Trespassing through time and space
by Alicja Melzacka
16. August 2017
(presented dOCUMENTA14 Unpacking Burckhardt)
My particular interest has been the intersection of art, memory and urban landscape. This is why it has been so particulary rewarding to work with Inge and Erwin and witness them reinventing the ways in which art can approach or rather intertwine with those domains. In my most recent research of the transformation of the postindustrial landscape of Gdansk Shipyard, I concentrated on the problem of institutionalisation of memory and authorisation of heritage, and proposed contemporary art as one of the methods of subversion. It seems that Nabuurs&VanDoorn have been struggling with the same problems and their artistic practice can be seen as a possible answer to several questions I struck upon while doing my research – some of them considered irresolvable -– of how memory can be preserved and history represented without being petrified and homogenised, and most importantly how can art relate to those big topics and not become subservient.
In this reading I will focus on Nabuurs&VanDoorn’s practice as a tool for engaging in a dialogue, or even as a way of exerting influence on heritage in transition – or in broader terms – cultural landscape. I will start with the general introduction to their practice, focusing especially on those characteristics which inscribe it in the psychogeographic tradition, building on and going beyond the legacy of Burckhardt and situationists.
In the second part I would like to use the example of their most recent project – Zwischenlandschaften, as a blueprint to talk about the position (in-between) art can assume in relation to landscape.
On the way we will also discuss the prospects of art in the post-performance age, the precarious relationship between documentation and art, and the importance of working in public space, all in 20 minutes, so get ready.
This is my first visit to Kassel but for Inge and Erwin it is a return, as they have been here multiple times. Particularly interesting is their first visit, 10 years ago, and the intervention they conducted back then, which could well happen today and would be equally relevant. After having encountered,for the first time, the name of Lucius Burckhardt during the exhibition in Utrecht devoted to S.I., the artists became inspired by his writing. They first came into overt dialogue with his legacy in the course of Something is Missing project – a vast work, encompassing various interventions and publications in three different cities – Eindhoven, Kassel and Basel. The title, referring on the one hand to Ernst Bloch and Adorno’s discussion on utopia, was a witty commentary on the situation on the international art scene – from which indeed something was – and maybe still is - missing. Each of the components of Something is Missing project assisted another famous institutionalized art event in a manner, which I like to call parasite art – it was subverting the main event already by its own presence and, as such, had a strong overtone of ant-institutional critique and self-organisation spirit.
Unfortunately I cannot discuss all elements of this project in detail and instead will focus on the part of Something is Missing that took place in Kassel exactly 10 years ago, in coincidence with Documenta 12.
Nabuurs&VanDoorn intervened into the urban tissue by symbolically renaming the stretch between Fredericianum and Wilhemshohe to Burckhardtstrasse. Additionally, contraband leaflets were distributed, encouraging the visitors of documenta to stroll along the street, in this way not only paying homage to the intiatior of the discipline, but also rendering the visitors practitioners of spaziergangswissenschaft and participants of the intervention. This intervention was conducted incognito and without permission, what points already towards the strategy of trespassing that I will elaborate on later. At the same time artists’ anonymity, as well as forceless, unorchestrated engagement of passers-by and visitors to Documenta, point to this intervention as one of the many attempts of Nabuurs&VanDoorn at restructuring the relationship between performer, setting and audience.
Let me elaborate more on this issue:
The three components: performer – setting – audience, seen as the main constituents of what is defined as artistic performance. Through their practice Nabuurs&VanDoorn subvert the hierarchical, structured relationship between audience and artist. Their works involve different ways of ‘elimination’ of traditionally understood audience – sometimes it is through creating affective situations, and handling agency over to participants, as in the case of, for example urban game in urban game in Becoming Dutch or psychotest in The Sea Awaits your Return. On the other hand, Nabuurs&VanDoorn often work in context when one would not expect the audience – especially when conducting minimal interventions – and by doing so they subsitute the ‘audience’ in the configuration with perfomer and setting for incidental passers-by. Oftentimes, when these are scarce or absent we may have an impression of audience missing. As for example in the series of penance-interventions „but now it needs to be done”.
Because of these characteristics, I have used the term post-performance to describe the activity of Nabuurs&VanDoorn. To me, post-performance is art of intervention conducted without public, where the emphasis shifts from or at least is divided between artist’s body, prop or gadget, or finally the setting itself – the last one being particularly foregrounded in zwischenlandschaften. Post-performance also indicates the extension of an intervention through another art medium – in many cases intervention is concluded with a certain publication of photograph, which attempts to be more than a documentation, but and autonomous art object itself. I will come back to this problem when discussing Zwischenlandschaften.
What is Landscape?
Before moving to zwischenlandschaften, the work which literally translates to in-between-the landscapes and tells a lot about the working methods if Inge and Erwin, I would like to focus first on what landscape means in their works.
I have drafted this graph and already presented it before as a mind map of major themes crucial for the practice of Nabuurs&VanDoorn, recurring more or less in every work. It is not as much those components apart, as the dynamic between them that interests artists. I would like to now use it again to discuss the complexities of the term „landscape”.
To me art heritage and history can be seen as one of the most important contituents of cultural landscape.
Traditionally landscape has been limited by our scope of vision or by a frame, however we have to overcome the limitations of 2 and 3 dimensional percpetion and expand it into the fourth dimension of time. Inge and Erwin are not the first ones to notice the temporal dimension of landscape – already Debord talked about certain soft „ambiance” encompassing light, sound, time, and ideas” as opposed to hard ambiance – that is material structures. Also Burckhardt in „Why is landscape beautiful” talks about different layers – schichten - of landscape, including social and time-dimension.
However, comonnly the manifestation of time in the lendscape has been equaled with a certain „age value” (riegl) of old structures. We have to think broader – in fact, material heritage is just the most obvious manifestation of temporality in our landscape. To fully understood the potential of Zwischenlandschaften and other works of Inge and Erwin we have to go way beyond this materiality beyond well known – “historical heart” of the city or “historical monuments” and less known rural idyllas and instead start focusing on immaterial heritage, on what is concealed, what is NOT THERE.
All the stories about given location, urban myths, facts, personal memories and post-memories are the elements of what Zukin calls in „Naked City”, „urban imaginary” or what Lefevbre described as „representational space”. This is a kind of mental image, set of concepts, that complements a landscape in psychogeographical terms. This thinking is strongly rooted in Burckhardt’s famous conceptualisation of landscape as a „social construct”, which is to be searched not on the ground but in our heads – the statement I will go back to by the end of our reading.
In the same way, Nabuurs&VanDoorn approach the history as a social construct and an important component of the landscape. The aim of art in public space is therefore to explore and affect the landscape, to temporarily change the morphology of space, or reinstate the outridden genius locci by bringing what is concealed to the surface or, as described in the Documenta Urbana manifesto, “sichtbarmachen”.
Many of the plots emerging from the works of Nabuurs&VanDoorn are of clear importance for us nowadays – they touch upon problems of individual responsibility in the face of the system, of commodification of migration and colonisation of culture. They become the account of the past and the manifesto of tomorrow.
Going back to our diagram, heritage, art and history can be seen as components of landscape, while real imaginary and symbolic, the famous lacanian register, can be considered its determiners. In all works of Nabuurs&VanDoorn those three become intertwined and often indistinguishable.
This strategy is clearly employed not only in Zwischenlandschaften, as will be discussed in a few minutes, but also in other works of Nabuurs&VanDoorn – let’s have a look at the series of interventions in but now it needs to be done – where each intervention was created based on the interplay of the three Lacanian registers –and three components – performer, prop, and setting. In each of the locations, marked by personal and/ or collective trauma, the performer enacted a penance using a tool, carrying out what Erwin called “the exercise in submission”.
Yet another example, which stands out from the rest, since it is set in the institutional landsape – are two different installations exhibited during the Sea Awaits your Return exhibition in CSW Laznia Gdansk and But now it needs to be done in Van Abbe Museum, where the artists designed construction or rather obstructions in the exhibition spaces, the artificial landscape, bringing to mind a labyrinth, a figure crucial for situationsits. The labirynth was filled with works assembled of items of real, imaginary and symbolic nature, resembling – both mood and concept-wise- wunderkammer with their mixture of respectively, naturalia, mirabilia and memorabilia. Within those labirynths visitors had to find their way, often purposedly obstructed by quasi-architectural obstacles – the idea coming very closely to never –realised idea of Situationists, to organise a derive inside of the stedelijk museum, in which they would construct an artificial landscape a quasi labriynth, which would „end up encreasing the occasions for getting lost”.
Approaching Landscape - Trespassing
Having now discussed, quitie extensively the understanding of landscape, encompassing material and immaterial heritage, spatial and temporal dimension, real imaginary and symbolic registers, I would like to focus on the ways in which the artists approach this landscape.
On one end of Nabuurs&VanDoorn’s inspirations lies American open-space art, with its alternative system of art circulation radically diverging from that of modernist art, on the other hand Situationists International with their method of derive. Inge and Erwin take tha affair with the city a step further, towards a less consensual one relationship, which we could call almost tropophilia. I encountered various definitions of this word, mostly evolving around the aesthetic realtionship between people and place, but like to emphsise, like with all the words suffixated with – ilia the unhealthy, almost obsessive interest a place, and especially location where one should not reside.
Therefore, very adequatly, on my recent text I called E&I “adepts in trespassing studies”, the notion which was meant to be an offshoot of Burckhardt’s strollology. Trespassing studies, would be concerned, like its mother-discipline, with the perception of landscape, but in a particular context and manner.
The word trespassing marks a particular way of traversing, immediately inferring the existence of a trespasser outside of the object of trespassing. Erwin and Inge work from this outsider position to perforate the landscape-bubble. Trespassing always involves forcing entry, disruptiung certain borders - from entering an enclosed terrain to conduct an intervention, opening a sealed archive to bring to light issues considered taboo and by those means encroaching on a few comfort zones, to finally pushing the boundaries of the artistic media.
Already situationists distinguisehd itself from flaneurism, and criticised flaneur’s stroll through the city as „directed by gaze, distracted unconstructive and ultiamtely put to use for comodity circuation”. However the activity of derive itself could be subdued to similar critique of unproductiveness. Traversing the city by the means od trespassing ultimately is a step beyond derive, locating itself inbetween the drift and the informed, analytic view of a spaziergangswissenschaftler. Trespassing is about urgency, and can assume the forms from an overt protest to an undercover action.
Trespassing means finding shortcuts, not only following but in the first place demarcating desire lines, finding a way to enact authenticity of the landscape, which as Zukin has observed in her Naked City, became yet another commodity, not a real quality but a title, disposal of which has been claimed by urban planners, leisure industries and lobbyists. Real authenticity is always off chart and is often ephemeral, temporary, and ever-changing, just like cultural landscape.
In the voiceover to Zwischenlanschaften 2, the artists call themselves „trespassers through time and space” – in this case, trespassing also means bringing together elements of different temporal orders, leading to simultaneity . Simultaneity of the city was one of the goals of unitary urbanism set by Situationists, who wanted to connect spatially separated elements. In this case, the strive is to linking elements spearated temporaly. This conflation of temporal dimension allows them to reframe, represent and restage past in the present and at the same time reassess the present through the lense of the past.
Zwischenlandschaften as a blueprint for intervening into Landscape
Finally I would like to move to zwischenllandschaften and introduce yout ot this latest project, which can be seen as a blueprint for working with landscape, the impact of which I would liketo analyse in reationb to lefevbretheory of production of space.
In each case it starts with archival research of given landscape – which can vary greatly from the daunting landscape of Furkablik industrial environent of Eindhoven – and stories related to it.
The artist select certain fragments of the archives, painting over the remaining ones and in this way, rendering censorship one of the rhetoricaal means. This strategy involves far more than just restoring the circulation of archival materials – it is in the first place the moment of the ignition of archives’ transformation into art. Inge and Erwin do not treat their findings with reverential restrain, on the contrary - they are not afraid to rework the found material, mixing tropes and obscuring conclusions. Their work can be considered to the same extent, if not more, a interpretation of reality by the artists, as it is a historical account or a research practice. This strategy is particularly visible in the video – in the voiceover the first-person narrative gives an account on the interventions and combines it with the fragments of carefully selected prose, ranging from mythology to fan-fiction embodying fully the potential of multivocality
This strategy subverts the chimerical criterion of authenticity and consequently the authority of the institution of archive. It reflect artists intention which goes further than the “giving account” or “reinterpreting history”, towards the critique of the historiography and the practices of legitimising, authorising and instrumentalising history and heritage. This bring their work close to the topics of particular interest for us nowadays - of production and dissemination of knowledge and information or what Ranciere would call ‘distribution of sensible’, that is “delimitation of spaces and times, of the visible and the invisible the speech and noise that simultaneously determines the place and the stakes of politics as a form of experience”, they strive at redistribution (see conclusion)?
In the second stage the selected quotes are being projected on site, in this way evoking the meanings erased from the space, which are however never fully recovered. It this at this point that the term postperformance again comes to mind – the artist conduct those interventions without giving a notice, often in the conditions of trespassing, in which audience is not only absent but even undesired. In the course of this intervention the strata- or else layers of landscape, coming from different temporal order and expressed by different means come together – material and immaterial heritage, past and present constitute the landscape which is both real and imaginary. It also becomes symbolic, at the next stage when the intervention is being photographed.
To digress a little: The process of photographing here poses a theoretical question of where lies the border between art and representation? Each of these photographs is in fact a documentation of an intervention, a mini-archive recording its own creation. However, it can be also seen as a work on its own. I think that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive, especially considering the fact that the audience in the traditional sense of the word, only enters the process of Zwischenlandschaften at this stage and the photographs along with the video are both – the artistic expression and the testimony for the committed act of trespassing and intervention.
.Those preposterous photographs breach with the pictorial tradition of the landscape, the linear composition and full frame, characteristic of this genre, has been discarded in favour of a close-up, where the depth of vanishing point is substituted with the spatiality in-between different layers.
This layering again echoes the practice of re-mapping the city, superimposing various layers. They provide a link between the original sites and their representations that is between heritage, memory and art, and can become carriers for eradicated meanings – those real and those imaginary. However, the narrative arising from them is fragmented, waiting to be completed by a viewer who always strives for a seamless story. At the same time the photographs possess a symbolic, more general dimension, that enables them to function in abstraction of the actual site, long after it has vanished. They are site-specific but not space bounded, and the message they carry does to not only influence our image of a particular site, be it Furkablick or Picus, but rather our perception of spatiality and temporality in general.
Zwischenlandschaften as a method of producing space/ redistribution of the sensible
Finally I would like to share my observation on what effect on landscpae may have the practice f I& E – and Zwischenlandschaften in particular, in coincidence with the theory of „prduction of space” – Lefevbre.
The different stages in the production of Zwischenlandschaften correspond directly to 3 components, the interrelatnionship between produces the space –Representational Space, Spatial Practices, and Representations of Space. The first one includes field of imaginaion and theory, the second include daily routines, activities and urban reaity, and the laast one being I think the mosr obvious one.
The artists start with certain knowledge of imae of a given place and its history, which comprise the mental imegry of landscape,influenced and expanded in the course of archival research. This in turn results in the minimal interventions via medium of projections, which influence directly the realm of spatial practices. It should be noted that of course the same applies to any intervention disruptting public spaceincludign the examples presented here before. Finally, the production of art object – in case of Zwischenlandschaften – photographs and videos, in other cases, maps, drawing or leflets, contributes to the expaning realm of representations of space, including apart ftom maps and designs also paintings, postcards, holiday brochures and all other elements shaing our undestanding of landscape. The relationship between repreenational space – or mental imagery and representations of space has been already broadly discussed by Burckhardt: „Triangle lefevbre “Nicht in der Natur der Dinge, sondern in unserem Kopf ist die ‘Landschaft’ zu suchen; sie ist ein Konstruky, das einer Gesselaschaft zur Warnehhmung dient, die nicht mehr direk tvom Boden lebt. Diese Warnehmung kann gestaltend und entstellend auf die Aussenwelt zuruckwircken, wenn die Gesellschaft begnnt,, ihr so gewonnenes Bild als Plannning zu verwirklichen”
In this way Zwischenlandschaften and other projects of I & E do not only contribute to exisitng representations of landscape but they have the potential to actively change those representations and byt hose means the landscape itself.
Their activity is not emrely recreational but funelled by a certain urgency – on hand to produce art, on the other – as stated in the manifestio od Documenta Urbana – to sichtbarmachen – make visible.
By subverting the established position of an archive, historical factuality and art-institutions in the western traditionf and arbitrart choosing what is made seen (maybe even directed by some flirtatious aesthetic criterion), their triggers a radical re-distribution of the sensible, by rendering visible what has been concealed and leading to certain, maybe even uncomfortable, disclosure.