Douglas Park

Inside-story about Cel Crabeels' exposŽ of Dan Graham's 'Belgian Funhouse' as partial insight into the author's own work

In 2001, I began regularly visiting, staying and working in Belgium and working with Belgian artists and organisations, which still continues now. Whenever I went to Antwerp, I always saw the same green cobweb bus-stop pissoire looking thing. I was told this was Belgian Funhouse, yet or just another pavilion by the veteran U.S conceptual and architectural artist and social-critic, Dan Graham. Also, explained to me was the story that came with it.

In keeping with Dan Graham's practice and output throughout his career (from his earliest interventions using adverts and contributions published in periodicals, then more performance and event based work and now these better known architectural environments), the hope and claim was that Belgian Funhouse would encourage social and human interaction and engagement. Never clear to me (and perhaps others) was in what ways Belgian Funhouse was supposed to at least attempt relating to the immediate surrounding neighbourhood and context -presuming it was planned site and community specific, not just "more-of-the-same" and "here's-one-we-made-earlier" disposal and offloading. Obviously, I have no idea if any of that was deliberate or self-conscious on Dan Graham's part.

Unexpectedly (although hardly surprisingly), after ordinary citizens heard simply how much Dan Graham was paid (as well as production costs -and maybe fact he was an outsider -instead of a fellow mainland European, co-patriot Belgian or even local), immediately, Belgian Funhouse became a target for resentment and vandalism.

So (as others stated -including Dan Graham himself -who claimed if he was young and disillusioned he'd have done similar or identical!), Belgian Funhouse certainly did attract and achieve social and human interaction and engagement -although not quite of the same kind originally expected.

Eventually, the message somehow got through, Belgian Funhouse was retired out to graze at the out-of-town Middelheim museum (mausoleum?). Maybe becoming overlooked and forgotten might beckon next -or has already taken hold. Now that it arises, Dan Graham's title (Belgian Funhouse) sounds somewhat Breughel's Children's Games and Flemish Proverbs meets Iggy Pop and the Stooges, both with a touch of Anal Staircase by the sadly now defunct U.K industrial / apocalyptic / avant / dark / neo folksters, Coil thrown and rammed in there for good or bad measure.

Since then, Belgian Funhouse has been replaced by a statue (or dept-store display mannequin dummy?) of a birdman by the once-great Panamarenko (who is actually European, Belgian and Antwerpian). This successor to Belgian Funhouse seemingly goes largely ignored, unless and until some accidental or malicious damage strikes (or has done). The only potential risk or threat (or real danger) posed could actually be from this unscathed Panamarenko orniphopter itself, because in the event of ever getting noticed, such a set example might give impressionable people the misguided delusion that they can and should follow suite. Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, nothing like that has happened yet -and hopefully never shall.

Sometime around all this, Cel Crabeels obtained as much media coverage and other documentary material generated by and following the whole Belgian Funhouse debacle as he could get his hands on. Unless I'm mistaken, as I understand it, there was little or no attention paid by the artworld and international media and press; only around Antwerp region and the rest of Belgium.

I think I 1st knowingly saw Cel's ensuing work when we were both in the survey show, MONOPOLIS / Antwerpen at Witte de With, Rotterdam, in 2005. I noticed it came across very like period conceptual-era work and Soviet "factography". Off-hand, It brings to mind Cel Crabeel's fellow countryman (though Francophonic and Wallonian), Jacques Charlier, who amongst other oneliners made satirical, parodic and derisive critiques and attacks on the realities and pitfalls to his contemporaries in the international avant garde of the conceptual-era. Additionally, there's the near genre and almost idiom category fallen into by other artist's who've done works charting the progress and fate of things they've done themselves. Then, archiving, publication, display and exhibition of both sought-after and surprise feedback and backlash has sometimes become part of certain works.

There has since been a collaboration with Cel Crabeels, still without exposure or outlet. Later, I was invited to contribute to a suite of 3 double-faced picture-postcards relating to this project. My prose text appears over Nico Dockx's photos showing Belgian _Funhouse_being dismantled, all with design and other visuals by Jean-Michel Meyers. As often, my input was what came to me from considering the brief given and insight obtained -while (without being dismissive) reusing extant ideas and intentions (whether they ever appear elsewhere or not). The end-result experience (the scenes and imagery conveyed, phrasing used and overall presence) became my almost customary act or formul¾ of enforcing an inevitable reality that just happens, ambiguous as to whether familiar or strange, morally good or bad, natural or synthetic.

It goes a little something like:

Locked-up metric tide (stuck on hold) / Free land wave outflow set loose

Secretly buried deep inside hidden underground burial-chamber, dormant flames and ice sleep, stir, awaken, resurrect, rise upward, nearly reaching upper surface.

Fast-growing ice razor-blade shields push hard enough that sheer effort cuts terrain, blasted sparks sent scattering; advent and arrival amidst flames, which bring fountain jettisons.

Despite both factors being vested with many other considerable powers, liquid-based and cold ice never extinguishes any flames at all, while flames melt no ice whatsoever; fire-resistant ice covered by insurance-policy and immunity-strain against flames causing harm, advance-prepared weatherproof flames afforded and enjoying ice damage exemption.

While ice keeps guarantee not to thaw or evaporate, durable flames defy and refuse heat-loss and burnout.

Special-formulae extra-strength ice is fuel flames feed, run on and live off, whereas flames preserve ice to standard expected and become accustomed to.

Self-sustaining and interdependent joint-forces of ice and flames drive and guide each other ever onwards and ahead.

Light, flames and ice shine and glow conducts through every solid doorway and opaque window; thermal current and freezing chill from ice and flames fills open-plan walls, filtered ceiling and floors, gaseous arches and columns; drive persists until nothings left empty or hollow anymore.

Floral cave and jewellery garden flames and ice gave birth to both become moth-eaten pock-marked armour-plated blockage entangled netting.

Whatever might have been, state-of-affairs ended up in provokes custodial and protection agency to banish and transfer combined efforts of ice and flames elsewhere; much of flames and ice stays behind, just as the rest travels onwards to new destination.

Copyright, Douglas Park, 2007

So far, their main or only outlet has been the "premiere" during the reception for _Post Paolo Futurum_at Breda's Stadt Museum in 2007. Cel Crabeels and Rik Desayer filmed me (miked up by them -like a hybrid between a human-timebomb and a vintage automaton doll) handing some cards out, placing others here and there, reciting my text, explaining and discussing it all, while committing other acts.

Interestingly enough, during working on that text and when it was finished, I found myself aware of having remembered and referenced certain concerns, content and style of several particular existing works of mine that came to mind. One is undoubtedly the purest and most brief thing I've ever done (a long title, followed by a sequence of statements, describing a made-up process), another is (according to some) the ultimate (and favourite) landscape or phenomenology by me. Both these figured strongly, alongside a companion-piece I wrote for a serial collaborator's public-art commission in some social-housing, about which I addressed the clichŽ, notion, potential and reality of "community" spirit and force, united and battling against challenges and adversity. Unlike Dan Graham's Belgian Funhouse, there actually was much consultation and rapport, with production and eventual end-result enjoying considerable popularity, support, interest and approval from the residents -sadly, all too soon enough, the work proved problematic unto itself and the human-element, thanks to sudden adverse weather and the otherwise protective glazing!

Copyright, Douglas Park, 2008

Especially commissioned to accompany Onthaasting: About Spare Time and Slower Worlds, Belgian contemporary video art, curated by Harald Thys and Jos De Gruyter, Katzen Arts Center at American University, Washington D.C, from November 11th until December 21st, 2008

Photographic credits: Copyright, Nico Dockx

Design: Copyright, Jean-Michel Meyers