Ludo Mich

° 1945

Born in Merksem (BE).

Artist Ludovicus Michielsen was fourteen when he met Yves Klein at the Hessenhuis. Klein’s iconic leap into the void served as an example for the young man. But Michielsen did not jump onto the street out of an open window, he dived headfirst into the arts. Not much later he shortened his name to Ludo Mich; painter and artist with an eye for all things unusual, with a name that hisses like a freshly struck match.

“How come I started so young? Art was the only thing that interested me”, Mich recalls. “During the day I would work a bit, in the evenings I went to art school and at the weekend I visited the few galleries Antwerp had to offer.”

Ludo Mich took lessons from the abstract painter René Guiette and also got acquainted with the modernist Jozef Peeters. During his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts (1962) he became assistant to the avant-garde painter Floris Jespers, whose oil paint and easel he inherited when Jespers died in 1965. He helped a young Vic Gentils with the performative demolition of pianos and the subsequent assembly of the parts. In the same year, he married fashion designer Ann Salens and began directing her fashion shows. The catwalk turned into a happening of light and movement, with a degree of nudity that was shocking for the time.

In the 1960s, Wolstraat and Conscienceplein were the epicentre of the Fluxus movement in Antwerp. Conscienceplein was the main square for anyone alternative and eager to cast off the yoke of 1950s' mainstream morality. Ludo Mich was one of the most colourful rebels around.

With Mich Elektriek (1967) he turned himself into a walking sculpture, roaming the city streets dressed in a silver suit with light bulbs. “The light was meant to invoke movement on the retina”, says Mich. He increasingly ignored the more traditional visual language of ceramics and painting and continued to experiment with performance, light, projections and sound. For example, he played the michophone, a rubber hose with holes in it. Posters from 1968 reveal that he sold his services, including taking out the rubbish, reading the newspaper, coming to dinner, sex or making parties succeed or fail. His breath and a number of shadows were also on offer.

Mich started filming all these actions. He also started making films. In Arthur is Fantastic (1970), the camera follows the American musician Arthur, son of a diamond merchant. Arthur was an artwork that weighed 140 kilos, whose daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, cooking and showering, could be viewed at the Vacuum gallery, owned by Luc Deleu, Filip Francis and George Smits. The film was edited by a young Robbe De Hert.

Meanwhile Mich had become so (in)famous that De Zwarte Panter organized the Ludo Mich Festival, a wild three days of music and performances. The audience could buy a piece of land on Saturn. “Even though Saturn is a gas planet, I have sold quite a bit”, Mich laughs. He also screened the film Saturn (1971) there, a fairy tale he hallucinated, set on the planet itself. Mich filmed with a fisheye lens and when combined with the Congolese poetry (Lingala) in the voice-over, the result was a surreal punk fable.

In 1972 he founded the Filmmakers Studio vzw together with Ben Mangelschots and Louis Goyvaerts. In the same year they organized Het Eerste Filmgebeuren in Deurne, bringing German filmmakers Lutz Mommartz and Werner Herzog to Antwerp.

In the meantime, his short film My Tailor Is Rich was screened at various international festivals. Animator Nicole van Goethem, musician Derroll Adams and artist Guillaume Bijl assumed the leading roles. In 1973 his short film Deus Ex Machina (1969) was selected for the Paris Biennale, alongside works by two other Belgians: Chantal Akerman and Thierry Zéno.

In Lysistrata (1975) Mich adapted Aristophanes' Greek comedy of the same name. During the decades-long Peloponnesian War, Lysistrata calls on Greek women to deprive their husbands and lovers of sex until peace returns. She unleashes a war of the sexes. The Greek women also occupied the Acropolis, the financial heart of the polis. Mich positioned the comedy in a set of painted celluloid, a burlesque play in film. His chaotic and anarchistic interpretation of this comedy, played completely naked and presented for the first time at Namur’s Film Festival in 1976, was received with scorn and shock, the same way the original had been 2500 years earlier. Not so much because of the pacifist message as because of the nudity.

“Innocence is what shocked the most. Working with nudity is the worst thing an artist can do. The more realistic it is – showing people with a potbelly, for instance, like in Lysistrata – the more shocked people are”, he says.

In Mich's version, Lysistrata is played by a feminine man who is reminiscent of Candy from Candy Says by the Velvet Underground. Lysistrata's friend, Calonice is a man who detaches his artificial leg during the play. In Mich's world, all Greeks are nudists who speak a mixture of English and Antwerpian Flemish.

In the late 1970s, Ludo Mich discovered holography. This new medium united the magic of light, the third dimension, science and art. In 1981 he whirled through the streets again (as with the light suit), this time in Avignon, dressed in golden trousers with half of his face and his bare chest painted white. He reincarnated the alchemists and astrologers who once lived in this French city. It ushered in a new phase in his artistic practice.

In 1982 he organized Licht, Holografie en Holoïsme in Montevideo, an overview of the scientific history of light, featuring debates, video installations and laser shows. Together with his partner Chantal Strubbe, he opened the Museum of Holography in Antwerp in 1985. In addition, he launched Holoblad, the first European magazine for holography. From 1999 onwards, his fascination for other dimensions resulted in exhibitions about imaginary sects and artificial intelligence in the Conditional Space for Other Art and an exhibition on singularities and multi-dimensions in the Fakkeltheater. Meanwhile, Mich immersed himself in superstring theory. In 2003 he orchestrated a chorus from the 11th dimension in his Superstrings exhibition at De Branderij. During a performance in 2005 he dug up the minotaur head he had buried in Lysistrata, in the garden of the then ICC. He recently founded an ensemble that performs concerts with old coffee grinders and earsplitting electronics, and he introduced his own currency, ‘The Ludo’.

“From a formal perspective there are many Ludos, but the spirit has remained one and the same”, says the 72-year-old artist, who now inspires the younger generation. They made sure his films and sound experiments were reissued on DVD and LP. In addition, many long-lost documents have resurfaced. A fine selection of these has been collected in LLS 387 in Lange Leemstraat 387.

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