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Expedition Francka
Expedition Francka
In association with Filip Van Dingenen

Francka was one of the six Slovene bears that were bought by France in order to enlarge the local bear community in the Pyrenees. The bear had different habits when compared to the local bears; they came closer to populated areas and killed sheep from time to time. The old, infertile bear ‘Francka’ was not accepted by the local population and was killed accidently (or not?) in a car accident. The project deals with items such as migration, ecology versus economy and tourism,… Filip Van Dingenen and Annelies Vaneycken travelled to the Pyrenees in order to find out the story behind the article they read in a Belgian newspaper announcing the dead of Francka the bear. They archived the pro and contra graffiti that were painted by locals on streets and other public places. They traced one of those messages on translucent paper. Afterwards, they went to the national park in Slovenia where Francka originated from to duplicate the message there. This reenactment was to be a memorial for Francka.

The project resulted in a Solo Exhibitition in CC Strombeek (17/05/2008 - 22/06/2008) showing 2 wall posters and a publication: The ‘Expedition Francka Journal'.



Brazilia Annelies Vaneycken Aflitos Recife Brazilia Annelies Vaneycken Aflitos Recife Expedition Francka Exhibition
Cultuurcentrum Strombeek/Grimbergen
May 17th — June 22nd, 2008



Expedition Francka - Strong as a bear and straight to the point
Luk Lambrecht, March 2008

A co-production by Filip Van Dingenen & Annelies Vaneycken. This edition of the bi-annual prize for Art and Design of the province of Flemish Brabant is unique. The reason being that instead of a traditional “show” of work by the laureates, an original concept has been adopted wherein the two winning artists produce something new together. Filip Van Dingenen and Annelies Vaneycken have taken this a step further and together they have created a totally new work, presented in “Het Kabinet” exhibition space, recently renovated by the Humbeek architect Luc Binst, in the heart of the Strombeek Cultural Centre. “Design” is all too often associated with applied arts and the skills used to enhance content, to portray or better express a message. Annelies Vaneycken, who received the Design prize, views her job as a highly creative occupation, on a par with that of a musician or a fine artist.
In her eyes, designing is a “creative verb”. The designer does research around the problem set by the assignment and seeks creative solutions. The solution decides the medium and is closely linked to the creative process. The graphic designer knows from his/her independent expert experience how to convey the “messages” in an inventive way so as to optimise and enhance the content. Design is also similar to hanging an exhibition. The empty walls invite the curator to bring pertinent meaning to this “emptiness” by combining autonomous artworks in order to generate “other” new meanings and motives for a limited period of time. In the context of her prize, Annelies Vaneycken designed the cataloge plus the posters and the newspaper that accompany the “Expedition Francka” project, which she, together with the artist Filip Van Dingenen, conceived and realized.
Filip Van Dingenen’s recent “Zoonation” project centres on the now-vanished Limburg Zoo in Zwartberg/Genk – the region from where the artist originates although he never actually visited the zoo. Limburg Zoo was closed at the end of the 1990s following complaints by animal rights organizations. The animals were “sold-off” to other zoos around the world and the site was completely demolished. Today, Limburg Zoo only lives in the collective memory via printed souvenirs. Filip Van Dingenen conceived a clever project around the disappeared zoo and visited the many zoos around the world to which the animals were obliged to emigrate. The result was a beautiful (log)book of drawings, photographs and archive material in which the artist successfully avoided anecdote and created from this specific story a work that deals both with the universally uniform understanding of the zoo – in its first form, as a popular/educational “product” – and as a manifestation of globalization. Zoos around the world are almost identical. They are, like the Old Masters of painting, not drawn or painted from nature but from theatre scenery, like the fake rocks. The universal cardboard box aesthetic of these zoos was a “soft” harbinger of the process of advancing urban uniformity that is now taking place in Asia.
A newspaper article about the death of Francka, a brown bear imported to the French Pyrenees from Slovenia in April 2006 – was the starting point for the joint Van Dingenen/Vaneycken reflection on concepts such as migration, ecology versus economy and tourism. They decided to undertake an expedition to the region where Francka the Bear was resettled and to hunt out the “tags” that gave expression to the discontent and hatred of the bear that attacked sheep and ate whole crops of blueberries instead of producing bear cubs – the initial reason for her migration from distant Slovenia.
Tags on the streets such as “non aux ours” were living proof of the clash between farmers and environmental activists. The artists made templates of one such tag on a hairpin-road and “shifted” it to a straight road in the area of Slovenia from where Francka originated. Both artists speak of a “re-enactment” – a contemporary concept often used in popular TV to accurately re-enact past events. Moving an enemy “tag” to the more “friendly” context of the bear’s original habitat can be seen as a political statement, not only relating to the “Francka” news item, otherwise art is reduced to journalism. This Van Dingenen/Vaneycken project should be read as a cautionary and playful allusion to thorny world issues and facts like nationality, identity, migration and the fear of everything that is different and from the “other”. In Strombeek Cultural Centre’s “Het Kabinet” the artwork comprises two large posters directly glued to the wall depicting photographs of the two “tagged” landscapes between which Francka the Bear journeyed... for the good of her own race... The posters are reminiscent of billboards – idyllic images designed to entice tourists to a promised land ... The sting is in the word painted on the street.
As well as these two posters, a newspaper has been published containing all the documentation that led to this unique project between the two laureates. The newspaper is mass produced and available free to the public. In this way, the artists refute established clichés such as (visual) art being a priori elitist. Every detail of their collaboration is thoroughly explained, but it is left up to the viewer to draw their own conclusions and to enjoy the views of the Pyrenees and Slovenia.
Perhaps there’s a little bit of “Francka the Bear” in all of us.

Published in Cataloge 'Prijs voor beeldende Kunsten en vormgeving 2007', May 200! (link opens in a new window)



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Asphalt & broken skeletons
from: Logbook ‘Expedition Francka’

After we had finished drinking our maté at the lake of Kocevje, we started to drive towards the place we had marked on the map the night before. The spot had grabbed our attention as soon as we had opened the detailed map of the Kocevski Rog forest: in the entire national park there were only ‘white lines’, small unpaved roads, except for this one place somewhere in the middle that was marked ‘yellow’ which meant there was an asphalted street in the middle of the forest.
As we left the outskirts of Kocevje, we entered the virgin forest and the street became a gravel road. Filip had to slow down the car. The monotone sound of the wheels crunching gravel was punctuated from time to time by a ‘ping’ as one of the pebbles hit the coachwork of the car. After we had been driving for a while and had seen nothing but dense forest, we reached our destination. As ‘white-line’ road became ‘yellow-line’, we thought we were in heaven. This would be the perfect location to put our tag: it was in the middle of the national park, home of Francka, and – more importantly – the road was asphalted, suitable to paint on.
We were curious to find out why this desolate piece of road in particular was asphalted and soon discovered the grim truth. Yugoslav people that were suspected of collaborating with the Nazi regime during World War II had been massacred in this idyllic forest. When the war ended and ‘the collaborators’ were returning to their home country, special units of the Yugoslav Army lay in waiting for them in the isolated forest of Kocevski Rog. They were thrown into ‘jamas’ or caves spread all over the forest, which were then sealed using explosives. This particular stretch of road was paved to hold remembrance services for the victims of these massacres. We could not use it for Francka’s memorial.
(...) We were walking down a small forest path, following the signs for Jama Debliske Livade. When we arrived we saw a wooden fence around a small hole which cut deep into the ground. Some people had left candles, as constant reminders of their grief. I looked into the hole but couldn’t see anything, it was pitch black – a darkness so intense to erase this dark time in history. I tried to imagine the thousands of broken skeletons at the bottom of the black. I felt the presence of all the victims that were wrongfully executed, and shivered.

Download the Expedition Francka Journal (link opens in a new window)