Visiting CONTOUR is an equally relaxing and exciting way of discovering contemporary international visual art. The Biennale presents film, video, installation-art and performances at special locations in the city of Mechelen.
CONTOUR 7, a Moving Image Biennale, is dedicated to humanist and statesman Thomas More. Regarded by many as a martyr and by some as a monster, perhaps even as a philosopher or artist. Certainly he was a brilliant fool, ahead of his time. It was while visiting Flanders – he stopped through Mechelen – in the summer of 1515 that he wrote the bulk of his book on the ideal commonwealth, the island of Utopia.
CONTOUR 7 presents work by over twenty international artists, spread across several venues in the City of Mechelen. All the works on show, many of them new productions, have in common the fact that they are inspired by utopias, monsters and martyrs, past and present.
CONTOUR 7 is dedicated to the humanist, statesman and martyr Thomas More. Fooling Utopia, the Biennale’s motto, is inspired by Utopia (1516), More’s most famous book, and by In Praise of Folly (1511), which Desiderius Erasmus dedicated to his friend, Thomas More. The motto seems to capture the original spirit with which these two friends dealt with the reality of their time, and it is a reflection of the artistic practices and strategies on display throughout CONTOUR 7.
CONTOUR 7 presents work by over twenty artists who have been invited to focus on two themes: Fooling Utopia and Monsters, Martyrs & Media. Both are inspired by the human as well as the intellectual trajectory that led Thomas More to Mechelen exactly five hundred years ago.
The campaign image of CONTOUR 7, a deep blue vortex, depicts the movements in play between the two themes of the Biennale.
Monsters, Martys & Media
On the bind between monsters and martyrs in past and present media
Why do we need monsters? Is it because they allow us to express our deepest fears and anxieties? Or do they serve as warnings against the dystopian futures of which we risk becoming victims? Martyrs, on the other hand, make the headlines of newspapers and other media on a daily basis. They remind us that some people are prepared to embrace their beliefs in such a radical way, that they are willing to sacrifice their life.
The distinction between martyrs and monsters blurs, as they get sucked into the information maelstroms and vortexes produced by contemporary mass media. Several of the artworks on display within CONTOUR 7 address the theme Monsters, Martyrs & Media both literally and figuratively, using the City of Mechelen as a backdrop.
History teaches us that Mechelen has been home to both fictive and real monsters and martyrs. According to ancient city legends, the monstrous bogeyman ‘Oude Rode Ogen’ plagued the city at the end of the seventeenth century. Known in Mechelen under the name of ‘De Nekker’, this fictive monster abducted innocent children and adults at night in the swamps surrounding the city. Three centuries later, Mechelen became the location of real, monstrous atrocities when Kazerne Dossin was used by Nazi-Germany as a transit camp for the deportation of Jewish and Roma people to Auschwitz.
On the sense and nonsense of utopia in society
The fact that court fools, clowns and harlequins can afford the sharpest criticism, is a cliché that has been around for centuries. That this particular cliché makes sense, was also the opinion of the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus when he wrote his most famous book In Praise of Folly. Thomas More and Erasmus exchanged numerous letters, reflecting on the follies of their age. This must have left its mark when More wrote Utopia, which served as a sharp and ironic critique of Europe.
That this five hundred-year old critique is still relevant today, is proven by the potential grexits and grim euro-crises that trouble contemporary Europe. However, this critique is instantly alleviated and nuanced by the ironic and comical tone of the book. More probably sought to undermine his own utopian ideals before anybody else could, because he knew that his utopia would never be possible to realize entirely.
The word ‘utopia’ (a word we owe to More) contains a certain impossibility. A utopia is a wish that continuously waits for fulfillment. Within the context of this Biennale, Fooling Utopia elaborates on the sense and nonsense of utopian thinking.
UTOPIA & EUROPA SALON
Within the context of CONTOUR 7, a Moving Image Biennale, and in cooperation with the Directorate-General for Education and Culture of the European Commission and the Representation of the European Commission in Belgium, three Utopia & Europa Salons are organised.
The central question these salons address is the role of artists, writers and thinkers in Europe today. How do their utopian ideas form an essential contribution to the realisation of the common good? And how do they contribute to Europe’s search for a contemporary narrative?
The Utopia & Europa Salon is organised also in the framework of the European Commission's New Narrative for Europe, an initiative that engages the cultural, scientific and artistic sectors in the ongoing discussion on the many narratives on Europe.