Artist Run Spaces: Plagia Rama
Designed by Flemish architect Demeester in the late 1970s, the Rivoli building was intended as a luxury residence and shopping mall. Ever since then, its glass facade arcades constitute a striking element within the district of Bascule in uptown Brussels. The arcade on the ground floor is now the home of a few beauty parlours and tailors, but first and foremost it is the home of more than ten art spaces, both commercial galleries and non-profit spaces like Plagia Rama:
“Plagia Rama is an artist run space; this is specific non-profit, with a non-profit structure. An artist run space means an art gallery that is run by artists for other artists. This is a different dynamic and it’s not like a curator art space; I am an artist and I took the position of a curator in order to run the space.” Yuna Mathieu-Chovet
Plagia Rama first opened their space in 2012 at a time when the Galerie Rivoli was much different, only hosting two other galleries in the building. Yuna Mathieu-Chovet first became acquainted with the place when a friend needed some help running a space of auditions for a residency program of theatre and choreography. They then started using the space for exhibitions, mainly under the direction of Yuna. In 2013 Xavier Hufkens, a major player on the gallery scene in Brussels, opened a space next to Plagia Rama, which meant that more and more galleries followed.
“It then came to be a environment of more high profiled galleries– and my friend who ran the project with me, left, but I didn’t want to leave; I felt like starting it! So, I carried on with the project but only with the exhibition part.”
Now the space is called Plagia Rama, with the aim to host five to six exhibitions per year. From the very start, the prospect has been to make group exhibitions as Yuna is interested in the confrontation of different artworks in such a small space as Plagia Rama. Therefore, she used to have group shows of four or five artists. But, with the frustration of being cluttered together and with the artists not being able to make or exhibit bigger works, she narrowed it down to duo-shows. This is now the concept of Plagia Rama, a concept that has a very stable, but by no means rigid form.
For each exhibition, Yuna makes small editions in print explaining the concept of the exhibition:
“It is very interesting to do these, to write about the works of other artists, cause it helps me figure out our position. Whenever I write a text, I assume a kind of subjective position explaining why I want to invite those two artists and then I ask them for an answer where they get to state how they find my point of view; they can agree or disagree.”
The current exhibition is called Raw Means and displays to young artists: João Freitas and Lander Cardon. The former started off doing drawings, but then shifted his interest to the medium itself – paper. He experiments with materials, like the pink diptych made from plywood; a regular industrial material.
“He works like an archaeologist of this industry of work; taking off layers of the wood and showing us what we are not supposed to see; the fabrication and the inside of the layers.”
The same goes for another one of his works, made from the same materials as milk-boxes: very thin aluminium and cardboard, which is then covered with plastic film. He then melts off the layers exposing the aluminium. The result is beautiful; very organic and almost calligraphy-like.
And then a very other form of medium, the video installation. The video displays a tissue box and a hand that in a swift motion removes a tissue, one after another; a gesture in a loop. There is both something quite funny about the fixation on something so ordinary and mundane, and simultaneously something beautiful about it:
“For me, a tissue box is also a raw material in the idea that this is almost a readymade and very minimalistic paired with a raw gesture. It’s a series of portraits of tissues; they are anthropomorphic in the way they take different shapes. It is also almost an anthropological investigation of everyday life.”
Lander Cardon’s work is called Achilectron and consists of three large oak beams that he found in a construction site. He then carves the beams, that are four or five hundred years old, and makes cuts that represents circuit boards; a motive that characterises our contemporary culture, he then pours very hot aluminium (800 degrees hot) into the cuts.
He uses raw material to create a very contemporary work balancing between sculpture and monument, while integrating a traditional artistic practice within a very broad sense of the art work. In his own words:
“I try to bestow on the visitor the feeling of setting foot on a mythological site. With this work, I attempt to create a monument of our time, but also for our time, which could be considered an interstice. This I do by combining contrasting materials, oak and aluminium, by using something that refers to the past and something futuristic, by a sober presentation, but also by provoking an urge in the visitor to sit on the beams, for instance.” Lander Cardon
Yuna makes sure that there is a dialogue present in the exhibition. She exhibits artists that she gets to know via her network but also ones she discovers by paying visits to art schools. Though most of the artists exhibiting at Plagia Rama are very young, she also likes to do intergenerational exhibitions, which she finds rewarding for both the young newcomer and the more experienced artist. She also finds it important to bring together artists from both the French- and Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, as well as artists from all over the world.
“It is always a different story for each exhibition. Most of the time I see a work that I like and that I want to show. In the beginning, I was making exhibition concepts before choosing the work of the artists but with time I changed the process, because I realised that sometimes artists have problems with appropriating themselves to a concept that was made before them. Slowly I changed my way of working; looking at different works and choosing the artist because I could see it match with those of another artist.”
Yuna is a curator, editor, space owner and an artist, all at the same time. For that reason, she feels a bit uncomfortable exhibiting her own work at Plagia Rama. But even though the space leaves her less time for her own art, it is by no means confusing for her practice as an artist; instead it has provided maturity for her work and helped her find a very personal way of working.
But what is a non-profit, artist run space and why are they important? We begin to talk about Brussels and its art scene. Yuna is originally from Paris but studied in Switzerland and even though she liked living there she found it difficult as a foreigner to open a space, so she contemplated a move – maybe Paris? But to open a place like Plagia Rama in Paris requires an astronomic budget. And, as she says, she wasn’t really seduced by the idea:
“There is not the kind freedom that you can find here. What is happening now in Brussels is what happened a few years ago in Berlin. My artist friends from Berlin are now moving to Brussels.”
The reason is simple: it’s cheaper. Brussels is also strategically placed in the centre of Europe, and artist are able to afford a nice studio.
With such a happening art scene, artist run spaces like Plagia Rama are important, because despite of all this thriving the market is still very polarised; very few galleries have all the economic power, while the rest is struggling.
“This is the why i feel that it is very important to have such art spaces like ours today, we can do the kind of work that many galleries don’t have the time to do anymore and this means to be more concentrated young artists; unknown but very talented artists; constructing exhibitions that have meaning, while questioning the work.”
Plagia Rama is open Thursday to Saturday from 2pm to 5pm.
The next opening is on the 20th of May, and feautures artists Sybille Deligne and Melissa Ghiette. Keep an eye out at www.plagiarama.com