For King and country

Six horses fidgeted and pawed the cobblestones in Brussels' Place des Martyrs/Martelaarsplein last Saturday, as their helmeted riders, posed like mounted policemen asleep on the job, tried to keep the steeds quiet. The equestrians were part of a tableau vivant composed of drowsy dogs and uniformed policemen and policewomen dozing on bleachers that were set up in the middle of the floodlit square and fesrooned with the flags of Flanders and Wallonia.

Modelled on Gustave Wappers' emblematic history painting Episode of the September Days of 1830, a Romantic and exaggeratedly dramatic depiction of the heroic moment of Belgian inde­pendence, the performance, "Patria (Vive le Roi ! Vive La République !)", was masterminded by video artist Koen Theys and presented under the auspices of Kunstenfestivaldesarts.

Except for the animals, the cast of 30 remained motionless for the duration of the 90-minute work. The stillness was punctuated by individual actors' sleepy-sounding exhortations, in French and Flemish, wishing long life to the King, the dynasty, Sabena, horses, truncheons, the police, sex, free sex, Wallonia, la mutuelle, and anything else they felt affection for. More than a parody, although it surely was that, the piece aimed to highlight the post-national, post-ideological nature of liberal-capitalist democracy, in the light of which this country's linguistic disputes seem pitifully passé. The video recording of the event will be included in Theys' solo show next year at SMAK, the contemporary art museum in Ghent.

Sarah McFadden – The Bulletin