Hope is disappointment delayed, a sports reporter remarked at a football game some time ago. That that is correct was proven in that same match, but does it also apply to ordinary life? In any case, it is not the mindset to walk past the monasteries that are the location of the second Biennale Art in the Holy Triangle in Oosterhout. This year it is all about hope, and about the question of how hope can be imagined.
“The concept of ‘hope’ is more topical than ever due to the Covid pandemic. We have often used Gerhard Richter’s quote: ‘Art is the highest form of hope’,” write the curators Hendrik Driessen and Rebecca Nelemans in the text accompanying this biennale. Not only did they choose existing works that fit in well with the wooded monastic environment, half of the artists present have created new work that focuses on that environment, keeping Richter’s thought in mind.
This is how Guido Geelen came up with the great idea to dismantle antique Comtoise clocks in the reception room of Sint Catharinadal and to hang clay works on the remaining interior that depict things that are part of monastic life: a book, animals, the vegetable garden. The daily rhythm that determines the life of the monk is one of rhythm dictated by the time of prayer. Geelen’s clocks are at different times, the prayer times. And for those who want to: time can of course also be stopped, if reflection takes a little more time.
Reflection goes hand in hand with hope at this biennale: reflection on how we treat each other, who we are and what we find important. You can see it in the happiness of a ‘flower meadow’ as Tom Claassen shows in his painted tree stumps in ‘Flower’, or in the Benin artist Meschac Gaba, who in ‘Globalloon’ makes flags from all over the world into one giant balloon. to create a harmonious society. Like Claassen and Geelen, Maria Roosen also focuses on the natural life of the monks – who set up a well-functioning farm in the St. Paul’s Abbey in the early twentieth century. She strings together a large amount of lime eggs to fence a field. Lime eggs are used on geese to prevent them from smashing their eggs. Hope as a trick, but also as a guarantee of new vitality.
The same goes for the ‘Growing Goals’ by Maarten Baas, who placed the lines of a football field on a lawn near St. Paul’s Abbey. Two little trees are the goalposts: the goals of life like trees growing bigger and bigger. It’s somewhat symbolic, but it also makes you laugh (and after all: hope benefits from laughing). Leendert Van Accoleyen and Joost Conijn also succeed in this: the first gave wheels to a fallen tree. You can mourn the fallen tree, you can also laugh at the tree that can now move if it wants to. Or Conijn’s plane that hangs between two trees at the entrance. He built it in 2000 to take to the air in Morocco, the friendly-looking plane embodies the hopeful realization that nothing is impossible.
Looking at all the works – including a colored Mary Magdalene by Maria Roosen, or Persian miniature art that Marc Mulders incorporated in his works or Jelle Korevaar’s well where silver leaves sparkle – you start to wonder to what extent hope is something religious. The environment determines the choice for the art, the works also acquire a different meaning because of that environment. Peter Buggenhout’s image of chaos is given more emphasis when it stands between an orderly monastic life. Maria Blaise’s ‘Oloid Pavilion’, in which bamboo sticks form a sleek tent, takes on a kind of cathedral stateliness.
The environment can also turn against you: in their videos Martin and Inge Riebeek look for people who have lost their place. A nice fact, and they take it widely, but the outcome in love and God sometimes gets on my nerves (“God healed me of my homosexuality,” says a woman in one of those works). Of course: it’s all set in a divine environment, but you can also go too far – before you know it the feeling of the happy ‘Positivoos’, who in a pink suit sings that ‘our God is the best’.
Also read: Berlinde de Bruyckere hits people where they don’t want to be hit
Ultimately, Art in the Holy Triangle is not just about that hope: the suffering lonely image proves that Arcangelo V by Berlinde De Bruyckere, de Crucifix Torso II by Robert Zandvliet and the martyrs in Bill Viola’s video artworks, all exhibited in the same church. Here, hope is not something that comes easy: it is hard work and desperate seeking with uncertain outcome. It is not for nothing that this final part of the biennale makes the most impression. At such a moment you tend to agree with the sports reporter.