The Long Tail of Art

The Perpetual Citizen

I had a neighbour who never fully revealed himself to me.1 During the day we would occasionally pass each other on the stairs or at the entrance to our building, exchange pleasantries and be on our way. Come evening, under the mask of technology, he would assume different identities online, altering himself and becoming who he needed to be at any given time. 

In doing so, he displayed a kind of dexterity many of us might strive for when it comes to identity—having the ability to assume different roles for different occasions, never being fully tied down and therefore never being fully comprehendible either. It is a funny thing that modern technology constantly asks of us after all: forced into a posture of publicness, we have been taught to speak from the first person singular with vigour. 

As a result, we build our own avatars, representations of ourselves online that feel resonant with—or even closer to—who we might truly be but who, given the nature of the digital form, others can’t ever fully grasp. Trust then becomes a different question in line with the anonymity of technology. Because how can we truly trust the experience or intentions of someone or something we don’t know the full scope of? 

In technological terms, acting under the guise of a fictional identity could be deemed ‘catfishing,’ a negatively termed manifestation of approaches that have been celebrated within literature, such as the nom de plume or the pseudonym. Within journalism—a field evidently close to my heart as the editor of this newspaper—there is also a distinction made between its two basic forms: investigations conducted from the inside looking out, and those from the outside looking in. 

In either approach, an ‘insider journalist’ is widely considered to be devoid of ethics—it is the activity of doing whatever you can to get in the room and close to the source, sacrificing any moral or ethical integrity to try and build trust under the guise of a friendly exterior. The logic is that conducting yourself in such a misleading manner ensures that it is you who leaves with the scoop. 

It seems like the right time to reveal that I am also one of the artists involved in the current exhibition at A Tale of A Tub—an exhibition which revolves around a number of invited artists joining together under one name to question singular authorship and, in doing so, commit to taking responsibility for each others work. Earlier on in the process, before invitations were sent, it was decided that turning the gallery into a co-working space was a tool to encourage a way of working together that didn’t end the minute the exhibition opened. 

But as you can imagine, a room full of artists is not always the most compatible situation, and when we put our names to one side and gathered together with the aim to think of an exhibition format that might be more welcoming and more focused on the audience, rather than just on ourselves, we of course had many different ideas about how to achieve this.

As such, this inaugural issue of The Perpetual Citizen is committed to reporting from the frontline on the events that have transpired at A Tale of A Tub over the past months, ones which might spell out what it’s all about a little bit more clearly and which might then contribute to shaping public opinion within the Justus van Effen complex regarding the gallery at the centre of its grounds. 

You see, I have heard from an anonymous source that A Tale of A Tub’s presence as a contemporary art institution is oftentimes viewed by some in the community as ‘an unfortunate use of space.’ Were it still a bathhouse, as it was originally intended, it might garner more community-driven use. Or a cafe, or some other formation that can, simply put, be relied upon to be consistent and, therefore, comprehendible. 

Knowing of this tension, I began this editorial by writing to you about anonymity and technology in 2021, two hundred and ninety years after Jutus van Effen—the figure from whom your building got its name—began anonymously publishing the Hollandsche Spectator, a tabloid-style newspaper widely considered to be the first of its kind in the Netherlands and written from the perspective of the social ‘spectator,’ as he called himself. 

This first edition of The Perpetual Citizen is, on the one hand, a kind of ode to the Hollandsche Spectator. On the other hand, it is an attempt to try and make what is happening behind the neon lights and inside the freshly painted walls of the gallery a little bit more user friendly—which could be seen as tending to your ‘user experience’ of the exhibition, to borrow another technological term. Because as I see it, your proximal relation makes you, the residents of Justus van Effen complex, the most consistent spectators of A Tale of A Tub. The perpetual citizens, as it were.

This is not just because the complex is built in the style of a ‘gallery street’—with main gates, communal stairwells and internal-facing entrances—and therefore mimics, in some way, the architecture of a stadium (or alternatively, from a more cynical perspective at the centre, a panopticon prison). 

It is also because art institutions like A Tale of A Tub by their very nature change form at least three times a year. I am sure it occasionally begs you to wonder: What is this thing that lives amongst us, that shape-shifts every other month and never truly reveals its intentions? For if we were to think of A Tale of A Tub as an online user, there would surely be safety concerns about a profile with such a murky identity. 

What is presented across the following pages, then, is a report of the ins and outs of the exhibition that just took place. Newspapers have a different mode of communication and circulation to that of the exhibition form. They also have a way of making it into homes and onto coffee tables, where the things that are discussed in art institutions don’t often end up. It is for this reason primarily that The Perpetual Citizen hopes to bridge the gap between A Tale of A Tub and you in some way. As while ‘catfishing’ requires the intentional desire to mislead—a key ingredient that is lacking on this occasion—there is still a lot more work we could do to make what’s happening inside the old former bathhouse a little less fishy. 

1. Justus van Effen started his editorial in the Hollandsche Spectator in the very same way—with ‘I had a neighbour who…’—on July 20th, 1733.
The Perpetual Spectator

So, what is in a name? This Romeo and Juliet quote has been employed ad nauseam to allude to the essentialist intuition that the contingency of a name does not affect ‘what the thing really is.’ We will briefly expose four ways—though this list is not exhaustive—in which reality often works in the opposite direction: the name and naming of a thing shapes and determines what it is.

1) The act of pointing: The act of pointing could be said to be at the genesis of all communication. It is an act of diverting-directing attention, it is an act between two or more agents where minds meet. One mind notices something and attends another mind to take notice of it too. The pointing mind (briefly) takes hold of the other one. Minds merge in matter by way of attention. The ways in which the pointing mind points determine whether it is dominating the other mind(s), forcefully minding them, or whether said pointing is an open invitation to converse (or variants of everything in between these two alternatives, of course). A rose, therefore, can be either thorny or sweet, or both at the same time. It is where and how the pointing—or naming—happens that determines what we take notice of.

2) Advertising: Advertising is the technology that has most exploited the observations made above, towards the end of accumulating capital (another technology we will not get into here). Advertising has understood that in order for things to become financially relevant, they need to be appropriately named and/or pointed at. Minds need to mind things, and repetition in this process is key. Banners, jingles, logos, posters, slogans. These are a few of the ways in which we get reminded that a product or concept is (financially) relevant. Branding is, just like its etymology implies, an act of searing a message into animal tissue (skin, brain or otherwise). A rose as a logo, emoji, gift, on a grave or for your grandmother, is a very different rose each time.

3) Autonomy: In many colonial settings, the colonised were not allowed to keep their original, birth-given names. A mind points at a mind and narrows it down to nothing more than a sliver what it could possibly ever be. You are not worthy of your past, you are now a utility towards my future. Not to speak of the territories invaded by colonisers, where the concept of ‘border’ (a categorical limit) was also often introduced as a way to name a newly invented and imposed concept. Autos [self] and nomos [law], the name says it itself: autonomy is the capacity to self-rule, thus quite literally to self-name. One is what one utters of oneself. Should another mind decide what one’s name is (as in the case of the gender heteronormativity of many languages), then we enter a situation in which the rose has no alternative but to bear the romantic, sweet-smelling aspects that its namer has assigned as fundamental characteristics of it.

4) Collectivity and ‘legacy’: We record most of history outside the confines of the skull in image-form (text, visual depiction, etc.). What is in a name is what gets left behind, inscripted. Most names of streets represent those notable men who left a ‘mark.’ Nobody remembers their vassals or slaves. No rose is a rose without the plurality of roses that exist alongside it. All roses together determine the concept of rose. And no one mind is exposed to all roses at once. Roses bloom and whither.

Day 1

Today was my first day as a host at A Tale of A Tub since the opening of the exhibition UX, User Experience, U and X by The Practice of Brenda Tempelaar. After exploring the space and reading some instructions, I soon felt comfortable. I was nervous though, because today a group of students would come and I had to speak to them about the exhibition. At a certain moment a person came in who had booked a co-working space. He is a resident of the Justus van Effen complex and thought it was a good initiative. Unfortunately, he really only came for the co-working space and wasn’t interested in an explanation about the exhibition. ‘I’ll have a look around later,’ he said. When I informed the visitor that a group of students would come by soon he was surprised. ‘Will they also work in the space or are they visiting the exhibition?’ He saw it as being two separate elements and could not quite imagine why you would only ‘visit’ this space if you didn’t intend to work here. A little later another visitor arrived, also a resident of the complex. He was just interested in the co-working space as well. He emphasised that he thinks it’s a good initiative, while casually making a snide comment about the ‘normal course of events.’ The two visitors started talking about the complex, the workspace and about A Tale of A Tub. Since the workspace could offer ‘a different environment’ they were both interested. Besides, they think it’s a pity that A Tale of A Tub normally does not really open up to people. ‘It’s a shame to see that it’s empty four days a week.’ At one point I saw the group of students arriving, about twenty-five of them. This was more than I expected, but I got over it and did my best. The students engaged in certain aspects, mainly authorship and autonomy. In addition, they were very curious about the mysterious group of artists that belong to the collective. 

Day 2

Today is the second day that I’m present as a host. I quickly felt comfortable in the space and I was able to work well on my laptop. The plants and the sound of the video made me feel calm—as if I was in my living room. After a while a visitor entered the space, someone who also came by last time. Again he booked a co-working space, as apparently he liked it. He enjoyed being in a different environment for a while, he said.

Day 3

Today was already the third day I was present as a host. I felt more and more at ease and I really like it when people who are interested in the exhibition visit. Today another resident of the complex came by. She thought is was a ‘good initiative’ though was still only interested in the co-working space. It’s remarkable that the residents of the complex are mostly just interested in the space as co-working space and also not very satisfied with how A Tale of A Tub usually acts. A little later, two young children caught my attention, both with a haze of a painted butterfly on their faces. They didn’t want to enter the space, but just wanted to say that they thought it looked very beautiful. 

Day 4

Today I decided to read the book Curating Research by Paul O’Neill and Mick Wilson. I noticed that I can concentrate well in the environment. Reading a scientific book is therefore a good choice. Coincidentally, the chapter that I read today highlighted some concepts that are reflected in the exhibition, such as shared authorship and the exhibition as an ecosystem and mediatory space. Two people made a reservation for the co-working-space today. They turned out to be artists. Before I gave an explanation about the exhibition, they had a look around the space. They responded to what I had to say, asked questions and were fascinated by the sculptures. Then two new visitors came in to see the exhibition. They had not visited A Tale of A Tub before and were very interested. They were wondering what belonged to the exhibition and what would normally be in the space. 

Day 5

Today I entered a lively space. The artists, the curator, a student and the director were all in the space. This was very different from what I was used to. Suddenly the space was used optimally. In fact, a dialogue arose, not only about the exhibition but also about what you could possibly pick up from it, what it could bring about, what ideas might emerge from it, and so on. It’s good to see that the space is actually used to start a dialogue. Unfortunately, no visitors came by. If there had been, they would have been lucky: this is the perfect example of how the space could be used. A place where people take care of themselves, each other and the space.

Dear Agony Aunt, 

I am in an art exhibition that is partly about getting rid of singular authorship. In art, the artist’s name or signature is what seems to have the most value and it sometimes stops us from working together to make other things possible. To address this, we decided to work under a shared name. But I am starting to feel like we made a mistake with the selected name of ‘Brenda Tempelaar.’ because Brenda Tempelaar is actually one of the artists in our group. I can’t help but wonder if it should have been a more collective pseudonym, one not belonging to any of us in the actual group? You see, Brenda doesn’t have the loss of having her work erased by the removal of names and the decision to appear as if everything has been rendered by one hand: Brenda’s hand. But then the minute I say this I feel like I am being egotistical, like I need to have my name on something in order to find it worthwhile. Am I? Help!

— Identity Crisis

Dear Identity Crisis,

Thank you for your letter. It is an interesting dichotomy you are faced with, one that is at the heart of many relationships: the juggle between personal and shared needs and ethics. I do see how the formation you describe has a hierarchical structure that renders individual labour unacknowledged and I see how you might not want to promote this politic, as artistic work is already not valued as a form of labour. At the same time, an individual is important in a collective only if they put their boundaries, expectations and experiences on the table. Have you done this clearly? Ultimately, if you feel like you are not being seen it is important to put things in place so that you can measure if acknowledgement is coming from elsewhere. Remember, structure is important and hierarchy is not always bad. It allocates responsibility and produces a chain of action. The important thing to keep in mind is that the ego is just the evil twin of self-respect, and self-respect springs from the knowledge that you are putting yourself in the right conditions. It is easy to speak up and change something like a name, but are the conditions that the name inhabits changing? Try tending to the structure in a way that is respectful to yourself and not just aimed towards the ego’s desire for external gratification. Within that you will leave a visible mark.

— Agony Aunt

Today and Tomorrow:
It is fairly cloudy and especially in the north and centre there is occasionally some drizzle or rain. In the east there is a small chance of wet snow. The temperature is around 3°C. The northeasterly wind is moderate near the coast and quite strong at the IJsselmeer.

Retrospect and Forecast:
Human weather is air and atmosphere generated through the speech and transpiration of systems and figures in society. Unlike animal storms, human weather cannot be predicted, controlled or even exploited remotely. Cities, towns and other settlements collapse daily under the threat of this home-baked air. The only possible solution—other than the large scale suffocation or burning of organic material and remains—is to pursue the system of rotating silence proposed by Wim, a member characterised by an ideal physical posture: his tongue removed, his skin covered with glue, his eyes covered with visual material of the desired final scenery.

‘I think I will try to use this as a model as well. I will open my home as a studio for some fellow students and ask them, as residents, to take care of my little son as well so we all can benefit from each others space, use of space and care.’ 

‘We always wondered what was going on here, it is not easy to get any information… Yes, we would love to know more about what is going and how we could be part of it. We live here and are both architects. Maybe we’ll make a reservation for the co-working space, that could be very convenient.’

‘I never go in there, it’s some kind of black sheep for us actually. It’s too pretentious it seems. Don’t get me wrong, I do love art. I visit Stedelijk Museum and Haagse Gemeente Museum regularly. I love to have a look at their collections.’

‘If I understand you correctly about the use of space and making space for the interests of others, what is the video installation downstairs adding to this?’

‘The space is obviously used just half of the time, and I don’t understand why it seems to be closed most of the time. But I don’t mind that it is an art space although I don’t connect with what is going on. Are you part of it?’

‘It looks like a real co-working space, do you think it will be used by the neighbours as well? Do you like it yourself or is it more or less ironic? I think it looks very nice but you know you shouldn’t like it.’

Only and general notification regarding the exhibition UX, User Experience, U and X

Colophon:  This edition of The Perpetual Citizen  was produced as part of the exhibition XY, X and X, User Experience: An Exhibition Ecosystem by the Practice of Brenda Tempelaar, held at A Tale of A Tub, Rotterdam, between 14 November, 2020—24 January, 2021. For any queries, concerns or contribution enquiries please write to: 
The Perpetual Citizen, c/o The Editor, 
Frans Bekkerstraat 131B, 3082TN, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Remco Torenbosch, Water (Stockfoto ID:178602444), 2021