6 February - 15 March 2009

CURATOR CURATOR #3: Towards Confluence

HISK, Ghent, BE

Curated by: Remco de Blaaij and Kamila Wielebska

with: Æ - Ramon Hulspas and Erik Vermeulen, Erica Boom, Tamara Dees, Grzegorz Klaman, Joanna Malinowska, Tanja Muravskaja, Patrycja Orzechowska, Erno Rubik

Location: HISK, Ghent, Belgium

Supported by: De Vlaamse Gemeenschap, BE

Tanja Muravskaja, Positions, 2007

Remco de Blaaij and Kamila Wielebska are proud to invite you to Towards Confluence, an international group exhibition made in collaboration with the Hoger Instituut voor Schone Kunsten (HISK) and Enough Room for Space (ERforS). We would like to take you on a journey of exploration Towards Confluence. The nine artists and two curators involved, coming from different national and political backgrounds, will meet in one exhibition space in order to see how, when and why things come together or why some things are separated and will never meet.

‘Confluence’ – what does it mean? According to the dictionary it is about flow: ‘the place where two or more rivers flow together: the confluence of the Rhine and the Mosel / (fig.) a confluence of ideas’. Now, we are in Gent, Belgium where most historians believe the older name for Gent is derived from the Celtic word 'ganda', which means confluence. But what does it really mean for us now, in this time, in this space? Maybe, we should think of Wittgenstein: ‘Don’t ask for the meaning, ask for the use’.

Still, everything starts with the word because we always try to name what we see. Erica Boom (from the Netherlands) – in short – attempts to find words. She is interested in similarity, in the connections between naming, words and languages. In doing this, could she be looking for universal rules, whatever the language? In all events, confluences sometimes appear suddenly in her works... like miracles. Sometimes we can hardly believe that what she presents from her ‘archives’ is even true. She shows certain signs without any direct linguistic explanation. It is only a Languagestream flowing throughout Europe. Where is the source? And how can we recognize it, understand it? Can we really understand each other? Especially when we come from different places, from different countries and... languages. And as Wittgenstein (that Austrian-born philosopher who spent much of his life in England) says ‘If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world’.

Problems with Others
‘We’ and ‘Us’ – who are ‘we’ and who are ‘they’? And why are ‘they’ so strange? Using this word ‘we’ emphasizes that ‘we’ represent some special group of people, that ‘we’ in which we feel a part. Everyone was born in some country, sentenced to feel part of it. It sounds quite ridiculous but have a look at the national flags! They consist of a very few, simple colours: red, blue, white, black and yellow. It means: Poland, the Netherlands, Estonia, Belgium and the United States of America.... These are ‘our’ countries, their colours define our nationality and so say something about our identity. Yet the colours would like to speak about us in a very simple, universal way. Can we really find ourselves in this idea? Grzegorz Klaman (from Poland) tries to add something extra. He created a new Flag for the III Republic of Poland by adding one more strip to the old white and red: a black one. But, at the same time he noticed one very important thing: what really builds our identity is a common life and day-to-day existence. What seems to be important for Tanja Muravskaja (Estonia) is the relationship between the national flag and the body of some particular human being, the Position that is taken. What does it mean: the nation? Is it some abstract idea? Or maybe it is an organism which consists of numbers of human beings, of many different bodies. Like Johnny Cash (famous Man in Black) sings in U2’s cover: ‘We are one but we are not the same’.

Problems with identity
But how can I recognize who ‘you’ are if I even cannot be sure who ‘I’ am?
Our identity consists of many layers. They are like clothes which can put on and be taken off. Like in Patrycja Orzechowska’s (Polish artist) series Uncovering / Covering. Sometimes we can try it on and later abandon it like unwanted old stuff – it does not fit us anymore. But sometimes clothes seem to be like bonds, uncomfortable situations keeping us like in a cage, like in a prison. But what is inside – deep inside in the Heart of the Darkness? Something it is better not to know. To leave it outside consciousness... It could be really scary... Well... Maybe, in fact, it is not so horrible. It is only our fear of the unknown.

Sometimes we can even find such a nice surprise inside the search area, things we have never realized that we had ‘on board’. We never know until we start searching. When we decide to travel, to be in motion, is that the moment opportunities open up for us? Tamara Dees (from the Netherlands) decided to make a canal trip from Gent to Terneuzen which connects Gent to the sea. It was opened in 1827.  In 1899 Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski (a Polish-born, famous English novelist) wrote his most acclaimed work that inspired Tamara Dees in making a new film for this exhibition.

Joanna Malinowska (Polish-born artist who lives and works in New York) also decided to go on a long journey resulting in the video Umanaqtuaq. She visited Jimmy Ekho known as Arctic Elvis in Iqaluit (Canada), a folk singer who was (he died in 2008) inspired by Elvis Presley but sang in the Inuktitut language. He combined in his own style the characteristic look of the Elvis and typical Inuk appearance. The person who he creates seems to be built of what is global, well-known and recognized all around the world (even in such strange places as the Arctic) and of very unique, regional distinctions - an iconic pop image mixed with local tradition that makes us realize that not only was he created by himself, but many other people had a hand in his appearance as well.

We think it is very important to always keep asking ourselves such simple, naïve questions like: Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going? And try to find some honest responses... It is not so easy as it seems at first. Especially, when we remember this sentence of Wittgenstein: ‘Philosophy is not a theory but an activity’.

Like Brian O’Doherty describes in his famous Inside the White Cube story: ‘The work is isolated from everything that would detract from its own evaluation of itself. [...] Conversely, things become art in a space where powerful ideas about art focus on them. [...] Modernism’s transposition of perception from life to formal values is complete. This, of course, is one of modernism’s fatal diseases’. He compared a gallery with its laws and rigours to the medieval church. What we try to do now is to point out some layers of existence which could ‘say’ something not only about art... When we reach the building where an exhibition takes place, it seems on the outside to be quite official yet what do we have inside? Conversely, we try to put more life here - not in order to try to conquer reality - but to build a connection to it. Official and unofficial. Outside and inside. Maybe it is a bit more complicated, consisting of more layers and meanings than we thought? Or maybe... it is completely mixed together, transformed into a non-separated hybrid – an animal of the Confluence. O’Doherty is really not a Columbus when he says: ‘Works of art are mounted, hung, scattered for study’. Yeah, ok. But we want to play!

Ern_ Rubik, (Hungarian) sculptor and professor of architecture, invented his Cube in 1974. The mechanical puzzle, previously called the ‘Magic Cube’ was licensed by Rubik to be sold by Ideal Toys in 1980 and quickly became one of the most famous objects in the world. We think it is quite obvious – it was and still is so popular in many countries, beyond borders, in a Europe split into ‘East’ and ‘West’ where it was a real hit on both sides of the Iron Curtain. When we were children, we all had Rubik’s Cube in our homes, on both ‘sides’ we tried to solve the same puzzle... In 1989, the Wall was knocked down. Now, twenty years after, people of this generation, from places where 1989 had different effects, are in the same space, together in an area that is both familiar and unfamiliar to us. What does it mean and - more importantly - what can we do with it? What kind of relation of influences will we bring from our respective and different sources? What we all recognise for sure is the Rubik’s Cube. But is it an art object or common stuff of life? What is the difference between them? Could something be both at the same time? Or maybe we have to choose only one option? What if we place the Rubik’s Cube into a museum showcase, declaring it an object of art and cutting it off from the fresh air? Rubik’s Cube is, similar to the space where we live, the living creature – an animal of the Confluence.

Brian O’Doherty in his famous book also mentions the Merzbau, that strange work of Kurt Schwitters (German artist who spent many years in exile): ‘The Merzbau was a tougher, more sinister work than it appears in the photographs available to us. It grew out of the studio – that is, a space, materials, an artist, and a process. Space extended (up-stairs and downstairs) and so did time (to about 13 years). The work cannot be remembered as static, as it looks in photographs. Framed by meters and years, it was a mutating, polyphonic construct, with multiple subjects, functions, concepts of space and of art’. And the ongoing project “The World Filled with Stuff” from Æ (a collaboration of Ramon Hulspas & Erik Vermeulen from the Netherlands), is a random selection of stuff moved from building to building or spaces to spots. As they say about it: ‘Once we started documenting this, it took on an abstract life, going through different phases, morphing into different shapes due to changing situations and contexts’. So, it also seems to be a kind of living creature: the work in progress, the Never-ending Story. We, together with the artists themselves don’t really know what is going to happen in the space, if we are allowed to speculate about a result at all. And we take this opportunity to be surprised by the ‘childish’ responsibility to have fun. It’s dead serious.

So, now we are in ‘one’ place and trying to communicate in ‘one’ language. This is the confluence. Can we discover some universal rules? Or maybe it is messier, a place where things are mixed together completely, a mythical tower of Babel?  Is it possible that the search for our identity is a kind of punishment and we always dream about a previous, innocent unity that we lost? It seems that we cannot understand each other completely.

But are there any real limits in the place of Confluence? ‘What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence’.  Yeah, Wittgenstein was (quite ironically) right. But, is speaking the only way of expression? Or the most important? Or even the most universal? Primal? We are not sure. Once we went together to the cinema. It was an American movie, In Search of a Midnight Kiss by Alex Holdridge; an independent film director from L. A. Somebody had described it as ‘very, very funny’. So we laughed together very loudly and at the same moments. It is really possible that we are all the same? Or maybe we have just got some things that unite us, allowing us occasionally to feel the same, to see the world in a very similar way... Even if you live in Los Angeles, California.