Straight Ahead, Over the Bridge


19 August 2014

The recent De Unie Hasselt-Genk initiative links the two main cities in the Belgian Flemish province of Limburg.

An experimental “route" between the two cities that launched on 21 June, De Unie proposes an extended program of events and installations during the summer of 2014, with some pieces remaining after the summer to form a permanent art connection between the two cities. Curated by Tom van Gestel, the initiative is organised by Hasselt's Z33 museum and links the city to neighbouring Genk.

The artworks are as varied as the sites that host them, responding to specific locations and contexts. Dutch artist Zoro Feigl has created Beneath the Surface, a moving water sculpture in Genk’s Molenvijverpark; artist collective Circumstance has developed Periphery Songs, four "soundwalks" that trace inhabitants of Hasselt in their daily routine; and Belgian artist Rinus van de Velde has designed a large-scale charcoal mural, a group portrait of artists and acquaintances sitting in a historic café in Hasselt.

Yet it is Swiss-French artist Felice Varini who has created the stand-out work in the group, the result of its sheer scale. In Trois ellipses ouvertes en désordre, Varini has circumscribed Hasselt’s medieval centre with silver lines spread over 99 buildings, from terraced houses to apartment buildings, and from warehouses to the city church.

Passersby are greeted with dashes of silver crossing from building to building, but the piece can only be fully apprehended from the top floor of the city’s Radisson Blu hotel. Here, the three ellipses that give the piece its title become fully apparent, crisscrossing and strengthening the geometry of the city centre. The silver lines reflect daylight, changing colour during the course of the day to mirror the clouds and the sky.

An accompanying events program calls for participation from residents and interested parties during the summer. Some of the initiatives will only be unveiled later in the year, such as artist Tomás Saraceno’s installation for the Genk Cosmodrome and the event that will close the summer program, The Sound of Hasselt-Genk. Performed next 5 October, this piece will bring together several musicians from both Genk and Hasselt, premiering an original composition by Wim Henderickx on the cabled bridge that connects the two cities.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the De Unie initiative is its commitment to transparency. At Z33, an exhibition collects the documents, exchanges and research that lead to its artworks and programme, while simultaneously keeping track of the partnerships with local agents, from cultural institutions to schools and residents. Documenting what inspired and lead to the initiative, the exhibition also sheds light on the sheer potential of De Unie, creating an example for future initiatives of the kind.