Column van Tabo Goudswaard, uitgesproken tijdens de expert meeting van The Art of Impact en Europe by People in Pakhuis de Zwijger, woensdag 1 juli 2015.
ANTI-LANGUAGE: IT IS TRICKY TO DESCRIBE IN UNEQUIVOCAL TERMS WHAT ART IS, WHAT IT DOES AND WHAT ITS IMPACT IS. IT IS POSSIBLE AND EVEN USEFUL TO DESCRIBE WHAT IT IS NOT. WE CAN PREDICT WHAT ART WON’T BRING, THAT IS, MORE OF THE SAME. ANTI-LANGUAGE IS A TOOL FOR CREATING THE SPACE OF NOT-KNOWING.
SPACE OF NOT-KNOWING: NOT-KNOWING IS SOMETHING ARTISTS ARE GOOD AT AND PROFESSIONALS IN ORGANIZATIONS USUALLY TRY TO AVOID, EVEN THOUGH ENCLOSED IN THE NOT-KNOWING LIES SPACE TO VIEW AND DEAL WITH THINGS DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU ALWAYS HAVE DONE. ALONG WITH THE SPACE IN WHICH SOMETHING ELSE CAN HAPPEN THAN YOU HAD FORESEEN.
Ten years ago, I started to study at the Rietveld Academy, here in Amsterdam. I was very eager, because I considered being an artist as the sublime, a stylish pursuit of mentally and artisan mastership. Almost religious.
In practice, this study was a very confronting experience for me. I wasn’t the most talented student visually. I had to face my own limitations and fears. I found it rather difficult to fail. Getting to the heart of my fascinations was quite a struggle.
But I felt that what I learned, was something completely new and something very valuable. I tended to not do the stuff my teachers wanted me to.
I founded an artist collective, Het Kattenbak Collectief.
I started a new art prize, a stimulating prize for starting older artists.
I was fascinated by the question what being an artist actually is. One of my graduation works was a countdown clock which was displayed at the entrance of the art academy showing the days, hours and minutes until Tabo Goudswaard would became an artist.
But I was – and still am – especially interested in the question what being an artist could be.
The artistic practice I was educated in was making art for the art world: the white cube of a gallery or a museum. Make work for a certain audience – for art lovers that is – and subsidized by an art foundation.
I wanted to work with people, connect with their everyday life. Collaborate with organizations. Curious about the world, about the opinions and expertise of others. Have an impact on society: shaping the world.
SOCIETY | ART WORLD
In Europe and North America the art domain became isolated from society. In this autonomous space the artist is (almost) completely free to do whatever he or she wants, on account of society saying we don’t care, or it’s irrelevant.
If an artist wants to relate with his or her work to society two immune reactions occur:
Artistic interventions or processes in domains outside of the arts (for example in companies and governments or in the public domain) are usually not appreciated in these places on artistic grounds. If the value of an intervention is even recognized, this will be for different reasons (‘It sure did shake things up again,’ ‘It improved the mood’). If an intervention has a disruptive effect this can cause annoyance or be perceived as sabotage. The most dangerous reaction is ‘Oh, it’s just art’, meaning: ‘it’s irrelevant’. In effect this is an immune response: the disruption is isolated from the ordinary state of affairs in order to prevent reality from being questioned too much (let alone transformed).
This is how the art world is perceived by society. For us: the outsiders gaze.
In the art world we witness a reflex that also resembles an immune response. As long as an artwork disrupts an external system effectively all thumbs are up. But the moment when it does more than comment on a societal reality and actually transforms it – so when it really ‘works’ outside of the art system – the work is confronted with the question: ‘But is it still art?’ ‘Aren’t you being used?’
The Insiders gaze
It is my ambition to find new ways to generate a connection between the art world and society.
STRANGENESS: IT’S THE MUTUAL STRANGENESS BETWEEN THE ARTISTIC WORLD AND THE WORLD OF (COMMERCIAL) ORGANIZATIONS THAT ENABLES A RENEWED PERSPECTIVE (FOR BOTH PARTIES). THIS STRANGENESS IS VALUABLE AND SHOULD NOT BE BLOTTED OUT, BUT MADE PRODUCTIVE.
But how can we do this? I’d like to start this search by asking: How can we neutralize these immune reactions?
To neutralize the distrust towards artists who collaborate with societal organizations, the insiders gaze in my opinion needs:
There’s a lot of confusion about the nature of the collaboration (therapeutic, educational, artistic or participatory).
Have the guts
To conquer your autonomous position in relation to a societal partner instead of defending your autonomous position. To not only make work for or about other people, but also with other people. Which means you’ll have to explain what your work ‘does’ for the interests of the other. Be empathic. Be vulnerable.
Be more ambitious
Don’t just want to comment, create awareness or be disruptive. Try to change, contribute to and organize new enduring societal systems. Don’t just inspire others, get inspired by others.
See the benefits
having impact, exploring and learning more and last but not least: getting paid better.
Like we’re doing today.
How does society look at the art world? What’s the outsiders gaze nowadays?
Subsidized, poor | For the white cube | It’s on the wall or on a pedestal | Weird, strange different | Nice (maybe) but Irrelevant | Out of the box thinking | Disruptive | Ego tripping | Complicated | Beautiful | …
Of course we can anticipate on these stereotyped expectations. As a tropical bird we can ask inappropriate questions or let people go outside their comfort zone.
(Adelheid Roosen told me that she made elderly people lie on the ground spooning with teenagers in one of her projects.)
To neutralize the perception of irrelevance the outsiders gaze needs is in my opinion:
The Art of Impact will support over a hundred role model projects.
To describe the added value and collaboration processes with artists.
I want to conclude this column called Anti-language.
The big concession we make to ourselves today is that we don’t use the artists language. The language of image, of performance, of physical experience. But everyday language, common English. For today it feels ok to me, since we want to come up with terms how we as artists can productively relate to society.
We’ve had the Insiders gaze, inside the art world.
We’ve had the Outsiders gaze, looking at the art world from society’s perspective.
Now, let’s look back at society with a Reversible gaze.
The Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin showed us the stereotypical example of a reversing two dimensional form: a vase in the center, and faces matching its contour.
Let’s use the anti-language mechanism to look at society and describe what is not-artistic. And keep the Rubin’s Vase metaphor in mind in search for the insights that occurs at the contour of these descriptions.
So the not-artistic is the vase, the faces are the strange and productive attitudes, skills and working methods we have to offer.
The Reversible gaze
focussed on useful | we love uselessness
efficient | chaotic
be succesfull | failure is okay, be vulnerable
objectivity, the truth | subjectivity, a truth
by the rules | whatever is needed, passionate
focused on problem solving | enlarging problems
first time right mentality | experimenting, prototyping
have a plan | learn by doing
clear, defined | ambiguïty
realistic | utopian
Show me your faces! Thank you.