Evelien JONCKHEERE, FWO postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp (Visual Poetics)
Human zoo exhibitions and freak shows in the Musée du Nord, cross-dressing in ‘revues fin d’années’ at the Alcazar, and shadows of ‘types connus’ in the artistic cabaret of the Diable-au-Corps: fin-desiècle Brussels was obsessed with stereo-‘types’ as they re-classified people in a shifting social context. In this project the construction, dissemination and transformation of stereo-‘types’ is analyzed against a background of physiognomy, a (pseudo)scientific practice that reads facial features as signifiers of character, health, class, gender, age, race etc. Physiognomy is often reduced to Lavater’s famous ‘Physiognomische Fragment’ (1775-1778). Nevertheless, it reached new heights in the Fin de Siècle with Lombroso’s facial classifications. By unveiling a network of scientists, showmen, journalists and artists in popular performance, this project demonstrates how a physiognomic body policy was closely connected to the construction and dissemination of fin-de-siècle stereo-‘types’ in popular performances. However, a counter-culture immediately appeared and stereo-‘types’ performed a new role in ‘Tout-Bruxelles’. Firemen turned into firewomen and the Brussels ‘ketje’, an everyday working-class ‘kid’, was transformed into a hero. As such, this project detects the key role of fin-de-siècle stereo-‘types’ in popular performances staged in Brussels where they were employed as a strategy to cope with daily social struggle.