Somewhere in Brussels, there’s a park where art communes with nature and exhibitions take place regularly. It’s tucked away in the municipality of Watermael-Boitsfort on the southern end of the Brussels-Capital Region.
Parc Tournay-Solvay is home to the European Space for Sculpture, an association dedicated to promoting contemporary visual artists from member states of the European Union.
Every year, the association invites an artist from the country occupying the Presidency of the Council of the EU, which rotates among the EU member states every six months.
Chosen artists not only get the chance to exhibit their creations at Parc Tournay-Solvay. They can also work from the park and develop new artworks.
“We try each year to invite European artists to use this park as a wonderful place to create. We love that they create. Our purpose is to put the accent on man, nature, and art,” says Olivier Thuysbaert, chairman of the European Space for Sculpture.
Since its foundation in 1989, the association has been based in Parc Tournay-Solvay, one of the most remarkable and historically rich parks of Brussels.
From the late 19th to the 20th century, the stretch of land belonged to the Solvay family, one of the prominent Belgian families in Brussels at the time.
The red brick neo-Renaissance style villa in the park was built in 1878 for the industrialist Alfred Solvay. His brother Ernest, the chemist who founded the Solvay Conferences on Physics and Chemistry, expanded the property in 1905.
The park as it is today was designed by landscape architect Jules Buyssens in 1911 as a private garden for the Solvays. It features two ponds, a rose garden, an orchard, and a vegetable patch.
In 1980, the Brussels Region acquired the seven-hectare property and turned it into a public park the following year. The former stables of the estate were reconstructed in 1992 to include a building that now houses the Regional Center for Initiation to Ecology (CRIE).
The white villa, built in the early 20th century as a guesthouse for friends of the Solvay family, now serves as the headquarters of the European Space for Sculpture.
With Finland currently presiding over the Council of the EU, Finnish environmental artist Antti Laitinen has been the featured artist at Parc Tournay-Solvay since July.
Laitinen has embarked on a participatory work of art called Nail Trunk. The project involves a fallen tree that the artist is endeavoring to transform into a steel armor by hammering onto the trunk and covering it with nails.
“The idea started with a project two years ago where I take the landscape but I try to break it a little bit, kind of taking the pieces away from the landscape so it’s loose. So first it’s like a normal landscape, but then something is missing or something is not right,” says Laitinen.
Every Sunday until the end of September, the public is invited to come to the park and join Laitinen as he pounds away at the tree. Hammers and nails are provided.
“I think art is a very important link between people,” says Thuysbaert. “If you know the art of other countries, you will know their culture better. And the better you know their culture, the better you know the people. Art is a vehicle to know the other countries and the other people of the European Union.”