At the age of thirty-three, Vanderlinden has already curated (or produced) a wide variety of projects: From 1991 to 1993, she worked on the contemporary art program for Antwerp '93, Cultural Capital of Europe, where she cocurated (with Bart Cassiman) "New Sculptures for Middelheim" and organized "The Sublime Void" and "On taking a normal situation . . ." (a phrase borrowed from Gordon Matta-Clark). Since the founding of Roomade in 1996, she has launched projects in collaboration with Matt Mullican, Marie JosE Burki, Tobias Rehberger, Anne Daems, Ilya Kabakov, and Jan Fabre. Under the rubric "On the desperate and long-neglected need for small events," she has organized artistic projects in deserted buildings in Brussels. This summer she curated (for the Universal Exhibition in Lisbon) the contemporary-art section of the exhibition "Fascinating Faces of Flanders" - "58/98: Two Hours Wide, Two Hours Long" - and cocurated (with Maria Lind and Robert Reck) Manifesta 2 in Luxembourg.
HANS-ULRICH OBRIST: How would you describe your curatorial approach? What do you think the curator's role is?
BARBARA VANDERLINDEN: An important part of the recent history of art has developed by means of major institutional exhibitions conceived as a momentum, reflecting the tensions and developments within contemporary art. But I think most of the significant shows in recent years were the work of individuals rather than institutions. Arnold Bode, Harald Szeemann, Kasper Konig, and Pontus Hulten, for example, have asked - through the shows they have mounted - important questions about the role of the curator. Much of their work has been done outside the traditional museum, and it has stirred discussion about what an exhibition is or can be. I don't believe curators create exhibitions by following in anyone else's footsteps - I know I don't. Right now I would say the curator's task is to rethink the "exhibition as a momentum."
HUO: You founded Roomade as a "structure of production." It has no fixed exhibition space, but is something like a production office - film production, video production, whatever - that uses different spaces as needed. Could you tell me about the founding of Roomade and what your motivations were in doing so? Also, were there any precedents that influenced you?
BV: We founded Roomade two years ago as an attempt to plug certain "gaps" in the way that art is shown, to go beyond the traditional format, which tends to cause exhibitions to fall into a conventional pattern. For example, when we produced a series of hypnosis performances with Matt Mullican, we had to find a new location for each one, since his dialogue between artist and hypnotist was set in a specific domestic setting and simply wouldn't have come across if it were done in a conventional museum space. So we held each performance in a different private home.
The form we have given to Roomade is not a museum or a conventional art center, but an "office for contemporary art." We are trying to bypass the conventional system without wishing to oust it. The aim, from the beginning, was to probe anew the limits of creativity and to propagate original and risky projects with artists. The challenge is to generate insights without falling into navel-gazing or " l'art pour l'art."
The idea to put together a small, flexible organization came to me while I was researching the history of an antimuseum or antigallery in Antwerp - a self-proclaimed "corporation of free men" - called A 37 90 89. Kasper Konig founded it in 1969-and it was active for six months. The artists' projects of A 37 90 89 were as varied as a soccer match by Jorg Immendorff's fictitious "LIDL Academy," a bar called Amadeus, which was run by Addi Kepcke and Tomas Schmit, a balloon flight by Panamarenko, Marcel Broodthaers' Musee d'Art Moderne Departement des Aigles, Section XVIIe siecle, and antiracist actions (in one case, they published a list of every local bar and cafe that posted "no foreigners allowed" signs).
It was obvious that the scale, energy, spontaneity, and directness were the main characteristics of this so-called noninstitute. Without referring to the ideological context of the '60s, we were interested in reinventing such a working environment and production situations. Of course, Roomade is not the only example of this approach today. There are a number of similar associations around the world, like Artangel in London.
HUO: When did you start to organize exhibitions? Was there some event - a discussion with an artist, say, or a sudden burst of inspiration - that triggered your first curatorial activities? Tell me about your background, from your earliest projects up to the '90s.
BV: I guess I just started working with artist friends on different projects. In 1991, I was hired as the contemporary art coordinator for Antwerp '93, Cultural Capital of Europe, where I had the occasion to develop many artists projects within the framework of the various exhibitions we organized ("The Sublime Void," "New Sculptures for Middelheim," and "On taking a normal situation . . ."). These projects ranged from outdoor sculptures by Per Kirkeby, Matt Mullican, and Isa Genzken to site-specific works by Mark Dion in the Antwerp zoo. We worked with Andrea Fraser, who hung posters throughout the city, and produced a film by Bethan Huws. During those three years I was active as a producer, let's say, of more than thirty major works, including projects by Renee Green, Maria Eichhorn, Eugenio Dittborn, and Jimmie Durham. It was clear from then on that I wanted to create a situation where the key questions involve the problem of production and the place of art itself, and that "situation" could be an individual art project or an exhibition. To me, the "problem of production" is not merely to solve practical problems but to find new situations for art to develop in, whether in the form of a book, a television program, or a radio play, and so on. My job is to invent structures, to create or re-create a place that can provide greater clarity in our readings of contemporary art and bring out new possibilities in it.
HUO: Could you tell me about the Manhattan Office Tower Project?
BV: The Manhattan Office Tower Project comprises a series of smaller projects that take place in a twenty-seven-story office building in Brussels, the Manhattan Center. It was the first building in Brussels to be built on the American skyscraper model, and though it was finished in 1972 it remains largely empty, attracting few tenants to its office space and business center. When we started Roomade it was inevitable that we would stumble on the Manhattan Center, which is a hallucinatory incarnation of metropolitan megalomania run amok, but I also see it as a dreamland for creative thinking. The Manhattan Office Tower Project has sent artists traveling like nomads throughout the building, from the top down to the parking garage six stories underground. We subtitled the project "On the desperate and long-neglected need for small events," which was meant to point out the insane miscalculation of scale that the center embodies and that is, more generally, a fiction of '70s architecture.
HUO: Distances are shrinking in Europe. Brussels is now only an hour and a half from Paris by train, and London and Cologne are little more than two hours away. How do you see the art scene in Brussels at the moment? Is there more flux and exchange with other cities?
BV: In terms of institutions and exhibitions, Brussels is still an island. But in terms of a living space, the city is very open. Of late, artists from all over Europe have based themselves in Brussels, in part, I suppose, because it is centrally located in relation to Paris, Amsterdam, and London.
HUO: You, Robert Fleck [an independent Austrian curator, art critic, and director of postgraduate studies at Nantes' art school], and Maria Lind [a curator at the Moderna Museet Stockholm and an editor of Index] have been preparing Manifesta 2, which opens in Luxembourg this summer. What are the key issues of the show? How did you choose the artists? How do you take into account the considerable multiplication of art centers in Europe in the past few years?
BV: An international exhibition of this kind is normally either an eclectic survey or a thematic exhibition. We weren't content with established ideas about the current state of the arts in Europe, but simply wanted to scrutinize what is going on and provide as full a picture as we could. We ended up traveling through most major European cities, from Tallinn to Lisbon via Istanbul, Berlin, Leipzig, Milan, and so on. Indeed, what we found was a considerable multiplication of art centers and an intensified cultural exchange between the various regions of Europe. That was the great unremarked cultural revelation we observed. A migratory trend among artists has also become much more marked in recent years. Now it is common for an artist to spend long periods outside her native land.
HUO: You're saying that Manifesta 2 is neither an eclectic survey nor a thematic exhibition, so how would you describe it then?
BV: Manifesta 2 shows works that are fundamentally resistant, not in a conservative but in a provocative way. It distinguishes itself from a thematic exhibition because it does not impose one way of understanding the works of art that come together in the show. It respects the artist and the individual body of the work of art and attempts to hold steady in the face of the tremendously powerful "new waves" or "new themes" that periodically sweep through the art world. In the exhibition we have created directness and complexity by introducing more than one theme. Factual and fictional biography, ambient spaces, painting in an extended field, and so on. Manifesta can be seen as the Fauvism of today: we are working on the presence of art.
HUO: For Manifesta 2 you made a special effort to look east of Vienna. When we were looking through various artists' dossiers in Brussels, you pointed out that there is a totally new and very interesting generation of artists emerging there. Tell me more about your discoveries in Eastern Europe.
BV: The artists emerging in Eastern Europe are working within a wholly new context. They have not grown up under communism and are the first Eastern European generation not to start from a political or ideological context. They work at a time within which the recuperation of art within a political context has little meaning anymore. Due, to the ease with which information now flows across borders, Eastern European artists experience more or less the same visual culture as those working in Western Europe. Although our eastern colleagues still face tremendous difficulties in terms of materials and other practical problems, their attitudes have changed as the horizon of their possibilities has broadened.
HUO: Manifesta 2 will be accompanied by a dense source book on the multiple cultural centers of Europe. Could you tell me how it is conceived?
BV: We wanted to put together a book containing general information, artists' pages as well as clear descriptions of the various European art scenes, written by writers from those countries and listing the most important institutions devoted to the promotion of contemporary art, galleries, magazines, art critics, and so on. The source book is intended to share, as much as possible, the information we gathered while researching the show. You might see it as our contribution to the development of Manifesta 2 as a growing institution concerned with the interconnectedness of the various European art worlds. That will also be visible in the Info Lab (where we have displayed all of the catalogues and research materials we collected researching the show) and the website of Manifesta 2, which will link for the first time over 100 websites that provide information about contemporary art.
HUO: This year you are also curating "58/98: Two Hours Wide, Two Hours Long," the contemperary-art section of the exhibition "Fascinating Faces of Flanders," which opens in Lisbon on June 28 as part of the Universal Exhibition. You have chosen not only visual artists but people from other disciplines, such as the fashion designer Martin Margiela. Tell me about your interdisciplinary approach to this exhibition and how you deal with the problematic Issue of a national show.
BV: The problem of a national exhibition is one thing. In the case of the Lisbon show, the problem is more complicated. "Fascinating Faces of Flanders" is an exhibition about the region Flanders, which is part of Belgium. As you know, the political problems in Belgium are extremely complex, and that also defines the structure and intentions behind this exhibition. We live in a time where globalization and regionalism are parallel if seemingly opposite movements. Perhaps the drive toward globalization has triggered a strong urge for identity. But I don't think the problem of regionalism precludes the possibility of making an exhibition of works by Flemish artists. Why should they be punished for the political and ethical problems of others? It's up to the artists to find the right answer to an exhibition of this kind - even if that is to refuse to participate. As the curator, I felt the need to open up and challenge as much as possible the concepts of border and identity. For that reason, I included artists whose backgrounds don't provide any one root back to a representational national index in the way it might for, say, people born and raised in Randers, of parents from that region, and so on. I also sought to cross the borders of traditional art, by including architecture, fashion, and so on.
HUO: What is "Generation Z"?
BV: "'Generation Z" is an exhibition I am preparing with Klaus Biesenbach [artistic director of Kunstwerke Berlin and the first Berlin Biennale] and Alanna Heiss [director of P.S. 1]. It opens in New York at P.S. 1 next April. "Generation Z" could be the curators' name for those who transform the "fragmentation" and "information" overload (reigning ideas in the first half of the '90s) into a real source of energy. This exhibition is intended as a reflection on the present, today's world. "Z" stands for the finishing point that is demarcated by a new beginning. The idea of a new beginning does not imply the resolution of some past confusion; it only starts off the transition - and it tends to provoke less anxious thinking about the future. Our emphasis will be put on crossover cooperation. We want to investigate the notion of the generation as a driving force in the development of intellectual and artistic issues. Does it still make sense to talk about a "generation" as traditionally conceived? Will new generations recognizably start here or end there? What exactly determines the beginning and end of a generation? Those are the sorts of questions we pose.
HUO: When you're done crisscrossing the globe mounting all these exhibitions, what do you plan to do to recuperate?
BV: All this traveling is really very unusual for me. I hope I haven't sounded like I'm part of the international "jet set." I work mostly in Brussels, where I spend as much time at home with my five-year-old daughter as I possibly can. But even with all the traveling lately, I really don't need to "recuperate": enthusiam doesn't necessarily mean exhaustion!
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|Title Annotation:||interview with curator Barbara Vanderlinden|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1998|
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