Christophe Coppens (1969) has a strong connection with theatre and opera. He started his career with an oeuvre touching fashion, design and art. After that, he focused on the visual arts and on directing operas.
By Dennis Marien and An Van Hertum
'The Ten' is an artistic intervention in which Christophe Coppens takes a personal and inventive look at ten details from the KMSKA collection. He transforms his selection into a playful and adventurous experience. And: La Monnaie is contributing. This will be a unique collaboration.
With the reopening of the museum in sight, the project is now in full development. Can you tell us about how it all started?
'When we first discussed this project, I was immediately very excited, but also cautious. Producing ten new works to place amongst all the masterpieces seemed a very delicate operation to me, an exercise in humility too.’
‘I myself am a difficult museum visitor: I don't like the clash between the typical installations for children and the works of art in a museum hall. My first thought was that the paintings themselves are so appealing that my contribution would be superfluous. But highlighting a detail sets a child's imagination to work. It encourages a different way of looking and discovering. This is how you turn a museum visit into an exciting adventure. By the way, my first museum experience as a child was in the KMSKA. My grandfather took me there. I was always very impressed, especially with the Rubens gallery, with its high walls and red velvet benches.’
From 2022 onwards, your creations will be displayed in the impressive museum galleries. How did you select the ten works of art that you set to work with?
‘That was quite a challenge. Together with the curators, I went through the full list of artworks that will be shown in the museum galleries. That’s how we arrived at an initial shortlist. It was not just a question of finding inspiration, but also an undertaking full of practical considerations: you must consider the limitations of the hall, the spread across the entire museum, the safety of the visitors... This assignment is not about me, it is not a solo show! That is precisely the challenge that appealed to me: making strong visual work that simultaneously disappears into the space. 'The Ten' is intended for all children, regardless of their background, but the ensemble must not feel infantile.’
‘That's why I didn't want to just magnify a detail - that's too simplistic. I envisaged a series of tactile works, with sound or movement, that encourage thought and imagination. In this way they encourage the visitors to get lost in the painting.’
Is your personal favourite from our collection included?
'It is impossible for me to name a favourite. But I am really looking forward to seeing Maerten de Vos' The Temptation of Saint Anthony the Great again. During the selection of the paintings, this one stood out: the many details and strange creatures immediately appeal to the imagination. Sometimes other details catch the eye: the strange pose of the hand of Saint Jerome of Bethlehem by Marinus van Reymerswale. This detail is somewhat intriguing, yet haunting at the same time. In Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, a very small but beautiful work by Joachim Patinir, my attention was drawn back to the rock. Apparently, Patinir based his work on the landscape of his native region, Dinant.’
So it has become a very large project, one which you do not work on alone.
'The ten works are made in very different ways. Instead of working with various executive studios, I chose to link up with another Belgian institution: La Monnaie in Brussels. My experiences with their studios are so positive that I was very keen to involve the team. I have directed two operas there and my third, Norma, will premiere in December 2021. It is a special collaboration, not with the classic relationship between commissioner and performer, but a real interaction. A nice bonus is that we thus build a bridge between two wonderful Belgian cities and cultural institutions; Antwerp and Brussels, a museum and an opera house. We were very pleased that La Monnaie agreed to participate, it is the first time they have accepted a production for a museum.’
We are of course very much looking forward to the reopening. How would you like to see 'The Ten' in less than a year?
'The works are in full production now. The next big step is the installation. At the opening, I obviously hope to see children climbing or crawling in an installation. Exciting!’
This interview previously appeared in the Winter issue of ZAAL Z.
Photo at top: Simon van Rompay