Stijn Van Dorpe

Ideologie AUB! Een denkmodel

Ideologie AUB! Een denkmodel
(Ideology, please! A model of thought)
29.03 > 13.06.2015

Netwerk (NW): The title of the exhibition alone inspires reflection. Is it targeted at ideological criticism in art or the abatement of ideology in society?

Stijn Van Dorpe (SVD): The title creates a possible context for the exhibition. It refers to an environment in which people are very selective in what they choose to label as ideological. Ideology is often portrayed as something extreme. The attempt in Greece, for example, to develop alternative solutions to their woeful economic situation based on leftist values is seen as dangerous and destabilising. In the current political reality, on the other hand, decisions are presented more and more as being necessary and not as stemming from ideology. People gloss over the fact that today’s neo-liberal reality is irrefutably ideology-driven. The title can be read as a rallying cry to once again make room for ideology. Of course, it’s not about installing one particular ideology, but rather the possibility of keeping the political field open.

NW: You create a space within the context of art, or the art institution, to cast a critical eye on things. You also incorporate a degree of social reality in the exhibition, involving people with diverse backgrounds in the activation of your work. During the preparation of this exhibition, you already activated the project A Bookcase in Hotel Charleroi (2014). What’s the relationship between the two performances?

A Bookcase Aalst
Public performance in which woodwork students from KTA De Voorstad put together a bookcase during the opening event of the exhibition. While they are assembling the bookcase, musicians simultaneously play a live concert. The bookcase and the sound recording of the performance later receive their own autonomous place in the exhibition as an installation. A video work relating to the performance in Charleroi is shown in the gallery.

SVD: The idea indeed came about in the run-up to the exhibition, but was first shown in Charleroi. In Netwerk it has been recontextualised. A live performance in the middle of the city of Charleroi, in a public space, is a different situation to a performance in an arts centre. The choice to have the performance take place in the area transitioning into the exhibition space is not arbitrary. The work has been placed on the border of the ‘sacred’ gallery space and the reception area, the Netwerk café. Deep in the exhibition, there is a film of the Charleroi version. The film is in two parts. First you gain an insight into my motivations for creating the work and into the conceptual development of the work. The second part shows the actual, physical happening. These two representations are in contrast with each other. The live performance that takes place at Netwerk and the documentation of the Charleroi iteration each assume a different form and therefore elicit a different experience.

NW: It’s interesting to look at which position you assume in this kind of work, as an artist. It seems that, as an artist, you enter into participative projects within a certain conceptual framework in order to create an artistic work, rather than working in an artistic-social way with specific groups. How do you see this yourself?

SVD: I would certainly relate the social-artistic aspect more with my work as a teacher. In teaching, the educative aspect is at the forefront without there having to be an outcome, that is very important. In my artistic practise, the ultimate goal is to have an artwork at the end. For me, an artwork functions best as a document with an educative potential. It holds a position between the artist and the public. The people I collaborate with are the ones that literally shape the artwork. In this capacity, they appear as characters but at the same time they are also privileged spectators. They are both in the work and outside of it. Also important is that I am myself a character within the exhibition. The same logic can therefore be applied to me. The first time that I appeared in the exhibition circuit as a character was in the series of works around Josef Albers.

Homage (set off, earth gold, green-gray shield B, elected 1, at night)
In the Albers Museum in Bottrop, the artist took a series of photos of paintings from his own eye level of Josef Albers, from his Homage to the Square series. By reproducing the works in this way, they are literally put into perspective, making a small white section of wall visible.

BE: This series arose from your fascination with Albers’ work. What is it that particularly speaks to you about his way of working?

SVD: My interest in the series Homage to the Square is about his specific approach to matter and colour. On the one hand, his intention is to let things be or happen; an attitude that can be seen in his striving for an uncomplicated way of painting and in the lack of meaning he attaches to colour. On the other hand, there is the aspect of context. Colours are perceived differently depending on the colours they are paired with. And so the specificity and the environment make the work, without any meaning being imposed from outside. I think the interaction observable between these two dualities is very beautiful and, in terms of how meaning is created, radically different to the American geometric abstracts from the fifties, for example. What I’m doing here is adding a new element, namely the position of myself as an observer. The idea behind my work is that I’m adding a new element, specifically that of the observer, the viewer. By taking pictures in a certain way, a kind of perspective is created that makes a small section of white wall visible at the bottom. With some imagination you can see the image as a window that is being gently opened so that a field comes into view just outside the painting.

Without Growth
This project began during the winter school Hotel Charleroi (2014). For some exhibitions, Stijn Van Dorpe creates a little book titled: Without Growth. He invites authors, activists or researchers to adopt a critical and adventurous approach to reflecting on a possible alternative society not based on economic growth. By bringing these texts into the art space, he seeks to investigate the aesthetics of the economic space while also challenging the aesthetics of the art space. The work explores the tension between aesthetic values in the art space and the aesthetics of our growth-orientated economic space. The artist made the first book for Hotel Charleroi, which included text by Filka Sekulova. In the second edition, which is being shown at Netwerk, Florence Scialom presents an essay.

NW: Can we read the series Without Growth as the creation of a space that holds the promise of possible alternatives in order to make these conceivable and discussable?

SVD: You could say that I’m doing something that is not expected of an artist. Like a cobbler who does away with his last. Which, by the way, is an image that appears in the educative philosophy of Jacques Rancière in the form of a young craftsman who learns Hebrew and in the process becomes a better craftsman. The research really is being done based on my genuine interest in the subject. What comes out of it are research-focused or specific small-scale situations that somehow hold the promise of a better world. Placed in a highly artistically reflexive context that is still unique to this exhibition, these realities imagined in text touch upon a dilemma that is specific to art itself. These imagined realities inhabit a domain where art is something between a utopian space and something that can actually make a difference.

schilderij (painting)
Seven young people were asked by Stijn to provide an image they associated with and that they’d like to see made into a painting. The seven photos were incorporated into a composition and painted by Lieve Dejonghe, an artist who has mastered the labour-intensive craft of ‘fine painting’.

NW: You have also created a work in collaboration with young people from Groep Intro vzw and a professional fine painter. Does this work refer to the way in which our current society thinks about creativity, as a sort of utopia for shaping your own life within a conformist context? As in the case of young people active on social media, for example?

SVD: It’s not so much that it refers to that, it’s rather that such contexts form elements of the work. Just look at how it was created. An important aspect of this painting is the process by which it was made. A number of young people who don’t have an easy time within the structures of our current school environment were involved in the project. They were asked to decide what would be depicted in the tableau. What’s depicted is always perceived as the most important element within a picture. They were entrusted with this responsibility. Their choice of what would feature in the painting was made rather quickly. Then came the intensive and precise work of painting in service of the image. There are two kinds of labour involved in the creation of the work, each with certain value systems attached that are contributed from different perspectives.
Furthermore, the image is made based on different cultural layers that overlap. The youngsters appear as if behind a sort of screen, like an image plucked from the digital world, such as a record label or a muscle-bound film star. But also the specific approach to painting, which here allows the digital images to be converted back into tangible objects, refers to a completely unique segment within the cultural world: the world of fine painting, a world that’s separate from the one in which this work is now being presented. But there is likely to be an inconsistency in the final work. The artist I invited to realise this piece, Lieve Dejonghe, is explicitly against all forms of labelling in her work. In some of her still lifes this manifests itself in an expressive touch in the black background. But given that this interview is taking place before I get to see the final work, I don’t know if this will be the case here, too.

NW: A deep-rooted theme throughout your work is the critical questioning of neo-liberal society and the entrenched form of capitalism associated with it. Does this social-critical attitude drive your artistic research?

SVD: The neo-liberal background is a decisive factor in the way I plot my path as an artist in the (art) world. It’s certainly not the case that it represents an immediate subject in the works themselves. It’s more about the research into how specific power structures are contained in our aesthetic way of thinking. Specific power structures are also at play in the Liège-Guillemins project. What happens if you remove the partitions of the museum or the gallery?

Stijn Van Dorpe invited a group of collectors linked to the artistic cooperative Emergent to bring a painting from their personal collection to the station at Liège-Guillemins. For an hour they held the work under their arms, playing the role of a traveller waiting for the train to Ghent. The artist sees the performance as a theatre piece. A visual report of the performance was created in the form of a photo installation.

NW: So what actually happened during the performance at the station?

SVD: It was very noticeable how few people paid attention to what was happening. Almost no one seemed to see the event as an art project and only a few showed even a hesitant curiosity. Presumably none of the travellers there at the time had any idea of the astronomical value of the works that were shown here. The artworks were in an immensely vulnerable situation and very sensitive, but at the same time this paradoxically revealed the invisibility of the capitalist system in which art is so steadfastly anchored.

NW: Finally, I would like to talk about the work Een Denkmodel (Berlijn) — ‘A Model of Thought (Berlin)’ — which, for me personally, represents the culmination of the exhibition. If the title can be seen as the mental portal to the exhibition, then I think in this work the aesthetic element is the key to unlock doors into other possible worlds. What is important to you in this work?

‘A Thinking Model’ Berlin
Stijn Van Dorpe created this work during his residency in Berlin. During this time he worked in a commercial gallery, situated in an historic building in the GDR that was previously the headquarters of the national newspaper Berliner Verlag. The gallery is not visible from the street and profiles itself more as an ‘office’ or ‘working space’ than as a traditional exhibition space. Van Dorpe was first fascinated by the convergence of this exotic-seeming, former socialist location (the building) with a gallery programme in which both aesthetic and theoretical references (Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière) seemed familiar, but where at the same time one can trace the beginnings of an ideological context (communism) in which the of the building was built. The installation consists of three parts. Firstly, seven different isometries and a perspective drawing of the large GDR building in which all additions and changes after the fall of the wall in 1989 are omitted. Secondly, texts about the gallery were published in a traditionally-printed newspaper, the texts having been sent over the internet, compiled and supplemented with an email from Stijn addressed to the gallerists. Thirdly, there is a cast of the building’s last original door latch, which was found in the basement.

SVD: The work is based on a visit to an art gallery in Berlin. The gallery is located in the heart of a socialist building from the early sixties. I was extremely fascinated by the specific setting of this gallery and by the connotations that it evokes. First of all, there was the building that can be seen as a representation of communist ideals, which I experienced as being quite exotic. Inside, there was a gallery that evoked a certain familiarity with its very contemporary programme. We’re not talking about a traditional setting in which the gallery opens out onto the street, and so there is no direct contact with the outside world. In the first instance, I associated being in an office space with being in a place of work rather than traditional commercial site. Also important was the associative link that came to me with work of Rancière and Badiou, among others, who hold a leading position in the world of art criticism and for both of whom the communist ideal of equality is high on the agenda.
And so the work can be summarised as a documentary representation of a real situation or setting. At first, the idea was to make a sort of maquette of this, which I later called a ‘model of thought’. The model consists of three elements that all play with the notion of time. The architecture of the building that has been stripped of all innovations after 1989, including the removal of the characteristic façade for example, leaves large holes in the image.

NW: Is the newly-cast aluminium door latch then the element that escaped, the refugee that evaded time and the harsh reality of a dominant ideological context…

SVD: If you want to see it that way. To me, it’s nice to think that the door latch was linked to the concierge of the building, Mr. Krüger, just as the drawings are with the architect and the gallery with the gallerist. Mr. Krüger was already on the job during the building’s early years and gave me a few tours of the place. Unfortunately, during my time in Berlin the man received the news that he was to be let go two years before retirement.