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Act / Out finds its most compelling message in that separative “/”: a border between public and private, personal and political, which the exhibition makes visible by negation. Most of the works shown within the rugged walls of Onomatopee – the transdisciplinary institution hosting it – document rather than exemplify, yet they clearly suggest a will to overflow, to spring out into the public spaces that inspired them.

The inspirational potential of the artist ensemble gathered by curator Lene Ter Haar lies largely in the sheer simplicity of their actions. Be they photos, videos, drawings or installations, the common denominator is intense brevity, carried out with an enthusiastic compulsion.

Since urban space has been parceled out and privatized, with social and financial pressure confining us in our own personal square meter, the artist has to be the person to challenge those boundaries and take the leap. Mark, wedge, explode. Interrogate, confront, shock.

Many of the invited tackle the infrastructural spaces of forced human interaction, like streets and means of public transportation. The show spans from Ann Messner’s ground-breaking Subway Stories – performed in late 70s New York – to Pilvi Takala’s confrontational encounters, recently infiltrating the impeccable Amsterdam trams. Walk among commuters in a swimsuit, ask them for favors or opinions. The shared goal is to inject the unexpected in a mundane situation, involve the viewer through stimulation.

Ann Messner, Frogman, 1979, documentation of performance: a walk from the back of the train to the front.

Other acts resemble the spontaneous aesthetics of graffiti and street subcultures, infused with a conceptual orderliness. Filippo Minelli repeats colorful actions, obstinate straight lines along grey walls or smoke bursts turning a whole landscape around for a few seconds. His silent statements, along with Jeroen Erosie’s one-stroke Giotto circle or Jan Rothuizen’s poster interventions, contribute to an obscure, but nonetheless intriguing, urban alphabet. Others, like Albert Heta – whose ad-busting of a British Airways billboard led to queues of visa-less Kosovans eager to cross the border – speak their opposition loud and clear.

When the message is discursive, though, it is not always about individuals. Anna Witt experiments with ‘radical cheerleading’, having a group of dancing girls perform musical protests, or interrogates passers by about their own radical ideas. Her videos indeed show an acting out, a partially scripted vent where personal concerns surface. Hence the aforementioned inspiring potential: the intrinsic tendency of each action to call for a re-enactment. Messner’s deeds live on today – for example – through Improv Everywhere’s collective performances, unleashing the NYC subway’s potential on YouTube. Similarly, but in an opposite direction, when Sebastian Stumpf rolls under a closing garage door he echoes the breakneck antics of the MTV show Jackass. Gestures are contagious, they call for more. Significantly, the exhibition features a few videos documenting performative responses to an open call spread beforehand, another symptom of the porosity of the aforementioned “/” in the show’s title.

More than a collection of artworks, Act / Out is a memento of the liveliness outside of the – rather basic – gallery space. The works on show are only traces, encouraging the viewer to claim their own desires and psychogeographies. Which is a great start.

Act / Out. A call for contact, a call for a clash
June 10 to July 10, 2011
Bleekstraat 23, Eindhoven

Nicola Bozzi

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