Casper Fitzhue & Bart Van Dijck/ URS GEEST


© Brândușa Maria Balan

Two years ago, artist Bart Van Dijck travelled to Romania in search of rituals of the dancing bear. The experiences and observations he gained there were expressed in the exhibition Waking up the bear in Le Clignoteur in Brussels. Yet, he was left with a growing desire to someday take part in the rituals he had witnessed. Van Dijck could realise this ambition thanks to the Romanian artist Casper Fitzhue, who brought him in touch with a local folkloric group.T he exhibition URS GEEST is the result of their time spent in the Romanian Carpathians, where they tried to grasp the essence of this ritual.

'Jocul Ursului'is a rite of passage that marks the end of winter and symbolises liberation, rebirth, and happiness. The folkloric tradition surrounding the bear goes back to the era of the Dacians, the ancestors of the Romanians, for whom the 'urs' (bear) was a sacred animal that possessed healing, cosmic powers. To this day, the participants of the parade swaddle themselves in bear pelts, with their faces hidden behind terrifying bear masks. Accompanied by uplifting percussion and songs, they go from door to door dancing, stomping and growling to drive away the evil.

In the same way, both artists will go door to door in Hasselt to announce their exhibition and offer the self-made jenever to the neighbours. By doing so, they embodya Vormic, a traditional messenger who invited villagers to festivities by offering them an alcoholic drink. Thanks to the expertise of the  master distiller from the Jenevermuseum in Hasselt, the duo developed a jenever based on the plants that the brown bear instinctively eats to regain strength after his long hibernation. Besides a strong savory flavour, the drink has a sweet and bitter middle note and a waxy, leathery aftertaste. The entire formula, however, remains a secret.

The artists carry jenever  in a specially designed vessel, inspired by the bottle from which they serve drinks during the traditional Romanian bear parades. In this way, Fitzhue and Van Dijck intertwine local traditions with Romanian rituals to create a unique ceremony.

The atmosphere of this ceremony can be experienced during the opening, where the artists, dressed in ceremonial outfits, offer their jenever to the visitors. For the duration of the exhibition, visitors can take part in the ritual and taste this special drink. But first, they have to go through three different stages of the exhibition, analogous to the structure of the rite of passage.These stages symbolise the progression from life through death to rebirth,  parallel to bear’s awakening from its hibernation.

Opening: 05.10.2019 from 17h00

Partners: Europalia Arts Festival Romania, Jenevermuseum Hasselt, Kunstenpunt, Ceata Ursilor din Asãu, Dorin Preda en motionARThoughts

With the support of: Flemish gouverment, City of Hasselt and the CIAP members