The new patronage
The plans for ‘De Poort van Noord’ highlighted one of the Achilles’ heels of public space: urban leftover spaces. Leftovers develop within the seams of chronologically layered infrastructures; they are places where, in the first instance, official and commercial interests lack a clear presence. This status means that leftover spaces behave like tooth decay: they are aggressive in their attack on their surroundings. The Poort van Noord plan includes several proposals to counteract this aggression, proposals that unravel the time-grown infrastructure and rearrange its elements into a more legible whole.
An aspect that has so far received little attention in this approach and that the present article aims to examine is the changing relationship between the party that undertakes a commission (the artist) and the party that grants it (the patron, i.e. an art administration body). These changes imply a need for an organization adapted to the new methods of working.
Whenever new infrastructure is built, the government releases some funds for artistic additions under measures which include the ‘percentage rule’ and ‘quality-raising impulses’. The subsidizing authorities do not regard themselves as competent to manage these commissions and delegate the task to middlemen: the arts committees which operate at national, provincial and municipal levels. The initial stimulus for an artistic contribution is always a location. An owner (or multiple owners), an administrator (or multiple administrators) and a user (or multiple users) are also involved. Since the visual arts have traditionally taken little heed of economic or official interests; art has been ‘free’ and the work of art was often simply ‘parachuted’ into the location. This process was governed financially by a nationally agreed distribution formula. The arts committees had the job of deciding on the qualities of the work of art in relation to the qualities of the place. The ‘skin’ of the location formed the point of departure for both the artist and the committee. Artists and officialdom alike instituted an ‘aesthetics of the skin’.
In the nineties, the ‘aesthetics of the skin’ were finally unmasked as no more than skin deep, as a cosmetic layer on an empty shell. This discovery created room for renewed social concern. Art sought new ties. It was no longer underground but undercover. When artists go undercover, they enter into the domain of parties who normally stay out of the limelight but who determine the fate of 90 percent of public space – civil servants in the employ of national, provincial and local government. Their invisibility relieves them of the effective responsibility for public space. They are only answerable to government authorities. In their designs, they rely on standard procedures and standard solutions. They work on the assumption that this approach is the most direct and the least expensive and that it is thus to the public benefit.
The truth is that standard procedures and standard solutions are not at all cheap. Standard procedures usually result in a duplication of effort at municipal level. Standard solutions neglect the specific context and sooner or later have to be replaced; in the long term this makes them expensive. There is little communication if any between various departments, and the solutions they come up with are typified by an obstinate resistance to subtle adaptations.
Since artists play no significant part in the hierarchy of any commercial organization one can think of, they are in a position to parody the official apparatus for the Kafkaesque character of their standard procedures and solutions. The lack of status is the artist’s strongest and weakest point. Artists come and go and ‘infect’ the other parties for the duration of the intervention, like the unannounced guest in Pasolini’s Theorema1. The effect of their actions in the long term is unknown, for it has never been measured.
If, for the sake of convenience, we call the above-mentioned undercover mentality the New Art Practice, what is the role of the new-style arts committee, which we here will term the New Patronage?
The work of art was always the common ground on which the arts committee and the artist met. The New Relationships do not change anything here. In the New Relationships, however, the work is not as readily identifiable as ‘art’. The profile of the artist has become less distinct too. The undercover strategy allows the artist to adopt any desired profile (estate agent, politician, architect, sociologist, ecologist) in order arrive, in collaboration with external consultants, at the work of art. It is logical that, in this game of position-swapping, the profile of the patron must evolve too.
By going undercover, the artist comes face to face with the real patron: the municipality, province or state. The role played by the committees (those who, on the skin of the earth – the city square – used to control the budgets, supervise projects and determine artistic content) becomes a secondary one. It appears, contrary to what is always averred, that the changing function art is assuming has helped make a discourse with the real patron perfectly possible. Unlike traditional art in public spaces, today’s work in today’s public space needs no intermediary and thus has no need of arts committees.
Artists who operate in public space no longer deploy their art objects there (that’s what museums are for) but their expertise: analysis of the context and solving visual and conceptual problems. The undercover position adopted by visual art makes many tasks superfluous as they have been conceived by the arts committees in recent decades. If the old-style arts committees wish to stay in existence, they must undertake a formal and substantive reexamination of their traditional functions – curatorship, project management and decision making.
The developments around De Poort van Noord (‘Mouse-hole’, ‘Bus Square’, ‘Green Belt’ and Kralingen-Vroesenpark) mark a transition. Old models no longer appear to apply and new models are being tested. It remains a question, however, in how far these new developments are applicable in practice as ideas for a new administrative policy. What will be the new role of arts committees and/or visual art centres in connection with public space? What changes will be demanded of the arts committees when artists go undercover and meet and do deals with the real patron?
Administrative leftover spaces
Arts committees also make use of standard procedures and standard solutions. In the New Relationships, the standard procedures and standard solutions no longer play a part of any significance. Wholly in line with the plan [welke plan?], we ascertain the existence of administrative leftover spaces. There are two areas, from a historical viewpoint, that the arts committees did not consider deeply: initiation and completion. The initiative was provided by the government in the form of subsidies (percentage rules or ‘quality-enhancing impulses’). The completion, too, was determined – a national distribution formula on the basis of draft design, final draft design and execution. Undercover artists take the procedure that used to be part of the arts committees’ work partly into their own hands. Design, negotiation and the definition of the draft design are of greater importance than execution, because execution is conducted (in collaboration with the available experts) by the ‘staff’ of the patron. Arts committees must shift their fields of attention if they are to survive.
To this end, Omission proposes the creation of three forums:
1. Forum of initiative. The initiation of research. Given the institutional character of the arts centres, it must be possible for them to interleave with political processes at an early stage.2 They could bring the patron into contact with small, interdisciplinary teams (artists, ecologists, philosophers, media specialists, urban planners etc.) who would formulate (or reformulate3) the brief for the project on the basis of research and make a certain number of proposals.
2. Forum of finance. The traditional financial distribution formula needs updating. The existing formula places the stress on project execution. However, execution usually relies on the expertise available in the collaborating disciplines. Most effort goes into the period preceding execution: the draft design work, the negotiations, the hours of consultation, research and collaboration.
3. Forum of language. A sufficient flow of spin-off projects could be initiated and administered by the arts committees. They could develop new strategies on the basis of which projects can be transferred to other platforms. Besides the traditional package of public-level debates, seminars and documents, the New Relationships imply the investigation of new, more introspective and specialist-level alternatives (such as virtual think-tanks, working parties, web sites, an index etc.) In this form, overheads would be reduced to a necessary minimum and a ‘fresh’ language (as an expression and manifestation of altered connections) could be brought to fruition in the New Relationships.
This was an outline of some ideas about the new tasks of the New Patronage. Their realization will depend on a considerable amount of commitment. Arts committees would become participants instead of ‘patrons’. In this respect they would share responsibility for the success of the whole undertaking, and when necessary they could be called on to justify their decisions and actions.
1. In this 1968 film based on an existing novel, a wealthy Milanese business family is thrown off balance by the unannounced arrival of a guest (an angel or God?). The whole family is shaken out of its carefully-constructed bourgeois fantasy world. After the guest departs as unexpectedly as he arrived, the only one who can cope with the liberating effect of this visitation proves to be the servant girl; she is canonized, performs miracles and allows herself to be buried alive. Her tears are thereafter a wellspring of miracles.
2. The Rotterdam Arts Centre initiated and financed the study for De Poort van Noord. They assembled a team of three artists and an external consultant. Subsequently, the Arts Centre delegated the tasks of initiation and financing to the sub-municipality of Rotterdam Noord.
3. An essential difference is that formulating the commission would no longer be the task of the arts committee but of the specially appointed research team, whose members would always possess more inside knowledge than the ‘outsiders’ of the committee. Such research teams could call on the assistance of external consultants whenever necessary.
De Poort van Noord
‘Muizengaatje’ (The Mouse-hole) is the name of an area beneath [?/south of/just inside…] the A20 motorway at the boundary between the Rotterdam sub-municipalities Noord and Hillegersberg-Schiebroek, near Noord Station (intersection Bergweg/Straatweg). For decades, the area had no designated function and was used, typically for an urban leftover area, among other things as a municipal and private waste dump. Sub-municipality Noord sought for years for a solution for the area and considered a whole series of scenarios (all in vain). Finally, in 1997, the city departments of Public Works and of Town Planning and Housing decided to construct a new reservoir to hold Hillesbergen’s storm sewer overflow at times of heavy precipitation. The Noord sub-municipality and the Rotterdam Arts Centre followed this decision up by commissioning a team of artists with the task of complementing the Muizengaatje redevelopment with ideas from their own discipline.
The artists designed a total scheme (called ‘De Poort van Noord’) for Muizengaatje, the adjacent bus station and the so-called ‘north edge’ (the strip fringing the A20 between the [?+junctions] Kleinpolderplein and Terbregseplein). They had decided that there was no point in developing a scheme for Muizengaatje alone. The core of their scheme amounted to unravelling the chronologically layered infrastructures and exposing them to view. The artists also decided to take advantage of the presumed expertise of the municipal departments involved.
For Muizengaatje itself, the artists took the reservoir plan as their point of departure. The pumping station, the heart of the installation, was made the central feature. The reservoir was placed adjacent to the footpath along the road Bergweg and converted into a plug flow system in which ‘random vegetation’ [???=risiconatuur] would be introduced to purify the water before allowing it to flow further. This is to some extent a pedagogical gesture; the level of water purification is limited. Above all, however, it is an experimental situation which tests the introduction of a natural element into the urban environment, a situation where it is normally considered impossible. The A20 viaduct is furthermore treated as a monument, exemplary of all urban or other leftover spaces, and illuminated at night.
The main problems came as always from the list of applicable conditions, which concerned the limitations of the location and the available budget. The reservoir, for example, had to meet a minimum storage capacity for surface water. The large volumes of bedding sand could not be transported outside the boundaries of the development. Public health and safety had to be protected. Muizengaatje became a paradigm of the redefinition of urban or other leftover space with readily available means. It is exemplary in the sense that similar means and similar budgets will make possible solutions for other problems in public space.
The scheme also posed questions about the role of the patron. The first phase of the total scheme (the reservoir) is under construction. The refurbishment of the bus station is currently being developed. The third phase, a rearticulation of the north edge (a chain of fascinating biotopes along the A20 from Kleinpolder to Terbregseplein) is in preparation.
1. Q.S. Serafijn/Han Snoek (Omission), Jeroen van Westen and Maarten van Wesemael collaborated on devising the scheme.
The artist stripped bare. Undercover.
No-one is the profession that he practices. Continuous real-time role playing is the most effective therapy for a society.
Studio artists played their role as studio artists with verve. When artists decide to test their concepts outside the studio, away from the artistic context and the margin, they adapt their role to the circumstances. Artist go undercover in non-profit foundations, adopt pseudonyms, disguise themselves as chambermaids, design logos and set themselves up as companies. They mimic the behaviour of society; they infiltrate it, on might say, so as to propagate their concepts with the greatest possible effectiveness. Museums too seek an increasingly public profile and adopt a behaviour pattern theat may best be described as a combination of a study centre, a mail order company and a grand caf_. Artists and art institutions are developing along the lines of two celestial bodies, hurtling along at the same speed and in the same direction, while conducting an animated conversation, without any regard for the space through which they move. The only possible social committment of the artist resides in the making and development of the art object and in the strategy that leads up to that object. If the work of art and the artist’s social concern are to bear any relation to society, then the maintenance of the newly adopted roleplay is essential. Integrity was a fleeting moment in the history of art and was moreover misunderstood. Integrity is the way in which and the extent to which illusions are cherished. The urge to unmask that characterizes the institutions in their emancipation tends in the direction of reality TV. The urge to mask that characterizes the artist is an interpretation of the concept of freedom. When the institution invites the artist to reflect upon itself, it is appealing to the idea of freedom as understood by the artist, only then to neutralize that freedom as quickly as possible and unmask the artist. The institution’s choice of the artist is thus the manifestation of an unconscious wish for unmasking. The manager is nowadays granted his three-piece suit and cellphone. The artist is expected to strip naked as quickly as possible. In a society where roleplaying and illusion ensure the circulation of capital, cultural capital serves in particular as illusory where a clear path to get, the role-playing respected, perfected moreover [??].
Status and margin
P.S.M. de Both (physician)
The verb of the month is ‘to status’: to accord status to someone. Everyone has nowadays been statussed: clergymen, turncoats, deep thinkers and the simple-minded. Status exists by virtue of marginalization. The highly statussed need bodyguards to protect their privacy, and bodyguards in turn marginalize themselves by maintaining the illusion of a bachelor life their whole life long. Educators have a single goal: statifaction, the fastest possible escape from the margin. In other words, lifelong shifting from one margin to the next, only to pause for a moment in some artificially designed centre and to allow oneself to be perceived. Perception is the discerning of objects against a background. Perception is the creation of a margin between the object and the side-wings. Checkout girls wear overalls, street magazine sellers wear body-warmers and doctors wear white coats. Status is legible in the perception of the image. Life is the exertion of pressure on the surroundings. Given the biassed position of the subject, all surroundings are marginal. The margin is thus a precondition for status. The statussed and marginals both know that. Many marginals do not however know how they must portray themselves. They are powerless.
The Fifth Leg
1. The architect Chrisopher Alexander wished to dissect architecture and reduce it to a modular system. He hoped to make the power and beauty of architecture accessible to everyone who wished to build things with his ‘simple’ modular system and a low budget.
2. The genome of the fruit fly Drosophilidaede has been completely decoded and catalogued. The Drosophilidaede can be constructed in different ways according to whether certain genes are switched on or switched off.
Both these examples relate to the use of modular systems. There is something important missing in both examples. The products of Alexander’s system have been disappointing, for the buildings share none of the qualities of their illustrious architectural forebears. In the genetic manipulations of the fruit fly, there is no necessity to place the organs and limbs in arrangements other than that naturally given.
In public space, all activities occur at points where information flows meet and intersect. The lack of ways of retrieving the information concerned fully and whenever required contributes to the occurrence of leftover areas and leftover spaces. The current design of public space (driven by government and detailed by government agencies) is utterly devoid of any form of challenge or experiment. It is risk-free and semi-efficient. This applies to the design of 90% of public space. The ‘stateless’ position that characterizes art (the overview, the mediation/tuning of the given modules, the collation of information) can play a significant part in that 90% of public space. The new brief for the artist is not the parachuting-in or bomb-dropping of semi-avant garde ideas but a ‘resequencing’ of what is present into a (newly) meaningful whole. Logistical organizations reduce themselves in the course of time to modular construction kits. Further modulation is pointless. The ‘genetic material’ of public space is thus readily available. It is merely necessary to construct a different ‘fruit fly’.
A virtual system, analogous to a GIS (Geographical Information System), uses information, nodes and coordinates for making that which is significant in part areas of public space (political, historic, urbanistic, social, financial etc.) immediately available. When plan development is decided on, developments that are active in the part area concerned may be retrieved from the databases. The time saved in the gathering of information is evident. The position of the intermediary / tuner, i.e. the person who gives the project its meaning, is more difficult to capture. The construction of virtual platforms integrating art, modules and information flows can produce durable changes in the above-mentioned 90% of public space.
A team of researchers once tried to emulate the trotting and galloping gaits of a horse by building a robot version of the animal. The robot consisted of a table top with four sprung telescopic legs. A computer program controlled each leg separately. The ‘horse’ failed to make any headway, however, and merely rocked rather pathetically back and forth on the spot, now and then falling over. Finally, someone had the bright idea of adding a fifth, virtual leg to the computer programme. The effect of the virtual leg was that the ‘horse’ effortlessly made the transition from trotting to galloping and vice versa.
Somewhere along the way in the development of modules, art has gone missing.
Mental leftover spaces
In the preface to l’Horizon Negatif, Paul Virilio describes how he tries to practice an unconventional way of looking at the world through his painting. He tries to shift his attention from the sharply contoured, opaque objects that seemingly attempt to impose themselves directly on his awareness, and to attune his eyes to the intervening spaces that exist as ephemeral phenomena between objects. The customary hierarchy of perception, with its distinction between object and field (and hence in effect between existence and non-existence) suddenly becomes less self-evident. An immense new space arises: the next-to. By adjusting himself to a view of reality from a multiplicity of angles, Virilio opens up a kaleidoscopic universe which the normal focus of the eye makes invisible to us. Perception, Virilio concludes, is not merely a matter of vision but also of obfuscation. By seeing one thing, we blind ourselves to another. We are blinded by overlighting.
Virilio’s effort of will to reeducate his perception to a perspective different from the everyday one helps us understand where the contemporary leftover spaces are hiding. If you think that it is simply a matter of patches of no-man’s land awaiting development or gaps in our knowledge that need filling, you have never experienced the appropriate shift of perspective. Leftover spaces are far more likely to be found in places that are over-determined, where a tangle of competing functions and authorities battle for the foreground and challenge one another’s right to exist by stealing one another’s limelight. Undercover artists have understood Virilio’s archeology of the visual field. The mental leftover space they seek is the broad territory of possibilities that escape our mental grasp as long as we clutch onto our established positions and constantly fixate our gaze on the same points of focus. The capacity to look afresh and to mobilize the powers of imagination is in no way reserved, by definition, to the artist (the tendency to narrow perception to a single focues and to fail to see the relative nature of the individual perspective is as widespread among artists as among any other group). The undercover artist operates by grace of shifts in perspective and of mobility. It is precisely because the manifestations of the artist’s social involvement are temporary in nature and because, as in a contemporary variant of the Brechtian alienation effect, he never fully identifies with the role he chooses to play, that room is made for the next-to.
The intervening space is the mental space you create when you adopt an intermediate position. An intervening space is thus a connection for breaking open the existing, largely closed circuits and for making new forms of social commitment possible. The French word for such commitment, engagement, contains an interesting etymological clue; for it is derived from the word ‘gage’ (a surety) and closely related to the equally ancient ‘wage’. Engagement, commitment, is thus essentially a deal. You get something in return, a wage packet. What form should the ‘wage packet’ take, outside the existing, closed circuits? Granted the intervening space, what are the new negotiations, the new transactions and the new contracts?
the importance and visibility of art – real-time, and at the heart of the situation – can only be disclosed by reference to case studies
gage is the trait d’union, the glue, in the word transaction
idealism is amorphous and needs to transform the structure into commitment
History and Form – The Ecology of Design.
From Teksten/texts, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerp, 1993
New Man To Be, Lokaal Europa no. 4, 1996 (detail)
prop flow area
recycling of contaminated soil for use in middle dyke and prop flow
illumination of viaduct from middle dyke
prop flow direction
‘Status and Marge’ (column) STRAATmagazine no. 21, 1998, Rotterdam edition
6 covers in collaboration with STRAATmagazine Rotterdam, February/August 1998
published in HTV/De IJsberg 1996
published in Archis 1997
published in Metropolis M 1997
published in Decorum 1998