Flemish Sign Language & contemporary art in Koksijde: a long-awaited encounter

Flemish Sign Language & contemporary art in Koksijde: a long-awaited encounter

Although West Flanders is frequently brought to Ghent, a reverse movement is currently taking place in Koksijde. In the Ten Bogaerde Arts Center, located in an oasis of tranquility where art, nature and heritage flow together, Dach is on display, a temporary exhibition with works of art from the collection of the S.M.A.K. In order to familiarize everyone with the world of contemporary art, a tour is offered in Flemish Sign Language (VGT) at ErfgoedApp . The tour was made possible through a collaboration between the Department of Culture & Heritage Koksijde, Deaf Flanders - Social Culture Work and the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art S.M.A.K.

Links: Arts Center Ten Bogaerde © Cultural Center Casino Koksijde. Right: poster Dach © Municipality of Koksijde.

The barn of the 13th-century Ten Bogaerde abbey farmhouse that houses the arts center is typified by its wooden, open-roof construction. The arts center's permanent exhibition consists of figurative sculptures by George Grard (1901-1984). Inspired by this roof construction, the permanent collection and the collection of the S.M.A.K., the title"Dach" (German for "roof") is taken from the sculpture Dach (1952) by Oswald Oberhuber (1931-2020), with which the expo opens.  

Oberhuber's sculpture was created shortly after the traumatic war years, a period in which the perception of "beauty" from Aryan ideologies played a fateful factor. The work can therefore be interpreted as a break with the definition of beauty at the time. The thread running through the exhibition is the versatility of sculpture from the 1950s to the present, which is shown in numerous manifestations in this exhibition. Where the term "beauty" is too often reduced to a superficially standardized fact, the Dach exhibition succeeds in encouraging the visitor to appropriate an individual, highly personal experience of the concept.

Left: Wooden roof construction, Ten Bogaerde Arts Center, Koksijde © Furnibo. Right: Oswald Oberhuber, Dach, 1952, Collection S.M.A.K., Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent © Dirk Pauwels.

Offering VGT in such exhibits is still too often overlooked because it is assumed that the written-down text of spoken language is sufficient for deaf, hard of hearing and sign language learners. However, VGT is a visual-manual language, with its own lexicon and grammar far removed from spoken language. The VGT tour for Dach begins with an introduction and explanation given by Philippe van Cauteren, director of the S.M.A.K. and curator of the expo. The introduction is identical to that for a classic guide tour, with the important addition of the VGT support. In addition to this introduction, twelve works of art are included in the VGT tour.

Because of its monumental and somewhat remote character, Ten Bogaerde Arts Center has to deal with a not always stable telephone coverage. But the ErfgoedApp has provided for that as well. Once the tour has been downloaded, the VGT videos can be requested and viewed offline. To open the video, all you have to do is enter the number indicated next to a work of art so that the app knows which work you are at.

Dach VGT tour with the Erfgoedapp © Anna-Livia Smekens

With the ErfgoedApp , museums and heritage organizations have the technology at their disposal to make information accessible to a broad target group. We therefore expect that many museums and heritage organizations will follow this example to offer a tour in Flemish Sign Language themselves.


Would you like to explore with the tour 'Dach in VGT'? Then download the ErfgoedApp in the App Store or via Google Play and visit Kunstencentrum Ten Bogaerde. The exhibition runs through Nov. 14, 2021 and is fully wheelchair accessible.