A Tale of a Tub’s program fills a gap in the cultural landscape of Rotterdam by offering professional young and mid-career artists the possibility to innovate their practice through experimentation. Our support comes in the form of talent development, time, space, and means. The program reflects our ambition to be a polyphonic institute that resonates with the interests, common hopes, and aspirations of residents in and beyond the Spangen district.
This publication emerges in the context of UX, User Experience, U and X—an exhibition ecosystem by The Practice of developed at A Tale of a Tub in Rotterdam between November 2020 and January 2021. The publication tells several true stories that reflect dilemmas and dogmas that persist in the Dutch art field. Through these examples, the publication aims to portray the hermetically sealed, but economically and morally impoverished ecosystem in which art education institutions, museums, presentation spaces, funding agencies, galleries, art fairs, and their workers such as artists, curators, art brokers, art educators, and art mediators, are involved. Their respective pursuits contribute to the art field as a domain that exploits insiders and resists outsiders, which makes the field unlikely to bring something of interest to the public domain.
The dilemmas laid out here consider the growing necessity of visibility and individual accreditation, opportunism, systems of inequality, and competitive struggle for survival. At the risk of generalizing here, in remaining self-righteous the art world hijacks any emerging impetus for change. Instead of reversing the process by which art and society have drifted apart, self-affirmation and self-marketing have only widened the separation between artistic practice and democracy and supported poor communication, low trust in the other, and exceedingly high expectations of the self.
‘Anything that we can’t do forever is by definition unsustainable’, says David Attenborough in his documentary A Life on Our Planet. Can we do this forever? This publication is among the first steps taken to go public with that question and may be understood by any reader as an open invitation to an unknown, but inherently mutual dependency.
A Tale of a Tub
Justus van Effenstraat 44
3027 TK Rotterdam
1000 AT Amsterdam
Subject: Declaration of Intent Exhibition
Rotterdam, 24 December 2019
I hope this letter finds you well.
I am writing to you in the hopes that you will support the Project investment Artist application that is filing for an upcoming work period. This work period will culminate in a solo exhibition that is scheduled between September and November 2020 at A Tale of a Tub in Rotterdam.
I want to offer the time, space, and infrastructure to realize an exhibition project that is exemplary of her practice situated in the interstice between the domain of art criticism, artistic practice, and topical social questions.
Her project at A Tale of a Tub will primarily focus on the emergence and manipulation of human experience and perception of art within the time and space of the exhibition as a medium. Elaborating on that, she strives for a conceptual integration of the exhibition as a medium and commercial digital software companies that pursue the same goal through marketing and perception management: inventing cognitive perception and reinventing fundamental metaphors and models in order to relate to a given reality. For example, the exhibition increasingly makes use of an instrumentarium that caters to a broad and widespread circulation and distribution—through marketing and documentation—on digital platforms, within a perceptual arms-race focusing on visibility.
In close collaboration with invited artists, questions these layers of mediation and perceptual buffer zones, placing them at the center of a project in which the division between viewer, user and customer, artist and curator, art space and start–up fades and becomes porous.
In my opinion, ’s practice fulfils an important and progressive role in the Dutch art landscape, mainly because of the way she questions and hybridizes the authorship of the artist, and exposes the transitioning role and experience of art and its underlying mechanisms. Therefore, I sincerely hope that you will support her application and project proposal!
Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk
Director of A Tale of a Tub
I was very excited when I got invited to develop a solo exhibition alongside a group exhibition at A Tale of a Tub, as this felt like an environment in which both critical as well as interdisciplinary work methods were welcomed. It was only after I accepted the invitation and started formulating ideas that I realized how the situation reaffirmed the restraints of my position, and I had accepted a self-affirmative form of recognition I did not truly believe in. When you find yourself framed as a twenty-first-century descendant of institutional critique, art institutions tend to co-opt and incorporate you deep in their bellies where no–one can hear you. Although this was exactly the art historical knowledge Niekolaas deployed to invite me in the first place, past experiences made me hesitant to develop a project that was located so properly “on the inside” of art.
Even though the invitation was confusing, I formulated an initial idea. My idea was to produce a solo exhibition on the ground floor, based on my interest in the advancing digitization of the aesthetic experience, and develop a group show accordingly that unfolded in an extended field of that subject. I applied for a project investment from the Mondriaan Fund, for which I wrote:
This work at A Tale of a Tub brings to the fore the technological buffer zone between art and experience and reflects on our transitioning relationship with urban surroundings. Interactions with the structures we are framed by (such as architecture) seem so natural that we barely notice it anymore when we are mediated, manipulated and pushed into a certain direction.
To state the analogy with the art world I added:
Software applications consciously keep up unreliable, closed circuits to benefit commercially or ideologically. The art world forms no exception and employs technology as a defence mechanism to protect its own circuit on social media platforms or, for example, in museum apps.
I recognized a parallel between the closed circuit that marketeers tap into to reach their targets, and the closed system of the arts that excels in altering the perception of daily life. I was about to appropriate the aesthetics of a software start-up with whom I had been in contact for several years, in relation to their viewing of the exhibition space. According to the company, their software was about to transform the exhibition landscape for good. Through invisible applications of digital software, their devices localized people and objects and allowed for things to ‘magically’ take place at the right time. I wanted to bring that hidden architecture of magic to the fore to focus on the intimate relationship that is possible with surroundings, if only art projects were capable of going beyond representation on the basis of media.
For me, the difficulty of the project was not to formulate the niche I would be working within, but rather how various conventional roles in that project would be framed, such as the role of artist, curator, institution, and audience. I recall lengthy conversations with Niekolaas as to formulate the different options available to create a focus on my solo-act as the framework that held all other elements in place. I kept thinking about placeholders, and wanted to position my solo as such—as a framework that could be used by various artists to be developed further and to be “filled”. Instead of filling the space, I wanted to create one. However, the problem with this idea of the placeholder is that whoever is invited to work in it, is automatically incorporated into a preconditioned space. The element of appropriation both Niekolaas and I found difficult to uphold and couldn’t seem to escape the moral high ground that inevitably comes with a thematic group show, where the show becomes exemplary of what the curator, or the other artist in this case, wants to say.
The application was granted. I wanted to bury my head in the sand, just roll with it. Take the money, shut my mouth. Take the credit, make something of myself. But while I kept the money I knew I wasn’t going to uphold my side of the agreement. I just wrote the application so it would pass through the system, like an offer you can’t refuse. Everyone does it. Things change along the way, it’s a process, those funding agencies are well aware of that. I would just rectify my intentions in the evaluation report and no-one would mind that the project became something else entirely. But I knew I would still have to mention their role as enabler. One way or another, I felt the need to publicly state the fact that the Mondriaan Fund unknowingly paid for me to subject their merits to an investigation. Again.
Around that same time I was in conversations with and about a collective form of agency and it started to dawn on me that the solo annex group show I was developing for A Tale of a Tub could not be seen separately from our shared philosophy that the individual artist practice was no longer relevant in its current form. These collective conversations reassured me that I wasn’t keen to claim the space. The scenographic attempts I had made fell flat when I realized that the open window of opportunity I wanted to offer to others was already compromised by the context I created.
In order to remain true to what I had discovered in conversations about different forms of agency, I decided to depart from the collective, and invite to an open field from there. However, that is not to say that the field was blank. The collective set certain conditions, such as care-taking for things not properly yours, but refrained from claiming authorship. For me personally, the most difficult moment in that process was to confront Niekolaas with this change of direction, that—although it was a long time in the making—must have come across unexpectedly. I am used to responding to outsiders, who are taking my critical questions for complaints, which is much easier than responding to a friend who sincerely wants to understand you. So, in order to not have elephants in the room, I asked Niekolaas what his interests are. In his role as co-director of A Tale of a Tub, but also more general as one of the components of the field, highly aware of its assets and limitations. I asked him to be transparent about the objectives of A Tale of a Tub, of his curatorial vision and of the finances involved in making the exhibition. I extended the invitation to become a stakeholder of The Practice of without elaborating much on what that entails. I also placed the remark that A Tale of a Tub has no external storage, and therefore, if The Practice of and A Tale of a Tub were to truly coincide, there would be no room for secrets.
Returning the invitation in this way has brought to the fore that some of the concerns I had among the collective, resonate with those of Niekolaas. One of the things that seem to be on his mind is the difficulty for art institutions to operate intersectionally—a term used to indicate how inequality is the consequence of multiple factors simultaneously at play along multiple axes. Those include, but are by no means limited to race, class, gender, sexuality, education, age, language, and culture. When talking about opening up the field of contemporary art, as well as distributing authority over the individual artistic practice among multiple stakeholders, it is inevitable that one talks about the various aspects of identity that must be considered if you are extending invitations. Despite the fact that Niekolaas has not yet answered the question on what is “at stake” for him—perhaps it is not even possible to answer that question—through this mission statement of intersectional thinking it became clear to me that there is a desire for A Tale of a Tub to engage in different forms of agency, and therefore saw an opening for The Practice of to meet those criteria.
I decided to also extend the invitation to become a stakeholder of The Practice of to several artists. They were chosen through an intuitive kinship and a desire to differentiate between certain topics. Now of course the question is whether it actually makes a difference to invite them to join The Practice of or if they are still incorporated by preconditioned limitations. What is the most radical thing that they could do with their share of ? Is this form really more democratic than instrumentalizing attitudes to make a curatorial point? And is it not less democratic, given that they step into the project with their names erased?
I worry that no-one will actually become involved, and if they do, I am afraid that the people who become involved will only do so in order to take advantage of me. I fear that The Practice of becomes a Leap into the Void (1960), an aesthetization of an art historical joke, without the safety net of Conceptual art to return to. I am worried that the invitation to become a stakeholder is too hermetically written, and not distributed widely enough to actually be democratic. I am worried that the first artists I reached out to will be seen as too heterogeneous a representation, and I don’t know what this invitation means for future funding applications. I wonder what the consequences of this exploration of a democratic artistic practice may be, especially because I don’t have an answer to the frequently asked question about how entitled parties may claim their share of The Practice of.
Whose practice is this?
While listing the stakeholders of The Practice of, the Mondriaan Fund should be mentioned as its main enabler. The Mondriaan Fund is the public fund for visual arts and cultural heritage in the Netherlands. It enables plans, projects, and programs of artists, exhibition makers, critics, museums, and other art and heritage institutions, publishers, and commissioners. It promotes the production and presentation of art and heritage from the Netherlands, locally and abroad. The fund is committed to visibility and requires applicants seek audiences appropriate to the scale and nature of the institutions and artists. It also plays an incendiary role in establishing proper artist wages and organizes platforms for young talent. The fund expresses a desire to be inclusive of everyone. It takes steps toward democratizing the application criteria, and demands applicants to explain how they plan on reaching their prospective audiences.
The allocation of funding is determined by committees, but the government decides how much money can be spent in total. The fund, together with five other public funds, holds a large part of the state funding for art and culture. Additionally, various presentation institutions, museums, and post-academies are structurally supported in the Basic Infrastructure (BIS), that falls under the direct responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science.
One of the biggest tensions between the funding of The Practice of and its position in society is that the current social circumstances caused the practice’s indefinite dependence on presumably temporary subsidies. In the past, the practice was either under the radar or permanently idle, between being supported by the state and attempting to be supported by a collapsed market. Given that the role of public funds is much more structural than it states, this tense relationship calls for a proper delineation of what the Mondriaan Fund actually means when it states that it is “for everyone”, both from the sides of The Practice of as an applicant and those who get to take part in it.
With funding opportunities for artists with a refugee background and opening up talent funds for artists without a specific art education, the Mondriaan Fund sets the tone for a subsidised landscape in which everyone is welcome to apply. However, several remarks can be made. First of all, everyone can apply but everyone is assessed by the same clearly stated but oblique criteria and a predetermined poule of professional committee members, chosen by a committee that was assembled by the fund. That procedure rests on the assumption that it requires expertise to decide between good and bad art. A lot can be said for this, primarily that other industries receiving state-funding also call upon the knowledge of experts, to safeguard infrastructures or proper health care. However, a lot of ambiguity can be read in between the lines of application criteria, especially in the case of assumed professionals judging the work of assumed amateurs. The other way around, those assumed amateurs never get a say in the work that is regarded professional. So while opening up protocols, the relationship between those in the field and the people who attempt to access the field is pre-established in nature.
Said tolerance bar is reinforced by codes of conduct, such as the criteria that the Mondriaan Fund established for judgement. In addition to these, the recent Code Diversity & Inclusion further aligns subsidized art with political agendas. I’m not saying that it would be a bad thing for The Practice of to demonstrate socially desirable behavior, but it remains to be seen if such codes can ensure that the vision of those committees truly overarches a full–stack representation of the issues addressed in them, such as accessibility and the inclusion of all people, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social-economic status, education level, and age.
The friction between applicant, stakeholders, and funding agency peaks when such ethical protocols come to overlay the neoliberal straitjacket already in place. Everyone in the field of culture is happy to comply with ethical codes of conduct, but all want to eat at the end of the day. Therefore today’s art field thrives on excellence and unicity, without establishing proper remuneration for labor, resulting in a highly competitive field that emphasizes different levels of access rather than diminishes the threshold. Coincidently, funding applications are exceedingly judged through the lens of the free market and coinciding terms impact, spin-off, and surplus value. For lack of better argumentation, funding committees apply those criteria to resonate with their own good taste, and given that a minimum of three committee members is required to be able to voice an advice, The Practice of may fall victim to bad luck.
In this climate where neoliberal models are commonly applied but sustainable incomes remain lacking, it would be more accurate to state that not only everyone can apply for funding, but everyone must. Whoever does not depend on funding, either directly or indirectly through the institutions they work with, is able to sustain themselves in another way, not always but frequently the result of an above average social-economic status to begin with.
That leads to thinking what is obscured from the committee’s view in the first place. How does an artist with a refugee background find out about a funding opportunity? Who has access to (art) education? But even on the level of who is already in the field, a lot of facades are built to shelter what is really going on. What is the price artists pay for upholding the image of professionalism, keeping up the appearance of thriving independent practices while structurally living below the poverty line?
With so many underlying interests at play all at once on the production side, a question rises about who art and culture is for. It also leads me to wonder about the self-righteous position assumed by art and artists, which prohibits the formulation of presentation plans that depart from the needs and desires of the other. Come to think about it, all presentation plans I ever wrote or read were aimed toward improving the visibility and social position of the self. None of them departed from the prospective audience or stated how they could benefit from the presentation.
To meet the criteria for funding, a lot of artists and institutions claim that their work gives a positive impulse to the community in which it originates or in which it is presented. The art world takes pride in encounters with neighbors and invests time to be more inviting to them. Of course with the occasional exception in mind, those attempts should not be seen as genuine efforts to connect, but as gestures that spring from the urgency of being granted funding.
Perhaps The Practice of should move into the realms of social activism if it wants to address large numbers of civilians, making use of vocabularies they can relate to. Those art forms are not abstracted and presented solely in white cubes, but take place at the heart of society. But even in such practices, the line between social activism and using societal issues for the sake of subject matter is thin.
All in all, what cannot be denied is that The Practice of sits on a very small societal plane, or in fact many fractions of small planes, wanting to include society while very few people are willing to bear the consequences of that endeavor. In terms of public funds, what this comes down to is that current funding criteria dictate that the only art that gets funded is art that claims space.
If there is a legit desire for diversification and inclusion, for democratization of the arts even, making space should be at the center of our attention.
My practice reflects on art and its production and presentation by moving between art criticism, artistic practice, and design. I am interested in (historical) shifts in practice, the architecture of display, and the socio-economic conditions of art production and presentation. I use conventional roles, such as those of the artist, critic, or curator to explore the principle of independence in order to critically engage in the art field. In contradicting or overlapping roles, I work on exhibitions and publications. I also write for artists, art institutions, and various media venues including the Prix de Rome, De Witte Raaf, and Metropolis M. I am curator of the public programme at P/////AKT Amsterdam, before which I collaborated with Bonnefanten on the catalogue Uncorrected Proof and published The Exhibition Tower. In my recent work I bring critical reflection and sculptural, scenographic, elements together and invite other artists to activate a structure or respond to a situation that I have designed. My sculptural work was last presented in 2016 at Ludwig Forum, Aachen.
Herewith I would like to report on the period between July 2016 and July 2020 for which I received a Proven Artists Grant from the Mondriaan Fund.
At the time, I wrote in my application that I wanted to use the work period to research several questions that emerged from recent work. Mainly, the possibility to reassign the position of the maker/the individual/object to previous works and to further develop the way the works were presented.
The exhibition at Spike Island in Bristol, fall 2016, was a good opportunity to work on that. Because Spike Island also offers studios to artists and designers, they are an institute that is closely associated with the emergence of work. That gave me the chance to develop and test ideas in context. Scripts and objects from previous works formed the starting point to collaborate with Spike Island employees and others including artists, volunteers, a visitor, and a collector. This method was supposed to map different forms of presentation and the consequences of “delegating”. Because of a University of the West of England lecture at Arnolfini and a review in Frieze, the exhibition was widely seen by a young generation of artists in Bristol. In conversation with Helen Legg, former director of Spike Island, the work Imitator Being Made was donated to the Box, Plymouth, UK after the exhibition.
The project at Spike Island, and a stronger emphasis on involving others in the work were definitely decisive for the continuation of my practice and the various contexts in which I worked for the next three years.
An important step in my research took place at my in-laws’ in the summer of 2017. I invited my parents-in-law to care for a plasticine floor for a week, by repairing every modification with two tools that I had designed. The project (De Freule en de Gladiool) brought about a lot! In the first place with my in-laws Florentien and Lucien, but also in the family, brothers, and sisters of my in-laws and the villagers. In Esch, the village in Brabant where my in-laws live, “the project” became a hot topic. Questions concerning care, recovery, responsibility, and involvement became much more specific through this: What does it mean to become involved in a work, and have a say in it? What is (actually) the work? And who does it belong to?
For the exhibition at M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, I passed on these questions to the institute. Where my in-laws associated them with the family and the propagation of love, the questions at M HKA had more to do with what is expected from the artwork, the artist, and the institute. Which interests play a role here and how are they expressed in the work?
Again, my mother-in-law played an important role in the project at M HKA. In preparation we gave a presentation for the museum’s employees together. It created an unusual situation that made a big impact on them. The video registration of De Freule en Gladiool, in which my mother-in-law is prominently featured, was shown in the exhibition, but her presence was also important throughout the exhibition. She took her sisters, friends, and acquaintances from Esch to the museum. I received many reactions based on remarkable meetings with both visitors and museum staff.
Afterwards, M HKA acquired two works.
Like the project at Spike Island, the project at M HKA had a big impact. There was an article about the exhibition in Metropolis M, written by “X” (not me), a character that also played an important role in the exhibition.
The article as well as the way the project at M HKA evolved, broadened my perspective on the scope and consequences of the actions, initiations, and characters that I bring to the work. Over the past year, I emphatically preoccupied myself with those consequences. What does this mean for the way I organize my practice? This led to a number of changes in my practice—an important one being that I started working collectively. For me, working collectively is a natural follow-up to the developments in my practice, not only with respect to collaboration but in recognizing and taking in each other’s interests and dealing with possible contradictions. I want to research this as a subject and especially as a form. As a subject, the collective approach was already part of my work, which requires more definition of the method. The input of the collective, prior to the M HKA exhibition, will be more prominent in the work (process) and research. Key to the form is a continuous looking for others, both in wider society and the institutional art world, who are prepared to put their interests on the table. I think that consciously relating to other (sometimes conflicting) interests is an important step to be taken in the arts. It is necessary for me to accept the consequences of this difficult process. In my lessons and exchanges with students from AKV | St. Joost, these dilemmas of artistic practice are often discussed.
My apologies in advance, should this application seem hastily thrown together. Time was limited, but intentions were good. I am struggling to grasp the format of the application process, that is clearly in favor of an artist who wants to gain public recognition by receiving this funding. I don’t think that my artistic practice can be described through work that is properly mine, since that has not been my intention for years. A deeply rooted involvement in society dictates that, if I truly want to have an impact, my name should no longer be used. I have come to terms with this and refrain from sharing personal information whenever I can.
I am not using my name because I want to have an actual impact, which also motivates my tutoring and involvement in rewriting the curriculum of the Fine Arts department in the academy. An important aspect I put forward in the new curriculum is that the term “autonomy” should be completely revised in order to become meaningful again. I’d like to be quite radical in this effort to revise the term. Autonomy continues to be used in defense of something, as a protective shield so art can withdraw from the societal relations, collectivity, and confrontations in which democratization takes place.
Through participating in various projects, commissions, and initiatives I explore ways in which I can uphold my ethical and aesthetic criteria. However, my main interest for the scope of this project is to challenge those criteria as well. What does it mean to allow opinions of others to become part of your own opinion and work process, without a threshold? The terms “authenticity” and “autonomy” can be revised to answer that question. I don’t want to claim the outcome of this quest as my work, nor do I want to present it as such.
Instead, my work plan is based on a methodical succumbing to everything that I am not. With that in mind, I am organizing conversations with the local community, which depart from a series of local white villas that I recreated on a smaller scale, and that prominently put forward the colonial role without denying its existence. This is the basis of both a personal and metaphorical reconstruction.
The conversations are supposed to facilitate an exchange of knowledge, experience, and skills. They center around desires, goals, expectations, and worldviews. The participants are invited to modify the models based on conversations. A selection are scaled up and modified again through mutual decisions with people involved. This exchange will be documented and recorded in a blog. The exchange takes place in all imaginable forms and doesn’t necessarily stay within the confines of what would be expected of an artistic result. I insist on the premise that my practice gives rise to such unpredictable movements. I would like to emphasize once again that it is important not to mention my name, in order to make such unpredictable events possible. I also assume that, in case the application is granted, you will also refrain from mentioning your name. That will make me feel confident that you understand the true nature of my question. I sincerely hope that you value unpredictability as much as I do, and I look forward to hearing from you.
It is my pleasure to respond to the call for curators for Currents #7. In this motivation letter I will present the starting point of this collaboration between people whose capacities I believe can turn this edition of Currents into a distinctive event.
I depart from the question of how I, as a curator, can play a meaningful role in the aspirations of artists. The current cultural climate puts artists in competition right after their graduation. A talent show is regarded as a gift, but what am I actually offering to talent? I ask myself if young curators can also provide a service, by opening up about their own concerns in assembling and producing an exhibition like Currents. By making this communication part of the exhibition, I think I can offer the artists a strong foundation for their further careers.
I propose an exhibition model with a discursive layer, in which I am transparent about assembling an exhibition with a long-list, short-list, and end result as the tip of the iceberg. I focus on how the collaboration between curator and artist proceeds, and what the production process looks like. Given the attention to hierarchy between artists, curators, and institutions, I was thinking of the title Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground? Self-critically, I point at the authority that a curator claims while scouting a young artist. Do I praise the presentation of the artist, my own capacity to recognize potential, or do I praise the institution I work for, for showing young talent?
In the granted period, I took part in multiple (solo) presentations. Whether or not the grant directly affected this is hard to judge, but indirectly it definitely helped because it provided me with the time to work on these projects and develop them further. So, the value was mainly in the precision with which I was able to prepare and execute these presentations.
When I applied, I had been represented by Galerie Fons Welters for eight years. I terminated the representation in November 2019. I could say that the grant helped me to take this step that was so important for me. The financial support helped me to dare to take new risks; to not choose an obvious path, but one that suits my practice more on the level of content.
Exhibitionary Experimentation: the Prosoponym
I would like to link the act of democratizing the artistic practice to the complicated use of the prosoponym—a set of names by which an individual is known—in arts and society at large. Moving into digital presentation platforms such as social media, the prosoponym gained more importance as a vehicle of recognition. The entire industry makes an effort to credit work on any occasion, as a gesture of acknowledgement. The name of the artists and the curator are at the forefront of public relations, printed in vinyl on the window or on banners hovering over the facade of the building. It’s written in the title of press releases and annual reports. And an array of artists, curators, institutions, photographers, graphic designers, and bystanders may be tagged in a single Instagram post to show that they are, in one way or another, related to the content. Crediting, in this case, should be taken literally, because being mentioned often comes as a substitute for getting paid.
While it is used in abundance in the arts, the prosoponym is a political object. Coinciding with societal effort to credit invisible labor, the arts recently witnessed an exponential urge to credit everybody who was, directly or indirectly, instrumental to a production. These often include behind the scenes workers, either working on the side of material labor or facilitating the artistic experience as a host, or ticket salesperson. Another category of labor often attempted to be credited is that of people whose identity becomes part of the artistic narrative. According to those who criticize the phenomenon, this so-called cultural appropriation occurs when authors work around stories that they did not experience themselves. In those instances, naming is seen by many as an inadequate compensation for performing the labor of identity.
Contrary to the attempt to compensate for labor by mentioning the names of those involved, art institutions also struggle with attempts to unregister from specific involvements. This recently became an issue when an artist was charged with multiple violent assaults including rape. Art institutions who worked with the artist removed its traces from their archive, as if the omission of the name is equal to rejecting responsibility or guilt by association.
With these remarks in place, it becomes clear that the omnipresent use of the prosoponym in the cultural field is a code of conduct that is charged with gratitude and admiration, but it also demonstrates how “claiming” to have something to do with someone’s success may be highly problematic in terms of responsibility.
The Practice of emphasizes the persistence of this code. My intention was to not refrain from using my name as a humble gesture in light of identity politics. While an artist may be applauded for devaluing their name, taking it away would neglect to admit that the majority of the people working in the field don’t have the choice of whether or not to be anonymous. This is true for all the volunteers doing most of the production work, underpaid interns with the same responsibilities as curators, as well as all the people producing factory-made materials that are shipped to art institutions without even seeing them. On an entirely different level of emotions, not having a choice applies as well to everybody who lives in fear of using the prosoponym in public.
By claiming the space of the proposynom explicitly, I would like to pose a question about support structures. What do these structures entail and on what form of recognition are they based? Who do they support and why? What labor is automatically included in the collaboration and what doesn’t count as one’s practice? Is it still worth it to support it, if the institution can’t claim the name? Is it still worth support if that support was supposed to last indefinitely and unconditionally?
If art institutions and the people guiding them in new directions are truly interested in breaking away from the attention economy, breaking with “making a name for yourself” is the first step to be taken towards an experimental ground. In that process it is no longer possible to think of the artist as a guest temporarily inhabiting an organization, but the construction of the artist-curator-institution must be understood as mutually dependent. It’s a format for which both must commit to being available for each other indefinitely, even at the point when one of them, or either one of them would decide not to be part of the practice anymore. Being unavailable, or distancing still is a form of dependency.
The graduation ceremony was a little different this time around. Besides the usual social distancing and the fact that no parents were allowed in, perhaps the biggest difference was that the graduation show did not take place yet. Normally at this time of the year, the national art scene gathers at the art academies throughout the country to celebrate the arrival of fresh crops and harvest some of the riper fruits to decorate their programs in project spaces, galleries, museums, and art fairs. I’ve been dreading this moment ever since I started studying fine arts, so I was kind of glad that I didn’t have to sell my soul to the art world in the end. The whole process of graduating was much more sincere in this way, and I hardly felt any competition or rivalry between my classmates. Instead, we focused on collectivity and common interests, and helped each other out when necessary. To the point where it became unclear which parts of the work were mine, hers, or his. This was an attainment that, of course, was not without obstacles. Some of us took collectivity as an assignment to force a collective result, which created unproductive frictions. But all obstacles aside, this mindset of helping out when necessary, and not needing to be individually credited for it, felt like a liberation from the one on one artistic practice I know and renounce.
But now that we are producing a graduation show after all, I see our collective establishment shaking on its foundations. Although I am not surprised that this happens, I can’t help but feel disappointed. Why is it that suddenly our objectives change so much the moment art mediators show an interest in us?
I think this sudden change should be seen in the wider perspective of the art field. One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves while we are installing the graduation show is how it will come across on camera. It is usually the first public event in our portfolio and we’re not sure how to connect our collective merits to the subsidy system we are about to tap into. How can we claim talent if we are not claiming authorship? There seems to be this constant mismatch between what we are doing and the industry we are moving towards. That’s why, when my classmates draw me into conversations about the art world, I get overwhelmed by a sense of tiredness, looking for a free pass to walk away from the discipline that awaits us. On field trips to Amsterdam I experienced how the others exhaust themselves to fit into the system, working three jobs to facilitate a practice they never have time for. Others working one job, that never really seems to be a lot of work, but comes with the title of director anyway. I was intrigued by the flexibility displayed and at the same time convinced that this flexibility was something I could never find within myself.
Along the way I met others who feel equally checkmated by the discipline of mediators and united in the commonly held belief that it’s only possible to operate autonomously in the margins. “Making a living” no longer plays a major role in our conversations, leaving ample time to discuss ideologies and possible pastimes. Artistic freedom is lurking, the rest will sort itself eventually.
In the Fine Arts department of AKV | St. Joost, a new program was recently introduced that promotes collective attitudes. The collective aspect is not restricted to collaboration, but rather departs from an awareness that individual development is always related to collective traditions. As the student progresses, they are asked to complement the individual trajectory by positioning themselves within collective debates. We assume that the value of autonomy can only become meaningful when it stands in relation to others through societal questions. This relation is a fundamental component of the artistic practice of all students, and its form determines what can be regarded as “work”.
The new curriculum has had a big influence on the graduation shows of recent years. The conventional final exhibition, where young artists showed individual results to the public, among which were family and friends, gallerists, and “best of” scouts, is no longer adequate. The dependency and naivety that feeds the desire to be “picked up” is undesirable, and art education should abundantly offer space to develop alternatives.
Several years ago, the graduates set the tone with C-section the musical by presenting themselves collectively and expressing their concern with dependency. Their personal works were accommodated in acts and scenes, enabling commonly voiced comments on institutional expectations such as entrepreneurship and excellence.
Last year, despite restrictions dictated by COVID-19, the collective approach led to an interesting structure. Departing from the idea that individual artistic research should not emerge from and result in a competitive model, the students looked for an open structure in which they could vacate space in their research and work process for others or occupy that space in others. The underlying question was how they, as young artists, could contribute to the necessary democratization of the art world. The new coalition of the provincial executive in Brabant, composed of VVD, CDA, Lokaal Brabant, and FvD, which eradicated the portfolio of art and culture, puts an extra emphasis on the urgency of that question. The result of this open structure will become apparent in a graduation show called If we propose you are invited, which moreover also facilitates the individual and its individual interests. Various collectives emerged from that generation of students who put forward their research and work methods as open source. A specific example is InBlik. The initiative was founded long before the lockdown but proved to be of great value in that moment of isolation. InBlik has a permanent core with an open structure that departs from the desire to offer space and occupy space in the practices of others. Radio is deployed as form, space, and medium. Their work is not only properly theirs, but can only come into being through a relation with thirds, while avoiding all forms of hierarchy. The results are unpredictable, experimental, attentive, and sometimes inimitable.
None of the qualities of InBlik fit the brief of Best of graduates of Galerie Ron Mandos, on the contrary. The competitive model is rejected and regarded as counterproductive. The foundations of their work are clearing up space for (art) forms that don’t exclude the external world but attempt a relation with it. Art forms in which autonomy is not put forward as a defense mechanism, in which authorship is not an individual, artistic goal, but a shared space.
In light of the above, I expect the tables to be turned. The students don’t wearily wait for an invitation to present their work in the gallery, but invite the gallery to take part in the unpredictable space of InBlik. Furthermore, it is possible that they offer space to others who want to make use of the opportunity of presenting work in the gallery, or, perhaps temporarily, want to wear the stamp of approval that Best of Graduates is.
I was never really a good student. I was very dyslectic and that was always a problem. But I always had an idea how I wanted things and then, because I could never find them, I would make them myself. My sister went to the design academy and then I got the feeling that I wanted to go there as well. As soon as I went there, I stepped into a new universe, and felt so at home there that I knew that was what I wanted.
Hello and welcome, I’d like to show you five possibilities on six possibilities for a sculpture.
It is very hard for me to explain my work. The explanation of how the work came about is incorporated in the work, and this I formulate so precisely that it seems odd to do it a second time around.
I decided to make it again
In those works, I often narrate how those objects come about, so I actually disclose a part of the process that I went through in the studio. How did the characters come into being, who are they and what are their names?
That is also a critique that I sometimes receive on the work, that perhaps it’s all a bit in between ship and shore, unclear what it is exactly. But for me, it is all of it together.
I want to understand everything. That is always what I strive for in every work and then I never succeed, which is kind of the point, and yet, there is always that desire to get a grip on something. Like “yes, that’s it” or “now I get it”. Every time, you get the feeling that you are almost there.
The hand, to me, is exemplary of that. In the performance The Hand the Eye and It, the hand is part hand and part tool. I am constantly looking for the various positions that such an object may have. And I get very enthusiastic about that as well, the idea that something can be all of those things.
Things and ideas don’t emerge from your desk. That’s not where you are confronted with things. As soon as you step outside, a confrontation awaits.
In the case of the car, I had an idea of the individual and I was looking for the opposite of that. Something that the individual can relate to.
I would like to begin this talk with an introduction of two objects, which are a portrait and a car.
At first, I didn’t know what form the other would have. But then I was in a bar when I saw all that traffic around me and suddenly I thought, it is actually the car, that really everybody has something to do with. And the nice thing about a car is that it has an interior space, so it is also something private or individual, but the car is nearly always part of public space and must relate to others, so I think that’s why it was so suitable.
I just purchased a wrecked car and covered it in a layer of plasticine, so a clay, which is a material I often use. It remains soft so you can always remodel it and the fact that you can modify the image but also your ideas, which are the qualities of the material, I find very interesting and very suitable for me to work with. Perhaps it also makes it possible for me to make certain statements, knowing I can always change my mind.
While searching, and without reverting to platitudes, makes us wonder what is still somewhat self-evident about art and its surroundings.
I would like to invite you to become part of The Practice of.
You could define an exhibition as a cultural field of inter-human energy exchange, mediated on the basis of public interaction with artistic objects (works of art) and processes. In recent years, this field has increasingly adopted the market’s way of thinking: the show must go on—even when art spaces are less accessible at the time of a pandemic. While art people used to be critical or condescending about the market, economic success after years of political flattening has become the only language to express the importance of artworks.
In UX, User Experience, U and X, interests that play a role in art’s existence and income are reconsidered. Before the start of the exhibition, a field is set out in which the relationships between individuals (users), digital, cultural, and public operating systems can manifest themselves on the basis of different interests. The field has the character of a coworking space with a number of variable ornaments that transform the space into one that invites team performance, information exchange, community spirit, and observation of and positioning as User Experience designer. UX designers doubt whether their practices still serve optimal user experiences, or are increasingly guided by marketing. By comparing their conflicting interests with those of artistic practice, the exhibition aims to reveal a field of tension pertinent to art, asking: Does an exhibition serve the interests of the artist, the institution, or the public? And where do these interests meet?
This basis serves to collectively question the optimal use of art spaces, the exhibition medium, and the art experience at a time characterized by persistent market thinking within art, aimed at individual success and competition within a culture pressed for time and pushed to perform. By asking other artists to collectively join The Practice of, the roots of individual marketing and authorship in art are traced and eroded, in harmonious and conflicting moments. In addition, this distancing of the personal name creates a different form of address, and possibly a different liability. The host institution A Tale of a Tub and the public are also invited to affiliate and become stakeholders in this practice.