Vanessa Beecroft - ‘Pointi Sister’

Pursuing wealth and power and still lead a balanced spiritual life. How can we achieve that equilibrium? Do we need a pilgrimage to Compostela or rather the mass celebration of a festival like Tomorrowland? The exhibition CELIBATARIAN DIVAS shows the work of more than sixty contemporary artists who tackle this eternal quest for bifold escapism.


In the Herkenrode refugee locate in the medieval center of Hasselt (BE) our ambiguous, doubtful and dubious life is juxtaposed with the life of the former Divas of the Herkenrode abbey: continuously seeking redemption, while being powerful land owners. Their former refugee house provides the perfect location for installations, photography, paintings and multimedia; opening a discussion on a highly recent theme.



Curator Lut Maris (Art Gallery De Mijlpaal) teamed up with Pieter Jan Valgaeren (City Triennial Hasselt-Genk) to select more than 60 national and international artists. The exhibition is constructed around a curational triangle balancing spiritual and earthly endeavors with the human condition. Although the starting point and location is closely linked to the former abbesses of the abby of Herkenrode, they are hardly present in the exhibition. The contemporary dynamics in society where spirituality has lost its traditional framework, are subtly touched by the selection of art works, thoughtfully presented in the noble surroundings of the former city palace of the abby.

The selection substantially emphasizes the Diva character with artists such as Nick Knight and Miles Aldridge, widely known for their collaboration with renowned fashion houses and designers. Also young talent, Belgian Louise Mertens, who created the cover of Kim Kardashian’s book last year, captures the visitor with some of her new work. From international phenomena like Nan Goldin, Erwin Olaf, Vanessa Beecroft, is an interesting selection of early works. In addition, the exhibition shows works by Koen Vanmechelen, Hans Op de Beeck, Jan Fabre, Renato Nicolodi, Nick Ervinck, Peter de Cupere, Frederik De Wilde, Cindy Wright and Philippe Vandenbergh, Belgian artists who became established names in the international art scene. Special attention is also given to young talents like Stefan Peters, Sara Bomans, Lore Langendries, Jonas Van Steenkiste, The Leroy Brothers and Stijn Cole. They are flanked by nestors like Octave Landuyt and Camiel Van Breedam. Dutch artists like Marie-Cécile Thijs, Marrie Bot, Maria Roosen, Rob Sweere and Thalen & Thalen show their vision of the exhibition concept.



For a project with a strong title like CELIBATARIAN DIVAS, an appropriate campaign image, such as Miles Aldridge’s Immaculée #2 was selected. This photo is inspired by Jean Paul Gaultier’s fashion collection from 2008. The penetrating look of the model, dressed in a rich and colorful (liturgical) robe, demonstrates an unusual duality between worldly beauty and heavenly spirituality. References to various Madonna images, but also to Bernini’s Teresa of Avila are as such not far away.



CELEBATARIAN DIVAS is the last part of a trilogy of exhibitions, after ‘WRAPPED (2007) and ‘HOUSE OF SILENCE’ (2000), taking place during the Virga Jesse celebrations. Running only every 7 years this is one of Belgian’s most popular processions, dating back to 1682.

The oldest miracle central to these celebrations is the ‘bleeding sacramental bread’ of 1317, which made the abby of Herkenrode, just outside of Hasselt, a popular pilgrimage spot. Although it was one of the biggest Cistercian abbies, well known for the strict interpretation of the ecclesiastical life, the pilgrimage generated an unforeseen amount of power and wealth. While ‘HOUSE OF SILENCE’ focused on the mere spiritual aspect ‘WRAPPED’ was linked to the wealth found back in the broderies of the skulls of the relics of the abesses of the abbey of Herkenrode. ‘CELIBATARIAN DIVAS’ links the spiritual and wealth quest of our contemporary life with that of the former DIVAS.



Sound artist Timo van Luijk will create a new and highly participative accompanying socio-artistic project called
A LONG WALKING. This will actively involve the Hasselt population in the exhibition, along with many participants of processions and pilgrimages. Van Luijk will gather shoes worn during processions or pilgrimages, religious or totally personal. All those shoes will become part of a kinetic sculpture consisting of an automated electric assembly line which runs in circles. It will give an impression of an ‘army of faithful’, marching endlessly towards redemption.


The former refugee house of the abbey of Herkenrode is situated in the historical city center of Hasselt. It was built by abbess Mechtildis de Lechy between 1542 and 1544 and is the oldest profane building in Hasselt with distinct late medieval style. It served as a refugee house for years, offering shelter to the nuns during wartimes or as a city palace with a more representational function. After the French Revolution, where belongings of churches where distrained and sold publicly, the site was confiscated and served sequently as a military base, school and courthouse. Currently the site is owned by the University of Hasselt and real estate agents Vestio-Kolmont who have vast experience in converting historical sites into modern spaces. Together with UAU collectiv, the historical city maze will be used to re-generate the site in a green oasis with strong emphasis on matching materials and diverse functions. As of 2018 this site will offer housing possibilities, community spaces and will serve as a campus for the students of the university.