The agony of legacy in a post-digital world
Located in a huge Brutalist former distillery built in 1930, within the Forest region of Brussels, arts space WIELS neighbours little other than traffic, the impressive but much (physically) smaller gallery Clearing, and public transport networks back into the city centre. Being positioned outside of the city's expected tourist and arts spots, there is arguably additional pressure on the likes of WIELS to engage current and prospective audiences in new and interesting ways, especially given the strains to the cultural sectors post-(?) pandemic, whether this is through notable architecture, community engagement, or something else entirely.
During my time in Brussels, themes of legacy kept arising in my mind, partly due to a visit to see the Laeken Cemetery, boasting decadent graveside memorials representing those with notable social standing in years gone by. With a fervent interest in contemporary readings of old, often atavistic practices, my thoughts gravitated towards how remembering might function in the near future. As most people, especially the young, have fewer assets to their name, yet equally are increasingly victims to the draws of consumerism, and on the whole are considerably less bound to religion, what will legacies look like moving forward? Is it another form of generational, non-clinical narcissism to hone in on one's legacy beyond mortality, all the while still living? Add social media footprints and climate degradation into the mix, and making one's mark in the world becomes more complex.
Back at WIELS, where there are multiple high-calibre exhibitions running concurrently, we are invited into the world of Belgian-Greek artist Danai Anesiadou, whose large-scale solo show, D Possessions, evokes a fusion of the personal and the material as one. In terms of a first impression, the expansive space boasts a red carpeted flooring, and although this is a bold, majestic colour choice that might imply symbolism of a dynamic passion, it is more reminiscent of a bedroom floor. A softness under the feet immediately brings a warmth to the space, igniting interest and directing our attention towards the many sculptures in the show, highlighting their status as unknown yet exciting objects.
The sheer volume of works in the show, and the way they have been ordered in the space, suggests a certain level of anxiety. There are seemingly many different ideas at play, most of which remain lovingly unfinished, and this is in keeping with the thorough and satisfying text by the artist which accompanies D Possessions; written in a first-person narrative, Anesiadou says that, "with no particular order or dramaturgy, I offer only beginnings and never endings to guide and entertain you." Guidance does, at times, also feel thin on the ground, as we encounter what might be perceived as one after another condensed mess, set hard in resin. One of the characteristics of our disposable culture is a lack of commitment, and yet we find highly mundane objects such as cigarette packets, trainers and plug sockets become high-art sculptures, concretised and immortalised.
Much like the contemporary condition, Anesiadou's space, which continues apace over two floors of the impressive WIELS building, provides a wealth, if not an excess, of stimuli for the viewer to consume and absorb simultaneously. With a menagerie of sound in tandem with kinetic sculpture and video installations, the experience can be overwhelming at times, but there is a welcome yet somehow surreal moment of isolated, concentrated intrigue in the upstairs space with the video installation Ouroboros. Displaying a YouTube video in a bespoke space brings a question of authorship, but again this mirrors what we experience with everything we produce and share online; aside from legal parameters, there is no clear ownership over much of what we consume.
The centre of Ouroboros is an interview of Andrew Norton Webber by Lisa Harrison, discussing the health properties of distilled water, before venturing into a similar conversation around urine. It is certainly less repulsive than one might initially expect, and instead Norton Webber's way of talking feels highly conspiratorial, especially as conversation shifts to the benefits of distilled water on autism and ADD, for which he admits there are neither testimonials nor results. The wider installation is comprised of plastic molds, soft and hard objects, and a massage table, all of which produce a sense of both comfort and alienation, something of a material expression of the ways in which conspiracists and cults speak and work.
Around the same time as visiting WIELS and Laeken Cemetery, I watched the highly acclaimed recent film The Banshees of Inisherin. Its lead antagonist, Colm, played by Brendan Gleeson, obsesses about writing music in order to be remembered in generations to come. There is surely nothing wrong with wanting to be remembered in some way, but the social cost of this is illuminated in the film, with a central plot point of Colm wanting to end his friendship with Padraic, played by Colin Farrell, so he can focus on writing music specifically with the vision of building a legacy beyond his humble existence in rural Ireland. Set in the 1920s, with its dearth of both material and technological distractions, the legacy that Colm is striving towards is palpably different to how we perceive it now. Fast forward a hundred years, and the ways in which Anesiadou has immortalised otherwise mundane objects in resin allows time to stop, halting with it the chatter and excess of information that haunts our individual and collective present and future perspectives. Spending time in such a busy, sometimes frantic exhibition, makes us ask: is this freezing of time relaxing, or further anxiety-inducing?
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