Brenda Tempelaar

brenda @ brendatempelaar . nl

Brenda Tempelaar studied Fine Arts at AKV | St. Joost Breda, Artistic Research at the University of Amsterdam and was a participant of the Jan van Eyck academy in Maastricht. She is the editor–in–chief of The Long Tail of Art and editor of the public programme at P/////AKT Amsterdam.

Her research focuses on independent art production.

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Photo: Mondriaan Fund

We flow downstream like a stream should do
Even through crisis – Rory Pilgrim, The Undercurrent

ISBN: 978-94-92852-16-8
Graphic design by Lesley Moore
144 pages
17 x 24 cm

Texts by Sacha Bronwasser, Maarten Buser, Brenda Tempelaar, Sophia Zürcher, Mirjam Beerman, Eelco van der Lingen

The Responsive W is a proposal for a scenography to be executed in the exhibition Prospects & Concepts. The proposal consists of zig-zag black marks in a white space. From a conceptual point of view, I am interested in this scenography because it’s deceptively simple. What looks like walls are actually pieces of branding, that fit precisely into the void left by fictional artworks. I immediately pictured over 60 artists using, relocating and rotating the objects to highlight their individual requirements, and at the same time, create a shared element. Inspiration for the design comes from the graphic identity of the Whitney Museum in New York.

The Responsive W is a proposal for a scenography to be executed in the exhibition Prospects & Concepts. The proposal consists of zig-zag black marks in a white space. From a conceptual point of view, I am interested in this scenography because it’s deceptively simple. What looks like walls are actually pieces of branding, that fit precisely into the void left by fictional artworks. I immediately pictured over 60 artists using, relocating and rotating the objects to highlight their individual requirements, and at the same time, create a shared element. Inspiration for the design comes from the graphic identity of the Whitney Museum in New York.

When Experimental jetset released the graphic identity in 2013, they noted that it was unlike most of their projects in the sense that they would not be designing the museum’s output. Graphic designers would follow their instructions to create posters and invitations. Experimental Jetset expressed their hopes that future designers working with the graphic identity they developed for them, would be able to use it as a platform for their own authorship, and to leave their fingerprint within it. After all, a graphic identity could and should never be a machine in which one simply inputs a title and an image, and out rolls an invitation. It will always be human process, in which the aesthetic and conceptual decisions made by the graphic designer play an essential role, a role that can never be skipped or erased.

Hey, I wondered whether this ruleset could be transformed into something spatial, something in which an infinite amount of fingerprints could be left behind, but unfortunately, the proposal was rejected by the curator of the show.

Het Mondriaan Fonds organiseert de tentoonstelling Prospects & Concepts jaarlijks om de zichtbaarheid van beginnende beeldend kunstenaars een extra impuls te geven. Door de gelijktijdigheid met Art Rotterdam krijgen kunstprofessionals en verzamelaars maar ook een brede groep geïnteresseerden de mogelijkheid met het werk van talentvolle kunstenaars kennis te maken. Kunstenaars die eerder aan de tentoonstelling deelnamen ontvingen vaak positieve respons wat kon leiden tot aankopen, aanbiedingen van galleries, uitnodigingen voor tentoonstellingen, opdrachten en andere interessante contacten. Bovendien is de tentoonstelling ook op te vatten als een openbare verantwoording voor de werkwijze van het Mondriaan Fonds. Bij de tentoonstelling wordt ook een publicatie gemaakt en een publieksprogramma georganiseerd.

Initially, Experimental Jetset’s only wanted to give the Whitney museum a set of five instructions in return for their money:

1. divide the available area in four successive parts
2. draw a line in the first space, from the left upper corner to the right bottom corner
3. draw a line in the second space, from the left bottom corner to the right upper corner 4. draw a line in the third space, from the left upper corner to the right bottom corner
5. draw a line in the fourth space, from the left bottom corner to the right upper corner

When you invited me to think about a scenographic intervention in the exhibition, I thought along these black lines, and I had to think of an excerpt in the documentation provided on the Whitney’s W: the white background represents nothing. The black mark represents something. It’s the clearest expression of mankind leaving traces in a given environment and thereby irreversibly altering this environment. And, as it happens, the zig-zag also resembles a capital M.

As a visitor of the exhibition, I wonder why white walls are still the point of departure when it comes to showing upcoming artists. Therefore the proposal I sent you consists of black marks. Because of their flexible nature and modular design, the black marks can be used to form an alternative for the workspace that was part of previous editions of the exhibition. The workspace represents the idea of process, of art in its raw state. It’s presented as an addition, secondary to the main programme. But in an exhibition like this, who decides on the hierarchy between primary and secondary architecture?

Graag informeer ik je dat de hal heel hoog is (goed om rekening mee te houden i.v.m. de akoestiek) en de kleur van de wanden wordt betongrijs.

You think it’s catchy, the part where I question white walls for the presentation of upcoming artists. It resonates with your plans to paint all the walls of the exhibition grey, to match the floors. Contrary to previous curators in your position, you are emphasising that this exhibition is not part of the fair but an exhibition in the same building. But painting the walls is a big commitment. Are you committing to the articulation of an alternative for the gallery and the art market?

I have given this subject a lot of thought and I am curious about your findings, because I know that it can be difficult to negotiate between demands and interests.

Because both for artists and for curators, negotiating is an interesting game. The level of success, for any negotiator, depends on your ability and willingness to walk way and take another deal. Before arriving at the bargaining table, wise negotiators spend significant time identifying their best alternative to a negotiated agreement, and take steps to improve it. Secondly, it’s important for negotiations to acknowledge difficulties. Difficult feelings, like frustration, might be behind the message without you knowing.

I also learned that people in negotiations sometimes bet about how future events will unfold. For example, if you doubt that someone can finish the job in let’s say three months, you can agree on a penalty for late completion or reward for early completion. If they truly believe their claims, they should have no problem accepting such terms.

Now I am thinking about the penalties and rewards curators and artists could establish among themselves whenever one of them or both are unable to uphold their parts of the agreement. After all, a committee of experts decided that the following applies to my work:

“de artistieke prestaties van de kunstenaar zullen zich naar verwachting ontwikkelen tot een betekenisvolle bijdrage aan de hedendaagse beeldende kunst in Nederland. Belangrijk daarbij is de samenhang tussen de artistieke uitgangspunten van de kunstenaar en de wijze waarop deze tot uitdrukking komen in het werk. Daarbij kan onder andere worden gekeken naar de inhoudelijke betekenis van het concept, de verbeeldingskracht van de kunstenaar en de beheersing van de gekozen middelen. Verder wordt bekeken hoe werk en opvattingen zich verhouden tot de historische en actuele context”.

So if we thought of these terms as mutual promises, could you still decline my proposal?

De opbouwperiode is kort en het aantal deelnemers is erg groot (67 kunstenaars). De inrichting van de tentoonstelling wordt gedaan door de curator. Op haar aanwijzingen wordt het installeren van de werken verzorgd door een professionele hangploeg van het Mondriaan Fonds. Zij zullen daarbij zo veel mogelijk rekening houden met jullie technische instructies die je op het bruikleenformulier kunt aangeven.

While you were talking, I was thinking. I was thinking about the consequences of this plot twist. First I thought that it made my proposal irrelevant, because it was based on black marks in a white space. You know, the white background represents nothing, the black mark represents something. I’m not sure what grey represents, but I guess it must be the space in between nothing and something. Both absent and present, at the same time. White is unsaid. Black is a statement. Grey is a statement unsaid.

But who is looking for a statement here anyway? You explained that an art fair is not the right environment for a meta perspective. The audience will be overwhelmed by an overdose of information and it won’t be understood or valued.

So we settle on a form that both of us are pleased with. You call it an artist talk. You’re happy because my position in the exhibition is finally settled. And I’m happy because it opens up new possibilities for my proposal. Moving forward, the exhibition is finally taking shape and everybody starts to think about the final form. So much so that from this moment on, we never speak again.

Hierbij stuur ik je informatie over de catalogus die zal verschijnen bij Prospects & Concepts 2019. Alle deelnemers krijgen daarin 1 afbeelding en een door een kunsthistoricus geschreven korte tekst over het (getoonde) werk. Deze tekst krijg je te lezen voor het naar de ontwerpers gaat. De curator zal een inleidende tekst schrijven.

Een enigszins ruime selectie is fijn, zodat de ontwerpers iets te kiezen hebben.

Art historian
Brenda Tempelaar kijkt met een filosofische blik naar de kunstwereld. Ze onderzoekt wat mensen als vanzelfsprekend accepteren en voor waar aannemen en trekt die aannames in haar werk in twijfel. Daarbij richt ze zich vooral op de plekken waarin kunst wordt tentoongesteld en de manier waarop die betekenis geven aan objecten. Die betekenis kan beïnvloed worden door de locatie of de opbouw van een tentoonstelling, door het beleid of de typografie van een instelling, door de manier waarop werk wordt gearchiveerd of bijvoorbeeld door de software die wordt gebruikt in museum-apps. ‘Mijn doel is om twijfel te veroorzaken, door zowel kritisch als poëtisch te zijn. Ik geloof dat die twijfel nodig is om nieuwe perspectieven te vinden op de veranderlijkheid van tentoonstellingsruimtes, kunstwerken, geschiedenis, innovatie, kunstenaars, curatoren en publiek.’ Voor Tempelaar zijn kunsttentoonstellingen en kunstpublicaties dan ook belangrijke media om op te reflecteren. Haar werk op Prospects & Concepts is een lezing en video-rendering waarin ze de huisstijl, met name de grafische lijn van de letter W, analyseert die het ontwerpcollectief Experimental Jetset ontwierp voor het Whitney Museum in New York. De ontwerpers van Experimental Jetset lieten zich inspireren door een tekst van Donna De Salvo, chief curator en deputy Director for Programs in het Whitney Museum of American Art: “It would be much easier to present the history of art as a simplistic line – but that’s not the Whitney”. This sentence immediately conjured up an image, a shape. It also begged the question: if the history of art should not be seen as a simplistic, straight line – then how should it be seen instead?[…]”

It’s funny how the art historian’s description of The Responsive W focusses on the analysis of the graphic line, which is interesting but not really the point. The point is that I wanted to make a mark.

To visualise that in the exhibition catalogue, I’m browsing a folder called 2018_Responsive_W. Subfolders contain a combined total of over 20.000 rendered JPEGs. The option of forwarding it to the designers, entirely, crosses my mind. It’s truly remarkable, the amount of people involved in the artistic choices to be made prior to this moment. As if everybody’s fingerprint is already on the proposal before it’s even executed.

Why dwell in the Blue Mountain
I laugh without answering
Silence of water and blossoming flowers

World beyond the red dust of living
Li Po (701 – 762)

One summer’s day I am talking to Ron Bernstein, a friend of Ine Schröder’s, on the Annex site of the Van Eyck academie in Maastricht. We are talking about Schröder, who like him was a resident at the academy years ago, and meanwhile we are looking at garden sprinklers. As the water from the perforated nozzles revolves in circles, it forms a hedge that moves systematically across the flower garden. We express our appreciation of the sculptural gesture that such sprinklers can make. What makes them sculptural is the idea that sprinklers are planted in their surroundings without being influenced by them. They are created by a product designer to keep on making the same pre-programmed movement. They are close to the ground, but are unable to interact with nature in the way that living organisms do. Only through human intervention can sprinklers be set so that the ground receives no more water than it can take. 

A museum is a similar system. It always ‘works’ according to a fixed pattern – but does it know when it should let nature take its course? And, with the spluttering sound of garden sprinklers in the background, a conversation about Schröder, museum intuition, and time follows. 

Schröder was the kind of artist that learned by doing, impulsively and without any planning. In between her explosive, creative power and the museum’s thoughtfulness is the unbridgeable phenomenon of the museum’s production time. This is a period of some three years that covers the contemplative run-up to an exhibition on Schröder’s intuitive way of working, in which it sometimes took her just a few minutes to make something. She was a mystical individualist who was not guided by events in society, and was able to put her own artistry in perspective. Unlike many other contemporaries she had no high expectations of her career. She was not hostile, or paranoid. Rather than quietly hoping that people around her could do anything for her, she often literally cared for others. She was realistic in her expectations of everyday life, including her work process. She understood the flexibility of an artistic thought, and when the energy of an action had run out. She knew that the world was not waiting for her to do anything, and that she was doing things no- one had ever asked her to do. Rather than lug her work around from gallery to gallery, or push it in any direction, she followed a particular current that she referred to in her sketchbooks as ‘vital energy’: 

‘Loving small things – people, animals, plants – maybe it’s proliferation. Preferably not, but if there’s no other way, I’ll try to adapt, like I’m again doing now. Always a process of discovering myself, always probing whether or not I’ll be happy.’ 

This probing of happiness was not some figure of speech, but was actually a material and physical affair involving wood or fabric, although it could also involve sitting at a table for days on end, with a pencil in her hand and a piece of paper in front of her. In her studio, Schröder sought happiness by seeking the resistance of tangible materials, as if she were using gravity and the passing of time to test her state of mind. In that sense her working process was a daily exploration, in search of a balance between the manageable contours of her studio and the boundlessness of the outside world. After each test, successful or not, the results of her search flowed back out through the apertures in the wooden palisades. Her objects were never made to bear the burden of a final statement. 

Given that energy flow, there was nothing radical or rigorous about Schröder’s decision not to keep her works intact. It was a consequence of her sober lifestyle, and her desire for new energy was quite simply greater than her desire for fame or possessions. This attitude to work was the basis for the paradox that the museum created in this exhibition: because Schröder did not seek the limelight, the museum is doing it instead. Her practice did not exude any particular museum-like quality, did not prove itself on a large or international scale, and was called to a halt early on by the temporariness of life on earth. The museum wants to elaborate on this relatively short life, because Schröder’s work so effortlessly describes the present, and has interfaces with the experiences of young artists. Here the museum seeks a balance between responsibility for the work and desire to translate it into contemporary terms. And, in the Van Eyck Academy garden, I too am looking for the point at which her footsteps cease and mine begin – for casting Schröder in a particular light is like running a flower garden without having green fingers. I want to water her, but how can you tell how much water she needs? 

If written in Dutch, Li Po’s poem Red dust could have been a page from one of Schröder’s sketchbooks. It touches the essence of her note on the presence or absence of happiness, and offers a glimpse of her worldly-wise philosophy of life, close to nature and unadapted to the standards that a society imposes on itself. It’s no coincidence that Po was a Taoist: Schröder’s life and work echo this ancient natural philosophy, even though she herself may not have been aware of it. 

Tao is a nameless thing, It means a path or a way, and is described as the origin and the destination in one. Yet it is not bound to any form, and can only be approximately understood. For Taoists it is important to love the things around you by abandoning any attempt to control them. You don’t interfere in other people’s future plans, you have no opinion about the weather, and you don’t try to come across as an indispensable part of the whole. 

Modern interpretations of this philosophy are marked by a detached attitude to life in which your personal happiness is less dependent on material things, status and expectations. Although detachment sounds like a prohibition, it is in fact an instruction. Letting go should lead to a life lived to the full, in which the individual merges into the natural order of the world. Although Taoism is about detachment, its challenge is not to throw everything of value overboard. It calls on people to accept that all facets of life – both material and immaterial – are quite simply interwoven. So a detached life does not by definition mean living without company, or without cherishing material things, but aiming for a life in the full awareness that there is always something going on that influences your state of mind. There are always social, political or economic factors that make it possible – or impossible – to cherish people or things. 

The increasing interest in the Western world in beliefs such as Taoism is connected with the impact Schröder’s archive has had on the curators of this exhibition and a new generation of artists and art-lovers: we seek a role model with a sense of intuition. 

In one of the few films in her archives, her intuition is just beneath the surface. It is a recording of a performance by Schröder in Puen d’r Vuurmond, sjat in Maastricht. In the film we can see her moving briskly back and forth between knotted pieces of fabric, string and other materials, while an actor declaims a monologue. She pegs a piece of fabric to a washing line, then looks at it doubtfully and rather unhappily for some seconds. Just as she is about to turn away, she decides on the spur of the moment to give the fabric a flick of her hand. The piece of fabric remains there, folded over the washing line, and Schröder is already moving on to her next action. In her sketchbooks she prepared herself for such actions by noting in strong pencil strokes and keywords what was to be done: 

stretch string
fold up piles of fabric

toss over shoulder
peg to washing line
sweep together bits of wood

The instructions that can be seen in Schröder’s notebooks, photographs and films were intended for herself. But her numerous tips are now the last hope for a new generation that, through Schröder, seeks to come closer to nature and leave earthly concerns such as fame, fortune, success and power behind, in return for a sense of balance that is hard to put into words.

What is striking here is the difference between the time when Schröder was doing this and the present day. She cast off pressure to perform at a time when she could not create a digital footprint for herself, or piggyback on art institutions’ promotion machines from her isolated studio. She was not financially dependent on her art, but only because she embraced the relatively meagre conditions of a life-with-less as her reality. 

There are many arguments that can explain the pursuit of such a simple life, ranging from spirituality and health to striking a better balance between life and work, financial stability or reducing stress and consumption. What such desires have in common is that they are based on a wish to get everything out of life, while having as few possessions as possible. Schröder was no stranger to such a wish. Although she gathered a great deal of material around her, it was interchangeable and of indefinable value. Once she had completed a work, she would ask herself if there was any point in keeping it physically present. It would stand on a shelf in her studio for a while, so that she could look at it and thing about whether she still felt inspired by it. But her usual answer to this question is easy to guess, if you compare the wealth of her archives with the rare event of coming across physically surviving works of hers. 

Not only can the general public and artists learn something from Tao, but so can the Bonnefantenmuseum when reflecting on itself as a place where objects are kept and displayed. A thought experiment about attachment thus suddenly makes us aware that the Bonnefantenmuseum is a product of Western culture and history; and the West has more than once been accused by the Eastern world of a lack of access to true knowledge. Perhaps this is why we are drawn to Taoism as we seek a new relationship with the museum. Detachment could raise us to a higher level as viewers of art, given the three kinds of people that Taoism roughly distinguishes: those who will do anything to survive; at a slightly higher level, those who go into raptures about art; and at the top a small group of people who are able to detach themselves. 

Although Tao is all-embracing, and hence embraces the museum, Taoists may be offended by a comparison between the two. Yet I find it interesting to think about the museum as a nameless place. No more historical ballast, no vanity, no overweening desires – for Taoists are also quite clear when it comes to desires. If you have no desires, you see their mystery; if you do have desires, you see their form. And I think this is the very question the museum should be asking itself: is it the mystery of Ine Schröder that it desires, or her form? 

The analogy between Tao and the museum can be taken further. Tao is unutterable, and if you talk about the path, or the way, you do not name the path itself. Is what you call the museum not really the museum? Does the word ‘museum’ only express a movement – going with the flow of genuine reality? Physical objects are playing an ever smaller role in the life of the museum, which in twenty- five years’s time may no longer even exist in the physical form that we now know. So it is not so hard to imagine the museum in the transition from form to mystery, as an unused, inactive void – because you can often only see what is happening when nothing is happening any more. 

With Tao as its compass and Schröder’s archive as its guide, the museum is embarking on a transformation. From a rational tradition we are now appealing to the intuition of the museum machine. With Schröder’s explosiveness in mind, the curators of this exhibition are trying to postpone or even avoid a judgement about their own actions, in an attempt to make Schröder’s impulsiveness tangible. 

The museum is thus asking itself a fundamental question not just about its own form, but also about the future of curating. The curators of the exhibition will soon be drawing their ground plans, in which like practiced Taoists they try to let themselves follow their consciences, without regard to rules or conventions. They are going with the flow, which in Tao is expressed by the oxymoron wu- wei: action without action. The concept expresses the realisation that movement and transformation are crucial to a fulfilling life, but that rest is also always required. 

Taoists use water to emphasise the notion of wu-wei – for water always yields, taking on the shape of the container, and so is open to interpretation. It is unpresumptuous, it is gentle, and yet it wears away mountains. It feeds plants, and enables fruits and flowers to mature. And with this idea in mind, I cannot help thinking that tomorrow’s curator will be a swimmer – someone who does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone. 

A swimmer cannot really describe what he does to keep afloat. 
I find a starting point for the notion of the curator as a swimmer when I visit Schröder’s home and studio, where her partner Ben now lives. Hanging above a built-in bookcase are three of her coloured wooden mural palisades. They vary somewhat in height, and I’m struck by how the objects are distorted by the prominent perspective. When I ask Ben about this, he immediately takes one of the works off the wall. He turns it round to reveal a number scribbled on the work in pencil. Schröder often did this on the back of her works: a number indicating a particular distance from the ground. This was supposedly the ideal height at which to hang it, and served as instructions for entering her world of spatiality, lightness and transparency. But Ben, who often built he heavier structures, feels free to ignore these instructions. And why not? For it is hard to think of Schröder – who never judged, and who embraced her own unreasonableness as a working method – as someone who would burden her survivors with a constricting approach to a number she had noted down so hastily. 

And yet it is very tempting to rectify such instructions in the museum, for all the alterations made by the museum are held under a magnifying glass. But something that doesn’t bother Ben at home is a full-fledged art-history discipline and a new museology that seek to see such exhibitions in terms of an undervalued woman, so that the museum should display as little authority as possible in order to make clear how much value it attaches to rectification of history. But perhaps this keenness to obey Schröder’s instructions is unjustified – for even her mural palisades are hung at the supposedly ‘wrong’ height, almost squashed up against the ceiling, it turns out that her work by no means has to depend on her own instructions. 

Schröder’s instructions can also be seen as invitations to weigh desire for form against desire for energy. If you hammer a nail into wood, you may loosen another strip. You can’t just hang up the fabric without making a hole in it. If as a curator you are willing to acknowledge the unreasonableness of your own choices, then conflicting timelines – such as the time when Schröder threw a piece of fabric over a washing line and the time when the Bonnefantenmuseum produces an exhibition about her – need not rule each other out. Complementary and independent, the two methods form reality, just like light and dark, shape and amorphousness, yin and yang. 

The two timelines reflect the many paradoxes in life. Life is easy to understand, and yet no-one understands it; people are able to act by not acting, to know by not knowing, and to give expert answers by keeping silent. Just like Schröder, the museum can lead from behind. 

Translation by Kevin Cook
Published in Uncorrected Proof, 2019. ISBN: 978-90-72251-79-4, commissioned by Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht. 

In 2013, Experimental Jetset presented a new graphic identity for the Whitney Museum in New York. The concept was based on a zig-zag line that could be used flexibly for the museum’s graphic output. One of the things that the museum produced on the basis of Experimental Jetset’s branding proposal, is a puzzle to be sold in the museum shop. This sculpture is a functional enlargement of the puzzle in the museum shop.

The Exhibition Tower is an exhibition catalogue that comprises four exhibitions and an editorial essay. The exhibitions took place in a studio of the Jan van Eyck academy in Maastricht, in 2016. Participating artists are Stéphanie Lagarde, Graham Kelly, GVN908 and Golnar Abbasi. The artists were invited to present their work in a scale model of Lafayette Anticipations in Paris. The essay, called Animating the Ghost Sonata, links the renovation of a Parisian warehouse into a private art foundation to a screenplay by August Strindberg in which the household cook poisons the upperclass inhabitants of a three-story house.

This text was written for Timo Demollin’s solo exhibition ‘Constant Continuity’ at Punt WG Amsterdam 2017.

Before writing the mark up for the museum’s website, the developer drew up a grid with boxes inside of it. Each box is a container again, for placeholder images and “Lorum Ipsum” paragraphs. Later on, they will be replaced by the actual content retrieved from the database. The grid exemplifies the mise en abyme of HO2006/1-169, a segment of the museum’s collection consisting of 168 boxed artefacts, stored on shelves inside the museum depot. His grid helped the developer to lay the foundation for a code that frames HO2006/1-169 in a digital display. His code becomes a distribution system that covers the space in between the database and the public. 

The developer needs to decide what names to give to the boxes in his grid. This is important, as some elements in code language are more semantic than others. A <header> element for example, differs from a <div> in the way that both the browser and the developer know what the <header> might be, and where it goes on the page. A <div> can be anything. If the developer would only use non-semantic elements, the Internet would become an exclusive encounter of hypertext documents interpreted by browsers. They would only be displaying arbitrary content to the user, beyond the developer’s control. The reusable and general <div> short for division doesn’t seem like an attractive choice. A <header> mimics the top of a page, whereas a <div> is self-referential and difficult to control. It makes the <header> more likely to appear on a museum’s website than a <div>. Should the developer go with the semantic option, it would reflect the bureaucratic systems of the institution, and enhance the authorship that the museum has tried to avoid. In digital and physical realms of the museum, semantic or meaningful distribution systems became prejudiced devices that broadcast the argument that cultural objects are important enough to maintain. 

The <div> on the other hand, has a voice of its own, communicating all kinds of potential meanings, going around the institution’s preferred frame. But even the <div> doesn’t leave the object untouched. Whether the developer choses the specific arrangement of the museum or an unspecified one, every distribution of HO2006/1-169 exposes it to a reckless moment that challenges its current condition: when a museum’s data is siphoned off little by little, the experience is always transformative.

Our relationships with objects are built displacement upon displacement, until the illusion of some sort of coherent trajectory rises in our minds. In the case of HO2006/1-169, the object travelled between exhibition spaces in wooden frames that divide the imagery into pragmatic segments, matching the dimensions of the truck for efficient transportation. Upon their arrival, the pieces were carefully re-edited onto the museum walls before showing them to an audience. This process of singling out and joining back together reminds of the tray in which the objects from the database are collected and delivered at the front office. The tray is part of an automated storage and retrieval system, commonly used in warehousing logistics but a relative novelty in museums. It’s easy to see why its use is appealing for museums, as it maximizes storage space and cleverly replaces the human hand. But as a consequence of reducing personal involvement, this system doesn’t raise self-critical questions, nor does it reflect on its raison d’être. Instead, it preserves the storage room as much as it fails to carry it over into the future. It’s a high-tech futuristic system, used for an ancient principle of preservation. This discord between preservation and neglect is further amplified by the very nature of the inventory itself: HO2006/1-169 is a set of woodblocks now muted objects, once turning every printed copy into a representation of the referents. In prints, the narrative is cut from the object and travels in unexpected ways, without supervision of the institution. 

This confronts the developer with a difficult task. If he starts to feel like he is losing control, the museum will fear that things might disappear, which is exactly what can happen to H02006/1-169. It can withdraw from the public after boxing up on itself. Its audience will be redirected to representations, mediated by tangible and digital containers within the museum’s infrastructure.

It is in moments of temporal meaninglessness, like the developer’s grid, that the question emerges whether we should spend so much time defending the value of semantic, meaningful elements, at the cost of the non-semantic, meaningless ones. Why do we assume that title cards stick closer to the meaning of the object than inventory numbers, when all language, coded or not, is a trace of a calculated move? Every conversion from one domain into another can have a transformative effect on the narrative of an object. And if that is the case, it becomes impossible to store and retrieve without acknowledging the possibility of deception and recovery; of meaning lost and gained in every kind of transfer.

Als Lorenzo Benedetti de collectieve kunstenaar gerlach en koop uitnodigt voor een tentoonstelling in de Appel, naaien zij de rechterzak van zijn spijkerbroek dicht. Het is september 2015 als de broekzak Untitled wordt genoemd en wordt opgenomen in de titellijst van de tentoonstelling Choses tuées, net als Verminderde ruimte; een werk bestaand uit een spijkerbroek waarvan één pijp binnenstebuiten in de ander is gekeerd. In de maanden die volgen schudt De Appel na een bestuurlijk conflict op zijn grondvesten en staat Benedetti met een dichtgenaaide broekzak op straat. 

De vleugelvullende collectieopstelling die nu te zien is in het Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht omvat ook Verminderde ruimte. Het werk ligt midden in een zaal, op de houten museumvloer. Tijdens de opening schuifelt de Maastrichtse kunstscène er omheen, terwijl gerlach en koop de felicitaties in ontvangst nemen. Bij wijze van uitzondering richtten zij de tentoonstelling in met collectiestukken, werken in bruikleen en werken die zij zelf maakten. Ook Lorenzo Benedetti reisde voor de gelegenheid af naar de Maasstad en hij heeft mijn onverdeelde aandacht. Zou hij Untitled dragen? Ik zie hem niet zoeken naar een verdwaald muntje voor de garderobe, of onopvallend een inkomend telefoongesprek wegdrukken. Zijn broekzak blijft leeg, wat ook toeval kan zijn. Tussen de twee spijkerbroeken van gerlach en koop zit een groot verschil dat je er niet meteen aan af ziet. De broek van Benedetti was zijn getuige, toen het directeurschap van de Appel hem ontglipte. Ondertussen ontsnapte Verminderde ruimte aan de commotie – na de tentoonstelling weer omwikkeld met bubbelplastic, zo stel ik me voor. De spijkerbroek werd door de Appel verpakt alsof het een kwetsbaar en waardevol voorwerp is, terwijl de afgestikte broekzak van Benedetti ruw werd blootgesteld aan de grillen van de tijd. Tijdens de opening van de tentoonstelling herbergt het museum ze allebei, maar de één als kledingstuk en de ander als kunst. De titel van de tentoonstelling – een dubbelpunt – beschrijft woordloos het verschil tussen de collectie en haar randgebied.

Verminderde ruimte ligt naast een langwerpig, wit blok waarvan de hoeken een kleine uitsparing hebben. Het ontwerp lijkt op een sokkel en werd in de jaren zestig gemaakt door William Graatsma. Ze hebben iets van elkaar weg, het blok en die spijkerbroek: aan allebei ontbreekt een stukje en toch kunnen we ze in gedachte makkelijk afmaken. Want sokkel of spijkerbroek; ons collectieve geheugen biedt ze puntgaaf aan. Een museumcollectie brengt zulke voorwerpen samen, maar ook daar worden er hoekjes uitgespaard, of excessen aanvaard. Wie daar net als gerlach en koop op let zal de banaliteit zien van de dingen die in het museum tot kunst worden verheven. Het gaapt je aan vanaf een lange witte muur, waar Lily van der Stokker een paar blauwe strepen trok – dik en dun, verticaal, horizontaal en allemaal even recht – om zich in twee hoeken van het museum in een klein, handgeschreven commentaar over de hele kunstgeschiedenis te buigen: ‘we hebben het niet gemakkelijk’, staat er. Niet gemakkelijk (1993) was een onuitgevoerde schets voor een muurschildering op kantoor, maar werd de roep van een maker in een tentoonstelling over het kunstwerk als publiek bezit. In een doodlopende zaal van het museum wordt de jeremiade opgevoerd die het kunstenaarschap met zich meebrengt. Van der Stokker heeft het net gehaald. 

Bestaat Niet gemakkelijk pas echt als gerlach en koop de schets vertalen naar een muurschildering? Bestaat kunst pas als iemand het je aanwijst? : wijst telkens iets aan en vraagt dan of er kunst aanwezig is, zoals bij een werk van Marcel Broodthaers. De gastcuratoren beweren dat er een tank te zien is in een brok mergel, dat in een geleende toonkast van het Gemeentehuis Sint-Gillis ligt. En als ik me over het glas buig zie ik hoeveel de rechthoekige uitsnede bovenop lijkt op het mangat in het dak van een tank. Hoewel Tank (1967 – 1970) aan Marcel Broodthaers wordt toegeschreven werd het mergel bewerkt door een kind tot het op een tank leek. Broodthaers ruilde het met het kind voor een foto. Het stokje dat als een loop in het mergel is gestoken wordt door gerlach en koop vergeleken met een foto van Broodthaers, waarop te zien is hoe een kind een stokje van de grond raapt. Tank (1967 – 1970) werd geplaatst in de negentiende-eeuwse vitrinekast uit de geboorteplaats van Broodthaers, waarvan het toonvlak bekleed is met groen vilt. De toonkast vestigt museale aandacht op een stukje mergel, maar neemt de appropriatie van Broodthaers ook decennia mee terug in de tijd. De curator van het museum, Paula van den Bosch, zou hiermee haar hand hebben overspeeld, maar geldt dat ook voor een appropriatie door een collectieve kunstenaar? Liever beschouw ik hun ingrepen als onderdeel van een kunstenaarspraktijk. Het excessieve curatorschap van gerlach en koop pakt de collectie juist samen als een losbladig systeem waar je denken in verstrikt raakt, door Van den Bosch als volgt beschreven op één van de muren: ‘ieder kunstwerk is als een zich vertakkende rivier zelf een beginpunt van allerlei denkbeeldige verbindingen.’

Een verbinding in de kunst leek mij iets onomstotelijks; iets dat wel of niet bestaat. Maar in de achterste zaal van het museum, bij Winterlandschap met vogelval (1631) van Pieter Brueghel de Jonge, maak ik kennis met een denkbeeldige variant. Volgens de tekst betreft het een kopie, toegeschreven aan de zoon van Bruegel de Oude, zijn atelier of zijn navolgers. Het oubollige doek lijkt verdwaald in een tentoonstelling over conceptuele kunst. Zou het weer om een appropriatie gaan, zoals bij Tank? Een kopie was in de tijd van Brueghel lang niet de auteurscrisis die het was voor iemand als Broodthaers. Nee, de crisis zit in mij, en dat blijkt uit een vraag die mijn conceptuele voorstellingsvermogen doet exploderen: wat zou er gebeuren als alle eigenaren van zo’n 127 kopieën zouden besluiten tot een bruikleencarrousel, zodat je, als je na een jaar weer terugkomt in het museum, voor een ander schilderij staat? De carrousel komt onmiddellijk in beweging. Rechts onderin het ijstafereel van Brueghel is een vogelval afgebeeld. Vogels pikken met hun snavels in de sneeuw, naar wat gestrooid graan. Boven hen staat een schuine plank op scherp. Een kind speelt vlakbij een wak in het ijs en op de voorgrond voorspellen raven de willekeur van de naderende dood. Ik ben net zo nietsvermoedend als de vogels, maar ook als kijker kun je ieder moment het deksel op je neus krijgen.

Een leven lang val je ten prooi aan willekeur, overgeleverd aan keuzes van anderen die het leven vormgeven. Een onbemiddeld bestaan is een utopie die zich hooguit ophoudt in een broekzak. Daar vind je nog een vrijplaats voor de alleenheerser. Daar kunnen dingen nog bewaard of kwijtgemaakt worden zonder opgaaf van redenen. Iedere collectieopstelling heeft zo’n broekzak, een depot waarin dingen achterblijven. Maar : stelt daar tegenover dat een stang van de parkeerplaats juist wel op zaal terechtkwam. Net als Niet gemakkelijk bevindt het zich in de zaal waarachter de Maas onophoudelijk stroomt. Het vormt er een overgang tussen de verstilling van een collectie en de beweeglijkheid van de buitenwereld. Na : zal de stang niet plotseling worden toegevoegd aan de collectie, maar worden teruggezet op de parkeerplaats. Bezoekers zullen hun fietsen er hardhandig aan vastketenen. Benedetti zal naar huis gaan en spijkerbroeken dragen met zakken waar hij iets in kan stoppen. Het museum zal terug in het gareel komen, maar tussen de collectie voor en na : zit een verschil dat je niet kunt zien. In de weggewerkte broekspijp van Verminderde ruimte schuilt een stukje Appel, dat niet vervliegt als je het stiksel lostrekt. De muur van het museum wordt straks weer wit gemaakt, maar er is meer nodig om de jammerklacht van Van der Stokker er onder te krijgen. Want ook als denkbeeld is : een goedgeplaatste vinger, op de zere plek van een land dat van Brueghel tot Benedetti is vergeven van willekeur en teleurstelling.

Recession refers to the recessed position of the Brancusi museum in Paris, in front of Centre Pompidou, as well as the economic conditions that led to speculations about the museum being demolished in the near future. According to the rumors, the ground at which it stands is too expensive to maintain a free-of-charge museum dedicated to the practice of Brancusi and should make room for a more profitable occupation. The sculpture is a replica of the space in between Centre Pompidou and Atelier Brancusi, and assesses its value, both as a monument and as an investment.

This object measures the Jan van Eyck academy in Maastricht, by attaching an 18 metre high aluminum pole to the building. The sculpture was made at the time when I was researching Lafayette Anticipations in Paris, a renovation project by OMA. At the same time, that institute reached out to the Jan van Eyck academy to learn about their programme and shape theirs accordingly. I was intrigued by the idea of two art institutions imitating each other and wanted to leave a physical trace of this comparison. The sculpture remained against the building for several months, until it was struck by lightning.