Flirting with mr. Versatile

Maxine Kopsa

In so many of these talks about interdisciplinary action and crossovers there reigns a kind of Calvinistic moral belief that the mighty Other be it the Other as spectator or the Other as member of a different field (and preferably an Other who is young and loud and has a fuck-the-system attitude) will have the better, more authentic response. That he/she will be able to look at art or make art with fresh, pure views, ones more insightful than those opted by the ‘professional’ maker or spectator. But if we can look beyond this and to the ‘what’s really going on’ we’ll realize that the problem we’re discussing has more to do with the institutions and how they are supposed to deal with changes in art, its form and how it needs to be presented than with the works themselves and their makers.

Flirting? was a conference held in the Haags Gemeentemuseum on October 14th whose invitation read: „Why are artists choosing to work beyond their traditional parameters and in cooperation with other disciplines? Is this attitude a flirt or is there more at hand? Do the visual arts not allow for enough freedom of movement? And how do the visual arts differ from other disciplines? Do they still hold a preferred position or can they do better through their own self-destruction?” A text which, without a doubt, cites Cornel Bierens’ now infamous article De Beeldende Kunst moet onderduiken. Schaf de beeldende kunst af published on Friday May 5th in the NRC, as a rhetoric carrot hung enticingly before the noses of all those who wished to try their luck at a better answer.* So there certainly isn’t a lack of interest in the ‘borderline’ issue and all the peripheral debates it entails. And from the mere fact that they are all being given so much attention we must suppose that the problem is not only topical but also urgent.

Flirting? opened with Rutger Wolfson (Director of the Vleeshal in Middelburg) screening a music video by Chris Cunningham Windowlicker, which, in his mind, had all the ingredients of an artwork even though it had been made for and has had its debut on MTV (its viewing at Anthony d’Offay came later). Whereupon Wim van Krimpen later remarked that perhaps this video’s strength was just that: as a music video, on MTV. But Wolfson made it clear in his talk that what fascinated him is the potential of this new context, the freedom a ‘maker’ can have in working in a field just outside or parallel to his own. One of his aims is thus to invite people who he sees being creative and cutting edge in various ways – not necessarily in the field of art – and give them the room, the laboratory, (literally) to make art. It seems Wolfson has become the baby and curatorial herald of the avant-garde, positioned at the conference in Utrecht (see note) against his older generation colleagues and here, in The Hague, head to head with Van Krimpen. As well, it seems as though he is delivering a standpoint the audience wants to hear – one even Van der Ploeg might agree with – their applause proven by hissing groans of discontent during Van Krimpen’s albeit frank retort of Wolfson’s program in which the new director of the Haags Gemeentemuseum voiced his incomprehension for Wolfson’s will to seek out the products of the neighbor’s terrain and subsequently place them on his own art podium.

Van Krimpen’s position comes off traditional at best, reactionary, perhaps, but it does not warrant the mocking jeers it received. Placed next to Wolfson’s typification of his own tactics: „Hi-low crossovers are about strategy and crossovers between different disciplines are driven by theory, are ‘intellectual’ (perhaps the smartest sounding tidbit of the day) Wolfson certainly seems to come off as Mr. Dynamic.

But, should Windowlicker be shown at the Vleeshal, it will only be viewed intellectually, in its new cadre, restrained and therefore neutralized. To interpret a work is to (want to) tame it (Susan Sontag). The museum (read: institution) works in a similar fashion – a given fact by now – but what is very strange here and what could be seen at Flirting? is that the makers themselves (the dj’s, the designers, the video makers) of this untamed work seek to tame it by getting into bed with the tamer. Why? Because that’s where they can have an intelligent discussion about and receive intelligent reaction to their work, that’s also where they can get into bed with a whole bunch of geniuses before them hence becoming members of the genius club themselves. So let’s not belittle the still present attractiveness and power of the institution and realize that the chicken and egg dance between the institution (as is) and art (now) is still going strong, and will continue to do so until we find a more suitable way to marry the two. The ball’s in the court of the system makers, I say. Non-artists desire the art connection and artists look for the non-art? True for some but not for all: Gijs Müller explained that the term artist‚ was fine for him, that it gave him the freedom to fill in his own definition of what he was doing. But Lucas Verweij (in an inspiring talk, by far the most intelligent of the day) said he had problems with the term precisely because of this very freedom: Who will commission and trust an artist‚ to design his home, he said, everyone knows an architect‚ is meant to do this. Guus Beumer, the philosopher half of the design label S0, didn’t think it was interesting at all to put fashion in a museum but finds it fascinating to explore the mechanism of fashion itself, within the borders of style. And Geert Mul said he was looking for a 3-D matrix with connections all over the place. Whatever that means.

Flirting? ‘s program was certainly well thought out on one level: the speakers selected were given ample time to state their (own, personal) position without having to rush over important details. We had, after all, an entire day. And because many among those asked were ‘makers’ themselves, we were listening to art’s whys and hows at a primary level. In other words – and this is, at the same time, the symposiums weak point – there was lots of room for hearing and seeing the fundaments of the debate at hand but little room for secondary reflection and theory forming. We were given a good glimpse of what these artists are making and why it is that their ‘products’ should be termed or seen as crossed-over. What we missed out on was the questioning of the system itself, an inquiry into the mechanism of art-showing. For, as Kitty Zijlmans rightfully recognized: „we know that the artist is making crossovers, what we need to look into is what these crossovers mean. We need a theore tical parameter.” And Ineke Schwartz summed up attempting to fill this gap by stating that „it had not been their intention to do other-wise; that they had sought to look at the evidence and not to offer a conclusion.”

But that would be like me ending this with by saying: At the symposium called Flirting? I spend my Saturday having a nice time. But I won’t, I’ll end with the importance of semantics: What Flirting? was all about, at best, was positioning: how to position oneself as artist and how to position oneself as (professional) viewer. The fact that many are weary of choosing a term and sticking to it might either mean we’ve all become incredibly versatile or that we just simply are not specialized enough.


* These were also some of the themes broached on Septembe 15th in Centraal Museum Utrecht during a symposium, which questioned the position of the museum today. And even Liam Gillick (artist) and Michiel… (Director of the post graduate program Hallo, Rotterdam) haggled over these and other matters in their talk at the Appel last October 17th.

Flirting?, 14 okt

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

Bij Flirting? verscheen een themanummer van Decorum.