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.