Why You Should Visit The Crystal Ship According to Bjørn van Poucke: “No Rules, Just Great Art”
Not only is it a mesmerizing song by the legendary rock band The Doors, The Crystal Ship is also the name of one of the top Belgian street art festivals that you should definitely visit. Since last year's edition, the city of Ostend is the proud host of more than 20 amazing murals by a carefully selected group of famous national and international artists. The Crystal Ship has set sail for Ostend for a second time and promises to knock our socks off again in April! The festival is organised and curated by Bjørn van Poucke and his team, whom you might already know as the mastermind behind the popular platform Street Art Belgium. We don’t know about you, but we couldn’t contain our enthusiasm and decided to steal some time from Bjørn’s busy schedule to ask him our most burning questions.
Text by Chess Teugels, main photo by Henrik Haven
Thank you for making time for this interview. I imagine you’re very busy working on the next edition of your festival The Crystal Ship these days. How are the preparations going so far?
“It's going really well. It's super busy of course, as I work very hard with my team to make sure that we organise a beautiful event in Ostend. But we are totally ready. We already announced the program and at the moment we are preparing the production of more than 20 large murals and 200 smaller interventions. What's new this year is that we will also have a talent scout to look for young talents between 12 and 25 years old. We are looking for aspiring artists in that segment of young people. We believe it's always a good idea to inspire young people.”
“Working together with the city of Ostend is going really well. The city council totally understands the importance of investing in art and culture and we have their whole team of employees at our disposal. That comes in handy since The Crystal Ship is actually a small organisation. So we are grateful for all their assistance in organising the festival. We all have a good connection and they are really hard workers. We have been working together for a year and a half now and I have become close friends with some of them. Originally, I am from Ghent, but more and more I'm starting to feel like I am from Ostend. I can even speak some West Flemish now. [Laughs.]”
The Crystal Ship in 2016 was a wonderful edition with a lot of talented and world-famous artists. Can you tease us with some names for this year’s edition?
“We only just announced the first 18 names earlier this week. There are already some really big names in that list, such as Axel Void from the United States and Borondo from Spain. The other confirmed artists are Alexis Diaz (PR), Bosoletti (AR), C215 (FR), Hyuro (ES), Jaune (BE), Johannes Mundinger (DE), Levalet (FR), Nelio (FR), Henrik Uldalen (NO) presented by Nuart, Outings Project (FR), Pastel (AR), Phlegm (UK), Ricky Lee Gordon (SA), Sebas Velasco (ES), SpY (ES) and Strook (BE). More names will be added over the next few weeks. In total, we will be looking at 22 artists.”
That line-up promises a lot of beautiful work! Are the artists given total freedom to paint what they want or do they need to follow certain rules?
“No rules, just great art. All the artists have total creative freedom. However, we demand sketches in advance. Every participating artist, even the bigger ones, has to make a sketch in advance to convince me of their creative concept, since I'm the curator. I'm not that strict though. [Chuckles.] If the concept and aesthetics are good, then I’m game. The artists just need to let us know beforehand what they are planning to make for the festival. Last year we even had a nude painting by Faith47 ... In Ostend, I believe, they tend to be a bit rock and roll! There are actually no real rules, definitely none that are set by the city. The only rule we have is that all the artists have to do their utmost best to make something really beautiful. And that’s what they do.”
ROA’s work for The Crystal Ship made it to the top of our list of 10 Belgian Street Art Pieces of 2016 You Should Check Out, but many other talented and international artists participated as well. Which works from last year are your favourites?
“Thank you for including us in your list! But I’m not allowed to have personal favourites. [Laughs.] Since I am the curator, all the artists who were booked on the previous festival belong to my favourite artists worldwide. And when it comes to this year, I also tried to make a good program with artists who I think are relevant to the movement of street art at this point. I am proud of every participant.”
“I don't have any favourites myself, but there are some works that resonated more with our visitors than others. We received around 50,000 visitors during last year’s festival and they did have some favourites. Such as the mural by ROA, Elian’s work and the realistic fisherman’s portrait by Guido van Helten. Those murals are really famous and popular with our visitors. The small interventions in the city streets were also very popular. We had about 150 of those in the first edition by the Belgian artists Jaune, Isaac Cordal and Pol Cosmo. This year we even have four artists working on these smaller works: C215, a very famous street artist from France, together with Outings Project, Levalet and Jaune again.”
Will the older works coexist with the new ones or will some walls get lost in the process?
“We are actually building the most important collection of street art and public art in Europe. All the artworks are made to stay in the city permanently. The plan is to add 20 new big murals every year and we will try to keep the older ones for as long as possible. Of course, over the course of several years it is possible that some buildings will be destroyed. I know of one or two buildings on which we have painted that will be destroyed in about five years. But for now everything will stay in the city.”
“This means that after this year’s edition we will have an amazing collection of 40 large murals and about 400 smaller interventions in Ostend. It is really unique that we will have so many murals and smaller interventions all in one city, by artists who are extremely well-known. And all of this happens in Belgium, a small country in Europe. In the small city called Ostend, where only about 70,000 people live. That's pretty incredible.”
That is awesome indeed. Are there more plans to work with Ostend in the future? Or will we soon see the festival travelling through Belgium or even Europe?
“The plan for The Crystal Ship is definitely to expand and take on more projects. Not only in Belgium, but also abroad. Of course, we are really well-known here in Belgium now. Until 2020 we will keep on organising a yearly festival with Ostend and then we will see if we can prolong our contact. Meanwhile, we have also set out to work with international partners, such as the infamous Nuart festival from Norway. Every year we help them to organise their festival and they help us. We even exchange artists between the two of us. For example, this year we had the chance to work with Hendrik Uldalen. They are also a big source of inspiration for us as they have already been organising festivals for quite some time, 15 years now. So we are actually like the little brother of the Nuart festival. [Laughs.]”
@Regrann from our curator @bjornvanpoucke who is at currently at @nuartfestival in Norway - Hauntingly gorgeous portrait by Henrik Uldalen at Nuart Festival #streetart #wip #norway #streetphotography #buildinggraffiti #graffitiart #art #streetart #handmade #instagraffiti #street #graff #animation #urban #wallart #spraypaint #aerosol #spray #wall #mural #murals #painting #arte #color #streetartistry #artist
You already built up the successful platform Street Art Belgium, with which you organised the Day One festivals in Luchtbal Antwerp and Roeselare several years ago. Why and how did you come up with the idea for The Crystal Ship?
“It was to separate the platform from the events. Why? Because working under the name of Street Art Belgium had some limitations. If you’re aiming to organise an international arts festival, that is. So a new name and a new identity were called for. That is how we came up with The Crystal Ship. All events and art productions are now organised under The Crystal Ship. We do still manage the Street Art Belgium platform, but that's mainly focused on promoting street art and organising workshops and street art tours.”
One last question: Did you name the festival after the song ‘The Crystal Ship’ by The Doors, or is this nothing but a happy coincidence?
“Well, we were already doing the preparations for the festival last year and we really needed a name. But nobody knew which name to choose. It is really difficult to find a good name. Luckily, I have a lot of friends working in marketing and advertising, so I organised an evening at my place to brainstorm together. It was a really nice evening and we all got really drunk. [Laughs.] But in the end we still didn’t have any good name proposals. So I really started to panic a little bit. Over the next few days, I was working really late and listening to The Doors a lot. One time I woke up in the middle of the night and thought of the name “The Crystal Ship”, which is a beautiful song by The Doors. So I wrote it down on the paper on my nightstand. It happens to me a lot that I come up with crazy ideas during the night. Mostly when I look at my ideas on the paper the next morning, I think it's bullshit. [Laughs.] But this time, the name really kept sticking in my head, so we decided to go with it and I'm really happy with it.”
The crystal ship is being filled
A thousand girls, a thousand thrills
A million ways to spend your time
When we get back, I'll drop a line
The Crystal Ship opens on the 8th and 9th of April on the Achturenplein in Ostend, Belgium.
For more information about the talent scout, visit their website here!