Top-rate international contemporary art, moving image in different formats, history in content and architecture, and all the time in the world to watch. That sums up Contour 2009.


Mechelen (BEL) hosts a unique initiative for people with an interest in contemporary art as well as architectural history. The biennial presents artists working with film, video and installation in special locations in the historical inner city of Mechelen; unexpected or unusual venues within walking distance from one another.


The fourth edition bears the mark of the Brussels-based curator Katerina Gregos (GRC). Under the title ‘Hidden In Remembrance Is The Silent Memory Of Our Future’, the exhibition probes history, advocates its importance and revolves around questions of historical representation and historiography. Gregos invited 18 artists from 12 countries who investigate the complex entanglements between past, present and future.


Contour 2009 takes place twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall. Since then developments occur at a more accelerated pace. According to curator Katerina Gregos: “We are at a point where we believe that the past cannot teach us anything, which is a precarious view. It is now more urgent than ever before to negotiate the present through an understanding of the past. This is also evident in a growing number of artists whose work mines history and explores notions such as time, memory, and remembrance.”


The exhibition features recent and new work by Belgian and international artists, established as well as upcoming. Highlights include the Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila, arguably one of the most accomplished artists currently working in video, and the internationally acclaimed Belgian artist Michaël Borremans, whose ‘Taking Turns’ has its Belgian première.


Contour presents visually engaging and intellectually stimulating art, aiming to reach a wide as well as specialist public. Tickets are valid for the whole duration of the exhibition, since there is more than can be seen in one day, and enough to be discovered repeatedly. At the starting point of the exhibition is a work which is freely accessible to all: the film of Israeli artist Yael Bartana touches a part of history with a highly topical value, particularly for Mechelen.





The exhibition ‘Hidden in Remembrance is the Silent Memory of our Future’ comes at a timely moment to consider recent history, as it takes place twenty years after a key historical moment in twentieth century history. The European map has changed considerably since then, as have the geopolitical situation, cultural values and traditional notions of identity; post-1989 euphoria has now evaporated. The necessity to negotiate the present, through an understanding of the past is becoming more entrenched in historical theory, overthrowing ideas about the ‘end of history’ and the dominant culture of ‘presentism’. Mechelen, itself a city steeped in history, poised between past, present and future, seems the perfect place to engage such questions.


Contour 2009 will revolve around questions of historical representation, will explore how historical narratives are constructed, and will engage in a process of historical re-evaluation demonstrating the increased importance of historical context in a large segment of contemporary art practice. The biennial, however, will not be governed by an overbearing curatorial concept which instrumentalizes artistic practice under one rubric, but will allow room for artists to present multiple perspectives on the chosen theme – whether social, political or personal - perspectives that will shed light on the ‘jigsaw that is history’, as the historian E. H. Carr famously called his discipline. Thus the biennial will not be an exhibition about something specifically historical or a specific historical period, but rather a series of refl ections on diff erent aspects of the historical and historiographic, relating to our modern past. Likewise, the exhibition will not be constructed as a linear narrative but will consist of autonomous chapters or short stories, which may or may not connect to one another.


The participating artists take recourse in the past to re-frame the present and to demonstrate the complex and often persisting entanglements between past, present and future. They highlighthow the residue of history affects our perception of the present as well as our imaginings of the future. Employing a variety of narrative strategies, they reflect on memory and the passage of time, often creating distinct ‘chronotopes’ of their own. Their work foregrounds practices of retrieval, researching, referencing, recycling and finally interpreting historical material anew, often to dismantle the authority of dominant historical narratives, or to bring to the fore repressed or peripheral narratives.


How does one deal with the spectre of history and the ghosts of the past? How is history written and by whom? Whose history is it? Contour 09 advocates the importance of history in our age of forgetting. To quote Eric Hobsbawm, one of the greatest historians of our time, “History alone provides orientation and anyone who faces the future without it is not only blind but dangerous, especially in the era of high technology”. In any case, an understanding of history – or histories, as is perhaps more correct a term - is paramount as it entails an understanding of social and cultural being.


De deelnemende kunstenaars duiken onder in het verleden om de complexe verwevingen bloot te leggen tussen verleden, heden en toekomst. Ze onderstrepen hoe de resten van de geschiedenis onze perceptie van het heden en onze voorstelling van de toekomst beïnvloeden. Aan de hand van een aantal vertelvormen brengen ze bespiegelingen over geheugen, herinnering en het voorbijgaan van de tijd. Ze maken zo hun eigen chronotopen of tijdruimtes. In hun werk onderzoeken, recycleren en interpreteren ze historisch materiaal. Vaak vallen ze daarbij de autoriteit van de heersende patronen aan of dragen ze nieuwe of onderbelicht gebleven verhaallijnen aan.


Hoe wordt de geschiedenis geschreven? Wie schrijft geschiedenis? Contour 09 verdedigt het belang van geschiedenis in onze tijd van vlug vergeten. Om Eric Hobsbawm, een van de grootste actuele historici, te citeren: “Alleen de geschiedenis kan ons helpen om een richting te vinden. Wie zonder de geschiedenis naar de toekomst kijkt, is niet alleen blind. Hij/zij speelt een gevaarlijk spel, zeker in deze hoogtechnologische tijden.” Een afdoende kennis van de geschiedenis – of liever, van ‘geschiedenissen’ – is van groot belang om sociale en culturele processen te begrijpen.


The exhibition will showcase a variety of practices but will focus more on work that features complex, layered narratives and rich, memorable visual languages, which are often consciously cinematic, as well as practices that are obviously hand crafted and labour-intensive. Lastly, the exhibition aims to argue for the deceleration of perception by including works that need to be viewed from beginning to end, works that are more gradually immersive, unfolding over time. Many artists will augment their film and video installations with other visual material. The exhibition will present recent as well as newly commissioned work by the participating artists.


Katerina Gregos




> NL/EN - download pdf (1,1 MB)

> FR - GUIDE DU VISITEUR - telechargez pdf (1 MB)




The publication for the biennial is a special edition made in collaboration with A Prior Magazine. English, € 20.

Available at: Cultuurcentrum Mechelen, Minderbroedersgang 5.




Keep me posted.



> Newsletter May 2009

> Newsletter July 2009

> Newsletter August 2009

> Newsletter September 2009

> Newsletter October 2009