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EUROPALIA takes the train

This year, the EUROPALIA Arts Biennale is taking a new route, literally. From 14 October 2021 to 15 May 2022, the festival will focus on trains. Not with any particular country as its starting point, but by honouring the invention that connects Europe. The festival will celebrate the 175th anniversary of the railway between Brussels and Paris, as well as 40 years of the TGV and 25 years of Thalys. It will feature over fifty performances, exhibitions and debates in museums, stations and trains, both in Belgium and abroad. Rinus Van de Velde will share his Inner Travels; Lize Spit is writing a station novel; travellers will be able to hear opera in train stations; and Boris Charmatz will be dancing in Brussels-North Station.
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© Rinus Van de Velde
The train as a symbol of progress, both then and now
The train, and its impact on how our society developed, are sure to attract a broad audience. In particular, this year’s festival also offers younger people a fresh perspective on the past, present and future of trains and how they bring people closer together across the continent. "If, when it was invented, the train was a symbol for the acceleration of society and for industrialisation, today it stands for the fact that we need to slow down, for sustainable living and travel," says Dirk Vermaelen, Artistic Director of EUROPALIA.
The train's impact on how we live, travel and work thus forms the basis for the programme, alongside issues of sustainability, movement and time. "TRAINS & TRACKS approaches the train from a contemporary, artistic and social perspective," continues Vermaelen. These four elements run like a thread through the artistic programming, and will also be the subject of debates, workshops and lectures. Indeed, 2021 was declared the European Year of Rail by the European Commission. EUROPALIA is enthusiastically digging deeper into this very current topic and will allow visitors to reflect in different ways on how we live and move.
Today, we cannot talk about a topic like movement without mentioning COVID-19. The past year has impacted the programming but also the practical side of things. "Trains and stations are meeting places. We hope that our festival can be the starting point for new encounters. Of course, we know that we may have to change the date or adapt the number of visitors, but the festival will still happen."
Across all the arts
The centrepiece of the festival is the opening exhibition In the Tracks of Art at the Belgian Royal Museums of Fine Arts, which will explore how artists such as Monet and Spilliaert were inspired both by their fear for and fascination with this new iron horse. A short distance away, at BOZAR, Rinus Van de Velde will lose himself in imaginary travels, culminating in the premiere of his new film. More contemporary art can be found along the Eupen-Ostend train line, where Laure Prouvost, Marina Pinsky and Che Go Eun, among others, will install their work in places the train normally just rushes past.
Railway tracks, stations and train carriages will be the backdrop for a wide spectrum of artistic expressions. In Bruxelles-Nord Station, Choreographer Boris Charmatz will kick off the dance performances programme, followed by a series of performances by Mohamed Toukabri in other stations; Lost&Found, together with Casco Phil, will create impromptu operas which draw inspiration from passers-by on their way to the platform; while six authors, including Lize Spit and Thomas Gunzig, will read aloud from their interpretations of the so-called station novel. In Brussels, scientists, policy makers and young people will spend a whole day questioning the role of the train in public transport. The Orient Express will stop in Brussels; writer Caroline Lamarche will have a residency on a train; there will be films; for the younger visitors, there will be Sysmo— and this is only a hint of what’s to come.
Every two years, EUROPALIA compiles a diverse artistic programme focusing on a country or a theme. For four months, in Belgium and its neighbouring countries, EUROPALIA, in collaboration with a wide network of cultural partners, presents a biennial with a myriad of artistic and socio-cultural projects that bring together visual arts, performing arts, film, music, literature and debate so as to stimulate an exchange of ideas. Newly commissioned projects and artistic residencies hold a central place in the programme that engenders a unique interaction between heritage and art.
Commissioner-General of the TRAINS & TRACKS edition of EUROPALIA is Jan baron Grauls.
On the occasion of this edition, EUROPALIA is working closely with SNCB, the Belgian railway company, and its museum, Train World.

Sarah-Claire Vermeulen / Serenai / +32 474 85 36 37 /
Copyright © 2021 Serenai, All rights reserved.

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