Artist Run Spaces: Greylight Projects
The art scene in Brussels is thriving. Besides having great institutions such as BOZAR and Wiels, the latter having an international residency program, international galleries are migrating or creating new branches in the Belgian capital, and artist run spaces are blooming all over the city.
Danish Cultural Institute has met with some of the eighteen, for now at least, different artist run spaces in Brussels, trying to figure out what makes this city the place to be for international artists everywhere.
A short minute away from the Botanique, on Rue Brialmont, is an old monastery. It is easy to overlook, melting into its surroundings, but inside this somewhat battered building is a real hidden gem. The old monastery still functions as a shared space now being occupied by Greylight Projects; an artist run organisation based in Brussels and Hoensbroek in the Netherlands. The Dutch artist Wouter Huis discovered the then abandoned building in 2013 during his postgraduate program at Sint-Lukas, the Flemish art academy in Brussels.
I had a small studio somewhere else, but it was so small that I couldn’t really work, so I looked for another place. Then I found this. In the beginning, it was completely un-usable; the windows were closed with planks of wood, and there was no electricity, so step by step, with the help of some friends who also had a studio space here, we started to clean up the place. Slowly it grew till now, where the whole building is in use.
We are sitting in Wouter Huis’ studio on the first floor of the building. The studio has high ceilings and a beautiful mosaic floor filled with old artworks, materials, art in the making, and fun memorabilia, like a framed photo of a football team that Wouter found on the street. Wouter is first and foremost an artist, but here he also functions as a manager as well as a curator, planning exhibitions for the space in the cellar and at the Greylight Projects’ mothership in Hoensbrook.
Eighteen artists in total are occupying the studios in the old monastery, some share a space, some don’t. Wouter describes the place and its story as quite organic, as something that grew into what it is today, and a place of flexibility without rigid rules – there is no manifesto following the ontology of the place:
The studios are workspaces for artists and the selection is quite organic; we have people sending email asking us if there is a space for them, or people know people, and when you see the works of the artists it is quite diverse; there is no specific line. Selection is mostly based on motivation.
Diversity may be the key word concerning the artists that have different backgrounds, ages and nationalities. Brussels is an attractive place for artists; not only are the rents much cheaper than in Paris, London, and Berlin, the art scene is also active and vibrant. The system in Belgium may be complex and hard to understand for an outsider, but simultaneously this creates a kind of freedom, where a lot of things are possible – like starting up Greylight Projects in an old monastery.
Greylight Projects is not an institution per se and every artist pay a monthly rent, a contribution that helps maintain the place and finance exhibitions. In the beginning, Wouter set out to have three exhibitions before and after the summer, but quickly realised, that with his own art practice, plus the exhibition space in Holland, six exhibitions were too extensive. Now, the number of exhibitions is not fixed. Greylight Projects recently had a show curated by Brussel based curator and art critic, September Tiberghien, and will also open their doors during Art Brussels, where young artists are presenting their work to the public. We visit the exhibition space in the cellar. A room followed by another, then a corridor with rooms on both sides, followed by yet another string of rooms. It seems like an endless labyrinth of white cubes, even though some of the cellar is unusable as the makeover and cleaning of the place is still in process.
The space is not reserved for the artists in residence; Wouter likes that there is a disconnection between upstairs and downstairs, which is therefore mostly for artist being invited. But, it is a rule that can be bent:
It’s still quite intuitive, but I try to find a red line. I’m not in favour of theoretical exhibitions, so it’s very subjective, I like the rhythm of putting different artworks together.
For the next exhibition, because I have this input of the artists, it’s very difficult to find this red line. So, it’s going to be more like a mirror of the diversity in the building. We’ll see if there is going to be a red line.
The exhibition features both artists who has been invited and artists in residency, like Danish artist Rune Peitersen who divide his time between Amsterdam and Brussels, where he has a small studio at Greylight Projects overlooking the beautiful courtyard.
The monastery is quiet. We go up the stairs to the first floor, where there awaits us a “little surprise”. First, we visit one of the artists at work in her studio that she shares with another artist. The walls are raw except a little square of the old wallpaper inside an old fireplace, that the artist has kept as a memory. Then to the surprise: a stunning old chapel. On each side of the room is a string of columns supporting a vaulted ceiling on top of which is a sort of corridor, from where one can see the mosaic floor in its entirety. It really is a beautiful space; especially on a day like this were the mild afternoon sun creeps in from the big windows, looking onto the old church in the courtyard. Today the room stands empty; no chairs or clutter to distract the eye from its glory besides an artwork of Wouter placed in the middle of the room; a white square floating in space. For Wouter, art is about the relation between the spectator and the work – a statement that might seem like a cliché, but something that his works embodies. The large square (3,5 x 3,5 metres) is placed in the middle of the room, thus serving as a kind of partition; the front of the chapel is light and sunny, whereas the backend of the room, behind the square is more sombre with midnight blue walls. He has made a space within a space creating uncertainty of the borders of the room; testing the boundaries between the public and the private sphere.
The chapel, once a place of prayer and worship, is not just a place for displaying an artwork, but also functions as a space for performances, screenings, concerts and talks – bringing us back to the essential meaning of Greylight Projects: to support artists and their projects.
“I feel like an artist practice can be quite solitary” says Wouter. In that way, the place carries on the spirit of the monastery’s former habitants; solitary contemplation and hard work within a shared space, with a shared incentive.
These words and photos do not do the place justice. Unfortunately, Greylight Projects has an expiration date; the place is not owned by the local municipality, but by a private investor who at some point will turn the monastery into a conference centre.
Greylight Projects open their doors to the public next time during Art Brussels on the 19th of April from 5 pm to 9 pm.
For more info go to www.greylightprojects.org