Archive: Issue No. 84, August 2004

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Ed Young

Ed Young
My friend Dan's crappy 90's mix
Peformance photograph


Bredene Habits
by Elan Gamaker

It is with a shaky hand and a heavy heart that I attempt to describe disparate events that transpired some months ago in the town of Bredene, a sleepy seaside hamlet west of Brussels. Cis Bierinckx, Belgian curator of Ghent's Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (SMAK), described the town as 'Twin Peaks' just prior to our visit. His words were portentous, accurate and generous.

For Bredene (full name Bredene-an-Zee, a helpful reminder that the grey soup massaging the western flank of the town is, indeed, a body of water) is Twin Peaks on a bad hair day.

Bredene makes you long to be anywhere besides the seaside.

1. Arse for art's sake
The trip in question was to attend 'grasduinen 1', a collection of video installations and sculptures held at Bredene's various administrative and cultural centres. This was a sexual event involving the procurement of young flesh, innocent minds and an orgy of yonic works contained within phallic structures, most notably the Watertoren (water tower).

South Africa's representative at the show was Ed Young, whose pieces (Damn, Those Bitches Represent and Killing Teddy) almost singularly stood out from what was in the end an elaborate homage to mediocrity (Greek artist Alexandra Zwaal-Kallos' exquisite Sanctuary was another exception).

But soon any attempt at meaningful artistic comment or academic criticism fell away in the midst of an indefinable but intractable peculiarity.

2. I can still see their smiles
Bredene has the half-light of the bad-weather coastal town, along with dull, whitewashed fa´┐Żades that betray a bucolic breeziness that welcomes you in a way that's strangely irresistible yet terrifyingly off-putting.

Here, you're never sure if you'll ever leave. You know they want your women; you wonder if they want your children too.

Bredeners (Bredonians? Bredenites? The Breed?) make a habit - nay, an art form - of waving. They have it all: the whole kitten caboodle of gesticulation. So much so that one begins to wonder if one is in fact witness to an ancient Flanderian sign language, life-threatening to those who fail to grasp its flailing inflections.

What's more, almost every villager seemed to evoke at once the gurning sociopaths of grunge legend Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun pop promo and the po-faced valetudinarians of Village of the Damned.

One becomes paranoid about one's entrapment here. One imagines leaving on a circular railway, only to return ad infinitum, destined to endure the six fallow months of the year when the North Sea swells set in and the locals retreat to their homes to smile and wave through uniformly street-level windows.

3. The Four Peters
Ed Young's audacious performance piece - a braai - soon turned allegorical. Somewhere in the skewed (skewered?) logic of reheating food above charcoal (our hosts had provided pre-cooked chipolatas that resembled dildo casts gone horribly wrong) came a disquiet highly uncharacteristic of the Belgians.

As if the show itself were collapsing under the weight of counter-colonialism (Young has always wanted a Weber), an unlikely approbation with regard to the braai's stupidity melted into appreciation with regard to its gustatory integrity.

But this soon conflagrated into a rage at what were undersubscribed portions. Tall chino-wearers came to the rescue with freshly reconstituted pork replenishments.

And their names were Peter. Peter to a man, a parental act of democracy designed to keep even nomenclature as even-keeled as the weather-beaten barks bobbing against the jetties.

Culture Peter was in charge of administration, devoting himself to red tape with the aplomb of an Indian gentleman set to profit directly from partition.

Soccer Peter had something do with the organisation of the reception, but it seems not even the footballers of the illustrious Belgian leagues are immune to a Bredonian destiny. He spent most of his time lamenting his distant days as a professional soccer player.

Creepy Peter's involvement was largely unclear, but his mere presence provoked discomfort among women and a gender identity crisis in just about every man.

And Unnamed Peter, a SMAK employee, gets the nod here not merely because of his name but for the distinctively Flemish alacrity with which he set about the task of becoming invisible.

4. The Love Square
Awash with liquor in a late-night tavern like bow-legged scabbies ashore for replenishments, we soon found ourselves caught up in a love square - a love triangle with an extra participant.

In the red corner was Ed, in another a nameless ingénue dubbed Tinkerbell (polka dot dress and matching Dorothy slippers), along with her hapless boyfriend Steven (an absentee landlord in the house of love) and Plum Girl (an expert in the combination of fantasy and defamation designed to drag Steven's name through the mud).

Conflict soon ensued, scarcely helped by Ed's manipulative and mendacious disclosure about his homosexuality, leaving Tinkerbell in a crisis, Steven (potentially) in a quandary and Plum Girl in tears (her claims that her first sexual experience had been with a woman were met with a clear acknowledgement by Ed: 'Fuck off').

By the time the locals of the Helvetia had gone home to prepare for their hangovers, we were left with the elegy of a sartorially challenged local artist who was, after decades in the game, still confused with his twin brother: 'I've spent half my life being someone I'm not.'

Therewith we retreated, past the empty family homes and garden gnomes waiting patiently for season, through farms unpredictably set in the middle of the road, and along the flat pale sandy beach to our army camp-style lodgings.

Sleep was fitful, haunted by broad-cheeked people who showed us blueprints for 2004 mediaeval architecture.

Epilogue
The show passed without fuss. It was successful. Few took offence.

As white, mismatched and unspectacular as the post-WWII hodgepodge of the village's houses, 'grasduinen 1' will be given to history the way each day in Bredene is given neither to the past nor the future but to a self-regulating, perpetual present.

That is all I can muster for now. Forcing me to recollect more from the trip would be too much. I made it out alive, but as such I must live with what I saw.

Afford me at least the time to deal with the magnitude of that in peace.


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