Venturing into a fantastical world
Consider your classical Friday night dilemma solved this week, as the third edition of Gent Soiree is taking place and a number of galleries and art spaces all over Ghent are opening their doors in the evening. These smaller initiatives, run by locals, can truly be hidden gems and welcoming breaks from blockbuster canonical exhibitions. They usually provide a well-curated selection, showing the work of both national and international contemporary artists and contributing to Ghent’s increasingly thriving art scene.
One of the participating spaces is Convent, a non-profit art space in the Tennisbaanstraat with exhibitions and openings that have been drawing large crowds in the past years. We had a quick chat with founders Wouter and Jeroen about their newest exhibition and the gallery.
Interview by Elise Dupré
Photos shot by Tiny Geeroms at Convent in Ghent
Current exhibition: Colibri by José Montealegre
We both saw a lot of opportunity in Ghent
You two started Convent in 2016, was opening a space in Ghent a conscious decision?
We both saw a lot of opportunity in Ghent. There are great museums and lots of initiatives by artists and institutions who all produce interesting shows, like KIOSK for example. But we also saw possibilities for showing work of international artists who have not shown in Ghent, or even Belgium, before. There’s room for that here. Room to distinguish yourself and to put your own mark on the scene. If we would have started a space in Brussels, it would have been harder to stand out. Ghent is also interesting in the sense that there are so many art schools here. The ratio of art students compared to the surface area is the biggest in Belgium, so I guess there is a large target audience in this city. And obviously, we found this special space in Ghent too.
The space and setting are pretty remarkable. You reach Convent by entering a hallway with some astonishing design features and by following a corridor until you reach a courtyard. Can you tell us more about this building?
We’re located in an old convent school that was built in the fifties, which was later transformed into an office building in the nineties. We are sharing this building with architecture studios, a psychologist, an accountant and other residents. Our space used to be a gym in the school and when we found it, it was used as a storage room. We asked if we could rent it, transform it into an exhibition space and here we are.
Does the history of the building play into building these exhibitions, or into building Convent?
It can, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. Our prime focus is the work of the artist and how we can help him or her in showing it in the most productive way possible.
That seems to have been the case for the current exhibition, Colibri by José Montealegre. How did that collaboration start?
Two years ago, Jeroen visited Frankfurt and met José through a mutual friend. José, an artist who draws inspiration from archeology, science-fiction and post-colonial theories, was then working on sculptures, specifically scale models of entire worlds he was constructing. For him it was really interesting to see how these pieces would function when constructed on a larger scale. That’s where it got really interesting for us, too. This space provides a stage on which the artist can explore his own longstanding questions. We show artists who all possess qualities we genuinely believe in, but in this case we could actually take this major step together with José in his own work and in his process. It has been rewarding for both parties.
This space provides a stage on which the artist can explore his own longstanding questions
The space is now an installation with human-sized sculptures of trees and scenes, all on top of a ceramic floor that breaks pretty easily when people step on it. José is really playing on the idea of inviting people into his world here — as an explorer or settler. That’s up to the visitor. You can enter this place and be very careful, or you can choose to leave a mark. We had a group of kids visiting the space this morning and you can definitely tell the difference already.
The passing of time is present. Your exhibitions are usually on for a few months, correct?
True, that’s something we aimed for from the start. To have exhibitions that are on for a while so people can revisit and so that artists themselves can stay here for a while. A lot of work goes into these shows. We start from a genuine fascination for an artist and his work, let the idea sink in and talk about it with each other for a bit. It’s a whole process. As much for us as for the artist, so we think it’s important that the shows are available for a while. We’d like to distinguish ourselves by making good exhibitions, not by a multitude of them.
Which galleries or spaces are you visiting on Gent Soiree?
We’ll probably swing by KIOSK. Sophie Nys’ show seems really good!