This summer Bruges is even more attractive with the Triennale Brugge 2015, that places contemporary art and architecture in dialogue with the medieval city. The Triennale runs from May 20th to October 18th 2015 and brings artists from all over the world together. So no excuse anymore for modern art lovers for not visiting Bruges this summer, because not only is modern art best enjoyed in open air and in sometimes unusual settings, but it is also completely free!
We start at one side of the city, close to where many tourist buses park, and close to the train station. If you arrive by train you can first visit “The Passage Room” (by Daniël Dewale, Belgium), on the square in front of the station, in a large red container (you cannot miss it), with the text “become a new citizen of Bruges” on the outside. Inside visitors are invited to fill out a questionnaire that asks them about their hopes and dreams as potential residents of Bruges. It is then translated into different languages. Inside the station people can view the film “About Bruges and Other Places“.
Walking towards the Beguinage one passes the Lake of Love or “Minnewater”. It is not a natural lake but dates back to the 13th century, as a buffer, to control the waterflow, that varied a lot in the canals. The lower areas of the city sometimes flooded, and that was a problem for the further expansion of the city. The “Minnewater” became an inner-city harbor. The famous swans breed here.
The next site is “the Begijnhof” or “the Bruges Beguinage”. A place of tranquility where a sign asks visitors to keep silent, but where often the hords of tourists make it difficult to keep the peace. I advice anyone to visit the it early in the morning, it opens already at 6:30 am. Just sit down on one of the benches and have a real Zen moment. The installation by artist Tadashi Kawamata (Japan), is a beautiful and poetic addition to the place, and it seems almost as if the treehouses have always been there. They make the visitor enjoy the huge trees even more. (Beguinage – Wijngaardstraat – Bruges)
Walk or cycle in the direction of the centre and enter the site of the “Old Sint-Jan hospital”, close to the “Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe” church (where you can admire a (small) Maria statue by Michelangelo). In one of the small canals HeHe (Germany), dropped a massive high-voltage electricity pylon, starkly in contrast with the surroundings dating back from a period before electricity. The pylon emmits electrical hisses and hums. Just next to the water you can take a drink on the terrace outside. Do not miss the Sint-Jans hospital museum that used to be a hospital from the 13th century till half way the last century. Part of the museum is dedicated to the history of the hospital, the other part to the Flemish painter Hans Memling, a painter from the 15th century.
Next stop is the great Sint-Salvator cathedral. Next to it, the Chinese artist Song Dong, built a huge origami structure made from windows of demolished Chinese buildings. In Beijing many traditional Chinese houses are torn down to make way for skyscrapers and shopping centres, so he brings the remains of these traditional buildings to Bruges, a city that carefully preserves its past. The structure is like a chaotic colorful smaller version of the tall church tower, that towers behind it.
Walk through the shopping street and do not forget to look up, to discover beautiful fronts of old houses, especially houses nr. 19, 25, 38 and 40. The houses used to belong to the craft guilds of shoemakers, masons, carpenters and bakers.
On the central marketplace, wich is dominated by the belfry (12th century), the halls, and in the middle of the square the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter De Coninck , two heroes that played an important role in the resistance of the Flemish people against the French suppressor. Next to the statue you find the shiny intervention “diamondscape” by the artist Vibeke Jensen (Norway), that reflects the beautiful old buildings around it in an albeit different way. Search for the door, because you can enter the sculpture and look at the people looking in. On one side of the square is the neogothic “Provinciaal hof” (nr. 3), on the other side some beautiful step-roof houses, with intriguing front decorations. One has a golden sphere on top (sphere of Quételet), placed there to help Bruges keep exact time, and connected with 41 other places in Belgium to form a meridian line, you can find the line marked with gold colored large round nails on the square.
Continue to the most beautiful square of Bruges: the “Burg”, with the town hall, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The chapel downstairs is in Roman in style, the upper chapel is gothic. On the square are two installations, set between the trees. One are vintage neon letters spelling “A place beyong belief” by artist Nathan Coley (United Kingdom), originally a reference to 9/11, stating that a city has to reinvent itself beyond religion. It is made up of 5 words, an reference to the five rights a person has being as a muslim.
Behind it stands a second installation “Uber Capitalism” by Rainer Ganahl (Austria), a chocolate sculpture of “The Beurze”, the first stock market in the world in Bruges, as a sign of capitalism. You can find the original building a bit further not far from the city theatre. Some people feel the need to take a bite, and yes the sculpture is made from chocolate but not really the yummy kind!
Return to the Burg and walk through the small street the “Blinde Ezelstraat”, translated as the blind donkeystreet, that leads to the fish market. Take a left and follow the banks of the canal. The next piece of art is “Bridge by the canal” by artist Studio Mumbai (India). It is a bridge where you can sit, eat, drink, read, talk, but you cannot cross the water…..
Continue further alongside the water but on the other side on the Verversdijk, take a peek into the inner courtyard of the Europa college, and at the fork of two canals you come upon “The canal’s swimmer’s club” by atelier Bow-Wow (Japan), which I find a great addition to the city. You can sit on a large floating area on the canal, where you can sit and relax, talk with friends, eat something, and even take a dip in the water, great for warm days this summer! If you are thirsty turn right into the Blekersstraat and enjoy a drink in the café Oud Vlissinghe, Bruges’ oldest pub (1515), and this year exactly 500 years old!
If you continue on the right bank of the canal in the nothern direction (Potterierei), you will see a church on the right. You can enter and see the work “Vertically integrated socialism” by Nicolas Grenier (Canada). The works contrast with the church interior. I wanted to step into the micro-appartement, but a person sitting next to it, stopped me. You can peek inside but you cannot step into the small cubicle living space. Next to it is a maquette of an appartment buidling where the social classes are stacked from the poorest ones in society living is small cubicles at the bottom, the middle class in larger appartments in the middle and the richest ones in large penthouse-like spaces on top. There is a video explaining the work behind the black curtain.
Continue further, and next to the café “Du Phare” you find “Cataract gorge” by Romy Achituv (Israel/US), a crow-stepped gable house floating in the water, an eerie sight. (criticism of the strict preservation rules for the buildings in Bruges, that also puts brakes on a dynamic evolution for the city).
If you have some juice left, continue a bit further to the Dupont site (an industrial site), where the light sculpture “Gold guides me” (reference to our materialism) by Anne K. Senstad (Norway) hangs above a pop-up bar URB EGG café, an innovative, alcohol-free bar but with plenty of mental spirit! Perfect place to talk about your day in Bruges between the past and the future! We have already visited the bar and you can now also order alcoholic drinks (beer, wines, cocktails..), making the atmosphere even jollier and a perfect place to enjoy good weather next to the water.
You can also experience the sounds of Bruges, by the works of two artists: O&A (UK and US), they have a special map that guides you through the city and point you towards the specific sounds of Bruges, or you can experience soundscapes/songlines via echolocation: get the speaker at the Poortersloge (Academiestraat) (there are three different routes)
You can lay down on the red platform on the Jan Van Eyck square and experience the surrounding sounds in a different “Zen” way. ( the experience is less Zen than we thought…..)
And there is of course the city carillonneur who always plays on regular intervals on the central square in the belfry tower and now also plays special compositions that reflect the city’s sounds. When stopping at the “Poortersloge” take a look at “Masquerade” by Vermeir and Heiremans (Belgium).