metropolis m

Ryan Presley, photo DR

Researching 600 years of trade routes. From Murriland to ASML. The Van Abbemuseum presents the fifth research project of Frontier Imaginaries which, departing from the context of Eindhoven, sets out on a mission to complete history by adding ignored histories and relations.

Trade Markings explores 600 years of international trade by examining Eindhoven’s global reach, through mapping out significant events on both a local and a global scale. From the very start the exhibition invites and challenges the viewer to actively engage with the individual artworks and the overarching, connecting concept. A combination of historical works, archival material, sculptures, video works, installations, paintings and photographs are presented together. The only clue to their connections is the title of the exhibition and a timeline on the walls. The exhibitions takes another look at colonial pasts and local histories, to examine how wealth has been build up and distributed, and focuses specifically on the local consequences of encounters through trade and colonisation to uncover untold (hi)stories.

For this exhibition, the Van Abbemuseum invited Frontier Imaginaries, a research foundation dedicated to studying the concept and the significance of the frontier within a global context. This is their first large-scale exhibition in Europe, having had previous shows in Brisbane, Jerusalem and New York. Frontier Imaginaries aims to explore ethics through aesthetics. It brings together artists, scholars, museums, and communities to place them into larger socio-political contexts. In their fifth edition the emphasis is on collaboration and sharing ideas and stories, with over twenty participating artists, both local and international who participate with a combination of existing and newly commissioned work; Frontier Imaginaries also collaborates with Valkerij and Sigarenmakerij Museum in community-focused projects and events.

[blockquote]The exhibition is an ambitious project in scope, content and participants, all tied together by one element: the timeline. 

Diorama Het Valkerij en Sigarenmakerij Museum in Valkenswaard, photo DR

Timeline, photo DR

The exhibition is an ambitious project in scope, content and participants, all tied together by one element: the timeline. Spread across the walls of the exhibition, the timeline visually maps out 600 years of both local and global significant events. It is an extended version of scholar Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s Symphony of Liberalisms (2015 – now). The timeline aims to place events into contexts, shed light on and connect events on a global scale in order to re-orientate and re-navigate through history to understand how value has been created and wealth distributed over time and at what cost.

Tom Nicholson, installation Trade Markings, photo DR

Margaret en Christine Wertheim en hun Institute For Figuring, Exhibition overview Trade Markings, photo DR

When tracing back Eindhoven’s trade history three major commodities disappear and reappear over time: the falcon, the cigar and the computer chip. The falcon is a symbol of feudal-power, a prized possession among the royal courts in the 17th and 18th century. The cigar is a symbol of the power of the nation-state as they re-invested their wealth in the 18th century in cigar manufacturing. Noteworthy is that the Van Abbe museum was established by the cigar manufacturer Henry van Abbe. Today, Eindhoven is part of brainport, an economical hotspot for the computer chip industry, which political system is still forming. These three iconic commodities show how wealth has been distributed and organised globally by European ideas. It shows how far it has reached as a global power and indicates the different locations and communities that took part in it.

Tshibumba Kanda Matulu, installation

Tshibumba Kanda Matulu

In each room of the exhibition geographic parallels are identified, and ripple effects of different types of trade-related encounters are made evident. Most monumental works depict a period in history, or trace events in history pertaining to a specific location, state or group, illustrating the local consequences of the encounters. Gordon Hookey’s Murriland #2 (2015-ongoing) is a 10-meter long canvas depicting the history of Queensland in Australia, it maps out Queensland geographically but also historically with the use of memory. Directly opposite Murriland #2 is the work that is its inspiration: History of Zaire (1973-74) by Tshibumba Kanda Matulu, a collection of 102 paintings illustrating key events of the military and diplomatic decolonisation process. In the adjacent room is another 10-meter long work by Sawangwongse Yawnghwe depicting episodes from Burmese/Myanmar history. While Yawnghwe was working on it, the current military government re-issued Burma’s draconian sedition law. The lengthy title is derived from the full name of the legislation: 124A – Whoever by word, either spoken or written, by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, makes attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites, or attempt to excite disaffection toward [the Government established by law for Union or for the constituent units thereof] shall be punished with transportation for life or any shorter term, to which fine may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine, (2018).

Hoi Rui An - Dash (2016-ongoing)

Mural Gordon Hookey, Van Abbemuseum, 2018

Two works focus on more contemporary examples of the accumulation of wealth: Drawing Rights (2018) and Dash (2016-ongoing). Drawing Rights (2018) is a video work by Rachel O’Reilly in collaboration with Pa.LaC.E (Valle Medina and Ben Reynolds). The work investigates colonial land and ocean law alongside the present gas fracking industry in Australia. It addresses the heritage of colonial property law on contemporary modes of exploitation by looking at the damage a creative government can bring about. Hoi Rui An’s DASH (2016-ongoing) uses the aesthetics of the video dashboard as a tool to investigate the government of Singapore. For this exhibition Hoi focuses on Shell, the emergence of human capital in the 1970s and Shell’s significance to the Singapore government.

A work that is particularly interesting in the framework of the exhibition is Patricia Kaersenhout’s work Proud Rebels (2015). The works is composed of portraits of “forgotten” black female feminists from the Netherlands who founded the black feminist movement ZMV (Black Migrant Refugees) in the 1980s.The work depicts key figures from the movement: Philomena Essed, Gloria Wekker, Ernestine Comvalius. These women continue to be active and influential within the Netherlands, especially within anti-racist movements. Proud Rebels was acquired by the museum in 2017 and is now part of their collection. For Kaersenhout this is an important step in telling the forgotten histories of black females, the African diaspora and a step forward in creating a more complete history, with the ultimate goal of being taken up in the Dutch curriculum.

By showing not only highlights of trade accomplishments but also a very direct encounter with their lasting consequences, Trade Markings challenges viewers to not only know of but also to understand the connections.

To contextualize the time period of Proud Rebels, Trade Markings created the North Brabants’ Temporary Hip Hop Archive under the guidance of Erwin Thomasse. The archive is an extensive history of North Brabants’s role in the arrival of Hip Hop and graffiti art in West Europe in the 80s and 90s. Presented here are three original works by some of the greatest of the New York graffiti art scene: Rammellezee, Blade, Dondi White , all of them originally from North Brabrant.

Ryan Presley, paintings, photo DR

Sawangwongse Yawnghwe, photo DR

This is one of the ways in which Trade Markings reminds the viewer of the artworks’ place within history and local/global culture. Spread out throughout the exhibition are numerous other heritage items on loan, such as dioramas and a traditional cigar rolling table from the Valkerij and Sigarenmakerij Museum, serving as reminders of a particular time period and the extent of that context’s powers. As a conceptual exhibition these elements are included to create a comprehensive oversight with all the necessary clues for the viewer to truly comprehend the relation between all the elements present. The exhibition challenges the viewer to think beyond the understanding of history they were taught and to include its many, often hidden, aspects. By showing not only highlights of trade accomplishments but also a very direct encounter with their lasting consequences, the exhibition challenges viewers to not only know of but also to understand the connections. Through art and aesthetics Trade Markings seeks to grasp these transformations and contextualize them to create a more complete view and understanding of the global past and present.

Trade Markings Frontier Imaginiers Ed. No. 5, Van Abbemuseum, until 01.07.2018

Nicole Sciarone

is intern at Metropolis M

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