Tornado is Pascale Marthine Tayou’s solo exhibition in Mu.ZEE. It is the conclusion of an intense collaboration that began in early 2018 with a ‘prologue’ entitled Ik ben Gentenaar. During this time – and in anticipation of the exhibition – an artwork was added at regular intervals to the collection presentations in Mu.ZEE. Tayou challenged the museum not to play it safe but to start working with him from day one. In this sense, Mu.ZEE functions as a laboratory, where a number of ideas can be tested spatially and reactions are quick. Under the guise of injecting movement into something rigid, the artist refers to activating what he calls the ‘frustrated’ museum space. The concept not only applies to the physical space as an exhibition gallery, but also for the mental space that is needed to build a bridge to our society. ‘The museum should engage in self-observation, should get out of itself. Society needs a space … that constantly questions itself and that will analyse, in almost real time, social changes and human movements.’ The traditional exhibition route is pushed aside, and the emphasis shifted towards being on the road. Movement is important and goes against the rusty museum systems.
An intense collaboration with Pascale Marthine Tayou is akin to building on the path that Mu.ZEE has been treading for several years. The museum has consciously opted for long-term projects with artists working on social themes. Indirectly, these exhibition projects give oxygen to the museum debate on decolonisation, the decanonisation of the collections and the role of the museum in the 21st century.
The prologue Ik ben Gentenaar comprises five proverbial ‘chapters’, which in the exhibition Tornado are rewritten and supplemented with an explosion of images, words, stories and emotions. Abundance is not strange to Pascale Marthine Tayou. He pursues aesthetic discoveries in which form, colour and light serve as raw materials for new sculptures, photographs, drawings, installations and paintings. Tornado brings a limited selection of existing artworks from the artist’s rich oeuvre into dialogue with mainly new creations and site-specific installations. Pascale Marthine Tayou (b. 1966, Nkongsamba, Cameroon) has been active for almost thirty years and his current preoccupations are not all that different from what initially inspired him to become a ‘maker’ and travel the world. ‘There is a tornado raging in my head!’ The exhibition is like a whirlwind of sincere emotions, stories of yesterday and today, that inspire us to do things differently tomorrow. Tornado is a portrait of the countless souls wandering around in search of a safe existence. It stands for ‘being on the road’ as a way of life and also reflects the fear of dealing with it as a society. ‘It is the portrait of the wind that blew when I last came to Ostend. Like the other elements of nature – such as rain or sun – the wind is driven by the seasons and tempers our ego. Modesty adorns us, no matter how great we think we are, we will always be ‘smaller’ than nature.’
Tornado does not evade any subject – migration, gender equality, identity and origin, evolutions within nationalist thinking, colonial wounds and their place in the individual and collective memory, peace, fear and violence, but most crucially of all, the importance of knowledge and the transference of the ancient power it holds. Tayou does not shy away from these themes, but nor does he politicise them. He observes, is critical and above all curious in his quest for the universally human, for that which unites us all. The artist weaves forgotten histories and raked-up memories with a contemporary imagination. He constantly balances on a boundary between negative and positive energy. Nothing is what it seems, let alone unambiguous.
A cobblestone symbolises revolt – ‘sous les pavés, la plage’ [Under the paving stones, there is a beach!] –
but also serves to build a new road. The duality that lies in his visual language breaks open the conversation. In this way, he challenges our stereotypical image of ‘the Other’. ‘Fixing the past to the present on the canvas of the future’. Browsing through the past is useful as long as we don’t stick to the same old clichéd images. Under the guise of wanting to maintain a certain lightness in thinking about current social problems, Pascale Marthine Tayou prefers to make ‘human’ rather than political statements. The artist does not create so as to honour art, but in order to celebrate life. ‘And yes, can’t we use a bit of humour?’