This year, the participants of de Appel Curatorial Programme decided to form an international curatorial collective, The Black Swan. Metropolis M speaks with them on the use of humour as a tool in their exhibition Three artists walk into a bar...
'The exhibition as a whole developed as a reaction to the current social and political climate. It stems from a broad reflection on the state of things as they are in 2012, a year carrying on its shoulders a series of upheavals and revolts worldwide, in which the necessity for change was heralded by the calls of the disenfranchised from Egypt to the United States, from Russia to Spain. There is a general dissatisfaction with the current forms of power, expressed in a language that is not articulated through concrete demands and instead uses a multitude of creative and light-hearted techniques.The ‘art world’, autonomous while at the same time heteronymous, as Rancière argues, can only be involved in the state of things. We’ve been continuously asking ourselves what to do from our position in the artistic context nowadays, on the doorstep of a paradigm shift in contemporary societies, amongst xenophobic discourses and diverted rhetoric of the freedom of speech, in times when culture at large is identified as elitist and its institutions cast adrift to market logics due to ideological positions rather than concrete reasons. It is from a reflection on our positions and possibilities today as curators, currently residing and working in the Netherlands that this exhibition stems. All of the elements of the show, such as working with peers, the use of humour as means of protest and subversion, as well as the location of all works outside of sites usually dedicated to contemporary art, emerged from this same starting point. '
'This exhibition is a way to speak out loud that no budget cuts or erasure of material facilities such as exhibition spaces will be able to stop art and culture.'
'Humour as a means of protest is certainly nothing new. The historical use of humour taking shape in the genre of satire or later farce, always had as its raison d’être, not only the intention to amuse but to critique powerful relations, to denounce injustice, to subvert and mock social conventions. It is not by chance that it is a guffaw on the masks of the Anonymous. The quote we used, Laughter will bury you, was the motto (apparently taken from Bakunin) used in the 1968 protests in France and then in the 1970s in Italy. In art practice, the history of humour is equally antique. In modern times, stemming not by chance from the period of the French Revolution, humour can be found specifically in the satirical practices of artists such as William Hogarth, Honoré Daumier or Francisco Goya, whose work would depict the grotesque concealed by the magnificence of public appearances. The use of humour has also been central to the cultural politics of socially engaged art movements such as Dada, the Situationists and Fluxus as well as in the practice of many feminist artists.Against this backdrop humour in this exhibition is not a topic but a quality, a tool that we have asked the artists to use, pointing at its critical and subversive potentials. The specific content of each artist’s project is as tremendously wide as this definition might be. The result is works that are not necessarily directly amusing or funny, but works that use either the bitter acceptation of humour or its sort of ‘tonic’ function. A particular antagonistic spirit is generally present; two works that exemplify this are Anna Luczak’s Public Sculpture in Motion, which took place on the first Saturday of the exhibition, taking the form of a procession from Dam Square to de Appel Boys’ School to mark the beginning of the first “Saturdays at the Boys’ School” event. The work was a chain of artists, curators and audience members marching as a single object (a public sculpture), a kind of silent protest with no direct critique, but in a form often used on the dance floor at parties and weddings. Or then there are works like Diego Tonus’s FILM, which will be an intervention talking place across Amsterdam at various sites related to the current forms of power. The work is a choreography of performers who meet, each only know their own specific instructions, and enact a script of laughter derived form the canned laughter used on TV and in movies. The result is a foregrounding of this usually background element, disrupting the everyday actions and flows of the spaces they occupy. So yes, there certainly is a strategy behind our use of humour.'
'We realised during our time on the de Appel Programme that there was a hugely rich and exciting set of artists involved in some form of institutional study or residency in the Netherlands. We were only having very limited contact with them and they also seemed to have little contact with each other. When we began thinking about a response to the current climate it seemed obvious we should try and do this with our peers and involve a generation of emerging practitioners who just like the 6 of us, are in a process of formation and finding their ways of working, not yet caught in the flow of a professional career. The next step was the decision to invite every student, resident, researcher or participant of graduate and post-academic Fine Arts programmes in the country. We decided to have no further selection; everybody who was interested to participate could join. Rather than an open call, as often happens today, we visited and invited artists at their respective institutions, to actively encourage their participation within the show’s lens.In fact the exhibition brings together all those willing to commit to its terms, in an open horizontal platform. We decided to split the production budget equally amongst all of the participating artists and to open up our process of decision making and thinking about the exhibition as a whole, thereby turning the usual artist-curator relation inside out. We have had collective meetings with the artists to talk about the opening, the Saturdays at the Boys’ School and the ways in which the art works are being communicated and mediated. These conversations have been very fruitful and productive and have really shaped our thinking about the exhibition as a whole. The idea was to form a kind of temporary autonomous community, influenced not really by Hakim Bey – as may apparently seems - but by the general return of anarchical ideas that emerged as a vague theoretical horizon during the last year, as a nexus between different individuals and communities. There seems to be a will to form a new ethics of responsible autonomy, for the prospect to be architects of our own existence. It is a time when figures like Mikhail Aleksandrovi? Bakunin, Bertrand Russell, Ivan Illich or the exponents of the Italian Autonomia movement, are again strongly being quoted. We basically wanted to enact something rather then speak or speculate about.'
'Mission impossible, it’s significant that you mention it. That was our internal joke while developing the project! One of the key inquiries of the show relates to questioning the nature of an artwork/audience encounter and what constitutes an audience. So I guess that would lead on to; what does it mean to have total visibility? And visible to who? Some works create almost singular encounters, for example the collaboration with all the current students of Dutch Art Institute / MFA ArtEZ will amount to nearly 30 works, each in the form of a call to a public phone booth. These calls could happen anytime during the day or night so are very difficult to plan to experience, but for passers-by there will be the possibility of an accidental one on one encounter with a work, not knowing it’s part of the show, or even necessarily knowing it’s art.
Similarly, if you happen to be in the Albert Hein, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 226 on any Sunday you will hear a sound track that through its mere presence changes the dynamics of the space. Likewise, if you are shopping at Super Star Market on Marie Heinekenplein and you’re browsing Pink Lady apples, you can find yourself looking at an apple devoid of colour, a mimetic sculpture by Yosuke Amemiya. The audio work by Crystal Z Campbell will alter your experience of the public urinal between Oosterpark and Tropenmuseum as a motion detector will set off an operatic aria, questioning the gender specificity of “public” toilets and the boundaries between private and public.Others works are announced and defined as events in different locations, such as the three performances that took place at Het Veem Theater on the first Sunday of the project, or the works by Clifford Borres, Nathania Rubin and Enrico Piras & Sarah Stein that will be screened on SALTO TV, or even the work of Roi Alter taking place in AFC football club stadium on the 3rd of may, in the form of a football match with only one team. In general, the works have multiple audiences, an immediate, direct one, who encounters the works fortuitously; the art audience based in the Netherlands that will be able to see a big number of works following the schedule, the map and our newsletters; and those who will see all of the works through our website www.threeartistswalkintoabar.com, which will host the documentation and afterlife – in form of video, sound, image, text – of each single work in the exhibition. So for us it’s not about a lack of visibility but about multiple forms of encounter with the exhibition. So you’ll have ample opportunity to see a work of art!'
13 april - 12 mei
Location: Various physical and non-physical sites, SALTO – Public Broadcasting Network Amsterdam, Het Veem Theater, de Appel Boys’ School in Amsterdam, amongst others.
The Black Swan is: Antonia Alampi, Katia Krupennikova, Qinyi Lim, Sanne Oorthuizen, Alec Steadman, Ivana Vaseva.