Nel Aerts / Emmanuel Bayon / Jo Caimo / Helmut Dick / Régis Perray / Roeland Tweelinckx

The exhibition VIRUS comprises a group show in the Studio, subtle interventions in the Netwerk building and fleeting (inter)actions in the city. The artists involved have been asked to make new work based on the guidelines of the exhibition. Certain artists have also used artefacts, elements or records of existing work as a part of their presentations. A virus can only exist at the grace of a suitable host, although the host is not always immediately aware of its own role as a carrier. In this way, some works in the exhibition have attached themselves to the skin of the city and entered the bloodstream of the art institute.

Bearing in mind Ai Wei Wei’s declaration that artists in a rational social system should have to assume the role of a virus, we have invited six artists to eschew social expectations while reflecting on their artistic ability to directly or indirectly infect a living organism such as our society. For this experiment we have brought together disparate approaches and diverse backgrounds in our selection of artists. A virus can potentially cause serious damage but, on the other hand, it can often be a benign presence. While one artist may clearly be actively engaged with society, another may be causing gleefully absurd disruptions to the social reality, and yet another may be carrying out some benevolent act, it remains quite apparent that similar artistic genes are being expressed across the group.

The relationship of the Western European with his religious roots is a constant theme in the work of artist Helmut Dick (°1969, DE/NL). The first example of which we find in the reworked video piece The Doves (2002). In the Beguinage, his controversial installation HEMELWAARTS (2014) presents a startling revelation with, as an exciting counterpoint in the exhibition space, the fevered fight of the possessed saint who tries to hold back demonic powers in a forest of temptation.

Emmanuel Bayon A.K.A. Manu Tention (°1989, BE) grants us an insight into his working method as a city caregiver, whereby, through his Actions/Réparations and Actions Multiples de Petits Rien, he leaves a trail of unsolicited repairs in the city. This kind of work creates space between the doom and gloom for the hope that a sense of community solidarity has not been lost. Aside from the altruistic motivation, there is also the artist’s individual desire to leave a trace of himself in the world.

The poetic-realistic work of artist Régis Perray (°1970, FR) has strong associations with this kind of art. In it, life and work are inseparably bound. The artist combines his reflections on the endless cycle of life with an artistic work ethic whereby cleaning the ground is of central importance. The artist has a predilection for the hidden beauty of abandoned places associated with repetitive human activities, such as public buildings, churches and factories. Tidying and cleaning, he constructs his identity as both a human and an artist. The work of the latter two artists bears some relationship to the urban experiments of the obscure ‘repair’ Collective UX, who take care of Parisian monuments.

Nel Aerts (°1987, BE) hits the nail on the head in her investigation of what it is to be normal and how one can be marginalised by the highest common denominator when one’s behaviour deviates from the norm. As an artist, she either looks at the question with a critical eye or hides away in nature to escape the pressure to abide by cultural norms. Her intimate work invites one to assume the place of the artwork and to look at the surrounding works from this perspective.

Artist Roeland Tweelinckx (°1970, BE) breaks out of his comfort zone of barely visible architectural interventions and causes a viral disruption to the circulatory pattern of the institute. A free-standing wall clogs up the Studio like a blood clot and penetrates the glass membrane of the exhibition space, discreetly affecting the preparation of the exhibition.

During the opening event, the young artist Jo Caimo (°1989, BE) from Antwerp will unleash his Megaphone Ensemble performance in the city and visitors will be invited to try his Red Ears Meter. The physical remnants of these actions will be integrated in the group exhibition.

VIRUS fits into a guiding principle of Netwerk’s exhibition programme which encourages the scrutiny of different areas in the broad spectrum of ‘art in relation to society’. Netwerk’s approach is rooted in its identity as a centre for contemporary art, seeking connections with the immediate or extended environment. We are essentially investigating the roles that art can assume in a society in transition as well as the question of how artists and art institutions relate to these roles.

At the core of this exhibition is a research project looking into recent developments in innovative collaboration and creative exchange between the care sector and the art world. This part of what we do is grounded in the fact that Aalst has in recent years profiled itself as a pioneering city in Flanders with respect to innovation in the care sector. From an art history perspective, the relation between art and care has been a fascinating topic since the 15th century. This relationship has taken many different forms over the centuries, from patron vs. muse to art projects in care institutions. One possible pitfall in current modes of collaboration is the approach to art as a tool for affecting social change. Art as a sacred medicine that ought to ‘improve’ the individual, the city, and – by extension – society. In the public sphere, artists are often asked to beautify some eyesore or neglected part of the city by means of an artistic intervention. Care institutions are reaching out to the arts to facilitate the creative socialisation of care and to stimulate communication between caregivers and those receiving care. In such noble transactions the personal story, motivations and artistic endeavours of the artist can often be carelessly overlooked.