Der Magen Europas II at Rotonde 58 / Brussels

Der Magen Europas II

with Jurgen Ots and Christoph Westermeier

curated by Harris Giannouras

graphic design by Atelier Brenda 
scenography by Alessandro Cugola 

Rotonde 58
Eeuwfeestlaan, 1020 Brussels

One common way of thinking about the archive is through the scope of its insti-tutionalization: a space, a structure or a building; a form created with the intend of storing information, that may or may not be accessible to a broader public. An important aspect that reveals a great deal of things about this space is its relation to time: what enters the archive comes from the past and is stored in order to be kept alive for the future.

Around 18:14 the lights across the street glitter in the dark and reflect on a tall man’s raincoat. He is sitting on a red bench. The ocean is stretching wide in front of him. He is calm, content, almost happy, he thinks to him-self and quickly changes the subject before overthinking it. While starring at the void a screeching noise penetrates his ear.

Alluding to the idea of a lived or living archive THE STOMACH OF EUROPE II by Jurgen Ots & Christoph Westermeier consists of collections of found books and photo albums, as well as a group of photos taken in Brussels last year. Someone’s childhood memories, a fabric of their everyday life that is usually kept under wraps moves from place to place and attains a new status of visibility. It becomes public, property to the voyeuristic gaze of strangers at a flea market and is redistributed within the networks of contemporary art production. 

All of the sudden he jumps back. His scarf drops on the floor and before he gets a moment to realize what is happening, a bull is standing in front of him. A great white beast with two long sharp horns on top of his head. A pair of striking blue eyes brightens his pale face. A sense of wrath and sensation travels down his spine.

The exhibition space is a pavilion built for the international Expo ’58 located in the center of Brussels. Nowadays the space is used as a social center. The social role it once held, as a place for visitors to get their tickets whilst entering the fair seams almost symbolic. It becomes a stand-in for the ‘Stomach of Europe’: a dialectic of history and its burden on the face of the contemporary united Europe. The work is created within a net of social contacts, common narrations and old commodities that have lost their place within the market.

He was a postal worker, employed by the local post office located around the corner in his neighborhood. His job was to file things, organize the mail that has been lost or unsearched for and need to be categorized and kept in store for archive purposes. It’s protocol, he says out loud every time someone questions the impact of his personal contribution to the service. 

Jurgen is mounting the result of his scavenging hunt, alongside the rest product of years of collecting found books, cards, tapes and navy maps, into three large wooden tables. The images of the dust of time, that Christoph made sure to save a while back, sneak in and lay frozen between their stories of origin. Both conversate, they inter-rupt each other, laugh at each other’s jokes, whisper tales from two summers back when they visited Greece for the first time and sometimes shout louder than expect-ed. “The struggle of an argument is nothing less than the joy of communality”, yells the scruffy looking peacemaker that waits for them at the door, as they hurry along and take their discussion to the train heading to the south side.

The bull strikes. His charm is oddly irresistible to the extent that the man willingly agrees to follow him and leave the post office and the glossy red bench behind. He gets on his back and they fly away heading south. 

Sums of information are picked up by both artists who look into their Archaeology and try to dig out the thread connecting them together. The interplay between ob-ject and document, between collective unconscious and personal testimony becomes evidently a political act: one about the societal problems of united Europe, the terms of dealing with the historical past and the  somewhat worrying power narration still holds in the context of art.

So, what do you do when faced with fear? How do you deal with the sto-ries of the old days wait for you neatly packed and organized inside a file cabinet? How do you talk to the cursed northern princess that hides behind the screen? You strap yourself onto a hopeful white bull and you journey to another world. You just hope that the burden of being a post office employ with a fascination about red benches enjoying the ocean view was nothing but a store-bought dream sequence.

Harris Giannouras