Elke Lente, Filip Gilissen and Couturissimo at the Pentahotel

Piero Bisello

On the 29th August the Pentahotel Brussels hosted a daring one-night art project curated by Elke Lente and Filip Gilissen. CFA sat down with the two artists to better understand where that experiment has been taking them.

Penta Hotel Brussels has recently been the hosting ground for an especially compelling group exhibition, organised and curated by artists Elke Lente and Filip Gilissen. Titled Couturissimo, the show asked a dozen artists to hide behind aliases and design table decoration for the hotel restaurant lounge, objects that were kept on display only for a night. The very international list of artists who decided to participate to this experiment included Dese Escobar, Miguel Bendana, Jussayin Truwff, Josip Novosel, Ken Kagami, Elke Lente, Bri Williams, Sidy Benamar, Ruth Angel Edwards, Aureal Luste, Victoria Colmegna, Fabio Santacroce and Harald Thys.

In our view Couturissimo was especially interesting for showing how contemporary art can blend with a very connoted commercial design, that is the highly artificial interior of Penta Hotel. Yet other issues arose from the show, such as how to document a visual art exhibition that lasts only for a few hours, and the ways in which an art crowd mixes with others, in this case hotel staff as well as guests. We discussed these and other points with the Elke and Filip during an online conversation and a couple of meetings at the Penta lounge.

You mentioned that with Couturissimo you wanted to explore provincial strategies and understandings of success in the art world. Can you explain? Is that also a new economic model for artists and curators? You explore provincial strategies in a cosmopolitan lounge, is there a clash?

Couturissimo is both a love letter and spam. It’s the Bourriaud effect meets Norah Jones with a blend of Frank Gehry. If you build it, people come! If you shout, it people listen! If you repeat, people love it. We love the suburbs and its blunt seduction strategy, its need for clear codes and explanation. What is Hot and what is Not! In fact we feel much of the artworld reminds us of the suburbs. But the fear of provincialism that comes naturally with universal aspirations has the potential to momentarily influence situations, issues, peeps and its interfusion.

Couturissimo is always Fashion Clash. It’s Clique Buffet with some drunken spies but lots of lovers. To use that word; for us a success would be to see both Balenciaga chunky sneakers, Michael Kors purses, and Hermes tunic sweaters mingle in to the night. Because that is also what happens at Penta. The Pentahotel website describes penta people as Pentagular! They are not Baby Boomers, or Milennials, or Gen X, or Gen Z or Y, or what ever comes next. Jeans, tees, rock and roll or just hypothetical moralist. Pentahotel brands itself as a Minivers and sees no distinction in DNA. Penta’s are a greatly expanding crew of oddballs and moreover wise enough not to grow up. Mi dispiace! They will never grow up and attitude is Pentalounge oxygen.

The Pentalounge mission statement fits the Couturissimo vibe like a glove! We have been fascinated by this place for a few years now since it is one of the few successful inclusive businesses we know. It’s rare for Belgium to see first generation immigrants mix with white suburbs and middle class travelers. And why not mix this up with Art peeps?

Perhaps this is all very selfish, as we wanted a holiday from the good taste and design aggression. However repetition of Couturissimo would be ineffective. And perhaps Couturissimo’s glam is not very collec-Table. But as artist Ruth Angel Edwards put it, “we are rather looking to create a collection of weird people, like ourselves. Which is much better for the soul and the world.”

We’re interested in how you document your shows. Couturissimo seems to be a project that would normally call for professional, high res pictures. It only lasted for a few hours, so normally it would be made visible with clear images to those who couldn’t make it there. Yet you go for phone quality, low fi shots. What’s that all about? During the show you told me that Couturissimo boils down to things that cannot be recycled. We’d love to hear more about this point too, as it seems related to documentation.

The hotel lounge has 40 tables, 13 of which we used, spread out. The lounge is both a bar, a restaurant and reception desk and during Couturissimo anyone can consume at the tables with art. But still for the locals, a lot of the penta experience is about being seen and and making a scene. Curating a groupshow with only aliases and repeating the Penta sales pitch in our communication turned out practical from a democratic perspective.

It would be naive to think Couturissimo didn’t influence the hotel brand as it turned out to be a very nice evening with confusion, lucky chance and free shots of poolwater for everyone. And in fact people did mix up.But we wanted to be able to decide how we would influence the brand. That’s why we didn’t leave behind anything useful from a professional point of view.

We were happy to be able to convince the hotel management of our pathetic-chic style and to be able to maintain our, perhaps to some, cryptic communication strategy from the start till postproduction. The artists were enthused by our invitation to not disclose their true identity in all the usual channels of online communication. There is actually no way to find out who they are, unless you are really interested in them or we told you.

On the other hand we did communicate lots and lots with their aliases. People pictures were taken by Chris Ofili from team Club Jimmy Hoo, for our Facebook event page and Instagram, for our website we used phone pictures. Those kind of HD architectural pictures would look competitive and out of place, since we only wanted an alia as pic caption.

For Couturissimo you asked the artists to seize the potential of table-decoration, which might have felt like potential and constraint at once. This reminds me of a quote from a friend: the best artists are the ones that can also work well with genre. Should we see more decorative art made by contemporary artists?

That could be true! Perhaps pathetic art is a genre? In the words of Chirstopher Knight, “Pathetic art is adamantly anti-idealistic, because mass culture feeds on the propagation of idealized images. Rather than envisioning utopias – yours, mine or theirs – Patheticism simply makes do with what is. And “what is” is frequently a mess. Emphatically populist, Patheticism chronicles the mundane, seemingly trivial events of ordinary lives, but it refuses to champion a populist ideal.”

Upon inviting the artists we send them a little Pentalounge pdf teaser from which they could sense the ambience in which we wanted to add contemporary art. Pentalounge plays out that age-old traveler’s fantasy of living like a local. Pentadesign is part of the global fad for recycling and remixing elements from the past into something fresh and contemporary. This retro revival played out in everything from locavore dining to classic cocktails and self-consciously naïf hotel design.

The idea was that their contributions could have the potential to be mistaken for the Pentadesign. Most of the invited artists had very clear nightmares or very blurry daydreams about dinner parties and amuse-gueules, like for example Miguel Bendana’s association with one-act drama opera Elektra or Victoria Colmegna, who puts it “Watch what happens when politics burns the dinner or alcohol meets carpet”. It’s also worth mentioning that the title ‘Couturissimo’ came from a conversation with Bruno Zhu about shopping in Antwerp.

What’s next for you? Will we see a show in an escape room? You know there is one next to Pentalounge.

That sounds great! But our current plan for the next exhibition will be either a solo exhibition with artist Mario Zabatti, he is a Carabiniere who is also a painter dripper. Reoccurring motifs in his work are pasta and Ferrari. Or a show at Villa In The Sky, a view with a restaurant! The idea is to continue to advocate the potentus of drama, mannerism and identity but this time in gastronomy under the title Concertissimo.

October 4, 2018