What’s the Offer? Exhibitioning is a Verb! Liesbeth Bik

Anyone that regularly checks the news headlines can see that we are caught in a period of transition. The “capturing” of private information, the dissemination of counterfeit information, the loss of boundaries between public and private, and the large flows of refugees escaping war and climate change all demonstrate the urgency for a public sphere as a site where conflicts over rights, information, access, relations, and objects can be played out. Global capitalism seems to have almost accomplished its project with considerable loss for citizens all over the globe, while struggles over the definition of democracy—a Western concept—are symptomatic of these dramatic changes in the character of public life.

What are the consequences of these developments for societies-at-large, and for our most important shared space, that which we call the world? What are we to do as artists, with and through our work, without losing our minds? How can we, without over-dramatization, think, rethink, and act on ways of “making public,” and how can we speculate in the direction of what may be needed? What should art, and exhibitions, do in an era of globalization?

“What’s the Offer? Exhibitioning is a Verb!” is the title of the seminar that considered exhibiting as a process and performance, and incursion as cultural technique. During this seminar we attended symposia and looked at different exhibitions; many of them from the past—as documented material—and on view, in museums, galleries, artist run spaces, cabinets of natural history, and other cabinets of curiosity. All held examples of the mythical, the infamous, the overlooked, and the “what now?” We asked ourselves and each other: What do exhibitions do? How is work displayed, written about, labeled, mediated? Who is speaking, who is being looked at, talked about, and displayed? We embarked on fieldwork, read a selection of texts, looked at historical examples, and questioned these in the context of what we observe and experience today. We explored different models, positions, and media and discussed our observations with each other, curators, and others and together analyzed, fabulated, weaved, and formulated the many issues at stake. And, finally, we presented our findings, embarking on a process of experimentation to shape individual and collaborative forms of presentation and project trajectories.

As a wandering movement, flow—the travelling through buildings and to symposia, collections, cities and across borders, by foot, bike, train and bus—becomes a practice. It transforms “exhibitioning” into an activity in the present. It takes time to move from one space to another and allows narratives to take shape and encounters to be activated. It struggles with what is presented, with what is disputed, rejected, picked up again and discussed, and the authorities to be dismissed or disturbed.

The annual open day was taken up as an exercise of “making public.” The flow transformed the building into spaces that were connected by sound intervening into the studios, by the gathering of displaced works, by people moving through. An excursion to Paris was shaped as a trajectory of learning from Paintings from Afar in Musée du Quai Branly; Mohamed Bourouissa 
in Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Neïl Beloufa, and Kader Attia & Jean-Jacques Lebel in Palais de Tokyo; Akademia: Performing Life in Villa Vassilieff; a meeting with curator Virginie Bobin on the performative qualities of exhibitioning; as well as with Brazilian artist-in-residence Beto Shwafaty; galeries clustered in Le Marais and St. Germain; Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz in Centre Culturel Suisse Paris, Musee d’Orsay; This is Utopia, to Some in Kadist Art Foundation; an evening in la colonie; a tour by curator Hicham Khalidi through the radically reconfigured building Lafayette Anticipations (by architect Rem Koolhaas); and for some the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, and La Maison Rouge. We learnt from wandering, seeing, and experiencing. Students were asked to create a voice over as a personal, fictional or factual choreography and way of exploring the process of re-thinking the map, of wandering as a form of story-making. They were also asked to draw “real fictional selves” portraits of each other in trains, brasseries, more and less glamorous places, to record a continuous practice of note-taking. A collection of these impressions, insights, notes, stories and sketches—all different approaches to forms of “exhibitioning”—is now brought together in this issue of Binder. In some cases these insights address current concerns, in others they allow a glimpse into how the production of forms of “exhibitioning” as a spatial and material practice may take shape. They stem from excitement, enthusiasm, fatigue, hunger, and friction (i.e. no friction, no shine… ) caused by institutional behavior, or other more immediate logistics like painful feet or failed train connections. Only a fraction of what we experienced during our fieldtrips and our discussions has materialized, so this issue should be experienced as a choreographed flow of what we encountered, talked about, exchanged, and differed on.

Throughout our program, we read, discussed, and now share the following texts with the interested reader:

TJ Demos, “Ways Forward,” in Decolonizing Nature, Sternberg Press (2016)

Claire Bishop, Radical Museology: Or What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art?, Koenig (2014)

Charles Esche, Absences Felt and Unfelt The Recent History of the Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven/NL (2016), academia.edu. Online (Accessed 12 July 2018).

Okwui Enwezor, “World Platforms, Exhibiting Adjacency, and the Surplus Value of Art, in Talking Contemporary Curating, edited by Terry Smith, Independent Curators International (2015)

Allan Kaprow, “How to Make a Happening,” lecture at MOMA, New York (1966), Primary Information (2009)

Anna Sophia Springer, “The Museum as Archipelago,” in Scapegoat 05: Excess (2013)

When I say “we,” I mean those who participated, full on, in this seminar: Janis Dzirnieks, Ramon Feller, Josje Hattink, Lili Huston-Herterich, Honey Jones-Hughes, Merve Kılıçer, Collette Rayner, Victor Santamarina, Anastasia Shin and Nick Thomas.

It is my wish that we never stop wandering, looking and experiencing, and never stop thinking and talking about what we are experiencing and looking at.

Featured image: Pratchaya Phinthong, if i dig a very deep hole…, 2007, gb agency 2018