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Belgian artwork ‘The space of a breath’ inaugurates The Artists’ Parliament exhibition space

17:38 12/01/2024

The intense winter sun ricochets off the edges of the stark metal grid that forms the centrepiece of the inaugural installation L’Aire d’un Souffle (The space of a breath) gracing The Artists’ Parliament in Brussels.

Its incandescence highlights the gaping hole in the middle of the steel structure; representing a blast of air that has blown out the central section of the mesh wiring.

If the work deliberately “eludes literal interpretation”, its location on Esplanade Solidarność in front of the European Parliament conveys a clear message about Europe’s borders, real and symbolic, and the ever topical issue of migration.

Internationally-renowned Belgian artists Ann Veronica Janssens and Michel François created the temporary installation on a raised platform that includes a long narrow gully. As a single entity, it forms its own territorial space that invites public interaction. The breached barrier is a striking focus that reinforces the reality of boundaries while highlighting the harsh urban surroundings.


The striking work was commissioned for Belgium’s presidency of the EU council. At its opening, European Parliament vice-president Rainer Wieland said the new public arts space was aimed at attracting more visitors to the esplanade, the gateway to the European quarter and institutions and an ideal meeting place between citizens, Brussels and the EU.

“The installation represents the vulnerability of issues that are important to Europe, while retaining its integrity as a piece of art that inherently eludes any literal interpretation and therefore has many different meanings,” he added.

For Belgian minister of pensions and social integration Karine Lalieux, the inspiring installation “embodies the vision of bold dialogue between European artists and institutions” as well as “symbolising the capacity of art to transcend borders and spark debate”.

Ann Veronica Janssens and Michel François are two of the country’s leading contemporary artists who represented Belgium at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 1999. The Brussels-based duo enjoy an international reputation both individually and collectively.


For Janssens, the commission was an exciting project. If the austerity of the location was initially daunting, the pair carried out numerous site visits and drew on their extensive experimental and minimalist oeuvre to conceive the work. She also iterated that it was “free for interpretation”.

Their use of a grid as the main theme reflects the importance of the visual structure in modern and contemporary art. Its prominence since the beginning of the 20th century has been interpreted as both a representation of rebellion and order.

L’Aire d’un Souffle remains on display for five months until the end of Belgium’s six month presidency. The public space will be occupied by a new artwork every six months by artists from the countries occupying the rotating presidencies. Hungary will take over in July, followed by Poland and Denmark in 2025.

The Artists’ Parliament initiative is a collaboration between European, Belgian and Brussels authorities, including the Brussels Commissioner’s office.

Photos: ©European Parliament

Written by Sarah Crew