Essays & interviews

Fleeting images of community

My entire artistic practice departs from my belief that art has the capacity to contribute to life. Thus, the question is "Why do I believe that"? The answer is that, in a time where specialization continues to increase, there is little space left to really connect things such as the communication between various disciplines and between various subcultures. It appears to be close to impossible to bridge the various social islands. No matter how beautifully subcultures exist within a generally praised multiformity, it remains poignant that nothing happens amongst those subcultures. I believe that the trouble is a lack of crosscommunication.At the same time, what is still communicated, namely how our current reality is portrayed and mediatized remains basically very dominant and compulsory. It is a form of communication without much space for people's own manner of representation. Therefore, reflection on the concept of Aesthetic experience should be very critical.Afrer all, nowadays one could receive an aesthetic experience on every corner. One could even claim that the commercial world works hard to smooth down aesthetic experiences since its visual communication has only one goal: selling. Considering the decay of visual communication and aesthetic experiences, I believe that we need a critical reflection on aesthetic experience. In my view, the concept of "play" is more important than the creation of an aesthetic experience, since art's latitude offers space for reviving things. The interesting aspect of visual art is its relatively autonomous positioon, which provides a sanctuary where new things can emerge. Visual art is the location with the possibility of representation, of portrayal, of shaping images, and of activating the process of perceiving images. With that, visual art is more than mere works of art: it is a process of reflection, discussion, and activation extremely well-suited to act as an impetus for creating the space where people are invited to start thinking again about how things should be represented.

Visual art has always directed itself toward an audience - no audience, no art - but the motivation to turn the public into participants today is an entirely different question. A clear transformation from a static spectator to an active participant is at stake. One reason why artists are no longer interested in a passive process of presenter-spectator seems to me the fact that such communication has been entirely appropriated by the commercial world.

The direct attention in my work for the participant implies the creation of platforms where people are able to encounter each other again and design and represent their own environment. At the same time, one should attempt to formulate a moral attitude, since I do not believe in an aesthetics without ethics. Ultimatly, it has always been one of the jobs of visual art to demand matters such as responsibility and solicitude. Therefore, I feel the need redefine the artist's space as a mental space where a moral attitude might be formulated. Such a moral attitude should embrace the pluriformity of our contemporary society and attempt to escape from both relativism and fundamentalism. At the same time, it has to focus on the necessity of creating contexts outside of recognized art spaces while breaking down the isolated positions of these spaces. These novel contexts intensify and even create meaning because of their capacity to intervene both physically and mentally in the domain of visual art., wheras other kind of experience might emerge as a precondition for an active process of signification.

In the essay "Difference or Sociallity", the English sociologist Scott Lash elaborates on this process. Lash maintains, "We can find an escape route through focusing on non-representative forms. By actively creating meaning through dialogue and intersubjective communication, we may be able to find a way out of the productivist system which makes us passive receivers rather than active producers of meaning. The first step is to place our own subjectivity at risk". In his view, "We should return to point zero, the moment where the `I' ends and the `Other' begins. Perhaps it is here that meaning can be formed: through the interaction of constantly changing practices and activities. If such a point is actually reached, it goes without saying that experience can never be direct and singular. Experience emerges because of the color of different, intersubjective, aesthetic - sense-oriented - systems. In this shared experience, within which we come into being and become aware of being, that will lead to a much more pluriform world of meaning". (Towards Theory of the Image, (Jan van Eyck Academie, 1996) pp. 112-129)

I said earlier that Sociality is a process in which human beings can learn to design their own environment and where communication is an exchange between two individuals. However, what particularly counts in such a conversation is, as Levinas puts it, that in order to be able to (partly) abandon one's identity one must indeed have an identity. It is impossible to encounter the other without identity since, in an intersocial encounter, both parties have to relinquish something of themselves. Moreover, one has to possess a private set of values, norms and metaphors as an impetus for a dialogue. Let's face it: if there were only prefab metaphors, we would have very little to discuss.

In my view, agglutination is an adequate concept in an active process of sociallity. Agglutination signifies moments where a temporary fixation occurs among different elements. It is a process within the interstitial space, where new ideas could be developed. Visual art should focus on that interstitial space as the location where the exchange of information is initiated. I consider my own work in the same perspective. In fact, I do not create works of art, but something that works as art. In other words, there is a shift from the art object to the art objective. All the activities I have developed within the field of visual art such as discussing art, working with art, and being part of a process all belong to the domain of art. With that, I do not mean that my work is shifting towards being involved in a discourse. If that were the case, I would have become a cultural theorist. In my activities, imagination and the space for the image continue to be decisive. One could say that I turned the exploration of these two phenomena into my specific domain of activities and, in so doing, into an activity within the domain of visual art.

Thus, my working process consists of a continuous exploration of questions. Working with those questions instead of with images is a process inching toward a slippery slope, since one will always make mistakes in the course of such a process. One could say that my work is merely an investigation of the conditions under which images could be regenerated. I believe that today's aesthetics has isolated art by separating the image from reality, while shifting presentation to representation. Because of that, isolated images have emerged without any connection to reality. In my work, I try to create contexts for images and their different possibilities so that images have the capacity to reconnect in a meaningful way to their environment. In such investigations, I like to refer to the image former function of presenting reality as an icon.. In the past, the icon was not only a portrayal of the divine, but a representation of reality as well. In separating itself from the aesthetic dimension, aesthetics has become nothing but representation while omitting the experience and active creation of reality.

In order to explore what a contemporary icon might resemble, I mostly develop laboratory-type hypotheses. For example, for a project in Oud Beijerland (A House for the Community, 1996-2001), I began with hypothetical questions such as, could a local town hall still embody a sense of community? are there still collective narratives and, if so, how could they be translated into a building.

In order to explore those kinds of questions, my activities are primarily focused on constructing frameworks. Then I guide the processes happening inside that frame, although I do not enforce anything. At the most, I create conditions where moments could emerge which intervene with perception, so that new images or new frameworks might come into being. However, because the "anything goes" principle has led to super-differentiation and non-communication in various domains, once in a while frameworks have to be closed. Therefore, I developed the work "Draw a Line"(2000) for a recent exhibition called Territories. That work draws a line in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. I am very tired of all those discussions on how boundaries fade away. Precisely in the communication with the other there is a clear dearth of people who dare to draw a line by simply saying, "I think that is going much too far."

Preparing for the not-yet

Jeanneworks – 2016

The Blue House

Paul O'Neill – 2012

Playing the City

Maaike Lauwaert – 2008

In The Field of Players

Kim van de Werff – 2004


Siebe Thissen – 2002

The Miracle of Gorinchem

Jo van der Spek – 2002

Principles of Hope

Henk Slager – 2002

The Ontology of the Bagel Cart

Martin Lucas – 2001

Networks, faces, membranes

Reinaldo Laddaga – 1999


Maaike Engelen – 1999

A House for the Community

Ole Bouman – 1995