About Beaufort 21

Beaufort 21 is pervaded by social momentum. Now that the limits of the ecosystem have come into full view, we are being increasingly confronted with our limitations as human beings. The dominant image of man standing atop the pyramid of creation no longer applies, and a turning point in our attitudes about nature has become imperative.

Confronted with a rising sea level, the changed relationship with nature is most clearly expressed on the seacoast. While the high-rises along coast raise the question ´how have human beings changed the coast?´, Beaufort reverses the roles and the question becomes ´how has the coast changed human history?´. This perspective of modest influence seems even more appropriate after a year of global pandemic. In Beaufort 21, the works of art enter into dialogue with their environment and they take a fresh look at familiar locations, with above all natural history taking pride of place.

The history of the entire greater region is closely interwoven with the North Sea. For example, the tide is present in the very name ´Vlaanderen´, derived from the Germanic ´flaumaz´, which means ´inundation´ because between the 3rd and the 8th century the coastal area was flooded twice a day. The bilingual county of Flanders thus received its name from the perspective of the sea. In addition, the development of Bruges and later Antwerp into metropoles is primarily due to maritime trade. From Norway, the Baltic states or Italy, the North Sea brought us not only knowledge and prosperity, but also art forms from the Renaissance which the Flemish artists then further developed.

At the same time, the North Sea is one of the most unpredictable seas in the world. It developed ´only´ 8000 years ago, after the riverscape Doggerland was deluged by a tsunami. Its capricious character is forever chiselled in the name ´Ostend´, the ´Eastern end´ of the peninsula of Testerep, which in the 14th century was partially swallowed up by the sea during a heavy storm.

In line with this focus during Beaufort 21, the public space is being expanded to include the seabed. Remains of ships that sank to the bottom of the sea during storms and wars have recently received greater acknowledgement as a part of our cultural heritage. By analogy with the heroic war monuments on land, these shipwrecks form new underwater memorials that tell different stories of humanity on the coast. They reveal elements from our history which generally get little attention and facilitate a more precise and complete narrative. Just think of The Horse Market, an undersea munition dump from WW I that constitutes a toxic threat for our ecosystem and demonstrates parallels with the darkest moments of colonial history.

The exhibition strives to approach the present period historically. Our look at the past is pervaded with one-sided concepts and old-fashioned ideas. A perspective where many voices are missing, however, and where man imagines himself supreme. The works of art allow effaced voices to be heard, with attention for everything that lives, and within a growing realisation of the vulnerability of human beings in the ecosystem. The sculptures of Beaufort 21 constitute memorials of a different kind, better suited to the current age.


The question 'how did man change the coast' will be turned around during Beaufort 21 to: 'how has the North Sea constantly changed mankind?'

The Cu ra tor

Heidi Ballet

“The theme of Beaufort 21 is akin to that of its predecessor in 2018. A recurring topic in the artworks for this edition is the fact that man is subjected to nature’s will. If the high-rises along the coast sometimes beg the question ‘how did man alter the coast’, then the question is now reversed: ‘how did this coastline change man’. More than a year into this pandemic this seems like a more appropriate perspective”, Heidi Ballet continues.

“The artworks are inspired on local stories collected from both natural and human history. They also emphasise the transience of life; in the first place the transience of man and materials but also the fluctuating interpretation of history. More and more voices are added to a familiar story. These artworks have a similar impact. They activate a collective conscience and offer a new perspective on a familiar local context to make us look at a familiar location with new eyes.”

His to ry



Beaufort was born in 2003 thanks to founder Willy Van den Bussche, back then director of the PMMK (the Museum for Modern Art of the Province of West-Flanders) in Ostend. He was a curator for both the 2003 and 2006 editions.


Monumental works of art found their place in the unique backdrop of the Coast during these two editions. Such as the iconic statues Maman (the spider) by Louise Bourgeois in Ostend and Another Place, the figures of Antony Gormley on the beach of De Panne.


In 2009, Phillip Van den Bossche succeeded Willy Van den Bussche as director of Mu.ZEE (fusion museum of the former Museum of Fine Arts and the PMMK) and as curator of Beaufort. With his selection, he focused on works that engage with the sea, the heritage, the inhabitants and the history of the coast.


In 2012, Van den Bossche also took on the artistic selection, in collaboration with Jan Moeyaert from vzw Ku (n) st, who had been responsible for the production of the exhibition since 2003. During Beaufort 2012, the focus was on Europe.


In 2015, the selection was made by a team of curators, namely Phillip Van den Bossche, Hilde Teerlinck, Lorenzo Benedetti and Patrick Ronse. Beaufort 2015 took place under the name of "Beaufort Beyond Borders" at three striking heritage locations in nature: The Zwin in Knokke-Heist, the Raversijde domain in Ostend and De Nachtegaal in the dunes of De Panne.

photo credit: A Dog Republic


In Beaufort 2018, curator Heidi Ballet highlighted the sea as an uncontrollable place, which at the same time connects us with the rest of the world. An underlying theme of this edition was the role of permanent monuments.