Archive for the 'Martijn van Berkum' Category

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – November 4th: two more weeks from today! There’s No Business Like Show Business and Some Like Hot. I can’t wait.


Mr. Brainwash, from Wooster Collective

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Time is a loop

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – Within every moment unfolds another moment. Sometimes it seems like all events have always existed and are being stored in a giant collective archive of images. The advertisement underneath, of the Pakistan International Airline, was published in 1979, the same year Bin Laden took up arms against the USA. 

Sure, the prophetic value of the picture is baffling, but another thing that intrigues me – without taking in account the events that lead to the destruction of the twin towers – is the uncanny feeling of this illustration. It reminds me of the apocalyptic drawings of Hugh Ferris (underneath) which cast dark clouds over the pinnacles of Americas economic achievements. They seemed to predict the great financial crisis of the 1930’s. Another event in history that seems to repeat itself every now and then; I guess time really does go around in a loop…

 

 

 

 

Little big man

Martijn van Berkum, Svolvaer — From my fifth until my 16th I set out every year with my parents on a holiday trip to France. We had huge a orange tent and a station car with a metal construction on top that my father filled with a one meter pile of plastic chairs, a table and loads of toys and other junk. Then a bright blue plastic cover went over it and the whole thing was fastened with a couple of meters of neon orange rope. Squeaking under the tremendous weight it was carrying, the car would sink around twenty centimeters and it’s a miracle the axes never broke on the way.

Inside the car every cubic centimeter was filled, minus a small space exactly matching the dimensions of my body. There I would sit for twelve long agonizing hours while temperatures were slowly crawling over thirty degrees the further we approached our destination. To add insult to injury, I had to sit with my feet up all the way, because the space in between the front and back chair was exactly large enough to fit in a cooling box. A light brown cooling box, with a dark brown lid on top and round corners, the loyal travel companion of every average Western family in the eighties.

Now, if you were to travel today to Lofoten, in the far north of Norway, and visit a tiny town called Svolvaer (a trip I can highly recommend), you will find at the sailboat harbor in the center a cooling box exactly similar to the one my parents owned. The colors are different, a soft pale orange box and a bright orange frame, but the design is just the same. It was put there in 2004 by the artists Elmgreen & Dragset for the LIAF 04 (Lofoten International Art Festival) exhibition.

Elmgreen & Dragset
Tiergarten, Berlin, May 21th, 1991
2004

LIAF is a biennale and therefore the 2004 edition collected the “best of” biennale material: Henrik Håkansson, Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset and Pipilotti Rist, among others, all Nordic or international art heroes. Being the biggest exhibition in Norway, together with Momentum in Moss, it is rather strange to be located in Svolvaer, which accounts for only 4000 inhabitants. Why organize such a huge event in such a remote area? I’m not sure whether the 2004 edition managed to answer that question and hitherto, every second year discussions about the legitimacy of LIAF’s being at Lofoten surfaces again. The Elmgreen & Dragset piece always plays a central role in that discussion and given the number of occasions it has been vandalized one can argue whether it is a successful public art work.

On the other hand, I could also argue that the merits of the work are super interesting. It takes up the ready-mades by Duchamp and puts it into the context of a growing local tourist industry and the romantics of outdoor camping. Being casted in bronze and over painted to look exactly like a plastic box, it issues questions around mass production, uniqueness and prize vs value. But these are very much ‘white cube issues’ and don’t speak very much on a site-specific level, let alone that they’ll mange to answers questions around the legitimacy of LIAF at Lofoten. Why should inhabitants be so interested in such boring questions about what art is? And why should they care about international artists making statements about their tourist industry? in a way they don’t care about and financed with a chunk load of public money that could also be put in maintaining local fisher industries or other public matters. Could that be too big a discussion for such a small art work?

Despite the arguments that surround the work, the fierce debates and misunderstandings, the cooling box has a quality, or rather, it has developed a certain quality. Each and every year the box gets kicked into the water; it’s been mocked, debated, covered by snow, attacked by storms, loved and hated. Nonetheless, it survived and I admire the little fellah for its resilience. It’s small size, apparent vulnerability and triviality turn it into a perfect actor in the debates surrounding public art and LIAF’s legitimacy. It’s a chameleon that can shift from representing two internationally acclaimed artists, to being a controversial public art work, to an expensive solid bronze object, and to being an innocent, beaten little child, abandoned by its spiritual parents and left at its own devices. In other words: it’s a little big man.

I love these schizophrenic characteristics the work embodies. But what fascinates me even more is the fact that all the violence and critique the work has endured over the past years yields one crucial result: the much sought-after legitimacy. The box is battered and bruised, but still stands proudly on the jetty by the water. It has earned its place there and has become a proper citizen of Svolvaer.

A report about LIAF 08, which ended a little while ago will follow shortly.

Collectivism after modernism

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – This cover could completely go without a book. My first thought at seeing the picture on the book Collectivism after modernism, a collection of essays that “explore the ways in which collectives function within cultural norms, social conventions and corporate or state-sanctioned art”, reads the back.


Needless to say, to a certain degree this weblog is a collective practice as well, and how I’d love to be with our members on that arrow-shaped boat. Even more when I read that the essays explore collectivism in social, cultural and political contexts. They are set in New York after 1975, the Cuban national crisis in the eighties, the sixties in Japan and in the last decade in Senegal. Not to mention the introduction which ambitiously plays out collectivism against the backdrop of the cold war in which collaborative practice is identified as suspicious communist activities and individualism is hailed as the prodigal practice of Western capitalists artists. Hmmm, this begins to look like a tasty menu.

Unfortunately, promising as it may sound, it seems like the authors forgot to add salt, pepper and a nice sauce. Very few manage to really give proper analysis of the relation between collectives and the contexts and surroundings in which they operate, on how they carry out political action, provide discursive places and alternatives and, most important for me, what kinds of strategies and methodologies they have developed.

To enable transformation on a social, cultural or political level, as the introduction promises, collective practices need to be translated to an operational level. How else can you be an actor in such societal fields? Only Okwui Enwezor manages to translate theory into practice in his text The Production of Social Space as Artwork: Protocols of Community in the Work of Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes.

It is a rich and intelligent text that combines insights from social studies, post-colonialism, community practice and collectivism to describe the political and cultural situation in Senegal. Situated in this complex framework he describes the practice and methodologies his case-studies Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes have developed. It is a theoretically complex and layered story combined with a very insightful, hands-on description of subversive collective practices. In all honesty: one the best texts I’ve read.

Therefore, my advice is to borrow the book, make a big coloured photo copy enlargement of the cover and put it on your wall. Photocopy Enwezors essay and lock yourself in the room with the poster and read it to last word! Inspiration guaranteed!

Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (editors), Collectivism after Modernism: The art of Social Imagination after 1945, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-4462-9
Authors: Jelena Stojanovic, Reiko Tomii, Chris Gilbert, Jesse Drew, Rachel Weiss, Ruben Gallo, Alan W. Moore, Okwui Enwezor, Irina Aristarkhova, Brian Holmes.

Stealing beauty

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam — Busy, busy weeks. But I have to squeeze in this article since the art work in question is one of the funniest and most intelligent works I have seen the last months.

Stealing beauty is a 20 minutes video art work by the Israel-born artist Guy Ben-Ner. It’s a parody on typical sitcom soap opera’s on television, staged in different IKEA stores over the world. We follow the fictive lives of Ben-Ner, his wife and their two children as they struggle with problems that are drenged with moral and cultural issues. The camera is put up without authorisation of the IKEA stores and people are walking by, looking into the camera and intervening in the imagined lifes of the Ben-Ners, while price tags change from euro to dollar to yen.

The real Ben-Ner and his family themselves have migrated to the United States and in a very comical way the video issues problems of migration, of trying to fit in, trying to adapt to a Western way of living. “Honey, I’m hohooome”, is the first thing Ben says when he arrives in an IKEA living room. But their foreign accents, and their hilarious comments on the peculiarities of Western-American culture reveal that they don’t fit in precisely. References in their texts to Marxism give a hint, for instance when the children yell “children of all nations unite” when they are arguing with their father. The want for dissolving into a collective, symbolized by the globalized IKEA consumer ideal, is apparently stronger than maintaining your own identity.

For more information, please check this great article in the New York Magazine Art Review.  

A four minute trailer of the video:

How to move a city

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – To whom it concerns: Icsid (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) is organizing in partnership with the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation (SVID) and the community of Gellivare, the City move interdesign workshop dealing with the relocation and moving of people and societies.

The workshop will take place in the Northern part of Sweden and concerns the fact that heavy mining is threatening small cities to sink away. The workshop will deal with sustainability, urban planning issues, but also aims at exploring community practices. There’s an open call for architects, urban planners, artists, designers etc; application period closes the 31st of July.

Underneath a beautiful video of the moving of the Swedish mining town of Malmberget:

A discussion about the future of art in public space

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – Great things in life don’t last. We’ve learned it last week when, after two decades of depression, the Dutch soccer team finally shook off the superb style of the old Dutch masters and defeated France and Italy with stunning postmodern efficiency. We saw it yesterday and learned that the new style had no more than a one-week lifespan… and the Dutch team lost against Russia… Despite the odds, Anna Tilroe, curator of the Sonsbeek 2008 exhibition, decided to organize this year’s edition around the theme ‘Grandeur’. But will this greatness last?

I invite you to join a discussion about the future of art in public space.

Sonsbeek traditionally stands for the largest outdoor exhibition in the Netherlands, a legacy it owns largely to the legendary edition of 1971 that presented the first land and performance art of that time. It sought to extend and challenge the barriers of art: its location, the white cube, the relation to its environment and audience, and its presupposed autonomy and universality.

Whereas the 1971 edition was the first one to leave the Sonsbeek park and integrate the art works into the city of Arnhem, Tilroe has decided to revert this dispersion and return to the park. Alongside, the tradition of examining the relational and site-specific aspects of art has been abandoned as well. The works seem to be out-of-place, self-contained entities that bare little or no relation to the environment, its historicity, nor its visitors.

Zooming out of the exhibition and looking at art in public space from a larger perspective, I see more problems. The public domain traditionally represented a highly dynamic place where opinions and world-views were published and public discussions were situated. That quality is diminishing, a process that is caused by a number of factors: the privatization of public space for one (read more about that in this article on Point of view, by Janna Holmstedt), the commodification of public art works and, above all, the gradual dispersion of the public debate itself into new and more vital sites and media such as weblogs, internet forums, schools, community centers, comments sections of news papers and art initiatives in neighborhoods.

Therefore I ask you the following question: What is the future of art in public space?
You are invited to join a discussion in the comments section of this article.


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