Installation view of ‘They Can’t Stop the Spring’, Valentine Langeard.
Research and resourcefulness: Sandberg Instituut Graduation Show 2021
Over the weekend of eight to ten October, 64 graduation projects and a lively event programme coordinated by fresh graduates of the Sandberg Instituut animated the main building of Het Hem and the nearby Project Fabriek. Works from the five main departments (Critical Studies, Design, Dirty Art Department, Fine Arts and Studio for Immediate Spaces) and the two temporary programmes (Approaching Language and Resolution) were on show. Manuela Zammit travelled to Zaandam and was inspired by the resourcefulness of the works.
Visiting a graduation exhibition is always a great pleasure, not in the least because the tremendous energy generated by the assemblage of diverse concepts and materials inhabiting the same space, along with a sense of accomplishment and the activity happening about the place, are infectious. This time, my visit was further charged with a sense of anticipation since I had already experienced some of the works exhibited at the Sandberg Instituut earlier this year. I was looking forward to discovering new works, but also to reengaging with some old favourites, and seeing how they had been recontextualised from a clean university/studio environment to the weathered former industrial spaces at Het Hem terrein.
While the exhibition itself offered much to get inspired by and keep on thinking about, the on-site and online event programme including public talks, reading sessions and performances, was also an integral component of the show that further activated the works and revealed the ongoing research and collaborative processes behind the exhibited objects. Several artists in particular caught my attention.
Materials that Matter
Inspired by sound studies, anarchist poetry and new materialism, Sina Egger embarks on the mission of finding out what it means to build research. Reminiscent of a trip to the DIY store, Egger’s installation with various types of wooden planks arranged neatly against the wall, tries to capture the material of emotions.
Employing sound as her primary medium, Constanza Castagnet’s Liquid Lips strips words from their layers of meaning and corrupts them to a point where they become a cacophony. One cannot really listen to a language that they are not trained to understand, but is it still possible to engage with language in a way that is not shaped by prior expectation?
Taking a more tangible approach, Hannah Rose Whittle is interested in the entanglements between water, clay and flesh. Her own engagement with matter leads to the creation of spaces of encounter between human and non-human material bodies. The largest such space of encounter that she considers throughout the three chapters of her work titled Matter Within Matter Within Matter/A Triptych to Saint Bride is perhaps the city of Amsterdam. In her work, Whittle poses the question; What is our relationship with a city built on and with clay?
For Diego Virgen, marshmallows serve to reveal the uncomfortable truth behind comfort food and our consumerist quest for comfort through all of our purchases. As a highly processed food with no nutritional value and a shapeless, colourless gooey substance that can be turned into the stuff of pure sweetness, for Virgen marshmallows essentialise our everyday practices as consumers within a capitalist society. The sickly sweet smell of marshmallows lingering in the air about the work amplified the dark truth behind our seemingly innocent, fluffy pleasures.
I travelled first class with an unknown airline for the first time through George Mazari’s simulated flight between Amsterdam and Kabul. My trip, led by an AI-controlled pilot, was complete with in-flight entertainment and scenery of the changing landscape at ground level. The pilot and the true-to-life scenery – assembled by stitching together satellite images of the Earth and the photogrammetry data from cities – have both been developed by Microsoft. Getting comfortable in my seat, I had to remind myself that I was within agenerated experience.
What does the language of the diaspora look like? How do diasporic communities form and what challenges do they face? Negiste Yesside Johnson is concerned with the ground-level experiences of undocumented migrants and the financial, social and mental precarity that they are left grappling with when forced to flee their homelands. Johnson uses found and discarded objects to posit these situations as remnants of colonialism within a present-day Western capitalist society that continues to operate according to a colonial logic.
In Romy Day Winkel’s Romance Utopia, it is the research project that travels, or rather, spills over from one form into the next – from a digital archive into a radio show, to a video work and finally, into a publication. Day Winkel has been researching the revolutionary potential of romance. Between giving workshops in making a love token and writing about romance, Day Winkel knows; it’s romance that really makes the world go round (and gets the revolution started)
Benjamin Schoonberg has moved on to the post-disciplinary. Coming from an academic background in film studies, literary studies and cultural analysis, and now seeing himself more and more as an artist, he uses existing disciplinary and institutional boundaries as his departure point in going through processes of unlearning and relearning. Skilfully employing surveillance aesthetics that sit well with notions of discipline and institution, Schoonberg has a knack for scouting that which happens unnoticed within institutional walls.
Meanwhile, Calli Uzza Layton’s Tree Pitch depicts real and imagined journeys through space and memory in leafy environments. Considering the tactile resonance of wood as a carrier of language, Layton is concerned with the ways in which language itself is also something that travels and defies borders.
Ways to Be Together
Through installation and performance, Eloy Cruz del Prado enacts a three-part manipulation of water as a way to explore the ever-changing nature of shame. She moves between different considerations and interactions with water; as a contained reflective surface, to defiant force, and finally a puddle of introspection. Although shame deeply affects the individual who feels it, what is to be considered shameful is decided on the societal level. In turn, being made to feel ashamed is one way in which normative structures attempt to shape the individual.
Marian Rosa van Bodegraven has been busy spamming Brazilian politicians with erotic satire. Following events in which conservative Brazilian politicians assumed a moralising stance in relation to sexuality on social media, van Bodegraven reclaims sexuality as a vehicle for political ideology. In her work Little Brazilians, she uses spam as an artistic strategy to counter the fake news that flooded Brazilian social media in aid of Jair Bolsonaro’s election.
How can data architecture be either bypassed or broken down? In Soft Copy Hard Copy – Impermeable Domains, Maria van der Togt, aware of how studying and knowledge-sharing are restrictively directed by copyrights, paywalls and other neoliberal economic mechanisms, attempts to provide a platform where students can freely exchange material they’ve collected over time. She poses the questions; ‘How would it be to get to know people through the stuff they choose to share? What kind of connections could be made once financial obstacles are removed?’
Anna Bierler’s Stone Telling is concerned with the interconnectedness between humans and stones. In collaboration with fellow artists and designers, Bierler created a space where people can gather to explore what it means to exist in solidarity with the non-human and to feel grounded on unsolid grounds. After taking off my shoes and feeling the floor underneath my feet for a moment, I entered the space and sat with Bierler and a couple of others (including some stones) for a brief, but enriching reading session.
Reality and fiction merge in Lucie Sahner’s Colleen Waits for the Bus. Various dubious materials, including food, human relics and slowly moving objects, are part of her installation. It seems like someone might have died, but no one can be too sure. Sahner is interested in the blurring of boundaries between human and non-human bodies. In the context of death, processes of decomposition and recomposition come to mind.
All photographs taken by the author.
The Sandberg 2021 Graduation show was on view from 8 October to 10 October 2021 at Hembrugterrein (Het HEM/De Dood), Zaandam (NL).
List of Graduates
is a writer and researcher