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Summer of Photography in Brussels

Summer of Photography, the jewel in Brussels’ cultural crown this summer, spotlights international urban photography. Every two years the city’s leading arts centre, Bozar, stages a major reflection on contemporary photography in a sweeping multi-venue event.

This season is no exception, with exhibitions and events extending beyond the walls of Bozar to museums and galleries across the city, involving 30 partners and more than 65 artists. The event focuses on the relationship between people and space in the unifying theme Urban Vibes.

Open Spaces/Secret Places

Two years ago the biennial examined gender in a collaboration with Austrian electricity company Sammlung Verbund, which specialises in feminist and public space art from the 1970s. Bozar repeats the successful partnership in the event’s central exhibition. Curator Gabrielle Schor selected works by 27 of the international collection’s artists, who each employ varying techniques to explore people and space. Many of them are in-depth and highly personal works that blur the lines between contemporary art and architecture.

They are divided into four categories: Historic, which records changing landscapes and memory; Psychological, confronting individual personal fears and aspirations; Spaces in between, signifying an absence of human beings; and Creating spaces, site-specific installations.

In the historical group, German conceptual art duo Bernd and Hilla Becher show their rigorous study of industrial architecture in single images of gas tanks, each one photographed from the same angle, lending the soaring structures a sculptural quality.

In the psychology section, Brazilian Ernesto Neto’s installation is a disturbing interpretation of the relationship between the conscious and unconscious. In a tribute to Freud and Vienna, Neto has created two cubes out of mosquito net-style material, one positioned within the other and connected via lycra tubes. In the cage-like interior, a model rocking chair sits atop a stack of books, adorned by a cloth figure, similarly connected to the cube via tubes. Stones lie scattered on the floor, apparently taken from the Sigmund Freud Park in Vienna.

Dey your lane! Lagos Variations

How people live together in cities is a burning issue in the biennial’s second flagship exhibition, a contemporary snapshot of the energetic Nigerian capital. Lagos is currently undergoing a population explosion, and this is predicted to continue to rise.

After the stark vision of urban spaces, this exhibition is initially an onslaught on the senses: colourful images hang from the ceiling like banners, while prints of photos are pasted to the walls, equally of larger-than-life scenes. For curator Azu Nwagbogu, the show “brings the energy of Lagos”, and explores “the real concern for public space versus the space reserved for the privileged”.

The title of the exhibition is an expression that translates as “mind your own business”, an example of the notion of individuality that equally characterises the city and economic hub. It has stimulated creative energy in fields other than art, such as music, fashion and film. A total of 24 African and international artists show the multiple facets of the city, divided into three sections.

Other shows at Bozar

Among other exhibitions under the Summer of Photography umbrella, Vincen Beeckman – The Gang, is a result of the Flemish photographer’s descent on unlikely places in urban Brussels with a ‘gang’ of amateur photographers. Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai signs off a series on the 1995 death of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in Chronicle of an Assassination Foretold. It is also the subject of his latest film Rabin, the Last Day.

On the roof of Bozar, a Lighthouse for Lampedusa is an installation by German Thomas Kilpper. The symbolic seven metre makeshift structure is made from the debris of refugees’ vessels as they disembarked on European shores. It serves as a reminder that for many the search for a new place or territory is also a story of survival. Kilpper hopes to eventually build a real lighthouse on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Around Brussels

Other notable exhibitions across the city include The Suffering of Light, a retrospective of US photographer Alex Webb’s work at Le Botanique. The Magnum agency member questions the notion of borders in dramatic, colourful images of Mexico, Haiti, Caribbean and Latin America. In (Velo)cities at De Markten, an examination of time and motion in urban spaces provides a vision of the future of cities, with works by Hungarian, Czech Republic, Slovakian and Polish artists.

Summer of Photography also offers a programme of activities, including concerts, talks and guided tours. On Thursdays, exhibitions are open until 21.00. End the evening atop the roof bar and enjoy your favourite tipple while admiring a panoramic view of the city.

Until 4 September, at Bozar and other locations

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