Something Could Actually Happen: Zwischenlandschaften
by Carolina Calgaro
Zwischenlandschaften (lit. Between Landscapes/Twilight Zone) is a series of works by Eindhoven based artist duo Nabuusr&VanDoorn. The series started in 2016 and currently the duo is working on the fourth version. In summer 2020 Nabuurs&VanDoorn presents editions I, II and III at Pennings Foundation. The exhibition includes the performance of Game Piece II (edition 2), part of the Zwischenlandschaften III, that will be recorded and projected in the cinema space of the gallery.
The three editions of Zwischenlandschaften address different themes as the artists investigate unique social, historical and cultural moments throughout the projects. Not only do the artists travel through different geographical landscapes, such as Switzerland and the U.S., but different temporalities too using art and artistic interventions as tools to reactivate the past bringing it back to the present moment.
All Zwischenlandschaften share the intrinsic quality of revealing past happenings, forgotten memories, that will later be used by the artists to intervene onto different fragments, landscapes of our present reality. Nabuurs&VanDoorn magically take us back to the past engaging the viewer in the process of discovering and making visible those timeless connections with the moment we live in and the surrounding environment. At first, the duo thoroughly investigates former times, diving into different forms of documentation tied to the specific locations they find themselves in. The artists’ starting point is at first their will to learn and discover what happened in a specific historical moment, one that somehow has influenced the art world, as seen in edition I and III, or the socio-cultural context in which Nabuurs&VanDoorn live, as seen in Zwischenlandschaften II. This approach of discovery and revealing is what the three series share in methodology. The artists act as a vessel taking us on a journey through different temporalities: present, past and future; as well as through spaces: being physical or liminal, real or in our minds.
The project took off with Zwischenlandschaften I (2016-2017) with Nabuurs&VanDoorn emailing and interviewing artists who participated in the ‘Open-Art-System’ of Furk’art, the hotel in the Furka Pass in Switzerland bought in 1978 by gallerist Marc Hostettler and later transformed into a residency for artists. Nabuurs&VanDoorn used their emails with former residents as the basis for the work Distorted Dialogues (2016). This work exists out of other components: Sparkles of What’s Missing (2016) and the video Zwischenlandschaften I in which the artists poetically recount their journey combining a voice over and imageries. The project ends with the performance Game Piece I, made for Documenta 14 in Kassel, where the artists allow viewers to use the digitized Distorted Dialogues, namely CorrespondAnce (2017), to collectively superimpose them onto the German urban landscape. Distorted Dialogues(2016) consists of fifty-six manipulated emails and correspondences the artists had with the residents of the Swiss hotel, such as: “Because the landscape was so beautiful it was difficult to compete with. So I wanted to make something that was hidden in plain sight”, an extract from the conversation with artist Alix Lambert. Interestingly, these dialogues are isolated sentences taken out of their original context and conversation. These words act as a monument, an anchor to the past. They highlight forgotten memories that become timeless as they offer themselves to the artists’ creative process. The extracts from the exchange the duo had with the residents of the Swiss hotel, embodied in Distorted Dialogues and later digitized in CorrespondAnce, never alter their meaning with the passage of time. Without further manipulations, the quotes offer themselves to be used in different environments and times as they represent a reminiscence of a long-gone past that magically speaks to back then as to now, resisting time passing. The duo takes us through a magical and mysterious journey through time by revealing and reusing forgotten or never-before realized memories in the present moment. Using the monuments discovered in the first stage of the research and superimposing them onto present sceneries, Nabuur&VanDoorn recontextualize the findings connecting them to today’s realities and future possibilities. Distorted Dialoguesintervenes in the present as the emails are projected onto specific locations of the now abandoned Furk’art residency, captured in the photographic series Sparkles of What’s Missing (2016). Moreover, the same emails will later be used as part of the performance Game Piece I created for Documenta 14 in Kassel. The superimposition of the past onto other temporalities and urban sceneries creates new artistic landscapes that influence the viewers’ own perception of the past, present and future.
Zwischenlandschaften II investigates the forgotten archives of the Dutch woodwork factory Picus based in Eindhoven. Similarly to the first edition, here too one component of the project, namely 1TroPicus (2017), displays photographic images taken from the Picus’ archival documents, architectural plans, correspondence etc. used by the artists, once again, as monuments that highlight forgotten or never realised projects intertwined with the cultural landscape of the Dutch city. The discoveries found in the Picus’ archives take us back to a forgotten past of which is reactivated in front of our eyes as we walk through the highlighted extracts of 1Tropicus. These timeless monuments, as they magically connect us to the past while keeping us aware of the present, are tools the duo uses to create an ensemble of different components and minimal interventions. 16 Circumferences of Feedback (2017) captures digitized extracts from 1Tropicus projected onto different areas of the now abandoned factory. Interestingly, while investigating Eindhoven’s famous woodwork facility, Nabuurs&VanDoorn come across Picus’ engagement with the construction of prefabricated houses for the American organization, Freeland League, which in 1946 was negotiating the resettlement of Jewish and Eastern European refugees in Suriname, part of the Dutch colonies until 1954. By using archival materials, the duo takes the viewer through the mysteries of the Dutch factory connecting the local discoveries to more global issues related to the present, placing them in the current discussion on migration, decolonization and refugee crisis. For instance, the matchstick installation The PICUS Villa (2014), which represents the house in the Swiss Monte Verità where a matriarchal colony resided, allows the viewer to question the different shapes a colony can take: on the one hand the wooden prefabricated houses Picus was aiming at building in Suriname highlight the ignored colonial past of the Netherlands; on the other hand The PICUS Villa shows a more privileged ideal colony. All these discoveries are summed up in the videoZwischenlandschaften II where a voice over poetically drives us through the different landscapes the artists have travelled while producing the project.
Lastly, Zwischenlandschaften III looked into research, collections and email correspondence that helped the artists to locate the 40th piece of Mike Kelley’s Morgue. The video component of Zwischenlandschaften III is now part of the permanent collection of the Van Abbemuseum. As the previous editions, the duo has started their journey by diving into Mike Kelley’s personal life, researching in the Van Abbemuseum’s collection and interviewing different personalities involved. This took them through an actual expedition to Detroit where they discovered and navigated through the same spaces as the artist. The route they took can be seen in Morgue Merged on Michigan Avenue Between East and West (2017). The map translates into a geographical landscape Mike Kelley’s Morgue and his trilogy of films that documents Kelley’s journey through Michigan Avenue. From the research, timeless memories extracted from Kelley’s works, life and from the duo’s conversations with different parties highlight connections between past and present, Mike Kelley and Franz West, as well as the U.S. and Europe. The photographs of Six Odes to Mephistopheles (2018), made in Vienna after finding the 40th piece of Mike Kelley’ Morgue in the collection of Franz West, intervene into the Austrian environment by capturing the timeless quotes taken from Nabuurs&VanDoorn’s research projected onto sceneries connected to Mike Kelley and Franz West. Moreover, as part of this edition, the artists use Morgue Merged on Michigan Avenue Between East and West to recontextualise the actual landscape of the area of Detroit, reinterpreting it as a legend, a map, a new language to be used to navigate and act in the present. The performance Game Piece II shows the dialogue between past and present in action, by deploying the legend the artists have created through their journey in the U.S., performers are called to improvise actions based on their reading and decoding of the map’s legend.
The exhibition Something Could Actually Happen: Zwischenlandschaften welcomes the visitors to the historical investigation the Dutch duo has undertaken for the production of the Zwischenlandschaften series, asking the viewer to travel through the same landscapes the artists have visited and produced throughout the years. For instance, through an open access exhibition in which the monumental works of the three series are re-activated through the presentation, the viewer is guided through the multi-layered methodology of the artists aiming at shedding a light on their act of revealing and concealing. The first part of the event showcases the multilayered works of the three series. The exhibition’s presentation does not overlap the projects, but guides the audience in discovering the three different realities through the works the artists have produced. Once the duo’s methodology has been shown and the viewers have discovered the mysteries of the past, the second part of the exhibition shows the act of superimposition and creation of new landscapes, temporalities and voices in action.
The exhibition Something Could Actually Happen: Zwischenlandschaften is accompanied by the screening of the performance of Game Piece II. Game Piece II is a result of the process of research and discovery the artists have undertaken in Detroit while researching the missing piece of Mike Kelley’s Morgue, as part of Zwischenlandschaften III. Here, once again, correspondences and archival materials collected by the artists during the process are superimposed onto specific spaces. The performance highlights the duo’s entering new liminal landscapes, in this case the physical body, functioning as a playground where the audience can observe first hand how the duo uses timeless monuments of the past to intervene into the present moment. Game Piece II is an improvised happening where symbols derived from the monuments of Zwischenlanschafen III, as Distorted Legend (2018), are transformed into protocols, a language that guides the performers in a new process of discovery and manipulation of the past, impacting the ways they experience the present moment and future. By imposing previous works onto the performers’ bodies, Game Piece II enables non-mediated processes of discoveries to arise in the moment of the performance itself.
The performance was meant to be experienced during the first two days of the opening, however, due to the current situation, it will be pre recorded and shown continuously in the cinema space of the Pennings Foundation.
In this way, the recorded execution shows how the dynamic moment of the performance becomes once again an archival material and a monument for remembering and experiencing the past, one that could have been different as it won’t happen as it was initially planned for the exhibition. As with all elements of the Zwischenlanschaften series, Game Piece II is not only a vehicle to discuss the specific artistic production and discoveries of the duo but it highlights more global issues such as the absence of an actual performance due to the current corona pandemic. The presence of the sculptural modules become in themselves a timeless memory of an happening, meaning the performance that happened but that could have happened differently if corona was not here. Once again, the monuments offer themselves as a vehicle to connect and reveal the invisible past to the present, becoming a breeding space for new horizons and possibilities to emerge. Pennings Foundation becomes, in this way, a landscape where new interventions are made possible. Throughout the month in which the exhibition is held, the audience is encouraged to make use of this durable atomposhere to discover fresh connections of past, present, and future. Overall, the event aims at sparking a certain curiosity in the viewer who is invited to join the process of travelling in ‘between landscapes’.
Due to the corona crisis, the exhibition Something Could Actually Happen: Zwischenlandschaften has been adjusted following the regulations of the government.
Using the work of Mike Kelley as an ignition point, Nabuurs and Van Doorn have created a performance language based on the landscape of Michigan Avenue, Detroit. Geometric symbols derived from the landscape’s psychogeographic elements act as modern-day hieroglyphics, of which there are 6 scores; Green, Red, Blue, Orange, Purple, Yellow. During the Game Piece each performer is fed a separate string of code via a projection that displays the symbols from the chosen score, the main purpose of this code is to act as a vessel for the performers to imbue with their own choices. Due to the improvisational nature of the concept each Game Piece is therefore different.
Initially, the events could be perceived as a cacophony of chaos over the course of the 40-minute long event. As time proceeds a trancelike exchange starts to occur. Whether or not the viewer can even recognise an organised code has been intravenously fed to the performers, there is both sensed cohesion and fragility within the space and time. By divorcing the original meaning of the code to landscape, and removing all traces of tangible connection, it then becomes a force that transcends a physical space and moves towards pure humanistic participation. Reality becomes warped and convoluted. The code exists more as a heartbeat in the background, and the performers’ autonomy is the highlight. It becomes clear that beyond the tangible art that houses the performers, this happening is the crystallized moment in which the collective experience exists.
 Used in reference to Ray Johnson