Perhaps you have seen the poster somewhere in Leuven: big white letters on a rainbow-coloured background that says Artefact: the Prehistory of the Image; or perhaps you have seen the Global Rainbow in the Leuven night sky – an artificial light installation emitted from the newly built Imec tower; or perhaps you have noticed the oddly shaped ball on Grote Markt which lights up in the evening. Then yes, you have made your first contact with Artefact, the annual festival of art, media and music hosted by Leuven’s well loved art centre STUK. This year, the festival is anchored around the concept of Camera Obscura. It is a lovely idea. Maybe a bit nerdy, but you cannot ignore the mischievous sweetness at its core. The use of a camera obscura is often considered as the first human effort made to capture one’s own image. It is seen in the cave drawings in Lascaux, France and it is still used as a special if not nostalgic method in contemporary photography.
On Wednesday evening, I joined a group of future engineers for a guided tour at STUK. Tina, our guide, led us through different halls with her vivid explanations and a warm smile. We started with the installations that explore the theme of Probability in Paviljoenenzaal and Atelier. Ilona Gaynor’s “Everything Ends in Chaos” tries to explain the “Black Swan Theory” with a scenario that start with a woman who is considerably rich and ends with, well, several possibilities. Camille Henrot gives us the collage film named “Grosse Fatigue” which emulates the kind of information explosion that we now experience on a daily basis. Then we moved on to the well lit Expozaal dedicated to Projections. What impressed me here was a series of unexpected combinations of telescopes and microscopes. These Franksteins from the scientific equipment world are generously named “Common Space” to which the viewers were actually denied any access. The spectrum extended between the extremely far and the incredibly small is summoned up and exposed in this so-call “common space” which turns out to be nothing more than a dead end. At this point, I was completely intrigued, yet before I was given enough time to savour my perplexity, our pilgrim’s journey rolled on. Next stop: Verbeeckzaal. Immersed in darkness, we were given the perfect ambience to reflect on the theme Consciousness along with the artists who were only present through their works. Henri Michaux shared his consciousness under the influence of psychedelics in a film originally intended for a pharmaceutical company and Brassaï showed us modern day graffitis in Paris between 1930s and 1950s which bore the same spirit as ancient cave drawings. For a moment, I felt overwhelmd by the uncanny feeling of staring at something totally banal yet completely cryptic as if all of a sudden the secret chanel for time travel was wide open and available to all. Now let’s head to our last stop. It was only our guide Tina. Studio has been converted into a space where Histories were reconstructed. We found bone pieces made of ceramic and covered with floral print – María García-Ibáñez’s interpretation of origin, memory and time. We also heard some indecipherable noises loud enough to pull us away from the exquisite bone pieces and we found ourselves confronted by something truly mammoth: a reconstruction of the shape of some prehistoric animals plus their wild roars. It was awesome (in the original sense of the word).