Poppositions: A Review

  Ben Street  
April 2014

This year marks the third iteration of Poppositions (under the direction of Liv Vaisberg), Brussels’ alternative offshoot of its major art fair, Art Brussels. Poppositions deliberately establishes itself as a critical project, rethinking the conventional art fair format in a variety of ways – particularly by maintaining an open plan layout and focusing on the creative possibilities of that many artists and galleries occupying a single space at the same time. Live programming (talks, panel discussions and performances) allows the event to nurture that sense of temporary collectivity. The effect is of continuous cross-pollination, with an emphasis on open-endedness, public engagement and porousness. What the conventional art fair format presumes – discrete commercial practice, sleek presentation of buyable objects and so on – is turned on its head.

The space, too, is significant. Poppositions is an itinerant event, launching in 2012 in a modernist commuter station and continuing in 2013 at a disused brewery and former squat. This year’s event took place in a similarly loaded site: the premises of the bankrupted bank Dexia, bailed out by the Belgian government. The stripped-out interior, with its little residues of former use, becomes a suitable metaphor for an enterprise that exists at the critical end of contemporary art. The effect is that of a sprawling group show, linked by sensibility alone. Each appearance of Poppositions is linked by a quote, a key to its loose theme: this year’s is Brecht’s “What is the burgling of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?” (2012’s is the best: “Art fairs are for art what porn is for erotica”). There’s a site-specificity in Poppositions’ participating galleries’ choice of works and live programming that isn’t often found in other comparable events, and certainly not in the larger fairs, whose homogeneity precludes such curatorial thoughtfulness. Abandoning discrete areas for display underscores this: there are no dividing lines between galleries. Ideas flow together.

With this in mind many participating galleries made allusions to the site itself, from D+T Project’s (Belgium) display of Federico Martinez Montoya’s erosion of paper money and coins through bashing or rubbing (then resold for its material value), to Jeune Création’s (France) installation of Benoît Pype’s scraps of dust and dirt from empty pockets, displayed on tiny plinths like archaeological finds. The curatorial enterprise Abel Nicosdriou Project (Belgium) took a more whimsical approach, showing Aggtelek’s list of purchasable ‘performative concepts’, including a performance which involves smoking some joints with the artist ‘speaking about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Price: 1000 euros (price includes the joints and the beers).’ And one panel discussion title summarised the event’s unique position: There ain’t such a thing as a free lunch. Self-organisation: its possibilities, challenges and limits.

24 - 27 April 2014

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