City wanderings - and a pilgrimage to some of the best eating and drinking spots in Brussels. Or maybe not eating or drinking - ah, oh well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

De Dolle Mol

It is Thursday afternoon in De Dolle Mol, and Jan Bucquoy is in contemplative mood.  “In some countries tolerance for doing a psychological study is higher than in others”, he muses; “But Belgium is the simplest.  I had the idea of going to New York to ask a chambermaid for a pair of pants, but then I reflected I could have ended up in prison.”

I have to agree.   But then Belgians have had several decades to get used to Bucquoy and his antics: the mock Coups d’état; the provocative re-portrayals of Tintin doing things Tintin shouldn't do; a film featuring entarteur (pie-throwing) Noël Godin; and of course his Musée du Slip, which started in 1990 at Bucquoy’s home in Schaerbeek, and has persisted in various locations since then, fanning the reputation of its already infamous creator.

Bucquoy regularly breaks off our conversation to wander round this weathered Flemish bar.  This gifts me a few moments where I don't need to concentrate, so I stupidly take in the utilitarian wooden tables, Marxist books by the window, a vaguely suspect-looking green plant....  De Dolle Mol has always been an anti-establishment place, linked to the birth of the Flemish Amnesty International movement, Women’s liberation and the B-generation, and nowadays the home of dreamy revolutionaries and self-styled outlaws, and a few admiring teenagers.   It was Bucquoy who persuaded a Flemish Minister to save the bar, after rising rents forced it to close.  Nowadays musicians sometimes play and there is space for a theatre upstairs.

While my brain is trying to make sense of the "why", my eyes are taking in the "who".  I spy Lenin, Chairman Mao, de Gaulle, Napoleon…. All with vibrant red lips and with a frilly object on their head.  Surely it can’t be – a pair of ladies’ knickers?  Of course they are, and it turns out that these (washed) specimens have been given willingly over the years by various personalities, and it is Bucquoy who completes the montage: deciding whose underwear adorns the head of each venerable old General, Dictator, politician.  The pants form an inverted triangle – a symbol for the liar used in Medieval paintings, Bucquoy says.  Only Magritte is spared this treatment: “I figured that surrealism was already strange enough!”

Meanwhile our conversation is paused again, and something on the wall has just made me laugh, next to the pant samples generously donated by Plastique Bertrand and Brigitte la Haie:

"Please complete the aforementioned coupon and return it together with your pants."

I struggle to imagine how anyone could refuse.  Do some of these people have no sense of humour?!  I look round at a leering DSK, at Clinton, at Sarkozy, at Michael Jackson - it is clear that this is not "art for art's sake".  It is not just who is represented (Napoleon, not Mother Teresa), but the reaction this provokes in you, the viewer.  We and the pants are there to remind these people that they are just like us, underneath.  We're like their conscience.

But that is still not enough for me.  Indeed it is in the hope of coaxing out explanations to satisfy any literary critic - no, of ploughing Bucqouy's soul- that I'm here today.  I even started reading Guy Debord and something he wrote about capitalism and consumerism, but to be honest I was struggling by paragraph 65.  I quote an interesting passage at Bucquoy, and he flashes me an amused look.  "That's nice," he says.  As our conversation progresses I am beginning to feel that Bucquoy is not taking this - or himself - very seriously.  And what of Bucquoy?  "No, the Director doesn't wear pants", he says, mischeviously.

Anyway I think others have had something to say about all this:

"plus il contemple, moins il vit ; plus il accepte de se reconnaître dans les images dominantes du besoin, moins il comprend sa propre existence et son propre désir."
La Société du Spectacle (30), Guy Debord

How can we escape from a world as Debord described it?  "Il faut que le pouvoir puisse
être mis en question", says Bucquoy, simply.  That means attacking the visible symbols, the people behind power, with the potent symbol of sexual transgression - of nudity.  As Bucquoy puts it, "le sexe, c'est le désordre"  But there's also his warning that criticism can form part of the very capitalist system we all must try and cheat.  Suddenly everything seems linked: there's Tintin denuded and his creator un-masked; and the anti-spectacle to counter Debord's malevolent Orwellian state that controls what we wear and what we think.  This is Bucquoy's mock coup d'état, which used to happen on 21 May (in the days when Belgium had a government).  21 May?  "Il pleut pas en général."  Unlike the 21 July.....

This performance reflects events elsewhere in the world, but is a reminder that democracy does not change anything.  Nor do elections.  Instead Bucquoy wants a revolution!  But until that day he's happy being the barman in De Dolle Mol: sending off another 1000 letters to solicit new pant specimens; dreaming of a time when Ministers and riches could be distributed according to a lottery system and power is delegated to the regions.  However there is no need for any of that at present: with no Government he is content with things as they are.  At least nobody is putting up taxes. 

De Dolle Mol is open Wednesday to Sunday from 16:00, until everyone has had enough to drink and it is time to go home.  But Becinbrussels drank apple juice on this occasion.

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