Oh, this was excellent fun! They do get this sort of cultural thing right every so often - with a few dud notes, admittedly. Museum Night Fever was a whole evening (plus an after party) of shenanigans in various museums here in Brussels, with a wide range of activities and venues. It reminded me of the Ashmolean's Live Fridays, but GONE CITY-WIDE!
First up, on our evening's agenda, was the Jewish Museum. Well, actually, first up was getting the surprisingly well organised shuttle bus service, which we picked up at the MAF stop near us (more of which later), guided onto the bus by a friendly gorilla in a fluorescent vest. There was a great atmosphere, people all out to have fun, excited about the evening ahead.
The Jewish Museum is a fascinating place. I think we were there a little early in the proceedings - the promised music didn't start until much later - but it's one of the museums which I have been meaning to visit here, and even without any MNF 'extras' I'm glad we went. As is usual in many museums here, the texts are all in French and Dutch, with only occasional handouts with English translations. (I've just realised that makes me sound like one of those 'if I shout loud enough they'll understand, bally foreigners' but what I mean is, tourist-wise, they're not cashing in on the potential for having handouts for everything, and I do find it frustrating when they have some text but not all translated.) But, with or without English text, it was a very visual experience - lots of well-curated walls of photographs and nicely displayed exhibits.
The next stop on our visit was another place we'd wanted to go anyway. We'd both loved the previous exhibition at the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts, of artists' letters, so this - of love letters - was on our list of must-sees. And despite being crowded with people, it was excellent. There was a good range on display, with lots of pulled quotations on the walls, in French, Dutch, and English. The extras for MNF were performances, theatrical pieces, and dramatic readings based on the letters in the exhibit, but on a first come first served basis which excluded the vast majority of visitors. Tante pis. Top left in the collage above is the handwritten text of Je t'aime, moi non plus by Gainsbourg. Bottom left is a letter from Brigitte Bardot to some lucky man. They had letters from Napoleon, Satre, Apollinaire, Czar Alexander II, all kinds of people.
From here, in the Gallerie Royale Saint-Hubert, we wandered through to the Grand Place (beautiful atmospheric lighting at the top of the post), and from there to La Monnaie, the operahouse. And oh, this was the highlight of the evening!
The booklet exclaimed this is not a museum - touch the art, touch the artists! All the activities were themed to 'revolution', playing off the operahouse's 'revolutionary' history as the scene of the riots which put the wheels of Belgian independence in motion. The foyer was taken over by a sound installation, made up of recordings taken at demonstrations round the globe. It was a real aural assault, and it made the arrival by jarring you into noticing something big was going on.
Our first activity was to be 'birdified' by Thijs Van Vuure (photo collage bottom left)! He asked for a volunteer, and I deeply regret not speaking up. The booklet had implied that he would 'birdify' lots of people, but it was actually only one per session. Van Vuure is an artist who has studied biology, and found that birds live their lives ten times faster than we do (their hearts beat ten times faster, their life cycle is ten times faster). He recorded Belgian birds, slowed them down to 'our speed', and then copied the sound that was made. It makes birdsong into a vocal range which is possible for us to imitate, and that's where the volunteer comes in. Van Vuure had built a 'birdhouse', which was actually a recording studio. The volunteer had to listen to birdsong and copy it, and when the recording was finished, he sped it back up to bird speed and it really, really, worked! The girl's singing sounded exactly the same as the bird recording!
We then made our way to another sound installation, this time in the main theatre space itself. ATK! had taken over the seats, with the audience drifting in and out of the space, sitting on the stage, rather than in the stalls. There was an amazing light show, using installed lights and the theatre's own, and noise. I say noise because it was this aspect which really made it. In Hong Kong, the 'symphony of sound and light' uses twinkly, soft, happy music. ATK! used industrial noises and atonal chords, which made for a really creepy experience. It was a little bit as if there was an alien spaceship landing on top of us. In a good way.
After that, it was time for a bit of a rest. There were two refreshment venues, the 'soft room' with tea and cake, and the 'hard room' with revolutionary opera cocktails. We obviously went for the cocktails. They had two, one gin and one rum based, which were perfectly pleasant, but nothing special. The bar was another performance space, and the violin-piano-and-computer ensemble kept us there for a little while. There was also an area for making your own revolutionary posters, with a long line of people eager to 'smash capitalism' and 'free Belgium', but we'd stupidly left this til last, and didn't want to wait for the ink to dry before moving on, so didn't get a chance to create our poster (which would have, we decided, featured a bike and a lightning cloud, from the images available).
Our evening ended on a bit of a downer, which was a real shame. We walked to the Charles Lorraine Palace, stood in an enormous queue, with the Vedett truck blasting out some proper tunes (see top photos), and slowly moved forward, only to be told, upon reaching the doors, that the venue was at full capacity and they weren't going to let anyone else in, and that we had to go away - actually go away. Fine, health and safety and all that, but the fashion show wasn't due to start for another half an hour, and I don't think they could have known that nobody else would leave in that time. Hey ho. Back to the shuttle buses, full again of happy people, and to MAF, our last stop, near to us (so a good final stop logistically), and described in the booklet as an exciting opportunity to visit this usually closed museum. But, alas, we were disappointed. I am not sure what we were expecting but it certainly wasn't this. MAF is the Museum of Fantastic Art. And it was, in a sense. It was fantastic as in fantasy, as in sci-fi, as in steampunk. And it was art as in weird objects and science experiments and bits of skeleton. But - and this was the real issue, I think - not very good ones. I kept thinking, as we walked around, that it was such a shame that such a beautiful maison a maitre had been covered with jelly and mutilated monster babies and stuff. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend Museum Night Fever as an evening's entertainment, and would definitely go again if they have another one. Not all the museums participated, and I think some had a better idea of what to do with an evening's opening than others, but it was such good fun, running all over the city at night, doing cool things and seeing cool things and hearing cool things. And pretending we were cool, too, being part of it.