The Watou art festival and the village have found each other again: “We are returning to our roots”

The art village of Watou once again breathes art and poetry. Until Sunday 4 September, Watou will once again be immersed in visual arts and poetry during the Arts Festival Watou 2022 ‘Sense of Place’. “The interaction between the village and the artists and the interaction between art and poetry is paramount. We get positive reactions, and that’s a good thing,” says culture councilor Loes Vandromme (CD&V).

“This edition of Kunstenfestival Watou we are returning to our roots. We wanted to strengthen the interaction between the village and the artists, and we succeeded. Residents feel involved again, and that was our intention. The poetry department has also been given a prominent role during this edition of Kunstenfestival Watou. The work Atelier Haute Cuisine by Bernd Tyskens and Benny Conings in Brenneparken is an example of that,’ says culture councilor Loes Vandromme (CD&V). “During their participation in Patchwork 2021, the duo noticed that the poetry part of the art festival was not always able to reach the public optimally. They want to introduce poetry in Watou to a wider audience through a drive-through. The shape of the installation is of course reminiscent of the logo from a well-known fast food chain. ‘The Watou Read Thru’ at the installation is an order kiosk where the visitor can find the menu board with different kinds of poetry and simply place an order. A receipt provides the poem of your choice, which can be taken with you. Your chosen poem can be read at your own pace.”

in situ

The city of Poperinge has committed itself for the second time as organizer of the Watou Art Festival. Koen Vanmechelen, who created the ‘Patchwork’ initial stage, remains an inspiration. James Putnam and Michaël Vandebril were appointed curators of visual art and poetry. Last year the Arts Festival could count on 29,000 visitors. A record. “This year, there are more events on the agenda, now that the corona restrictions are less in place, and we have to take that into account. We aim for 20,000 visitors, but above all we want the visitors to be satisfied with their visit. We was told several times last year that we had extra information for the visitor. We also started working on that feedback. In the previous edition, we relied a little too much on the visitor himself and gave too little explanation and interpretation. It was a conscious choice at the time. One visitor could taste it and the other needed a little more explanation. Each work is accompanied by a sign with some information about the artist and the work. This adaptation was already appreciated by the visitors and it makes us happy”, says Vandromme.

“We find satisfaction more important than the number of visitors”

It remains to be seen about future festival years. “We have a strong version. Each work and each accompanying piece of poetry go hand in hand. It’s almost impossible to pick just a few that stand out. Each piece has its strength and gains even more meaning from the poetry that is added to it,” says Vandromme. “How will we outdo ourselves next year? It remains to be seen. We deliver a strong grant file so we can certainly work on that. We were already able to secure a grant of 90,000 euros, so it’s a good start.”

Five masterpieces

1. “A wonderful example of interaction between village and artist is Tom Bogaert’s work on ‘Wij Gwij Popinjay’. His installation focuses on forced and unrestricted participation. Using pictures of faces he found on the internet, he made a ‘Watou Kop’. Cup was mounted on the standing rocker in the longbow of the archers’ guild Sint-Sebastiaan’ on the grounds of OC De Bollaard. The 30-meter tall vertical seesaw is a landmark visible from all points of the compass in Watou. He prepared his installation in consultation with the Archery Guild and a few local merchants. Visitors can also step into a used cage that has been converted into a chapel. The name of the installation refers to Gwij Mandelinck, the driving force behind the festival. Anne Provoost delivered a beautiful poem with ‘I stand for an effort again’.

2. “The artist Anne ten Ham took care of one of the rooms in the castle De Lovie. With her work ‘September’, the artist Anne ten Ham looks at the decline of someone or something’s existence. ‘Al tid er nok’ by Stijn Vranken is a beautiful piece of poetry that fits in here. The artist called for help from the residents who are on the same domain. Last autumn they collected a lot of fallen leaves. He then left them to dry in the domain’s greenhouses and spread them in one of the rooms of the castle. When you step inside, you are taken to another place and it reminds you of a moment from the past.”

3. “Customs brought De Reuringdienst back to Watou after twenty years. During Patchwork, they took place in their Komiezekot and listened to the stories of the inhabitants. The art collective asked them where they drew the line. The three word artists Marie Darah, Giovanni Baudonck and Benjamin Hertoghs have translated the residents’ stories into text and sound. The poetry of each of the three word artists was converted into an installation in situ. With ‘Unfolding borders’ in Winnezelestraat, a new border was placed in the village via an accordion system. When you are at work you hear the beautiful rap ‘Watoudermee’ by Benjamin Hertoghs. Here, too, poetry and work go hand in hand.”

4. “Curator James Putnam and inspiration Koen Vanmechelen brought the work of Margarita Zafilla Olayo to Watou. It is one of the artworks that was selected outside of Patchwork. Margarita is a dancer and artist working with choreographic projects, still and moving images as well as painting and installation art. ‘We Buried Her Alive’ shows the interaction between her movements and the ink and wine processes that Pato Bosich uses for his drawings.”

5. “I also love Helena Cnockaert’s work ‘Kjér mo ekè were’. Her work is the translation of various conversations she had with residents of Watou. The artist asked residents to describe an object that touches or has touched them. She made her interpretation of this object in textile, based on the description in the conversation. She plays with textiles and language and weaves everything together. The accompanying poem by Esohe Weyden is also striking.”

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