A collective surviving through punk
Last week, The HISK Connection opened at KANAL – Centre Pompidou in Brussels. The group show is a project by HISK, the Higher Institute for Fine Arts which offers a two-year postgraduate art program for young artists in Ghent. The exhibition features work by their alumni – artists such as Benjamin Verhoeven, Laure Cottin Stefanelli and Hamza Halloubi – and is part of a larger array of events organised by HISK. We were able to steal some time from curator Antony Hudek, a few days before the opening, while he and his crew were busy installing the show.
Interview by Elise Dupré
Photos shot by Pommelien Koolen in Brussels
You curated this exhibition here at KANAL – Centre Pompidou. What is your role at HISK?
My role is that I don’t have one. I am programme director of the Curatorial Studies program at KASK with which HISK collaborates on a regular basis. It’s a very natural partnership considering the nature and the vision of both programs, so that’s where the connection started for me. I became a visiting professor at HISK for three years and now I was invited to curate this show. It’s co-curated by students from the Curatorial Studies program.
You have a teaching position, both at KASK and HISK. How is working this intensely with artists in an educational context for you as a curator?
The particular context of the HISK program itself has been especially rewarding for me as a curator. It is a postgraduate program taught in English and it is the only one of its kind in Belgium. In the past years it has been growing into this elaborate setup. It’s quite amazing how much we are all learning from that and how much we are able to test what is possible, again and again.
Can you tell me more about the artists in this particular exhibition? They are all HISK alumni, right?
Yes, all of these artists graduated from HISK. This show is tilted towards recent graduates. Some of them knew each other already, some did not. We are trying to bridge the connections between the years and shows like this one are a great way of doing that. To some degree, the choice of artists for this particular exhibition was dictated by the fact that we had to work with Brussels-based or Brussels-related artists. Because of that, it’s really a show about what happens to HISK artists once they graduate and come to Brussels.
Does the Brussels theme reflect in this exhibition, other than the geographical aspect in the artists’ lives?
It’s in some of the work. You can feel that the artists live here and reflect on the city. They keep a certain post-industrial decay in mind. There is a political dimension tied to KANAL – Centre Pompidou as well, and it helps to be sensitive to that. We are working with artists who are very much aware of the political occupation of this space and who are making decisions based on the conflicting position of a French institution moving into a soon-to-be gentrified area in Brussels. The title is a reference to The French Connection, the film. It was a fitting reference that responds to the fact that there is a French institution that is allowing Brussels to show itself with this kind of vigour. We are trying to actively question the pros and the cons of that situation.
The exhibition is called The HISK Connection, indicating the importance of a community and a network. How valuable do you think it is for young artists to have that kind of community to fall back on?
It’s extremely powerful and you can tell that HISK is aware of how valuable the notion of an alumni network is. There’s a tendency to focus on material outcome of collectives or collaborations, but it can also be productive to realise how much of that comes from friendships or immaterial aspects. You can see that in this show as well. These artists are working in the same space. Some of these artists start working together and help each other out, but not necessarily. There are so many different layers of activity here.
What do you hope visitors take away from this exhibition?
The answer to that is easy: to see great work by artists which they would otherwise not see. And to see that great work comes out from HISK and its program. The strength is that the works in the show are, to my mind, very good. The artists got involved quite directly too. We invited the artists to see the space first and went on from there. A lot of them proposed pieces that we did not know about, so there’s a lot of new work to be seen. Benjamin Verhoeven, for example, was remaking work from scratch for this particular context. It really is a testing ground. I think it is nice to think about exhibitions not as finished products, but as production spaces. The artists are working it out in real space and time. It almost feels like an extension of the studio and I am really excited about that aspect.
The HISK Connection features work by Loukia Alavanou, Laure Cottin Stefanelli, Hadassah Emmerich, Vincent Geyskens, Hamza Halloubi, Pepa Ivanova, Clare Noonan, Meggy Rustamova, Sarah & Charles & Benjamin Verhoeven and is on view until 16 June in KANAL – Centre Pompidou.