Artist Jozef Wouters pieces together a dream with newcomers from Globe Aroma
Jozef Wouters’ Decoratelier speaks to the imagination. The scenographer has taken possession of an old cardboard factory in the Heyvaert district of Molenbeek, a former no-go zone and the Mecca of the second-hand car trade. Wouters and his team not only design sets for fellow artists, they also provide residences for young creatives and are poised to open a temporary architecture school, in collaboration with the neighbourhood.
In this ‘art institute of the future’, Wouters is working for a year with newcomers from the Globe Aroma art house. Everyone in the group is at a different stage of their journey towards refugee status, but Globe Aroma offers them all a safe haven for artistic development. Last year, the place was confronted with an anti-terror raid (DS, 10 February 2018) in which seven undocumented migrants were arrested.
In this light, Underneath Which Rivers Flow is the most powerful response imaginable. During the first working week, Wouters discovered an empty space adjacent to the Decoratelier. Together with the group, he symbolically cut a hole through the wall and they claimed the space as a clandestine studio. It became a place where everyone could piece together, without a written plan, their dreams in recycled wood, iron, brick waste and cardboard. Wouters calls it ‘building out loud’. The chaos of ideas led to the design of a secret garden, analogous to the city’s plans to upgrade the neighbourhood and to create a park on the Decoratelier site.
The future vision that Wouters and Globe Aroma have created for the district is nothing short of magical. When you’ve crept through the brick hole, a landscape full of original buildings lights up in the darkness: a carousel stands next to a four-metre-high wooden remake of a Bialetti coffee pot, which later turns out to house a teahouse. A camera pans over a miniature park with miniature people and trees, a giant wheel spins like a planet around its axis. A young girl invents new names for the constellations and as we close our eyes, the performers whisper to us their crazy plans for new buildings.
The performance is only a prologue to the concluding tour that the group will give of its imaginary park. Fiction is becoming ever more real; the theatrical gaze is giving way to encounters.
Underneath which rivers flow is the provisional highlight of Wouters’ profound political, ecological and social commitment. His ability to transform spaces, and therefore the people who inhabit them, is exceptional. It is rare to see such a radically utopian art, one that uses an unbridled imagination to create a genuine sense of freedom and resistance.