1) A gathering 

In the summer of 2023, we will organize our second ‘Last Meeting’. This is a crossover between a retreat, performance, gathering and summer school. For a period of one week, a group of artists, makers, designers and thinkers will retreat from society at the monastery of the Trappistines of Brecht (Antwerp, Belgium). During this week-long get-together we will withdraw from the habitual artistic practice and discourse, and focus on the aspects of society which govern our collective rhythm. The societal expectations of life and art are placed against the backdrop of the active monastery. 


We will live by the tempo and rules of the Trappistine nuns, and use their withdrawal as a starting point for conversations on the use of time, on repetition and habits, on maintenance and conservation and on withdrawal from or participation in society


The goal is to explore new ways of thinking, to break dogmas and taboos, but also to experience withdrawal and isolation as a voluntary choice. Therefore, the week will not generate particular results, nor will it demand the creation of new artistic work. 





PERFORMANCE: We will perform the same daily structure-as-script. This performance should be read as an artistic act of appropriation to understand, repeat, re-attend to these existing traditions and routines today. We’ll ask ourselves how traditions and routines have shaped our (way of) thinking for the good or the better.


GATHERING: The last meeting is a meeting on the state-of-the-arts of coming together. During the second last meeting we’ll discuss the coming together as a living together and experience how synchronized living influences our discourses and practices. 


SUMMER SCHOOL: At the end of summer, we’ll organize a school as scholè. Retreated from habitual needs and social expectations we create room for collective readings and discussion as well as individual investigation and contemplation. The last meeting is a horizontal school of exchange, with few interactions with the “outside” and no (social) network-representation.

RETREAT: Withdrawal will be our modus operandi. Although the romantic ideal of withdrawing artists or philosophers has been critically replaced by an artist participating in society, we want to question the current notion of participation and consider withdrawal as the ultimate way of participation: can withdrawal become the ultimate way of taking care, maintaining, sustaining?

2) Brecht & The Trappistines

Although founded in the 13th century, the Trappistine order of Brecht is currently housed in an isolated compound in the forests of Brecht, built in the 1950s. Although just a 30 minute drive from the city of Antwerp, the abbey of Our Lady of Nazareth forms an oasis of peace and quiet, tailor made for the contemplative goals of the community of women. It is here that we take our refuge, within a monastic house which is continually growing too big for its permanent inhabitants.

As the numbers of members of christian oblate orders are dwindling throughout western societies, so does the community of Brecht. From hundreds of women in the 1950s and 1960s, with multiple priories and abbeys all over the world, to just 26 in 2022. Even within their isolation and withdrawal, they are confronted with the realities of the outer world, forcing them to act in ways that their predecessors never had to. Their waning ranks compel them to open up more and become more dependent on the general society.   

Nevertheless, even though we will be allowed to participate as guests in the communal activities, such as meals and prayer, we will never be allowed in the daily life of the nuns. The separation exists very spatially, as a wall between the guests quarters and the inner courtyard. Yet, we are warmly invited to join them in their rhythm, contemplation and spirituality, physically near but never close. 


3) The Rule of Saint Benedict

“The renouncement of agency plays the central part in almost all religious activity, but Benedict formalized this idea as a way to organize a community. He justifies the existence of the rule in service of Christ, as if the stable continuation of the community would be beyond human control, safeguarded and conserved by the divine, for as long as its members show zealous obedience. (...) In his proto-constitution, Benedict set up the rules of the game on how to live together, with the promise that, if followed precisely and obediently, the community would sustain itself.”1

The Rule of Benedict, written in the sixth century by Benedict of Nursia, is a detailed 73-chapter- description of how monks should live in community, devoted to obedience, modesty, and stability. The rule focuses on the practices of prayer, work, and study. Until today Benedictine monasteries live according to this rule which merely changed over the centuries. Nevertheless, these descriptive rules are subject to a constant translation and interpretation towards a not so stable society. 

Today, written scripts of daily routines are but the subject of self-realization literature. Today, moments of contemplation or meditation are rarely shared collectively. Collective descriptions of how and when to work, study and contemplate are replaced by computer-based prediction models believed to provide efficiency and cancel out failures or risks. The programmed script of prediction scheme doesn't allow for reinterpretation (not to be confused with re-calculated adaptations based on new data). Sustainable systems call for maintenance and preservation. We ask ourselves to what extent maintenance and preservation depend on interpretation and translation. We also ask how collective routine isn't just a goal-oriented tool for efficiency, but can be a way of rethinking the human condition and its (also contemporary) existential and spiritual challenges.

1 Lodewijk Heylen, Everything, Now, (2021, University of Hasselt) 

4) Maintenance

‘After the revolution, who is going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

— Mierle Laderman Ukeles

One of the subjects we want to work on during the gathering is the concept of maintenance. It is the human action of continuous labor against the progression of time that is often neglected in the heroic vision of the cutting edge artist, yet it is the central task of the Trappistines: the maintenance of the building, the gardens, the kitchen, but also the community, their spirituality, their routine.

We want to infuse the gathering with a reflection on the ideology of maintenance and explore the possibility of maintenance as an artistic deed, as well as a way to renounce or contradict both contemporary doctrines of conservatism or mindless preservation AND technological visions of self-regulating algorithms. 

“I remember visiting the abbey of Our Lady of Nazareth in Brecht, a strictly observant Trappistine order, which follows the Rule of Saint Benedict extremely closely. After a long discussion, I was able to enter the inner parts of the building complex, which are normally only accessible to initiated nuns. Under the supervision of the abbess, I made my way to the attic, where the nuns store their worldly belongings. Among these many items were two rotating hatches, once installed in the wall between the worldly, publicly accessible side of the convent and the sanctuary, visually sealing each side off to the other while allowing objects through. These hatches were, in earlier days, the only connection to the outside world the nuns had, used to pass food and letters from family or friends in and out of the monastery. That the nuns had decided to remove it proved the rule was not as immutable as it would seem, or at least that it remains open to interpretation. The idea that the institution of an irrefutable script would manage the community only through brainless adoption, incorporating the rule as if an extension of passive bodily function, like drones in a beehive, is an illusion. 

The Benedictine fixation on self-regulation embodies the dream of automation without maintenance, and the assumption that automation will hold relevance throughout eternity. Reassigning agency to the script or the machine allows us to redirect our attention elsewhere, indefinitely ignoring automated processes. Automation is therefore based on the normalized assumption that the future will not divert from the past, as it can only repeat the actions it was conceived to regulate.” 2

2 Lodewijk Heylen, Everything, Now, (2021, University of Hasselt) 

5) Repetition

Our stay at the monastery is a field study into collective rhythms and daily repetitions. We’ll synchronize with the Trappistines daily schedule our time to work, study, eat and contemplate. The contemporary notion of a life-on-repeat changed radically over time. Also, the patterns of today, individually, or collectively, are less shaped by tradition, than by computer-technology. This field study investigates how (collective) habit, repetition and routine can help us to direct our attention differently.

Habits are learning cycles, patterns embodied through repetition. Habits could be individual or collective, shaped by discipline or addiction. Habits decide on what we do or do not notice, expect, or do – in other words habits decide on ‘how and what we pay attention to’. In reverse, attention is a key principle in developing habits as well. By introducing ourselves to the time-old habits and rituals of the monastery, we ask ourselves how habits are shaped in an attention-driven-society, when collective attention is no longer a shared communal experience, but a globally directed economic rule.

Repetition seems to confirm the attentional echo-chamber where received attention demands for more attention. Yet, repetition can also be a method to attend to subjects differently. Re-performing an action, according to Elisabeth Margulis, directs our attention either to a goal in the future (routinization) or to the details of our action (ritualization). The attentional echo-chamber is no longer reconfigured to new echo-chambers by louder, newer calls for attention, but by a shift in ­how we attend to things.

We’ll investigate how everyday-the-same instead of everyday-something-new can be a contemporary artistic answer in a world that faces global challenges.

Contemporary artists are supposed to (re)act, (re)invent narratives or, propose new methodologies facing the global challenges of today. In reaction to this tendency of the artist-as-activist, artist-as-inventor, or participating artist, we propose withdrawal as a negative methodology of exchange, interaction and (re)presentation. 


Current debates on the Anthropocene shed light on the irreversible human presence on earth’s ecology. Rather than proposing new ways of taking part in the re(creation) of the earth’s surface, we’ll investigate how individual, or collective, total or partial withdrawal can be a contemporary artistic and critical strategy. Refusing results, works or representation, we propose the retreat as the ultimate way of taking care, maintain or sustain. We ask ourselves how and why artists could or should retreat, what it means to retreat together, and if a partial or timely retreat is sufficient?


This withdrawal-as-retreat follows the religious daily structure of the Benedictine nuns in Brecht. By appropriating their rhythm of work, prayer and study, we question the difference between attending and acting? Can we attend to change, rather than to act towards it? Are radical changes really necessary? How do (collective) temporal structures change our way of thinking, acting, making?

6) Withdrawal

7) The Last Meeting

The (First) Last Meeting:

A Gathering on Computational Governance

"Just as global telecommunications have collapsed time and space, computation conflates past and future. That which is gathered as data is modelled as the way things are, and then projected forward – with the implicit assumption that things will not radically change or diverge from previous experiences. In this way, computation does not merely govern our actions in the present, but constructs a future that best fits its parameters. That which is possible becomes that which is computable. That which is hard to quantify and difficult to model, that which has not been seen before or which does not map onto established patterns, that which is uncertain or ambiguous, is excluded from the field of possible futures. Computation projects a future that is like the past – which makes it, in turn, incapable of dealing with the reality of the present, which is never stable."3

Information technology has long surpassed its purpose as a lifeless, functional tool—it now has an agency of its own. It has extended our bodies into devices, expanded our brains into networks, and moved us beyond our human capacities through the machine-automated elimination of inefficiency. Social media and telecommunications, service networks and interactive appliances, navigational positioning and tracking systems, personalised search engines and instant, ubiquitous access to the largest collection of data in the world—all of these are active agents in processing and steering our social and political lives.

When humanity—with all its flaws, irregularities and oddities—is transformed into data, a new modus operandi of automation arises: customs and cultural habits become calculable standards; the desires and fetishes of the individual shift into building blocks for citizens of the future; the randomness of human interaction and societal dynamics converts into a prewritten script. When the input we give the network turns into a compulsory feedback loop, the world becomes a digital commonwealth run by data-driven balancing protocols. 

The Last Meeting is an attempt to transcend the individual incapability to grasp the complex. Through the gathering, we seek to investigate the possibilities and dangers of incorporating contemporary technology into policy- and decision-making, synthesizing the phenomenal and the computational. The Last Meeting is a meta-meeting—a meeting in which to consider the possibility of never again holding another meeting. It is, we propose, the last, final meeting.



The (Second) Last Meeting:

A Gathering on the Withdrawal from Society

The continued reevaluation of the Last Meeting as a concept now brings us to a second iteration, in which we will not specifically look at the influence of technology on society as such, but at the procedures, algorithms and protocols which govern society regardless of their technological or cultural origins: the rules of living together. Doing so allows us to dissect the fundamentals of societal organization. 

The choice for ‘The Withdrawal from Society’ therefore fits within a fascination for the governing principles of human populations, their habits and rituals, their quirks as individuals and their tendencies as collectives. The Last Meetings question the meeting, the gathering, the interaction between people in and for itself, but also evaluates the benchmarks that are used to sustain a continued dialogue between entities. 

In this sense, the Last Meeting’s current and possible next sequels will elaborate on the wide variety of reactions towards a changing social compromise due to technological developments, shifting human conditions, political bouleversements or economic upheavals, amongst other transitions over time, rather than on change itself.

3 James Bridle, New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, (2019, Verso Books)

8) Us

The work of Ans Mertens (°1989, living/working in between Antwerp and Brussels) plays on the tension between objective recordings and subjective image making. She plays with proximity and remoteness, the spatial dynamics that attract our attention and draw the eye to understand visibility as a fleeting condition of the things surrounding us. The work of Ans Mertens also shows that time, perhaps more than space, is the ultimate subject of all film: time captured, time chased. Arranged, erased, wasted. Leisurely spent, unspectacularly passed. 

Ans Mertens is a visual artist investigating the intersection of time, film and the exhibition space. She currently works on her artistic/practice-based PhD project “The (dis)appearance of time, on exhibiting Kairos” at LUCA School of Arts. Recently, she showed her work at a.o.. M HKA, Museum M, Level Five Brussels, Sonic Acts & Engauge Film Festival. 

Lodewijk Heylen (°1989) lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. He is a contextual and conceptual artist and a researcher at the University of Hasselt, PXL-MAD School of Arts and the KULeuven. He is also a member of the Belgian Young Academy and founder of the artistic think tank BIN. His work questions the impact of automation on contemporary and future society and the role of the artist in it. He conducts this research through the development of installations, interventions and performances.