As the European Capital of Culture for 2015, Mons is host to a range of cultural events programmed throughout the year, from art exhibitions and music festivals to suspended gardens and urban art installations. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the opening night of one such event, Ailleurs En Foile, dedicated to Melbourne. The event was being hosted at La Maison Folie (“The Mad House” in French), a cultural space in the centre of Mons that regularly showcases artistic projects. The space had been transformed into a labyrinth of corridors, meandering galleries and laneways showcasing a range of visual and audiovisual works by Australian artists, which explored the cultural diversity of Melbourne.
On Closer Inspection (It Wasn’t What I Thought It Would Look Like)
The first installation we viewed was entitled ‘On Closer Inspection’ which was a large-scale labyrith created by sheets of fabric and other locally-sourced materials that were draped from the ceiling, including some old hand-painted theatre backdrops that had been formerly used in productions at the Theatre Royal in Mons. The sheer size and beauty of these backdrops was amazing, and succeeded in creating the impression that I was being enveloped in another world.
After weaving through the dark passages of the previous installation, we arrived at the “Hiromi Hotel”. After taking off our shoes and placing them in a pile by the door, we entered a whimsical space where we were immediately immersed in hanging woven creations and structures, which had been created with the assistance of more than one hundred residents of Mons. I was amazed at the intricacy of the woven objects, which came together beautifully to create a child-like garden.
The artist, Hiromi Tango was also present, engaging with the many children that had obviously embraced the space as their playground. When she wasn’t sitting in the large crib that was part of the installation, Tango was interacting with the ‘guests’ of the Hiromi Hotel through mime and dance, providing a cheerful contrast to some of the darker works that came before and after.
Less than an hour’s drive from Brussels I found myself at a complex that reminded me of my old primary school in Australia. As we reached the central courtyard, we were greeted by the smell of meat grilling and the sight of outdoor bars and a Melbourne Chinatown art installation. As I made a bee line for the barbeque, I almost forgot I was in Belgium. The organisers had the Melbourne feel nailed.
After devouring some excellent Aussie-spiced meat, we were guided through the venue to see various art installations by some very talented Australian artists. The buildings in which the installations were being exhibited were very industrial, dark and moody with tall ceilings and lots of passageways. This setting set off the works perfectly.
One installation that really caught my attention was ‘Article 4.1’ by Phuong Ngo, a young Vietnamese Australian whose parents came to Australia decades ago as refugees by boat. He would be living in this exhibition room for a whole week, with only the same supplies as his parents had during their long boat journey, which comprised only a limited quantity of sugar cane, condensed milk, dried noodles and water to eat and drink.
An interactive work, several small red plastic tables were set up for visitors to join him in making origami paper boats, while listening to stories of Vietnamese refugees on provided headphones. With a goal to have 10,000 paper boats made by the end of the week, Ngo and visitors had already completed a considerable pile by the time we passed through. These paper boats would then be burned in honour of those lost at sea. It’s an incredible story, told beautifully through this installation.
Laneway – City of Shadows
When we made our way to a separate building which usually houses the Bistro Folie, I felt as though I had stepped right into a Melbourne laneway. The space had been transformed with narrow encalves and graffitied walls, and even a café reminiscent of Melbourne’s hidden cafés and bars. There was also a stage where concerts would take place throughout the week. I was surprised at how urban and authentic the space was.
A screen along one wall was playing a video featuring the city’s laneways by Australian artist Daniel Crooks. In one scene I watched as a group danced a dance I immediately recognised – the Melbourne Shuffle! It brought me back almost 20 years to the time when my friends and I were doing the Melbourne Shuffle in clubs and raves. There would be a Melbourne Shuffle dance-off the following weekend which I really wanted to join, but I had a feeling my sore knees and ankles would have hated me for days afterwards…
“Ailleurs En Folie Melbourne”
La Maison Folie
8 rue des Arbalestriers, 7000 Mons