A Weekend of Art and Photography in Ghent, Belgium
I had no idea what awaited me when I boarded the train from Paris du Nord to the elusive Ghent, Belgium. But, I left feeling I had discovered a hidden gem in this eclectic city. Despite being so close to Brussels, this charming little haven is relatively untouched by tourism and instead pulses with the creative energy of a thousand Shoreditch studios. It is the perfect blend of the hipster paradise of Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the architecture and history you’d find in somewhere like Amsterdam. As soon as you step onto the tram from the rather grim station into the town, it feels like hopping on a ride at Disneyland and watching this magic world go by.
The young and beautiful Flemish citizens drift on their bicycles between rendez vous at organic Coffee Roasters or the buzzing conceptual community space Vooruit. And for the old souls, the record shops like the quirky Music Mania and digging for vintage treasures at Think Twice will empty your pockets with just as much ease.
Without question, the main attraction for me was my darling friend Lio’s seventies dreamscape of an apartment. Upon entering my new home I fell head over heels in love with the record collection tumbling over the shag rug, the Klimt prints, the rails of vintage treasures and most importantly her perfectly house-trained grey bunny Janine who roams wild and free.
The fact that my teeny Parisian nest is more than double the rent of her palatial apartment really makes me question the infatuation of big city life over the intimate community of a place like Ghent.
Throughout my short, but sweet 24 hour stay we touched down in all of the aforementioned hotspots as well as visiting the classical MSK Museum of Fine Arts, where we peeked in on the restoration of the city’s pride and joy; Jan Van Eyck’s The Lamb of God - whose reproduction we saw the next morning in the magnificent St Baafs cathedral.
Thankfully, we were blessed with an afternoon of sunshine and so wandering there through the citadel park and perching on charming pastel pink benches with a Yogy frozen yogurt was such a pleasure. And the following afternoon in the ethereal setting of the hazy rain, it was fascinating to see the artist Leo Coper’s piece The Museum Project. The piece comprises a series of granite tombstones representing an international selection of museums and commenting on the ‘museumalisation’ of tranquil graveyards.
A little deeper in the park is the S.M.A.K gallery; an uber-contemporary art collection juxtaposing the classicism of the neighbouring MSK. The German photographer Thomas Ruff’s opulent portraits - in the form of negatives- of Indian gentlemen in traditional dress made up for the horror of the questionable mountains of flour, lid-less pens and random bread rolls strewn across the floor.
As evening drew near, we cooked a fabulous spread with ingredients from the temptingly abundant vegetable shop whilst spinning around to Roxy Music and the Stones on the record player (and trying not to trample the bunny). But it was not all play, because the primary reason for my visit was working with the up and coming photographer Athos Burez - the suspected lovechild of Tim Walker and Juergen Teller.
. This imaginative shoot was to take place in flower fields lit by moonlight and I was to be the subject of his dreamy compositions. Our little team of his manager, assistant and I drove out into the Flemish countryside at 11pm in search of fields of flowers in which to toss the smoke bombs and begin the frolicking. It felt rather like a Lana Del Rey ballad, cruising down the motorway wrapped in a leopard print rug over my bubblegum dress - with a glittery hula hoop on my lap. I haven't seen the final shots yet, but here is some of his past work to give a taster..
Unfortunately earlier hail storms even meant our silent wandering through the fields in search of polychromatic floral heaven was all in vein and so we found ourselves driving back and jumping the fence of the Botanical gardens as a back up plan - it was all very Alice in Wonderland.
The setting really did feel like a scene from John Keat's Bright Star as we wandered the gardens at midnight, searching for petals under the haze of passing rain. Sadly there was a lack of colour, but Athos managed to adjust his vision for the shoot and I found myself entwined in wet leaves and vines, having to bear the odd frog (hopefully) tickling my toes. When they thrust a mug of wine into my hands to help with the cold, I knew I wouldn't be moving anytime soon.
After a successful couple of hours, we climbed back over the fence and - after a quick stop to remove thorns from my legs - we found ourselves at an intimate gathering of Ghent’s beautiful creatures in an art space Governement, where the textured wooded walls, exposed pipes and lone light bulbs transported me back to boogying in Brooklyn. We then bounced over to the quirky club/bar Cafe Video, where everyone seemed to have congregated to dance to the DJ’s eclectic taste in music whilst spilling onto the banks of thecanal at dawn. A perfect end to a perfect day. I couldn't recommend Ghent more. It is an electric feast of culture, ready to be devoured.
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com