who’s got the big picture?”.


image: (c) M HKA

Research, often limited to the empirical and scientific sphere, refers in fact to any gathering of data initiated by a question. This essential human activity focuses on the human and defies the world. "He who finds has badly searched", said the poet, resolutely focusing on the quest and not on the find. This is the characteristic of many contemporary artists: they explore the world in a personal and original way, their environment, themselves and their practice, and turn this exploration into a work of art.

Political decision-makers rely less and less on intuition and ideology, relying instead on research, expertise and scientific information. Thus, the Senate invites experts to nearly all its activities.

Luc Deleu (°1944, living in Antwerp) transposes Jules Verne's proposal – around the world in 80 days – into a project of systematic spatial analysis. He develops journeys to explore the world by circumventing it; his urban planning perspective takes shape through the societal, geographic and demographic data collected from the entire planet.

In his works, Jacques Charlier (°1939, living in Liège) emphasises the role (artistic) images can play in manipulation. However, using humour and a poetic approach, his work doesn’t become moralising. Thus, starting from the adjective ‘cerebral’, a term often used by art critics, he visualises how the painting refers to the term by adding a ceramic brain.

In the 1970s ORLAN (°1947, living in Paris) measured institutions, streets and squares bearing a masculine name using her own body. How many ‘ORLAN bodies’ do they represent? Her performances go against the saying "the human body is the measure of everything". In her ‘MesuRages’, she expresses her rage against those who do not recognise human difference.


image: (c) M HKA

The terms ‘radical’ and "radicalism" have long had positive connotations. They come from the Latin word ‘radix’, root. Progressive groups were proud to be ‘radical’ because they advocated profound changes. It was to eradicate the old structures and to deeply root and anchor the new ones so that they could be solid. More generally, and especially in the world of art, radicalism is understood as a search for the essential.

Some social issues are complex and their solution does not depend on a single authority. In its report, the Special Commission of the Senate on Radicalisation lists a series of ‘hot spots’ and suggests ways of thinking to the authorities of the country.

When architect René Heyvaert (°1929 - †1984) decided to become an artist, he did so to get closer to the human experience. His work confronts the intense material experience with the ruthless mathematical mechanisms of the human mind. This cross made of bread can thus be deciphered as follows: edible substance versus mathematics.

Tapta (°1926- †1997) came to Belgium at the age of 18 as a political refugee, after the liberation of Warsaw. At the beginning of the nineties, she chose neoprene, a synthetic impenetrable rubber, both solid and flexible. A square cut out in several articulated parts is spread on the ground. Unlike a sculpture sometimes considered as ‘masculine’, which claims vertical climbing, this work is deployed horizontally, as if docked to the ground.

In this video, Yang Zhenzong (°1968, lives in Shanghai) films people of different ages and professions in front of the camera and asks them to say "I'm going to die" in their own language. These short sequences confront the viewer with existential questions. The work inspires a reflection on pretence and sincerity, fiction and reality, the transient and eternity.


image: (c) M HKA

Just like mirroring, ‘reflection’ needs a counterpart. Reflection arises from the friction of encounters and can only take place when there is openness to the outside world. Nevertheless, reflection without self-reflection is not credible either. Self-reflection, for example on the adopted point of view, the means or its own limits, is essential for achieving a complete understanding.

It has been twenty years since the Senate printed its reflective mark on Belgian legislation in the field of ethics and bioethics. Over the past three years, it has been studying and making recommendations on ‘cross-cutting’ issues with societal impact.

In the performance entitled Water te Water, Guy Mees (°1925-†2003) translates his homeopathic figurative language into an ecological and politico-environmental gesture. He lets a sphere of transparent plastic, filled with clear water, drift on the polluted Ghent-Terneuzen canal. The image seems to refer poetically to itself but in fact refers to the present world.

After analysing the components of a painting (pigment, support, format and frame), Marthe Wéry (°1930-†2005) designed a vast installation of sky blue panels. The ensemble is a sort of plastic partition, in the musical sense of the term, which must be reinterpreted in each exhibition place.

Carla Arocha (°1961, living in Antwerp) uses opaque Plexiglass plates to reflect their location. The projection screen shows a willingness to receiving and reflecting. It cuts the surrounding space, refers to it in its receptiveness and places it in another ‘light’.


image: (c) M HKA

The ‘public cause’, the political organisation of society, must be the central concern of all forms of power. Parliaments are its vital heart. It is therefore essential for them to be receptive to what is happening outside their hemisphere. Society has different ways of being heard; art is one of them.

The Senate, like the House, is fully authorised for the Constitution and fundamental legislation. In this capacity, it strives towards the ‘Ideal City (society)’.

Through this work, Sven 't Jolle (°1966, living in Melbourne) evokes the importance of struggle in the conquest of liberties. Strikes and demonstrations are the expressions of popular dissatisfaction, even opposition: a way of being heard by parliaments. However, is this form of expression still relevant in a globalised world?

These two paintings by Marcel Berlanger (°1965, living in Brussels) representing a ‘gille’, an central figure of the carnival in Binche, show their production process. Underneath the easily recognisable image, the paint reminds us that it is only a painting. The gille is the representation of how carnival reverses the order of things and how power is merely bestowed and passing.

In this video, Koka Ramishvili (°1956, living in Geneva) combines ‘found’ images of the 2003 ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia with scenes from Fassbinder's film ‘Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss’. The work shows the ironic antagonism between the male choreography of the power surge in Georgia and Fassbinder’s female, melodramatic scene of wasting vitality and death.


image: (c) M HKA

‘Solidare’ - solid, dense, hard, strong and, in the transitive sense, ‘to form a whole’, ‘to unite’, is the origin and the meaning of the term ‘solidarity’. As a pillar of our society, solidarity means, from the societal point of view, that members of a group aim at a common good, in favour of all but sometimes at the expense of oneself. Tensions arising from the divergence between group interest and individual autonomy are also reflected in cultural expressions.

The Senate is above all a meeting place for the various communities in the country. A place where the exchange of experiences is possible, formally or informally.

The series ‘!VROUWENVRAGEN?’ (!Women’s Questions?), which Jef Geys (°1934, living in Balen) collected from his female students and presented as a work of art, expresses as much the equality between the teacher / artist and his female students as between men and women (such as the question ‘11. Female work = male work’). The questions addressed to women focus on emancipation versus social order.

In his photographs, Michel François (°1956, living in Brussels) plays with contradictions such as: intimacy and universality, stability and fragility, security and danger. In this sculptural photo, the hands of children playing the ‘warm hand’ remind us that social life calls for the contribution of all.

In their video, artists Victor Alimpiev (°1973, living in Moscow) and Marian Zhunin (°1968, living in Moscow) formulated an aesthetic of conformity and uniformity. The actors perform prescribed movements pertaining to daily actions and reactions. Yet, from time to time, choreographic perfection is interrupted in order to raise questions about the relationship between the individual and the masses.


image: (c) M HKA

"Dura lex, sed lex", the law is hard, but it is the law. In a law, words appear in their most authoritarian and normative form. That is why it is essential for laws to be crafted with the utmost care, and that the necessary time and attention be paid to their formulation. It is also important to regularly review existing legislation. This attention to new or existing material is typical for all creative work.

The Senate traditionally monitors the textual quality of the legislation. By regular 'grooming' of the legislative arsenal, it intends to reduce the distance between the citizen and the rule of law.

Obsessed by the flow of media, Denmark (°1950, living in Antwerp) accumulates, in his installations, all manner of printed material. Les Quatre Saisons de Moniteur belge (The Four Seasons of the Belgian Official Journal) is the sum of the Belgian legal production, in one year, intended to structure our society as well as possible. A reflection on the function of Law, the work is also a meditation on human vanity.

Marcel Broodthaers (°1924- †1976), a poet and artist from Brussels, paired the names of car manufacturers with different breeds of cattle. He confronts words with images in the form of a game, demystifying the authoritarian and normative power of language.

Sheela Gowda (°1957, living in Bangalore) reworks the scraps from textile mills - once collected by poor women and sown together in a rudimentary fashion into bedspreads - into four patchwork quilts. Thirty years later, these coloured surfaces become the backbone of Gowda's subtle critical manipulations, and by the addition of other pieces of printed textile, they bear a socio-political meaning.


image: (c) M HKA

In a world with limited natural and social resources, the search for a balance between well-being and prosperity requires constant reflection. What material abundance, within the available limits, is required for optimal well-being? And in this quest, in what capacity and in what role do individuals and public authorities intervene? By combining poetic and engaged perspectives on humans and the world, art often opens up astonishing perspectives in this field.

Several Senate information reports address the concept of well-being, through issues like climatic objectives, hormone disrupters or the development of e-health platforms.

This multimedia installation is part of the ambitious HeadNurse project that Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven (°1951, living in Antwerp) started in 1995. The project consists of exhibitions and ‘reports’ in which the artist offers her services, as a ‘head nurse’, to the present visual arts and, without the slightest irony, showcases the healing role of art.

Inspired by the ephemeral aspects of everyday life, Edith Dekyndt (°1960, living in Tournai and Berlin) went beyond sculpture to grasp the changing states through video recording. In Worthlessness she follows the intriguing and whimsical choreography of a plastic bag in ever changing environments (this video was created well before the movie American Beauty).

In his film, Sasha Pirogova (°1986, living in Moscow) makes human bodies dance together in a surprising way, with the knowledge management system of the Russian state library. It thus reveals qualities and possibilities of unexpected experiences in a system which seemed to make everything homogeneous. Actually, it is our movements that provide quality of life, pleasure and depth.