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By Astrid Peeters

The exquisite main building of a former mining site accommodates the 9th edition of Manifesta, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art. For ‘The Deep of the Modern,’ the curators attempt to create a dialogue between three different layers: art, heritage, and history, all with a central place for the mining industry - which Genk is known for. Coal was in fact the first fossil fuel to be exploited on a large scale during the 19th century at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

For the first time, Manifesta gives viewers the opportunity to discover heritage. This feature especially gives a wonderful view of how the coal industry has changed people’s lives. For example, a Greek couple tore the only picture of them together in two. The man took the part of his wife with him to the mines in Belgium and his wife kept the part with her husband. When they were reunited, they stitched the photo back together. Other amazing aspects are the photographs and paintings of the Ashington Group. In 1934, Robert Lyon organized an ‘Art Appreciation’ class, where he assumed miners could learn to appreciate art by doing it themselves.

The historical part of the biennial allows the public to gain knowledge about the many changes in the coal industry and its unpleasant work environment. Pictures and documentary video’s testify of strikes such as the reenactment of The Battle of Orgreave, by Jeremy Deller and Mike Figgis.

Thirty-nine artists give their own interpretation of the changes in the production process around the world. Within the contemporary part of the biennial, these artists outline the changing conditions, labor and materials, and also how it leaves a ‘footprint’ behind in our environment. The theme here is very broadly construed, which can sometimes make it difficult to understand. One of the most grandiose works is the huge patchwork of Ni Haifeng, where the artist arranged the sewing of several tons of fabric. In this case, the process became more important than the end product.

Maybe the artworks will not impress everyone, but the history and heritage of both the mining industry and the magnificent building are well worth a visit.

For more Art related articles see below

 MMJ. Art Articles.    

Astrid Peeters, a Belgian PR student with a background in art history. She studies in Antwerp, Belgium’s unofficial fashion capital and tries to visit as many exhibitions as possible around the world.

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