A poetic walk that criss-crosses through Brussels

04 August 2023
© visit.brussels - Jean-Paul Remy - 2021

Our alphabet has 26 letters. Language artists work wonders with them. They string words together and conjure up the most evocative poetry, the most thought-provoking prose and the most compelling verses. Have you ever read a declaration of love that made you gasp? A letter of thanks perhaps? A personal story that moved you? You cannot argue with the power of words. Our city is a bearer of many messages; the poetry of words is everywhere. You just have to look carefully: in metro stations and display windows, on walls and in parks, and on the toilet doors in cafés of course!

Language art in parks

Un labyrinthe du monde - Marguerite Yourcenar (Jean-François Octave - 2004)

Egmont Park's location is unique. It is situated in the courtyard of blocks of houses along the Rue aux Laines, Boulevard de Waterloo and Rue du Grand Cerf in the historic city centre (the pentagon). The peace and quiet of the large lawns surrounded by majestic trees is unreal. In the Marguerite Yourcenard corridor, let yourself be carried away by 14 quotations carved in stone from 'L'oeuvre au noir' (The Abyss), one of Marguerite Yourcenar's best-known novels. From the pavement of Rue aux Laines, you pass through the 'labyrinth' to a square courtyard, then pass stairs, a rotunda and a fountain before finally reaching the park. On the spot where the writer was born in 1903 (193 Avenue Louise), where a stately mansion once stood, Belgian artist Jean-François Octave created an open 'house' of 16 m² to commemorate her, 100 years later. In ‘Un labyrinthe du monde‘ he mixes photographs of the writer and her writings in vivid colour panels.

La Fleur en Papier Doré - Het Goudblommeke in Papier

Place de Dinant in Rue des Alexiens is much smaller. The enclosure of this modest patch of greenery bears inscriptions that make attentive walkers smile. "Kommobinne Menier Pieters tès vèi opagat te valle of tza moete zain dageda skuun vindt? Den iene zaïget zoe en den andere zaïget anders en zémme alletwie gallaik". These are the poetic utterances in Brussels dialect of Geert van Bruaene, the founder of the mythical cultural-literary café La Fleur en Papier Doré - Het Goudblommeke in Papier, located a little further away. The art dealer, poet and theatre-maker made it the pre-eminent meeting place for artists of the surrealist movement, CoBrA and later the magazine Tijd en Mens. The many drawings, photos and other objects on the walls bear witness to its illustrious regulars. Pierre Alechinsky, Louis Scutenaire, Rene Magritte, Georges Rémi (Hergé), ...  After the war, Christian Dotremont, the young Hugo Claus, Jean Dubuffet, Louis Paul Boon, Simon Vinkenoog... The list is endless!

Language art in metro stations

With more than 80 works of art in 69 metro stations, you can literally travel through the largest underground art gallery in Brussels. Among the etchings, photographs, sculptures, paintings and installations of well-known and lesser-known Belgian artists, you are sure to find something to your liking! The works include pieces by Stephan Vanfleteren, Roger Raveel, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Pol Mara, Jo Delahaut, Vic Gentils, An Van Gijsegem, Roger Somville, Jan Cox, Nora Theys, Vincen Beeckman, and many, many others.

De stad beweegt in de palm van mijn hand - Metro De Brouckère (Jan Vanriet -2004)

'The city is moving in the palm of my hand', by Jan Vanriet. Since the renovation works in De Brouckère station were completed, the works of art are on show for all to see! Jan Vanriet’s work delights travellers along the narrow corridor with two travelators. He applied a type of pictorial story, told along the full length of the walls, in which different themes flow together. It is interspersed with photographs and linocuts that refer to the architecture and history of the place. Fragments of a poem by Benno Barnard, which inspired the artist, are incorporated in the piece, as are the lyrics of a song by Jacques Brel that sings the praises of the location.

Sol - Grond - Metro Trône - Troon

'Sol/Grond', by self-taught jack-of-all-creative-trades Patrick Bernatchez, in Trône - Troon metro station, is the result of a cultural exchange between Belgium and Canada. The work is inspired by stories of the exploitation of nature and man, and takes on a deeper meaning both here and in Canada. The artist had drill cores from Congo and Inuit territory cast in bronze. He used them as a base to engrave fragments from the testimonies of two survivors of colonisation in both areas. By placing the cores on vertical supports, they form a handrail on both sides of the mezzanine floors - a tangible and cultural anchor.


Language art from a height and... on the ground floor!

In a city of more than 183 nationalities, Brussels' linguistic wealth is indisputable. Vers Brussels - Poetry in the City, a project by Passa Porta from 2004, gave multilingual poetry a prominent and permanent place in the capital. A dozen poets from all over the globe immersed themselves, for a week, in the day-to-day life of a Brussels neighbourhood, in the company of a Belgian visual artist. The result is ten poetic odes to the city, that interact with ten permanent works of art in ten different neighbourhoods. These shared impressions can still be seen in the form of a surprising route that criss-crosses the city.

Sol - Grond - Metro Trône - Troon

Mbogo où es-tu, waar ben jij? Brussels artist Els Opsomer shares her time between Brussels and Rufisque, Senegal. She designed a stainless steel sculpture based on the poems of Congolese poet Kasele Laïsi Watuta with whom she explored Jette. The work plays with the different viewpoints offered by the site and the apartments around it. If you want to fully appreciate the work, you have to go into the tower blocks and gain some height. You can read a verse by the poet in the magnified handwriting of the artist! On the ground floor, the sculpture can be used as... a bench or a toy. Opsomer's reinterpretation of our globalised reality is in keeping with the tension between alienation and recognition in the city, which is central in Kasele's poems.

Passing by. Polish poet Agnieszka Kuciak and Belgian visual artist Peter Weidenbaum went to the neighbourhood around Square Montgomery and let the stimuli wash over them. Their cooperation turned into a monumental lifeguard's chair on the busy roundabout. I must disappoint those who immediately think to climb the chair: the experience actually takes place at the foot of the sculpture, where you can escape the hectic nature of the place behind for a while by reading a poem by Agniezka. Kuciak. A momentary break in an environment that is constantly in motion.