An exhibition in 2010 at RHok in Brussels on invitation of Tomas Boiy, exploring ‘symbolical assaults’. Initiated by Ben Van den Berghe in collaboration with Ryan Rivadeneyra, G. Leddington, Christophe Maes and Koen Sels.
The project focused on isolated, absurd and/or violent actions directed at powerful figures and often performed by powerless individuals. Though often spontaneous and sometimes random, these acts have the potential to take on a larger meaning, and have sometimes led to actual changes in society. As assaults rely on context and interpretation to become symbolic, the project questions how media and the public give symbolic weight and decide whether something is meaningful and/or justified.
On the occasion of the exhibition an A3-sized map was produced by Tomas Boiy, containing one printed work of each participant in a limited edition of 10.
Il Duomo (diptych), 2010 — Hahnemuhle Baryta print, 30 x 35 cm
Throwing a shoe, egg or statuette at a politician/ penetrating Soviet airspace with a light aircraft and landing it in Red Square/ knocking the pope down during the annual Christmas Eve Mass/ stealing a king's sabre during a ceremonious parade/ cream-pieing a multi-national business man/ launching a purple powder filled balloon at a Prime Minister during a parliament session/ defacing an image of a communist dictator with paint, etc. etc.
The starting point for this collaborative exhibition was the notion of what has, for the purpose of this project, been termed 'symbolic assaults': isolated actions — absurd and/or violent — directed at powerful figures, often performed by the powerless.
'Symbolic' in this context is of course an ambiguous term. In the first place it claims that the assaults described above should be placed in the realm of the symbolic as opposed to the real: they only have consequences in the field of how we perceive things and do not change the course of history in a direct way. Secondly, the term refers to how an action is seen rather than how it was performed.
Though particular, often spontaneous and sometimes random, these acts have the potential to take on a more general and larger meaning. Furthermore, these assaults might tell us something about the inner-workings of symbolism in that they are reliant on context and interpretation to become symbolic. A deed is not symbolic in-and-of itself, it can only become symbolic if the socio-political conditions and/or individually held opinions are right for it to do so. It is therefore not the assaulter, but others that determine which symbolic value an action receives. It is the public and media that interpret and give weight to the 'dumb' movement of an action; it is they that choose whether it is a meaningful gesture or merely a meaningless spasm of some lunatic.
This given, even unreasonable, apolitical or unmotivated actions can take on symbolic value. One could even claim the meaninglessness of a lunatic's deeds can be seen an assault on symbolism itself. The assaulter then becomes a jester that transforms 'high' into 'low' and turns the symbolic inside out and upside down. In other words, any assault on a powerful person can be seen as symbolic in the sense that it reveals an inherent weakness through showing that no-one can ever be above the (symbolic) law. To complicate this even further, one could even state that symbolism itself is an assault, deforming and mutating the 'meaningless' and formless real, making it artificial and structured through the attribution of value.
This exhibition intends to reflects not only upon the different meanings of the term 'symbolic', but to also show that the theme of the 'symbolic assault' can be easily sub-divided into several, sometimes incompatible subjects depending on the disciplinary approach (literature, history, politics, art…). The fact that, next to three artists, a writer and a historian also participate in the exhibition, underlines the perspectivism inherent in all things symbolic.