1960. A room full of Henry Moore sculptures.
Some of the sculptures were sitting, some were lying and some where stuck in between. I sat on a small bench and tried to internalise some of these postures. Just like me, my camera on the floor in front of me did not have a clear idea what to focus on.
Later (room 1990 I think it was) I met Andrew. I explained him what I did, showed him some photos. We talked about the relation with the work Pose Work for Plinths of Bruce Mclean. And only a few minutes later exactly that work showed up on a wall in room 1970 .
This strange coincidental appearance proved to be a set up for the afternoon.
I decided to focus on the relation between the artwork, the beholder and the beholder of the beholder of the artwork, in other words: art, visitor and attendant.
The museum is a place of looking.
I searched a work with the quality to look back at me. I found it in room 1990: Tracey Emin’s My Bed, provocatively approaching the visitor in blunt exhibitionism. I asked the attendant to make a photo of me looking at the artwork. The visitor is not allowed to interfere with the artwork. The attendant is responsible for that. It seems to me that in the same way the attendant is not allowed to interfere with the visitor. And he is watched by CCTV too. I could see the expression of doubt in the face of the man before he took my camera and made the photo.
Some time later I walked into the rooms 1900. In front of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau a man was trying to internalise the posture of Mme Gautreau. I asked him what he was doing and he explained that he was preparing a lecture about this particular portrait. He was studying to understand the (in those years provocative) quality of the posture. I offered to help him by making some photo’s.
Later I showed these photos to Lisa and she was surprised and explained to me that when she was younger, she was told that she resembled the lady on this specific painting. So I made some photos of her in front of the painting.
When I finished I turned around and a man spoke to me. To my surprise he asked me to make a photo of him while he was looking at the artwork in front of him. He handed me his camera. Of course I agreed and in return I asked him to make a photo of me, looking at the same artwork. Distracted by the apparent coherence of things I forgot what artwork I was actually looking at.
I suggested Tate Britain to Frans van Lent as a site for the Parallel Show for a number of reasons: scale – of building, spaces, audiences; range – of work, of approaches, of audiences; and because it specialises in British art, some of which is well known internationally, some of which is not. And because I have known Tate Britain for forty years. As ‘The Tate’, Britain’s principal gallery of modern and contemporary art, and then as the more specialised (and less definite but more assertive) ‘Tate’.
As a schoolboy it informed, extended and, to an extent, fixed my knowledge of modern and contemporary art. As an art student at Goldsmiths’ during the 1980s it was forty minutes’ walk or five minutes’ bus ride from the Millard Building between Camberwell and the Oval, where Goldsmiths’ Fine Art Department was sited throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s and I was a weekly or twice weekly visitor. I used to walk there every Sunday to call my parents as it was a place where public ‘phones were guaranteed to be functional. I learnt of the death of Joseph Beuys whilst in the gallery, as a I watched a curator walk across the centre of the Sackler Octagon and place flowers and a notice beside two of Beuys’s vitrines installed there. I have taken part in an occupation of the building to protest cuts in art education during the 1980s. I have been snogged by Damien Hirst at a Turner Prize opening, on almost the same site as Beuys’ flowers were placed. I was taken into the basement during Richard Serra’s ‘Weight and Measure’ installation and watched the massive spot-loadings shifting wildly and scarily on digital meters attached to acrow props. It is perhaps the art space I have the longest and most consistent familiarity with in the world and is a significant part of my personal history.
Chronology and the Older Artist The current configuration at Tate Britain thematises chronology, not always comfortably. Dates are inscribed into the building itself, a chronological index. We navigated and rendezvoused using chronological markers rather than cartographic ones. (“Where are you?” “We’re in the 1960s!”).
This emphasis on chronology, on an awareness of time, of time passing, of one’s location within time, of personal time, was a prevailing consideration in approaching working in this context within the Parallel Show. I made two works:
1: ‘Phone Home I re-enacted my weekly ‘phone call home of thirty years ago, usually on a Sunday, coincidentally the same day as the Parallel show. I found the site of the old public telephone acoustibooths, which was not easy as there has been significant re-configuration of stairways. I called my parents’ telephone number from the period I was a student. I had researched whether the number still existed, and had found that it is currently assigned to a child-minder living a few hundred metres from my old family home in South Queensferry, near Edinburgh. I was unclear as to how I should conduct the conversation if someone answered, whether to be clear about my actions, or to claim I’d dialled incorrectly. I even considered how to speak; whether to adopt my stronger native accent or use the less pronounced accent which has evolved over thirty-five years living way from home. I decided to wait and see what happened. In the end my anxieties and uncertainties were insignificant as there was no signal to my iPhone so my call failed. I was relieved. It was the act of calling that seemed important, and not the answer. Both my parents are long dead and my connection to the town and its signifiers such as dialing codes is broken. The ‘Call Failed’ message underlined an already understood condition.
2: In The Shadow of your Smile Bruce Chronology is an issue in the installation of Bruce McLean’s film In the Shadow of your Smile Bob (1970).
McLean is a younger artist gently mocking an older artist (Malou van Dormaal mocked gently Frans and I as older artists in our conversations). McLean is an artist a generation or more older than me, and was of great interest to me as student, especially his more irreverent works – Pose Work for Plinths, the Nice Style pose band project,and In the Shadow of your Smile Bob.
McLean is young, highly confident and amusing in the film. At 52, I am both older and younger than McLean (now 71) and Morris (now 84): relative to McLean’s film, I am 12 years older than the older Robert Morris and I am twice the age of the Bruce Mclean captured in 1970, but the young McLean maintains paradoxically the role of senior artist through historical contextualising. I used my shadow on the projection to participate in the film, endeavouring to stay under McLean’s mouth: In the Shadow of your Smile Bruce.
Note: I used the camera as a prop, to legitimate my actions to other observers. It provided a ‘reason’ for what could be considered mildly transgressive behaviour. The increase in darkened video installations has engendered a new set of informal protocols in the practices of looking at art. A presiding condition in the reception of art is that of the active viewer, moving in space relative to the work.
I have been ‘tutted’ and chastised for using my iPhone torch to navigate through the pitch black interiors of video installations in galleries and biennials. Art theorist and critic Charlotte Klonk is usefully critical of much of the practices used in the installation of the newer media and in the way that excluding light from many if these installations diminishes dialogue with other works:
“…I think the museum is a uniquely privileged place, at least in the Western world, for the exploration of issues relating to human social interaction, all the more so, because of the size and variety of its constituency. But film, video and DVD projections, at least in the way they are shown at present, do not contribute to this. Instead, the way they are installed continues to reaffirm the idea of the museum as a space apart, a space of private contemplation. “ (Klonk, C. (2009) Spaces of Experience: Art Gallery Interiors from 1800 to 2000, New Haven and London,Yale University Press. p223)
I would be interested in the history of the presentation of McLean’s work. I cannot imagine it was intended originally to be seen in the manner it is now presented.
I handed out several of Malou van Dormal’s Dutch Heritage stickers, whilst avoiding being creepy. I avoided single young men, single young women, groups of young men, groups of young women, mixed groups of young men and women, single women and single men, family groups and anyone who looked as if they might not act upon Malou’s instructions. So I gave them only to arty looking couples.
1: I did not encounter anyone I knew
2: I missed the moment the lights were turned on in the (mostly unlit) Henry Moore room
The notion of self-improvement, a factor in Tate’s conception, still pervades the galleries. I wanted to work with this, but was unable to within the time we had. Perhaps I improved myself without my knowing. Time will tell.
I think I saw a well known actor, but I’m not sure, so won’t say who.
The night before we visited the museum I read a small booklet about the Artist & Empire exhibition. It seemed a bit odd to first read the text and see the show afterwards, but it triggered my curiosity. By accident, or maybe it’s faith, I brought some replicas of the Dutch national heritage sign. I’m already working on this project for two years now, by giving these stickers to people I meet. It gives them the opportunity to create an alternative, personal monument.
The official definition of this heritage is: “All man made objects which are of common interest because of their aesthetics, their scientific significance or their historical value.” Most of the time buildings or townscapes are selected, but this can also mean something else.
Visiting the Artist & Empire show, I noticed the British pride of their colonisation, the additional propaganda, the Christian missionaries, the contemporary mockery and the paradoxical worship of earlier figures. I remarked these themes attracted me more than the permanent collection, so decided to do something with it.
The main reason for this intervention was a painting from a scene where queen Elisabeth gave the Holy Bible to a black figure. This man, pictured in a humble pose, received this gift very grateful. I saw a parallel with the Dutch heritage replicas. This innocent sign is always given as a friendly gesture, while it’s actually a process of distribution and appropriation. By doing this in England, it would mean the Dutch empire was expanding.
This was when the task of making new friends started. I couldn’t give them randomly to visitors, so I looked for excuses to start a conversation. Most of the time this involved the English language (what does this word mean / what is the correct translation?). At the end of the conversation I started about the sign. Only there’s a few times I realised it in the second instance that I could give these stickers, so I had to make second contact. This worked better than giving it in the first encounter, because we already created some understanding.
I also asked Andrew, Frans and Lisa to hand out some stickers, so they’d become missionaries too. Even after the festival this work was persecuted. We gave it to the restaurantowner where we had supper and on the moment we left the house where we slept, I gave it to our hosts as a thank you gift.
On Sunday 17 January 2016, at 10.00 AM we met at the entrance of the museum, Lisa, Malou, Andrew and myself. After a mutual introduction, some of us did not meet before, we went up the stairs to the members club. We had a coffee and discussed the basic conditions: the concept of theparallelshow, the open expectations and the absence of rules. We agreed to meet again at the same place at 12.30 for lunch and individually left to visit the exhibitions.
The installation of Susan Philipsz: War Damaged Musical Instruments in the Duveen galleries, dominated every other exhibition in the museum. The sounds could be heard everywhere.
Andrew in the Duveen Galleries
We all started our explorations in this main hall. After that everyone focussed on the exhibitions that personally seemed to be the most appealing, so we all had very different experiences.
During lunch in the Members Room we discussed possibilities and plans. We talked about a possible groupwork in the installation of Susan Philipsz but nothing practical came out of that. The military aura of the work was just too big, too overwhelming. So we decided to follow our personal preferences. Before we left Malou handed us some of her stickers of the Dutch National Heritage Sign, to give away when possible.
We spread over various exhibitions and followed our impulses.
Dates are inscribed into the building itself, a chronological index. We navigated and rendezvoused using chronological markers rather than cartographic ones. (Andrew).
We communicated by texting the years of the locations: I am in 1900, are you still in 1960?.
Around 17.00 we gathered in the basement cafe for a last beer and a concluding conversation.
At closingtime we left the building.
The period rooms were decorated tastefully, but a complete pastiche. The panelling gave the impression of a rich wooden surface but when looking closer, it appeared to be imitated. Done very skilfully but painted, not real wood. In a way it also made me doubt the authenticity of the exhibited artefacts.
On the mantelpiece was a large mirror. Looking through this mirror I was more convinced of the realness of the room. I then tried to perceive all objects in the room one by one through this mirror, as if I was peeking through a window from outside the room, from another time, another century.
The modern part of the museum was constructed according to another architectural paradigm. Art objects surrounded by white and grey surfaces of unremarkable matter. Spaces without a material charism, created for no other purpose than to accentuate something else.
I used the reflections on the floors and the windows to include the surroundings, to force the spaces to reveal themselves.
Sarah Morris used the filmposter of Allan Pakula’s The Parallax View as the basis of an art piece.
This title very well fits my work in this ParallelShow.
While visiting the 15th-century department, I passed a museum guide who explained the qualities of the historical presentation to a group of 17-year olds. For his audience it seemed to be just an obligatory museum visit.
What struck me first: his dedication and second: his habit to use one-liners. One sentence I remember was: “The things we want to see are displayed.”
Sarah Morris used many one-liners in her show. For some reason she needed to summarise complete works into single sentences. And it was often a sentence that, in my opinion, had little or nothing to do with the actual content of the work.
The subsequent exhibition was showing the work of Guy De Cointet, who was fascinated by playing with letters and figures.
So I wrote the one-liner I remembered from the guide in repetition as a punishment/mantra on one of the room texts. The idea of punishment referred to the obligatory visit to the museum and the idea of a mantra referred to the one-liners of Sarah Morris.
By writing this on the room texts the original content became unreadable.
@Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, the Netherlands
Malina is a 4-year-old girl, wearing blue jeans and a yellow sweater with a white elephant. She has dark blond hair and is my Bosnian neighbour from ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Jeroen, some friends and I took her to Naturalis in Leiden. She is very curious, wants to know everything and loves to hide under tables, chairs and in trees. I love her because of her adventurous mind and her lack of fear. She’s a daredevil!
That’s why we didn’t care to leave her alone for some minutes. She was playing with mammuth bones on the 3th floor, but when Jeroen and I returned after 15 minutes, we couldn’t find her anymore. It was 4 o’clock and most families were already leaving, so it wasn’t that crowded anymore. We walked to the top floor (5) and started our search there. We asked several adults if they had seen her walking around. At that point, she turned into a 5-year-old.
We looked everywhere, especially behind cabins and showcases. I yelled her name around and we asked some adults if they’ve seen her walking around. They didn’t see her, but in response to this question they told us story’s about the last time they lost their own kids. These people became our associates. When we saw them again, they immediatly asked us about Malina. This happened a few times during our search.
On the second floor an employee of the museum noticed us looking for a girl. She asked us about her and in a mindless moment her name turned into Malinda. The employee then made a call. At that point the whole staff of the museum started looking for her. We agreed that Jeroen and I should wait on the second floor. I stayed near the stairs, Jeroen started looking around.
The buzz now became real. The staff runned up and down the stairs while looking for her, keeping in contact with their walkie-talkies. The worried employee kept asking us about our child. Where could she be? Was she afraid to be alone? What did she wear? The yellow turned into pastel. The elephant remained white. No glasses. And her hair? In a little tail, yes. I almost started to believe in Malinda myself now.
I texted Frans and asked him to call me in 8 minutes and I became a bit nervous. This was getting serious. The staff was already looking for more than 10 minutes and the fact that we still didn’t find Malinda created panic. Time was ticking. The museum emptied. When Frans called it felt like a relief. Jeroen joined me and when we encountered a random employee, we told him Malinda’s grandfather found her outside of the museum and that they could stop the search.
Confusion took over. Okay, she’s been found, but you have to stay here. The employee we spoke first would come back here. And now we turned into Malinda’s parents. The moment when we told Malinda was outside of the museum, they told us that she and her grandfather were walking on the bridge to join us. At this right moment! She’s been found! Huray!
@Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, the Netherlands
Apart from the enormous amount of children franticly pushing buttons on interactive installations, the most striking observation in Naturalis, is the adults that are apparently put ‘on hold’. It looks as though they’ve come to a complete standstill, wearing vacant expressions gazing into oblivion.
In their apathy they resemble the stuffed animals from the exhibition. As if they are supposed to portray active and involved parents who are doing fun stuff with their kids just like the puma who seems to be frozen during a jump in mid-air.
The more active specimens follow a predefined routine, their actions and routing dictated by the program. No spontaneity and no unexpected events that are so characteristic in real life. Obediently they point out ‘interesting items’ in the exhibition when they’re supposed to, just like the cardboard Freek Vonk figures.
Our idea for the performance ‘On hold’ was inspired by these immobilised adults. What would happen if we as a group would just come to a standstill, and gaze into nothingness amidst the crowd.
Remarkably, nothing happens. At least not with the rest of the crowd. People just manoeuvre around you, not at all alarmed by your apathetic behaviour.
But what does happen is that the performers sort of ended up in a parallel space, like a vacuum. Because you mimic their behaviour, you are truly ‘on hold’ too. It seems like you’ve stopped, and the world passes you by like a film. But you’re not part of it anymore.
The second ParallelShow took place in the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. The choice of location might be a bit unexpected because it is not an art place. It is a museum for visual encounters with life in all sorts and that in itself seemed a very good reason to choose it for the ParallelShow. Another new aspect was the number of participating artists. We were six: Peter Baren, Jeroen Bouweriks, iwbdjdyatmvezdmnekzawvb, Mr and Mrs Gray and Frans van Lent.
We walked together in a line through the corridor, from the central hall towards the exhibition building. During this walk we immitated the (electronic) bird-whistling coming out of the loudspeakers above us.
We then started to explore the museum individually. After 90 minutes we gathered in the restaurant and discussed the possibilities. Many ideas came up, some were chosen to work out.
There was a tendency of (some) parents to withdraw into a state of lethargy in the background while their children were enjoying the attractions. By doing that they seemed to more or less approach the condition of the stuffed animals. It created a certain mirroring and we decided we could join them in doing that.
Another concept was the devise of a lost child. Malou made up a 5-year old girl called Malina. ‘Malina wears blue jeans and a yellow t-shirt, applicated with a white elephant. She has long brown hair’. Malou reported the missing girl, together with Jeroen, to the staff of the museum, and by doing that she created an official search for this unknown living creature in the museum. This activity related to the adventurous searches organised to entertain the visiting children.