Posts Tagged ‘belgium’


Photo: Ian Langsdon/EPA
René Magritte’s 1929 painting
La Trahison des Images, ceci n’est pas une pipe inspired a funny street name in Belgium. Given the opportunity to name streets, Belgians revealed themselves to be worthy of wearing the mantle of their imaginative compatriot.

I’ve always loved both the whimsy and depth of Belgian surrealist René Magritte, the artist with the green apples and bowler hats floating in clouds. Now a street-naming effort has revealed that the people of Belgium are worthy of wearing their compatriot’s august mantle.

Jennifer Rankin writes at the Guardian, “In Brussels, the home of surrealism, city officials have given their blessing to rename a street in homage to one of René Magritte’s best-known paintings. Ceci n’est pas une rue (This is not a street) is inspired by The Treachery of Images, painted in 1929 by the Belgian artist, who lived in Brussels for decades.

“It was one of nearly 1,400 suggestions made by the public in response to an initiative to generate interest in a regeneration project in a former industrial district in the north of the city. …

“Many of the winning names are whimsical or poetic, or evoke the quirkiness of the Belgian capital. In a rejuvenated park, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to follow Better World Path, or Happiness Way. Visitors may end up on Place des choukes — chouke, ‘little cabbage,’ translates as a warmer version of ‘darling.’ A final stop might be Dreams Drive, euphonious Drèves des rêves or Dromendreef. … All treet names are in French and [Flemish]. …

“The final names were chosen by a jury comprising city officials, local heritage experts and property developer Extensa, which bought the vast derelict site from the Brussels capital region in 1999. …

“Kris Verhellen, chief executive of Extensa, said the company would never have dared to make some of the suggestions. …

I thought it was very moving because we are so used to being so negative about this city.’

“While most of the streets will be private, the larger ones leading to the site will be public. But tourists looking for a selfie will have to wait a few years, as most will not be redeveloped until 2020.

“Not every suggestion made the cut. The jury rejected Rue du gentrification — an implicit criticism that the development company rebuffed, saying that up to 25% of the newly-built apartments was social housing.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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It’s interesting to me how artists who believe in a particular cause will use what they know best to advance that cause. Sometimes it takes art to get a wider audience to understand an issue.

At the Greenpeace blog, Elvira Jiménez and Erlend Tellnes wrote in early June about how pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi is raising awareness of global warming.

“The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise set off from the Netherlands carrying a very special load: the voices of eight million people. Messages from around the globe calling for governments to save the Arctic from threats such as oil drilling and destructive fishing. …

“As the ship stopped in Svalbard, Norway, Europe’s gateway to the Arctic, it welcomed aboard a very special guest: renowned pianist and composer, Ludovico Einaudi. With him a grand piano, to undertake his most challenging performance yet, in the Arctic surrounded by ice. …

“As he performed this piece for the first time — in front of a magnificent surging glacier — the music echoed across the ice, a moment that will remain in our minds forever.” More here.

If one picture is worth a thousand words, maybe this one had an effect: a couple weeks later an international conference voted for protection of the Arctic.

Pilar Marcos followed up at the Greenpeace blog on June 30: “At a meeting held in Ostend, Belgium, last week, the OSPAR Convention agreed to adopt specific measures to protect its Arctic region, including a commitment to secure a marine protected area (MPA) in 2016.

“This means an unprecedented agreement on Arctic protection, which could result in safeguarding the first piece of a future sanctuary in the High Arctic in just a few months’ time. [It’s an] area equivalent in size to half of the surface of Spain, [where] no oil drilling or large industrial fishing will take place, and where the protection of threatened habitats and species will be the priority.”

Photo: Greenpeace
Acclaimed Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi performs “Elegy for the Arctic” on a floating platform in the Arctic Ocean, the world’s most vulnerable ocean.

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I was not surprised to note in the Beatrix Potter biography I’m reading that although Potter worked hard to get rid of rat infestations in her Hill Top Farm house, she had a soft spot for rats. An artist who could draw all sorts of bugs and wildlife with meticulous care, she kept a pet rat as part of her menagerie and even wrote an indulgent story about Samuel Whiskers.

Rats turn out to be good for other things, too: for example, saving people from land mines.

Michael Sullivan writes at National Public Radio (NPR), “It’s 5:45 in the morning, and in a training field outside Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s demining rats are already hard at work. Their noses are close to the wet grass, darting from side to side, as they try to detect explosives buried just beneath the ground.

“Each rat is responsible for clearing a 200-square-meter (239-square-yard) patch of land. Their Cambodian supervisor, Hulsok Heng, says they’re good at it.

“T ‘hey are very good,’ he says. ‘You see this 200 square meters? They clear in only 30 minutes or 35 minutes. If you compare that to a deminer, maybe two days or three days. The deminer will pick up all the fragmentation, the metal in the ground, but the rat picks up only the smell of TNT.’ …

“These are not kitchen rats, but African giant pouched rats, also known as Gambian pouched rats, about 2 feet long from head to tail. Their eyesight is terrible. But their sense of smell is extraordinary. The rats can detect the presence of TNT in amounts starting at 29 grams (about 1 ounce).

“A Belgian nonprofit called Apopo began harnessing the rodents’ olfactory prowess 15 years ago. (The group also trains rats to detect tuberculosis). The organization set up a breeding program and training center in Tanzania and began deploying rats to post-conflict countries, first to Mozambique and Angola. Apopo’s Cambodia program began in April, in partnership with the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

” ‘The idea was very strange,’ says operations coordinator Theap Bunthourn. ‘Cambodian people kill rats, don’t like rats. But they’re cost-efficient, they’re easy to transport, they’re easy to train, and they don’t set off the mines because they’re too light.’ ”

Gosh, they detect TB, too? Who knew?

Read more at NPR, here.

Photo: Michael Sullivan for NPR
Victoria, a 2-year-old rat, sniffs for TNT, sticking her nose high in the air to indicate she’s found some. She is able to detect the presence of TNT at a distance of approximately half a yard.

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Every day, no matter what else is going on around the world, artists are thinking of new ways to express beauty.

Henry Grabar writes an Atlantic Cities “postcard” about two Belgian designers’ insight that plates lit from the inside could make something wonderful out of discards — while saving a tree from being cut down for Christmas.

The resulting “tree” of broken cups and plates glows ethereally and was selected for display in the town square of Hasselt, Belgium.

” ‘We decorated the tree with objects which would otherwise have remained invisible,’ MOOZ designers Inge Vanluyd and Stefan Vanbergen wrote in their DesignBoom submission.” Not just invisible, I would add, but thought to be useless.


Photograph: MOOZ, via DesignBoom (an independent publication dedicated to architecture and design)

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