Mass Moving

1968 - 1976

Mild madness, that's what I found so fascinating about Mass Moving.
And I miss that so much in art now, that madness that makes so much possible.

Johan Opstaele, 8 October, 2021

Born in the disobedient spirit of May 1968, the loose collective Mass Moving, like the students on the barricades, hoped to bring the imagination to power. And preferably as collective, wild and experimental as possible, far away from the established art world and ditto art market. Artists, actors, architects, engineers and philosophers unite, and from the marriage of ecology and aesthetics – twisted between the mind of a scientist and that of an anarchist shoemaker – they discover that controversy can be a way of life. The street is their field of action, their concerns are mobility, biodiversity and energy.

Mass Moving operated from Brussels and has participated in some important exhibitions, such as the Dutch 'Sonsbeek buiten de perken' (1971), the Venice Biennale (1972) and the Bruges Triennial (1974), as well as music festivals and city events. In addition, they launched a magazine and in 1972 they published a treatise, Traité de méthodologie culturelle à l'usage de la jeune génération [Treatise of cultural methodology for the use of the younger generation], in which they gave an overview of all their actions, supplemented by projects that had not been realised.

The impetus for the foundation of Mass Moving comes from theatre and film actrice PINK de Thierry (Helena Scheerder). In 1968, she was commissioned an experimental theatre play by the Catholic University of Leuven. PINK asked Raphaël Opstaele and her then boyfriend Jef De Groote to participate in the project, respectively an artist/graphic designer and an architect; very early members bring their own discipline to the then nameless group. Initially, 'Euro Dynamo' seems like an option for a name, but there's already a  homonymous football team. Since the name must refer to movement – because the group believes that everything is constantly moving – one opts for 'Mass Moving'.

But the core group only takes shape after the arrival of environmental activist Bernard Delville. This mining engineer had seen Mass Moving in Leuven and when in 1969 he was invited to coordinate a conference, he asked them to cooperate. Society in conflict did not become a boring sociologists's conference. Authority was decentralised. Happenings took place at various locations in working class neighbourhood de Marollen in Brussels. Everyone could propose a theme and set up an action.

After the conference, the group expands to include activist-architect Luc Schuiten. They also get to know the editors of far-left magazine Le Point (later Pour), with which they print a special issue to express their solidarity with the hunger strike at the universities, against the expulsion law for foreigners.

In 1971 they make their first machine, the LEM or Ludic Environment Machine, with which they apply prints of flowers, the Venus de Milo, money notes and the bust of Beethoven directly to the street. Mass Moving begins to manifest itself between Land and Pop Art. A year later, they are asked to represent Belgium at the Venice Biennale. They build a giant cocoon on San Marco Square and, together with thousands of butterflies, find themselves at the centre of the art world. But their ambition lies elsewhere and, undisturbed, they continue their Biological Fight for Survival. In 1973 they move to the Himalayas and lay a mining claim to obtain a concession on clean water. In 1974 they build a large solar-powered trumpet, which will lead to their most famous and last work, the 1975 Sound Stream: using bamboo sticks from Cameroon, they make wind chimes to produce a sound wave that travels from the Global South to the North Pole.

Mass Moving is part of a group of people in their twenties and early thirties who want to bring about social change. They take inspiration from counterculture celebrities such as Timothy Leary, Herbert Marcuse, Marshall McLuhan and situationist Raoul Vaneigem. According to Luc Schuiten, in an interview of 15 February 2023, Vaneigem has given direction to the entire movement we now call May 68. Situationism drew on Surrealism and Marxism, but it is not a doctrine. Moreover, their thinking forms the basis of the medium par excellence for disrupting public order: the happening. Mass Moving too brings art to the street and the street to the people. Aesthetic and social protest is at the basis of their creations, while they pioneer eco art. Important in the creation of Mass Moving was the idea of self-government. 

The group breaks up in 1976. Some members perform one last radical action, which they title autodafe. (Historically, the latter is the name of the Inquisition's ritual for the confession and penance of heretics, before they were burned at the stake.) During the action, a great deal of their work and archive material is destroyed; some has disappeared since, without a trace. 

The core members of the group are artist Raphaël Opstaele and mining engineer Bernard Delville. The founders also include theatre and film actor PINK de Thierry (Helena Schouder) and architect Jef De Groote. And furthermore Michel Pévenasse, Luc Schuiten, Étienne Bertozzi, Elisabeth Magis, Willem Koerse, Jeanine Vandenbranden, Paul Gonze, Marnix Poot, Xavier Looze, Kees Sengers, André Loute, Vincent Loute, Roland Vancauwenberg, Clémentine Wijckmans, Eddy Rotman, Fons Van Assche, Daniel Poisson, Michel De Spot, Johan Opstaele, Barbara Hahn, Jérôme Hendrickx, Herman Lochner, Jean-Luc Outers, Yves Pitchen, Daniel Poisson, Frans Smolders, Philip Vandenameele, Martin Vijt, Hendrik Vogler, Leen Vangrinsveld, Katsutochi Tsuzuki etc. This list is far from exhaustive, as the nature of the Mass Moving activities mobilised a variable number of participants, driven by different motivations.

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