Brussels

Manuel Graf

Établissement d'en face

German artist Manuel Graf’s exhibition “Mediterraneo” (Mediterranean) opened with its invitation card, which lay upon a table and revealed an image similar to an illustration from an archaeological exhibition catalogue—that is to say, showing a series of artifacts and isolated documents against a black background. The card gave the exhibition title in several languages: Italian (Mediterraneo), Greek ( ), Turkish (Akdeniz), and Arabic ( ). This title designated the show as a single overall installation: a work from 2010 conceived of for the space. Having noticed this invitation with its ecumenical, even Wikipedia-esque accents, one proceeded to the entrance of the art center, where one discovered an arrangement of objects in the window: pieces of seemingly ancient pottery placed on metal shelves, accompanied by a hardy decorative plant as well as a tripod lamp.

This scene evoked the shopwindow of a modest store with little concern for the principles of marketing, perhaps similar to some in the surrounding Comté de Flandre/Dansaert neighborhood of Brussels, which is a hip area populated mostly by immigrants. But a closer look at the pottery divulged oddities in its making and its typology. And one noted the distance that Graf brought into play between these vernacular, handmade objects and the industrial look of the shelves.

A straddling of the outside context and that of a formal exhibition also occurred within the gallery itself, which was transformed into a sitting room with a coir rug, seating, and an outmoded coffee table: a sitting room with a colonial atmosphere, oriented toward a screen on which was projected a looped video that was the heart of the exhibition. This video presented a series of views of the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent terrain, as well as images and three-dimensional models of ceramics, and more abstract passages created through digital animation, with a sound track combining voice-over and musical pieces (notably performed by Graf, who is also a musician). In a pseudoscientific tone, the narrator recounted the history of peoples having lived along the Mediterranean Sea. The partially true, partially absurd text was inspired by the famous book on the Mediterranean by the French historian Fernand Braudel. Inevitably, one allowed oneself to be lulled by this voice, which seemed to suggest the eternity of civilizations, despite all wars and cataclysms. Graf asked us to confront our unconsciously established certainties regarding the continuity of our species, which is very much in question today, and showed the power of propaganda inherent in discourses reassuring us of those certainties, whether they primarily involve history, as here, or, by extension, science or politics.

Yoann Van Parys
Translated from French by Molly Stevens.