The Fantastic Institution

Arts centre BUDA explored with The Fantastic Institution “a temporary space – somewhere between reality and fiction – with artists, curators and theoreticians to reflect on The Fantastic Institution together.”

It is not a question of being against the institution. We are the institution. It’s a question of what kind of institution we are, what kind of values we institutionalise, what forms of practice we reward, and what kind of rewards we aspire to.

ANDREA FRASER, 2005

Issues such as power, money, space, time, curatorial practices, shared responsibilities, exclusiveness vs. openness, flexibility vs. stability, soft vs. hard, small vs. big, quantity vs. quality are recurring questions in the talks of all the speakers below.

As Joris Janssens says here“We enjoyed a very full, exhausting, envigourating, energizing three-day program of lectures, presentations and discussions about future perspectives for arts institutions. These perspectives on arts institutions seem to be very diverse: we’ve heard 19 different speeches by artists, researchers and dramaturges next to curators and directors. We’ve heard abstract and philosophical takes next to pragmatic and hands-on presentations. We’ve heard utopian dreams next to concrete examples. We’ve heard about highly visible next to peripheral initiatives. But, strikingly, almost everyone seemed to be working the metaphor, as a tool for development, for stimulating imagination, reflection and discussion about the way we see and dream the arts institution of the future…”

Day #1

Bojana Kunst — On the institutionalisation, precarity and the rhythm of work.

Read her contribution

I will start from the observation that art institutions generally are no exceptions from governmental precarization, but actually deeply involved in its normalization – to the point of being perfect examples of it.

Bojana Kunst

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Kunst is a philosopher, dramaturg and performance theoretician. She works as a professor at the Institute for Applied Theater studies in Justus Liebig University Giessen (DE). 

Gigi Argyropoulou — On practicing the institution between collectivity and critique

I discuss experiments that took place during the crisis and challenged the dominant production of space. Questioning the ongoing recuperation of ‘participation’ and the potential of the ‘political turn’ in the arts in conditions of precarity, my talk examines the critical relationship between curatorial/performance practices and modes of social improvisation.

Gigi Argyropoulou

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Argyropoulou is a researcher, theorist, director and curator working in the fields of performance and cultural practice based in Athens (GR) and London (UK).  

Laurence Rassel — Stories, experiences and practices on looking for a collective engagement or experience.

My aim is to arrive at something like a common understanding and will that can be defined as follows: institutions matter as spaces of encounters, creativity, possibility, risks. Can hospitality and interaction together with open source principles be terms of engagement for back-and-forth exchanges with the institution?

Laurence Rassel

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Rassel is a curator, teacher, organizer and director of ERG, the Ecole de Recherche Graphique, école superieure des arts in Brussels (BE).

Dries Douibi and Michiel Vandevelde — Always more, never something that lacks. Dreaming of an abundance of art spaces

In 2016 we wrote a plan for a new organisation connected to a building in Molenbeek, Brussels. We wanted to set up an art space that would obscure the boundary between a museum and a theatre – an organization that would radically engage itself towards the artists, offering them a lot of time, a long presentation period, and a decent wage.

Dries Douibi and Michiel Vandevelde

Dries and Michiel work together for Batârd festival in Brussels. This session is a sharing of thoughts and ideas from a long running conversation that they had during the past years, concerning 3 propositions, concrete but unrealised. There is a possible connection to the previous talks, but from the point of a younger generation (Michiel 27, Dries 26), living in Belgium, presenting plans. They think out loud during this presentation about:

  1. petit milieu – An unrealized plan for an art space
  2. towards – a proliferation of art spaces ‘a collective investment fund for more space’
  3. Hijacking the ‘status d’artiste’

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Douibi is a dramaturg, programmer and a curator. Vandevelde is a choreographer, curator and writer. Both are members of the Bâtard festival’s artistic team, based in Brussels (BE).

Sarah Vanhee — The art institution as a hole in the ground

Read Vanhee’s full text

Our art institutions today mirror the dominant powers. All this uprightness, all this straigthness, all this visibility, all this representation, all these facades. I desire a plurality of institutions connected to different, heterogeneous forms of living and being. I desire a feminisation, colouring and queering of the art institutions. I desire art institutions that do politics instead of presenting art programmes about politics. I desire art institutions that take care of the people who work there, who are there, who engage themselves. I desire art institutions who do not give violently but support on the basis of equal dialogue. I desire art institutions that lend themselves as tools.

Sarah Vanhee

Vanhee’s artistic practice is linked to performance, visual arts and literature, and unfolds in various environments. She creates temporary, porous yet clearly defined spaces in which she analyses existing realities and confronts them with an absurd, utopic or poetic proposal.

Day #2

Vladimir Miller — The institution as an architecture of people and things, of communications, powers, of physical and immaterial structures.

This lecture addresses the institution as an architecture of people and things, of communications, powers, of physical and immaterial structures. Based on the idea of an exoskeleton (in biology a support structure on the outside of the soft body) it discusses an imaginary of the institution beyond the dichotomy of the seemingly conflicting desires for change and stability. These images unfold the gaps and indeterminate spaces within the institutional framework as spaces of its potential.

Vladimir Miller

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Vladimir Miller is an artist, scenographer and researcher. He uses collective construction- and building processes to investigate production of space within ad-hoc groups and institutional environments. 

Alexandra Baudelot — On Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers

Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers is a multi-disiplinary art centre, giving artists and the public a free, open work space sensitive to the artistic and theoretical processes at work today and dedicated to supporting the formats they give rise to.

The artists stay in residency for several months, pursuing their research and developing ties with the social and cultural surroundings of Aubervilliers. With each new project labs are set up in which the public is invited to participate to share experiences and knowledge. The centre is committed to exploring notions such as the common and communities, the relationship between art and work and between art and politics in contexts of protest and revolt.

Alexandra Baudelot

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Co-director of les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers (Paris northern suburbs) since 2013, Alexandra Baudelot works for several years as an exhibition curator, editor and author. 

Jan Ritsema — On PerformingArtsForum (PAF)

PAF is an alternative artists, scientists and media-activists residency located near Reims, FR. It is run by artists. Every year some 800 international residents exchange their experiences and knowledge and create work at PAF.

I will talk about PAF’s principles and problems and about the need for other institutions that want to change things radically. But I will also talk how difficult this is in a culture that is so solidified that it is interested more in continuation than in change let alone radically change.

Jan Ritsema

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The co-founder of PAF, Jan Ritsema, is a Dutch theater director and dancer. He teaches at P.A.R.T.S., Brussels (BE).

Judith Wielander — Visible, when art leaves its own field to become visible as part of something else

Rethinking our cities in their approach to urban and rural communities; questioning education models while reconsidering different ways of sharing knowledge; supporting alternative models of economic development and new ideas for the allocation of resources; rethinking the access to information or the priority of ecological and environmental needs; or experimenting with participatory and democratic political models while starting these open-ended projects. These are just some of the challenges faced by those who work with contemporary art in a transformative way. Now, should artists themselves refrain from engaging with these challenges or should they rather feel at the forefront with all the other social actors that are imagining society otherwise?

Judith Wielander

Visit the Visible You Tube-channel were you can find a serie of videos on some exemplary projects that are part of the network. Visible is a research project in contemporary art and an international production award, devoted to art work in the social sphere, that aims to produce and sustain socially engaged artistic practices in a global context. Visible is a project undertaken by Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto in collaboration with Fondazione Zegna, curated by Matteo Lucchetti and Judith Wielander.

Christophe Meierhans — Some thoughts and questions about the existence of institutions with Pierre Legendre as invited tourguide

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Christophe Meierhans works with and within the public space. His artistic practice encompasses performances, installations, sound pieces, and videos. He is artist in residence at Kaaitheater, Brussels (BE).

Day #3

Daniel Blanga Gubbay — The Möbius Strip. On Fictional Institutions

Read the working text of this lecture

What does it mean for an institution not simply to host fiction, but rather to be hosted by it? This talk starts from the use of fictional institutions as a way to put into question the perceived ‘naturality’ of the existing ones. In placing this analysis between the idea of nature and fiction, it travels with the xeno-feminst use of the two terms and the possibility to apply it to the institution, to eventually see fiction as a tool to work on inclusiveness and discrimination in today’s institutions.

Daniel Blanga Gubbay

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Daniel Blanga Gubbay is a Brussels-based researcher in political philosophy of the arts. He graduated in philosophy with Giorgio Agamben and got a PhD in cultural studies. He is currently professor at the Académie royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels (BE) where he manages the performance and choreography dept.

References: Fictional Institution: On Radical Imagination, co-written with Livia Piazza for the book Turning Turtle and Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation.

Matthieu Goeury — On Vooruit, its change of status from Arts Center to Flemish Arts Institution and the rethinking of the institution’s structure, the way it programs and the relationship with partners, including artists

Since January, Vooruit is a Flemish Arts Institution and not anymore an Arts Center. This change of status, as well as a long and eventful transition period, challenges the full team of Vooruit to rethink and reorganize its structure, the way it programs and the relationship it wants to build with partners, including artists. The presentation given during The Fantastic Instition will be focused on detailing the ongoing transition process, and on the challenges that were faced and are still to be faced in finalizing it.

Matthieu Goeury

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Matthieu Goeury is an arts worker based in Brussels, BE. He is active as a producer, curator and late night bridge builder. Working in the field of performing arts, visual arts and music, his trajectory led him to create a workspace for emerging artists: L’L, participate to the launch of a contemporary art museum: Centre Pompidou-Metz and program one of the most exciting venues in Europe: Vooruit.

Johan Forsman — On Skogen, an artist driven venue and platform

Five years ago we started Skogen, an artist driven venue and platform. We like to define Skogen as a small scale try-out-institution to imagine other ways of organising artistic production/presentation and the sharing of knowledge. If we abandon a primary focus on projects, what else is made possible? And what can a differently imagined relation between staff – artists – audiences produce over time. This presentation will be about our work, failures and ideas, and it will include some notions like the listening institution, gift economy, art as interface and the decentralized programmer, as well as a discussion on the effects from targeting resources for the ecosystem of responses from audiences/artists.

Johan Forsman

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Johan Forsman works as the artistic director at Skogen in Gothenburg, SE. For the last 15 years he has worked in the field of performing arts, as artist, programmer/curator and initiator/facilitator.

Mai Abu ElDahab — On breaking the self-serving nature of institutions

It seemed to me that what was needed to break the self-serving nature of institutions and make them more responsive to the evolving language of art practice was to try turning them inside out. Letting its collaborators and its public influence it’s structure forcing the institution to be in a constant and productive state of re-invention. This wasn’t a utopian idea but rather a faulty logic – trying to impose some kind of shared responsibility with those the institution addresses assumes an equal enthusiasm and commitment towards similar ends. Perhaps a fantastic institution simply takes responsibility for its own voice and overtly authors its address circumventing any need for a democratic appeal.

Mai Abu ElDahab

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Movie references, songs played and extracts read during the lecture:

  • Clip of La macchina ammazzacattivi (1952) by Roberto Rossellini
  • Don’t Worry About the Government, Talking Heads
  • Islam CHipsy, live in Imbaba
  • Every Time You Rehearse You Play, Abu ElDahab, Mai and Anthony Huberman and Camille Pageard, Ed. A Needle Walks Into a Haystack, London: Konig Books, 2014
  • Abu ElDahab, Mai, Ed. After Berkeley, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012

Living in Brussels, BE since 2007, Mai Abu ElDahab is a contemporary arts curator from Cairo, EG. Since fall 2014, she is director of Mophradat.

Francis McKee — The open source policy at Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA)

See his presentation (PDF)

The talk covers the evolution of the open source policy at CCA, its roots, how it operates and how it can develop in the future. The final section of the talk will outline a thought experiment – what would a radically new organisation look like if the artist was placed at the heart of the policy?

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Francis McKee is director of CCA, Glasgow, UK and also a tutor on the MFA at Glasgow School of Art. 

Anne Breure — 100-Day House

Veem House for Performance, a production house for the development of performance and discourse in Amsterdam, NL, has drawn on vision and fair practice to transform into the 100-Day House. Faced with restricted funding, it has taken the radical step to – instead of being open the whole year – open the doors for one hundred consecutive days, each year anew. A lecture with the thoughts, ideas, principles, questions, searches that drive the transformation to this temporary permanent institution.

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Anne Breure founded the multidisciplinary gallery Flat 34. She is the artistic director of Veem House for Performance and a member of Transitiebureau.

Myriam Van Imschoot

Recent budget cuts in Flanders and Brussels especially affect smaller organisations (often artist-run workplaces). Therefore, I want to look into the dynamics of ‘being cut’. Being the subject of a ‘cut’ calls for a different treatment than the more regular victimizations. I want to speak about ‘Fantastic Solidarity’ and pair this with my concern about ‘interstutionality’ or how interstutions corroborate, interrelate and fortify networked relationships that deepen the divisions with the non-instituted rather than overcoming them.

Myriam Van Imschoot

Myriam Van Imschoot is based in Brussels, BE. She is a performance artist working in different media and constellations.

Jozef Wouters  — Coffeehouses and ateliers

In his book The Craftsman, Richard Senneth says the craftsman’s workshop is the oldest institution of human society. In the book Cafés and Bars, the architecture of Public Display Christophe Grafe says exactly the same about the Viennese coffeehouses of the 19th century. As I spent most of my time working in those two ur-institutions, I will share some thought and see how those coffeehouses and ateliers relate to the art-institutions I deal with.

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Jozef Wouters is a Brussels-based artist, stage designer and scenographer. 

Clément Layes

I will reflect on two aspects of the fantastic institution: creation and autonomy. Creation is the reason for the institution’s existence (it’s a creation in itself and place for creation). Reflecting on the political aspect of a structure as autonomous, I try to redrawn the Fantastic institution from the economic imperatives (the functionality, the “good management”) to describe the reality of it’s fiction and the details of it’s organization?

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Clément Layes is a Berlin-based artist. He co-founded the company Public in Private. At the interface between choreography, visual arts and philosophy, the point of his work is found in observations. 

F.A.I.

Flanders Arts Institute

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