Mikes Poppe, pronounce ‘Miekes’ so not with English ‘ai’, interview is not an easy task. From 2 July to 4 September, the Antwerp resident will live in a dilapidated farmhouse in the border village of Watou near Poperinge for the well-known festival of contemporary art and poetry.
Every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., he drags a 68-pound statue on chains like a draft horse. Only on Tuesdays, when the art festival is closed, does he have a day off. “He’s not available when he’s dragging,” says Kaat Vander Roost of the Watou Art Festival. “Although Mike’s Poppe performs between Watou and the Sint-Bernardus brewery on Trappistenweg 22, just outside the village, many people come to see. This ‘duration performance’, which continues throughout the festival until 4 September, can be followed closely. People can even step next to him. There is someone who takes care of him. In the middle is a little water and coffee. But physically, it’s still hard. The image weighs as much as the artist. He trained specifically for that. ”
The statue is a copy of Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’. The artwork was aptly named ‘And the farmer he plowed on’. “This is the landscape with fields that have traditionally been used for plowing, digging, planting and harvesting. I establish a direct and physical relationship with the villagers and let my work merge with the place where it is delivered, ”he explains his choice.
Poppe does not walk aimlessly across the field, but draws the picture along a fixed route in the form of the infinity sign, which therefore becomes literally visible in the long run with a change in relief in the landscape.
The farmer, he plowed on
The name of his performance comes from the famous poem ‘Ballade van een Boer’ by JWF Werumeus Buning from 1935. “The farmer’s garden has been burned, his wife and ox have been murdered; then the farmer bowed to the plow, but the farmer plowed on. ”
The theme could not be more topical, with all the protests of the current farmers. With these lines, Buning emphasizes the irreconcilability of the common man and the universal importance of perseverance. According to Mike Poppe, this persistence is still the essence of everyone’s existence. Not least the artist’s: the urge to (survive) life and creation.
Who is the slave of whom? The statue is also a reference to the iconoclasm that originated in Westhoek and the surrounding region in the 16th century.
“That way, I will make ‘performing’ a fully-fledged element of the exhibition,” says the artist, who will nevertheless consider his performance a success, even if he has to give up somewhere halfway with hernia. But for now, it works physically, though it will be tough next week in the heat.
Another young Antwerp artist who shows great dedication is Arthur Van de Velde (23) from Zoersel, who last year graduated as a master sculpture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. He is fascinated by transportation. As a graduation project, he followed the E40 from Calais (France) to Carrara (Italy) last year with a self-made mobile exhibition space, with which he made exhibitions in motorway car parks.
As a result of the group exhibition / PLATFORMEN by the coast, which takes place in Knokke, Arthur Van de Velde will sail on 14 July in a self-made boat from the Antwerp quay to the gallery. “Because I am not allowed to go to sea with my boat, I will sail to Zeebrugge and from there continue to Knokke with the trailer. The boat is also part of my art installation. I also bring a marble and a wooden sculpture. I really wanted three with me, but it was too heavy, because two friends also sail with me. ”
Arthur made the boat all by himself with recycled wood and bought metal. “I first tried to build the engine myself, based on a lawn mower engine. But it turned out to be too easy during the test. “
Van de Velde contacted a pilot. “If we reach eight knots, we are, according to his calculation, in Zeebrugge in 10 hours from Antwerp. But I think we will be further along. ”
Van de Velde is mainly involved in stone cutting and metalworking. But there is also a social message in his actions. “Transport is a huge problem with the high fuel prices now. I could have gone by car, but I wanted to make a boat. It’s like Chekhov’s gun: nothing at all relevant to history. If you say there is a gun on the wall in the first chapter, it should definitely go off in the second or third chapter. If not fired, do not hang there. So yes, I had to sail. ”
Like Poppe, Van de Velde also strives for a kind of union of artwork and artist. From 15 July, his works will be shown at the group exhibition The Platform at the coast at Zeedijk 697a in Knokke.
Can he make a living from his art a year after graduating? “I am part of the artist collective FAAR, which stands for ‘for Artists and Residents’. We are located in the former De Ridder brewery in Deurne. This summer I am going to stay on a boat in Linkeroever so I am not tied to a high rent. I certainly can not complain. ”