Session Nine: Jef Cornelis – You Know The Way And The Language


A Symposium with Screenings: ‘You Know the Way and the Language: Public Spaces, Public Buildings, Public Engagement – The Essayistic in the TV work of Jef Cornelis at BRT’

Monday 26 March 2018, 12:00-18:00 

Birkbeck Cinema: FREE event [book here]

With the support of Flanders House and Birkbeck School of Arts

You Know the Way and the Language : Public Spaces | Buildings | Engagement

The Essayistic in the TV work of Jef Cornelis at BRT

Jef Cornelis made over 200 films for the Belgian public service broadcaster, BRT (Belgische Radio- en Televisieomroep). Most of these made-for TV films were about artists and art exhibitions, while others experiments in television broadcasting : the blending of art- and documentary styles, the tension between audial and visual discourses, an intervention into the public domain through representing civic life, national identity, heritage and nation building, and a dialogic encounter with TV viewers and a national citizenry. This highly original body of TV work, both in its engagement with its subject and the formal possibilities of TV, are seldom shown; and this event will centre on an even lesser-known aspect of Cornelis’ work, his TV films about architecture, public spaces and social housing, forms of social living, urbanity and rurality made for Belgium public service television. All of the films made for television screened at this event were made in collaboration with his scenario writer, the architect and theorist, Geert Bekaert, and offer a remarkable televisual encounter with the everyday realities experienced in the construction of Belgium, post 1945. Not only do these TV films represent the ambitions and output of a nascent public service broadcaster, but also speak to this small nation, as an independent country, linguistically divided, but also as a founding member of the European project.

Date: Monday 26 March, noon-6pm

Venue: Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square


12-noon-13 : 30 : Nation Construction | Language Building.

This session will introduce the work of Jef Cornelis, emphasizing his essayistic style and use of language and form. It will include a 45mins-illustrated lecture by Koen Brams (former director of the Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht), with an analysis of form and style.

  • Cogels-Osylei & Vrijdag (Hugo Claus) Jef Cornelis w/ Geert Bekaert, Belgium, 1970, 16mm/Digital, 5 minutes, Flemish with English subtitles

Made for the cultural programme, Zoeklich (Searchlight), Cogels-Osylei & Vrijdag (Hugo Claus) (1970) is a film about the Cogels-Osylei in Antwerp. In detailing the architectural language of the buildings, built between 1894 and 1904, and through how the visual rhythm of the production reveals the houses as integral of their local urban environment, this short, experimental TV film offers a succinct thesis about preservation and the architectural heritage of Flanders.

  • Building in Belgium, Jef Cornelis with Geert Bekaert, Belgium, 1971, 16mm/Digital, 33 minutes, Flemish with English subtitles

Building in Belgium (Bouwen in België, 1971) offers a remarkable thesis on landscape and the urban environment. Filmed as part of a series of TV programmes related to a project entitled Waarover men niet spreekt (Things About One Doesn’t Speak), the film bears witness to a nation under construction. ‘[Cornelis’] direction took a critical stance against the framework within which it operated. He filmed the Flemish landscape with great love, investing remarkable efforts to achieve a worthy visual and cinematographic result. Cornelis’ films were neither fictional nor documentary reports, but aimed more for a form of essay. His camera direction in particular can be described as exploring or feeling its way, more than actually directing or presenting conclusions’ (Argos Centre for Art and Media).

13: 30-14: 30 : Public Service, Public Broadcasting, with introduction by Alexander Dhoest (Universiteit Antwerpen), with a 15mins context for the work.

  • The Street, Jef Cornelis with Geert Bekaert, Belgium, 1972, 16mm/Digital, 42 minutes, Flemish with English subtitles

‘Nothing but a road is left of the street, a “moving machine” as Le Corbusier would call it’: The Street (De straat, 1972, winner of the Bert Leysen Prize at BRT and the Golden Prague award at the 10th Prague International Television Festival) focuses on the impact of motor traffic on urban development. What hasn’t been built, or, as Cornelis put it, ‘the empty tube formed by the street’. Argument is offered through a sequence of contrasting images of places where streets are ‘linked to the community, where the houses and the street merge – and [Belgian] cities, where the street has “vanished”’. Accompanied by a text prepared by Geert Bekaert, Cornelis blends art and documentary styles to offer a thesis on the repercussions of urban planning on the public domain.

15: 00-16: 30 : Public Service, Public Art for a Divided Nation, with introduction by Janet McCabe

This session will focus on producing TV film art for a public service broadcaster, focusing on questions of the language and its relation to a linguistically divided nation, but also commissioning television as about public culture and nation building.

Panel will include a response from John Wyver (University of Westminster), but also contributions from Alexander Dhoest (Universiteit Antwerpen)

  • You know the way and the language, Jef Cornelis with Geert Bekaert, Belgium, 1976, 16mm/Digital, 46 minutes, Flemish with English subtitles

A sense of what it is to belong and feel at home is captured in this extraordinary film made for broadcast television by Jef Cornelis. You Know the Way and the Language (Ge kent de weg en de taal, 1976) depicts life in a small Flemish village. Intimate and incidental details of living in this place at this moment in time are empathically conveyed through casual snapshots of people talking, often about the ordinary. How Cornelis uses sound and image is informed by techniques of ‘cinéma vérité’, using observational and naturalistic imagery and training attention on the routines and rhythms of peoples’ daily lives, both aurally and visually. A band rehearses, a woman picks flowers, a farmer talks to his dog, washing is hung on the line to dry. As the camera dutifully follows the villagers going about the everyday a vivid portrait of a community unfolds.

16: 30 : 17: 00 : Screening

  • Landscape with Churches, Landschap van kerken [Landscape in churches], Jef Cornelis with Geert Bekaert, Belgium, 1989, 16mm/Digital, 34mins, Flemish with English subtitles

Sint-Amandsberg Beguinage, Basilius Church in Bruges, Church of St. Peter in Bertem, St. Baafs (St. Bavo) Cathedral in Ghent, St. Carolus Borromeus Church in Antwerp, Basilica of Our Lady in Scherpenheuvel, Our Lady Abbey Church in Vlierbeek and Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg : these are the eight Belgian churches visited in Jef Cornelis’ Landscape in Churches (Landschap van kerken, 1989). This film made for television is based on Geert Bekaert’s 1987 book of the same title. For the purpose of the film, Bekaert wrote a new script, with the text spoken by him, and Serge Dorney arranged a soundtrack combining musical fragments from romantic symphonies to modern compositions. In this filmed journey through church interiors and of exteriors, and crafted in the poetics of his cinematography, Cornelis builds a sense of history layered in the architectural fabric and spaces of these eight religious buildings.

  • 17:00 – 18:00 Drink Reception

Koen Brams is an independent researcher, curator and publicist. He is the former editor-in-chief of the magazine De Witte Raaf (1991-2000), the former director of the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht (2000-2011), and the initiator of The Mobile and Temporary Studio for Research and Production (2014-…). He compiled the Encyclopedia of Fictional Artists (Nijgh & Van Ditmar, 2000; Eichborn Verlag, 2003; JRP/Ringier, 2011). Recent publications: Opus 1. The Artist’s Beginnings (together with Ulrike Lindmayr and Dirk Pültau), Roma Publications, Amsterdam, 2015; Confusion of Tongues (together with buren [Melissa Mabesoone & Oshin Albrecht]), Posture Editions, Gent, 2017; Écran/Scherm (together with Charlotte Beaudry), Éditions du caïd, Brussel, 2017. Recent exhibitions: Jef Cornelis – TV works, in the context of the Liverpool Biennial 2014; Jef Cornelis – TV works /Cornelis – Obras de Televisão (1964-1997), Galeria da Culturgest, Porto, 2015. He’s currently preparing an exhibition about the founding years of the Museum of Contemporary Art (S.M.A.K., Ghent).

Alexander Dhoest is Professor in Communication Studies at the University of Antwerp. He wrote a PhD on the construction of the Flemish nation in television drama, and has since researched Flemish television on the levels of production, representation and reception, focusing in particular on issues of national, cultural and sexual identity. With Hilde Van den Bulck, he edited the first academic book on the history of the Flemish public broadcaster, Publieke televisie in Vlaanderen: Een geschiedenis. (Public Television in Flanders: A history).