Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Saint John in Saint Bavo's

We are almost at the eve of Ghent's Feasts 2012. It actually starts on Friday, 13th and it goes on until the following Sunday, the 23rd. The rule is that the Belgian National Day, July 21st, must fall inside the week of Ghent's Feasts. Although there's a lot of beer consumption during that period, the objectives of the 10 days long feasts is to be a celebration of culture in most of its forms, visual, textual, musical, theatrical and culinary. It's not like the October Feasts in Munich where visitors drop dead and pissed from drinking megatons of beer, and definitely not so crowded as there. I think I read somewhere that the Feasts have been going on like this almost for two centuries. I have known them for no more than 36 years, which is the number of years I lived in and close to the city of Ghent. 
This noon I went to visit Saint Bavo's. While city workmen were still busy setting up the venues for the celebrations all over the place in the citycenter, under a crazy sky that kept pouring heavy rain every now and then, I sought tranquility inside the largest cathedral of the city, Saint Bavo's, a historic catholic church with works of Van Eyck, Rubens, and Jeroen Bosch among others, that stands in the heart of the city for more than a thousand years. A masterful building of medieval architecture that creates in you awe as you turn your eyes to stare towards the top of its towers. 
One of the country's most famous curators, Jan Hoet, who unfortunately was sedated into coma the last few weeks, because of a health incident when he was recently in Germany, was the curator behind Saint Jan, an expo of young artists, who show-off their work conspicuously among the ecclesiastic artifacts of the cathedral, inside the venue premises. 
I photographed both, a few views of the cathedral itself, and most of the artist works, as well some of the visitors (a Japanese tourist group for instance, looking with awe at a large Rubens painting). I put up a simple slideshow and this is what you see embedded in the beginning of this blogpost.
As I usually do, I have tried to reproduce the atmosphere in the church as I experienced it myself during the half hour of my visit there. I enjoyed shooting pictures with the camera doing conspicuous shutter noises, while cards with 'no photography or video permitted' hang all over the place. Nobody said a thing to the old bugger with salt and pepper hair and a rather dear camera, so I got away with it. They 'knew' I didn't do that for money, so where's the problem? I didn't fire any flashlight anyway...
A series of three photographs shows one work called "a thousand Gods". Icones of Gods from various religions were projected against a flat pillar at the side of the ceremony table, where the priests perform their sacraments liturgy. Another set of pictures shows a huge sword hanging from the ceiling. I literally stood underneath and felt kinda like pissing myself, hoping the supporting steel rope wouldn't break apart! There was also this neon light ring with words written on it, like "love", "death", "life", "pain", etc... flashing consecutively the words one by one, and then all of them together for a few secs. There was also this beautiful painting of a young girl on a huge canvas by an artist called Mathieu Ronse, who happens to be an acquaintance of my daughter's, I dare say. He even gave her one of his early works about ten years ago, in his mid twenties then. Actually, this was the only artist I had heard of. In reality, I rather enjoy a work without knowing its artist, because I believe, knowledge of "who done it" leads you often to rationalization of your real appreciation of the artwork. You end up admiring something just because it was done by someone famous. Not fair!
I also found quite impressive a funny Escher-like stairway made of simple plywood, creating an arc altogether. I'm displaying three different photographs of that work in the slideshow. It created an exceptional visual impression, both with its shapes and color. Finally, I found interesting a praying mat with two hands and feet in plaster white, symbolizing a praying Muslim, i suppose. The embroidered mat shapes were reminiscent of an Islamic temple. Catholicism became quite tolerant after all. 
Worth visiting if you happen to be around Ghent, not so if you are far away, unless you want to experience the rest of the Feast goodies next week!

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