PATRIA (Vive Ie Roi! Vive la République!)

For his video installation PATRIA (Vive Ie roi ! Vive la république !) (2008) Belgian video artist Koen Theys drew his inspiration from the Romantic painting Episode During the Belgian Revolution of 1830 by Gustave Wappers (1834, Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels), thereby vividly pointing to the off-guard stale of the Belgian nation. Just as the national anthem The Brabançonne was composed on the occasion of Belgian independence, this painting emerged out of the Revolt during those turbulent September days in 1830 and proudly demonstrated the victory and the birth of the modern "nation" Belgium.

Theys' spectacular tableau vivant - with actors and figures wearing helmets, shields and batons; with horses and German shepherds; with drapes of national flags and neo-classicism elements - was created in front of the Flemish Parliament in Brussels. Staged as a national "monument," it resembled Wappers' theatrical reenactment of a moment of revolutionary fervor, a similar chaos of people, swords and guns. Yet the usual heroic poses of fighting for independence were exchanged for sleeping guards and sagging cavalry. Police lay despondently around, occasionally chanting slogans of the most diverse political or ideological scope, and cancelling each other out.

In his book The End of History and The Last Man (1989) American philosopher Francis Fukuyama claims that Hegel's prediction of the end of ideologies has become today's reality. The grand ideologies of the twentieth century made room for a capitalistic pragmatism averse to any kind of ideology, thus in Fukuyama's view creating a post-historic era. Although PATRIA (Vive le roi! Vive la république !) visibly anticipates the recent vicissitudes of the Belgian state reforms, stressing the beginning and the end of Belgium, Theys mainly focuses on the question of how a historical piece would manifest itself in a post-historic era.

Theys's work attempts to communicate the power of the image and its influence on man's mental behavior. He creates a specific narrative structure by continually combining elementary images and their emotional, intuitive or intellectual connotations. Icons and heroes from art history and the entertainment world are thus transformed into a decorative "mass ornament" or fantastic architectonic stage settings, always with a critical undertone. These anti-show shows aim to play modernity and post-modernity off against each other.

Elke Segers – Catalogue ‘Brussels Biennial’