Light in September

Fleeing from the 21st Century to the 19th Century

You're a coward, a nostalgic conservative, a petty wage slave with a mind dulled by too much work. Or so I admonished myself, because this eminently relevant contemporary art exhibit with many an eminent artist was eminently exhausting me. Not that I disagreed with the messages - yes of course present & future look bleak:  "polycentrism & conflicts , threatened planet, overconsumption, poverty-wealth and inequality, selling our time and  our souls" -  but really, must art  to evoke these realities be so tiring, so conceptual-didactic?

Fleeing from the 21st century to the 19th Century (aren't museums great places for allowing that? ) - I  did not immediately find consolation though, being not in the mood to substitute 21st C catastrophism for 19th C triumphalism.    

They haven't changed much, the Rue de la Régence or the Place Royale - so I was musing, looking at the 19th century sepia photos in the "Musée fin de siècle".  This was a young royal-bourgeois nation at its most confident:  triumphant classicising urbanism mixed with national heroic romance embodied in the statue of a boldly galloping Godfrey of Bouillon. 

By the turn of the century the mood had apparently changed, morphing into an anxious melancholy rather more congenial to my own state of mind. The stillness of a staircase by night, the vertiginous lines of a deserted sea boulevard, the inwardness of a kneeled boy with bowed head, carrying a weight.  Mellery, Spilliaert, Minne ... especially Minne "that great depicter of grief".

A bustling 21st Century market

The next day, cycling about town (without being harassed by cars on this one car-less day of the year) the 21st and the 19th century met again, this time in the shape of a bustling 21st century Brussels market, hosted by a huge 19th century cast iron and glass building. In  the Anderlecht abattoirs, every week  public markets are organised drawing stallholders and visitors from a startling range of nationalities.

 "Chez Jef" (hotdogs) rubs along "the Polski market", next to "Turkish Foods". Many tables with Moroccan foodstuffs sold by women with and without headscarves, a stall with Arab teapots manned by a "bearded-man-with-pants-above-the-ankles", Dutch & French cheese stalls, ..There's food of all textures and smells, alongside a mind-boggling variety of trinkets, clothes, small  household appliances, etc . People yell & coax & wheel & deal.

As an economist I could meditate on the age-old rituals of markets, as a citizen I could ponder the challenges of multi-culturalism and anxiously count the number of niqabs, as an aesthete (and as an ecologist) I could deplore the mass of low-quality plastic trinkets.

But mostly, I'm dazzled by the September counter-light, suffusing and harmonising everything in a brilliant haze.      


billoo said...

Lovely post, fff. I particularly liked the last lines and this term, 'counter-light'.

Swann Ffflaneur said...

dear b.
Glad you like the "counter-light" and thanks for your tolerance of non-native English. I now realize that "counter-light" is in fact not a proper english word, but a literal translation of the Dutch term.

but anyway, the light is indeed beautiful these days.
You like William Bronk, don't you? I love these lines of him :
"The gentleness of the slant October light
Cancels whatever else we might have thought
It is a hard world, empty and cruel,
but this light, oh Jesus Christ! This light!"