Category Archives: Art in Flanders

A ‘mild kind of activism.’ Interview with Karl Philips

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Scenography for 'Medée / Vivez comme vous voulez' (performance with Naomi Velissariou)

Karl Philips is a Belgian (h)activist, performance and conceptual artist. I discovered his work a couple of years ago when i visited the exhibition Mind the System, Find the Gap at Z33 in Hasselt (BE.) But i really took the time to click around his portfolio when my favourite blog selected him for its watchlist.

Philips casts a critical but always witty glance at society, paying particular attention to cracks in consumerism, town planning, advertising, and turning upside-down their logic. He is also one of those artists who understand that, to have any impact, activist art is best deployed in the street, not just inside the white walls of a museum or gallery.

Some of his projects involve hacking a street lantern to provide passersby and local inhabitants with free wifi and power, dressing like a train seat to cross Belgium by train, screening movies streamed from Youtube in a drive-in movie theater set up under a bridge, substituting ads on billboards with a map detailing how survive in the city of Hasselt without any financial expenses, etc. Pretty simple and pretty brilliant.

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Genk-Blankenberge-Genk, 2014

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Hand Pump Car

Hand Pump Car, 2014

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Shed, 2011

Philips has a couple of exhibitions up right now. He's part two group shows. One at the gallery Dauwens & Beernaert in Brussels. The other in Rotterdam. Hopefully, i'll get a chance to be in Antwerp (lots of exciting shows coming up at the Photo Museum!) to check out the sculpture he'll be premiering next week for the group exhibition A Belgian Politician
 at Marion de Cannière Art Space. In the meantime, i got on my laptop and asked him for an interview:

Hi Karl! Your About page talks about "a mild kind of activism" that is inextricably linked to your work. What is mild activism? How does it manifest itself? And can a mild form of activism have an impact too?

I 'm convinced that real change or influence only manifests itself indirectly. In the long run I think it's better to do so through art or culture than through direct radical activism. I think the term "mild activism" indicates a different tone.

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Concierge, 2010

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Concierge, 2010

I'd be interested to know more about Mia, the homeless woman who came to live inside one of your structures. Did she spontaneously come to live in the structure? How did you get to know each other? Did she give you any kind of 'feedback' about Concierge or your work in general?

I got to know her when I was thirteen years old. Once every year she passed by at a artist's place where I went after school since I was eleven. A couple of years ago, when she was visiting, I showed her the first designs I made. She proposed herself to represent and become a part the work. This was the first time, in my practice, that such a healthy distance was maintained between the artist and the artwork. From a neutral point of view, she talked to the people who were visiting the artwork. So while rolling a cigarette and making coffee she could easily welcome visitors, artists, curators... Due to the media attention we generated she was offered social housing. She accepted this when we were finishing "Concierge" but a month later she hit the road again.

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Good/Bad/Ugly, 2012. Photography: Stef Langmans

Another work involving temporary homes is Good/Bad/Ugly. Could you explain us the whole process? The financial transactions?

Good/Bad/Ugly consisted of three mobile living units. On the outside of the units were several advertisements. For every advertisement we received 500 € per month. That's 1000 € per month, per unit. This money (3000 €/month in total) was used for the performance: providing a living for the inhabitants. We travelled around to different locations. In theory it is illegal in Belgium to put this kind of advertising i, but it is allowed for local businesses. We created some sort of alternative community with it.

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Drive-inn You Tube

I really liked the idea of a Youtube drive-in movie theater. Could you explain us how it worked exactly? Did you select yourself the videos that were screened?

It was a video projection under a bridge. It was a costless drive in movie theater where movies were streamed from youtube. I selected the videos but the last day we screened movies suggested by the public. The project was improvised on the spot so birds were flying around during the screening and car sounds or other sounds of the environment interfered with the audio of the movies.

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24 hours / 1 meter, 2009

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Wedge, 2014

Do you ask for permit for the various interventions in public space?
And whether you've asked for permission or not, what does working in public space have taught you about the way our space is used, managed and controlled?

Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. We try to stretch the gap between the real world and our artistic interventions as far as we can. I think I have learned that public space has lost it's political function. Public space used to be where people got together and where politics originated but nowadays everything is controlled. That makes it harder or even impossible to rethink the function of public space and of politics.

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Atelier (interior). Photography: Pauline Niks

I'm also very interested to know more about the story of your studio. It is an antique fairground attraction called Jacky. What did it look like before? Where do you buy fairground attractions? and where did you install it? In a garden? inside a bigger building?

It was a mobile game hall, like an arcade for fairs. It was based on a circus wagon that travelled around for thirty years. Without the games it is now a space of 85 square meters, it is my laboratory. It is a mobile artists studio, it has no foundations or a postal address.

Who are the emerging (or not so emerging) artists whose work you find inspiring right now?

Gordon Matta-Clark, Gilbert & George, Claude Lelouche.

Thanks Karl!

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No Title, 2014

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Colruyt, 2014

Retrospective / Introspective. Group show, Dauwens & Beernaert, Brussels, 15.01 - 13.03.2015.

no walls. Group show, Fenixloods, Rotterdam (NL), 17.01 - 17.02.2015

A Belgian Politician
. Group show, Marion de Cannière Art Space, Antwerp, 20.02 - 21.03.2015

Karl Philips - Daan Gielis - Tasya Krougovykh & Vassiliy Bo. Group show, W139, Amsterdam, June 2015

Phlogiston. Group show, (location to be determined), Split (Croatia) in July 2015.
Karl Philips, Solo show, Braennen, Berlin in September 2015.

Panamarenko Universum

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Panamarenko, Scotch Gambit

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Panamarenko, Pahama, Spitsbergen, Nova Zemblaya, 1996 courtesy Collection Fondation Cartier, Paris photo M HKA

Panamarenko, the artist and inventor who builds zeppelins, mechanical chickens, flying backpacks, flying saucers, robots, submarines and other machines designed to travel over land, under water and in outer space, is having a big and rather wonderful retrospective at the M HKA, in his home town of Antwerp.

As its name suggests, Panamarenko Universum attempts to cover the full spectrum of his artistic production and mental landscape. Along with many of the vehicles and devices Panamarenko has created ​​between 1965 and 2005, M HKA is also exhibiting drawings, objects, documentations of tv interviews, scientific experiments and performances, models and editions.

It's difficult not to be seduced by Panamarenko's childlike enthusiasm for movement and science, by his inventiveness and by machines which are successful as artworks but often hopeless as vehicles for ocean and space expeditions.

Some of the works i (re)discovered in Antwerp:

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA


Panamarenko had always wanted to build a submarine to take to the open seas and defy any storm. His ultimate purpose was to use this craft to journey to the Far North. Nonetheless, it took until the middle of the 19990s before the project really got under way.

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PAHAMA, Spitsbergen, Nova Zemblaya

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Arlikoop, 2004

A one-man aircraft which construction is based on the flapping movements of birds.

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Raven's variable matrix, 2000

An advanced deep-sea diving apparatus engineered to dive faster. It consisted of a shaft attached to a screw-propeller and two pedals with belts. The device was strapped around the diver's hips, leaving the arms and torso completely free.

'You just have to peddle away with your legs, and it's just like you have a tail. That moved you forward fast, much faster than a swimmer...' - Panamarenko

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Big Elbow (Razmo Special), 1990-1992

Panamarenko testing one of his diving contraptions:

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Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

A diving suit for walking over the gentle slopes of the seabed. The diving suit has a plastic dome helmet and a small cylinder pump, ten centimetres in diameter, to be worn on the back. The helmet is supplied with oxygen by a cylinder with a piston that goes up and down, a four-litre bladder that serves as an extra lung, and a flexible hose that floats on the water surface.

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Portuguese Man of War, 1990

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Panamareko testing the Portuguese Man of War in the Maldives. Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

In the 1970s, to create devices that take off vertically, Panamarenko concentrated his research on rotation speed and lifting power. The artist developed a series of compact but powerful Pastille Motors to power his rucksack helicopters. The name Pastille Motor refers to the round, flat shape reminiscent of a large aspirin. The engine must not weigh more than twelve kg, while five kilos of fuel should be sufficient for twenty minutes' flying.

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R.p.M. (Revolutions per Minute)

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Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

The propulsion for the Pepto Bismo is powered by short rotor-propellers, each driven by its own motor. The helicopter principal allows the pilot to take-off vertically, controlling the apparatus by body movement.

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Panamarenko, Pepto Bismo, 2003 courtesy Private Collection photo M HKA

Panamarenko built flying saucers and other spacecraft, he also researched into the various possibilities of using existing magnetic fields as cosmic highways to travel the solar system. In 1997 his fascination for the cosmos resulted in the final project Ferro Lusto that he describes as a spaceship of 800 meters in length and fit for a crew of 4000. Ferro Lusto would act as the mother ship that carres various smaller crafts, which he calls Bings.

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Bing of the Ferro Lusto (model), 2002

Panamarenko developed Bing of the Ferro Lusto and Bing II as hybrid machines suitable for flying through both the atmosphere and outer space. Bing II was powered using air and has three 4D booster engines developed on the basis of the Toymodel of Space theory. The engine consists of two cylinders set in parallel in a metal block. Four pistons make alternate upward and sideways movements. The drive power develops on the basis of the difference in speed and mass in contrast with the direction of movement of the earth and solar system, boosted by centrifugal force. '

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Panamarenko, Bing of the Ferro Lusto (model) , 2002 Courtesy Mulier Mulier Gallery

Panamarenko built The Aeromodeller between 1969 and 1971. The basketwork gondola was designed as a living space. Two aircraft engines on top of it are used to steer the imposing airship, which is held aloft by a cigar-shaped balloon, thirty metres long.

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The Aeromodeller (Zeppelin), 1969-1971

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Dubbele zeppelin, 1990

Panamarenko designed this machine on insect-like aluminium legs, to enable him to walk around the Swiss mountains more easily. Crooked Leg is powered by a boat engine and is operated using two vertical levers on either side of the device.

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Knikkebeen [Crooked Leg], 1994

The Magnetic Shoes are made with military boots from the former East Block and copper stator coils taken apart from electric motors. He would weld the coils' magnets to a rod and then trapped an electrical charge. The result was amazing! If you then touched a piece of metal to it, you couldn't get it off no matter how hard you pulled! In a green rucksack (where military personnel would keep their walkie-talkies) are the lead batteries to provide the current. By alternatingly turning the current in the magnets on and off, I could hang upside down from a ceiling and walk around. I thought: well, that's a start... a little bit like flying...

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Magnetic Shoes, 1966-1967

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May-bug (Salto Arte), 1972

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA

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Exhibition view Panamarenko Universum, 2014. Photo M HKA


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Panamarenko, Donderwolk, 1970-1971. Collectie Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België photo M HKA


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Panamarenko, Prova Car, courtesy collection M HKA


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Panamarenko Archive, M HKA, Antwerp, 2014

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PAHAMA (detail)

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Inside the PAHAMA

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Panamarenko testing his electronic tank. Location: Furkapas. ©image: Panamarenko Archive

Panamarenko Universum is on view at the M HKA in Antwerp until Sunday 29 March 2015.

Mediterranean. Portrait of a region in turmoil

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Ghadaffi's compound Bab Al-Aziziya, Tripoli

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Saint-Tropez, France. © Nick Hannes

Photographer Nick Hannes spent four years traveling around the Mediterranean looking for the traces left by mass tourism, migration, financial crisis, political upheavals and other burning issues. "[The Mediterranean] remains unique on the map of the world: a sea at the intersection of three continents, a relatively short distance from each other," Hannes told Flanders Today. "There's a reason why this region is considered the cradle of our civilisation."

History meets very contemporary troubles in his photos. While touring some 20 countries, the photographer saw tourists dancing on beaches while poverty-stricken people at the other hand of the sea were hoping to board a boat and migrate to richer shores, protests by family members of people who disappeared during the Algerian civil war, Gazans smuggling goods through underground tunnels in an attempt to overcome the severe food shortage imposed by the Israeli blockade, etc.

Hannes' series Mediterranean. The Continuity of Man is currently on view at the Photo Museum in Antwerp. I visited the show a few days ago and here are some of the images i found most striking:

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Crisis wedding, Rio, Greece. © Nick Hannes

Doing prospection for my Mediterranean Project in the port city of Patras, Greece, I bumped into this weird wedding party. Christos Karalis (44), who married Anna (26), decided to have the party in his petrol station, to save on expenses. "This is how we respond to the crisis", a family member said to me. "Please show these pictures to Merkel. A Greek keeps on laughing and celebrating, even when his money is being taken away."

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Thiva, Greece

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Rock of Gibraltar, seen from La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain. © Nick Hannes

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Qalandiya checkpoint, Ramallah © Nick Hannes

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Valencia, Spain. © Nick Hannes

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Checkpoint, Sirte, Libya. © Nick Hannes

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Tunis

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Asylum seekers, Athens, Greece. © Nick Hannes

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Istanbul, Turkey. © Nick Hannes

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Adana, Turkey. © Nick Hannes

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Cairo, Egypt. © Nick Hannes

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Ibiza, Spain. © Nick Hannes

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Palase, Albania. © Nick Hannes

Mediterranean. The Continuity of Man is at FotoMuseum Antwerp until February 1, 2015.

Check also my post on another FoMu exhibition that features Hannes' work: Red Journey, a photo trip across the former Soviet Union.