The exhibition ‘Something Could Actually Happen: Zwischenlandschaften’ by Nabuurs&VanDoorn is on show from June 21 to July 18, 2020 at Pennings Foundation and was realized in close collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum. Curator of the exhibition is Carolina Calgaro. Carolina Calgaro is Italian. She is doing an internship at the Van Abbemuseum as part of a dual master's program in Curating Art and Cultures at the University of Amsterdam and VU University in Amsterdam. Steven ten Thije, curator at the Van Abbemuseum, acted as special advisor.
‘Zwischenlandschaften’ (Twilight zone) is what the Eindhoven visual artists Inge Nabuurs (1972) and Erwin van Doorn (1971) call the projects they have been working on since 2016. The title is inspired by a statement of the Swiss sociologist Lucius Burckhardt (1925-2003), ‘It is up to painters and poets to make the landscape visible’.
An overview of Zwischenlandschaften I, II and III is shown at Pennings Foundation. The focus is on Zwischenlandschaften III and the video of a new performance specially staged for this purpose.
Carolina selected the works for the exhibition together with the artists. The exhibition was opened by Charles Esche, director of the Van Abbemuseum. From a distance, that is. Esche was in Vienna at the time of the opening. His introduction was therefore pre-recorded. That had its advantages. Due to the corona crisis, we were only allowed to gather thirty people in the building. To give more people the opportunity to attend the opening, a second session was organized, with the same program. This allowed us to present the introduction of Esche again. In his introduction, Esche referred to the elaborate text that Carolina wrote about the methodology of Nabuurs&VanDoorn and in particular about Zwischenlandschaften. A preface will be followed by the text of Carolina.
The exhibition provides insights into the artists’ methodology, based on research. Nabuurs and Van Doorn investigate social or cultural situations or events from the past and respond to them as artists by means of all kinds of interventions. The media they use are installation, video, photography and performance. Texts and projections of texts form an important part of their work.
Nabuurs and Van Doorn show research results and findings in installations (research sculptures). From ‘found’ texts, for example archival documents, correspondences or interviews, they extract quotes – one or several words - which they isolate by blackening out the rest of the text. They then present those words on banners or project them onto a surface of their choice. By separating the quotes from the original context, they become somehow timeless. In their new presentation, the words can evoke associations and acquire a new meaning, as a statement, connecting the past with the present and possibly also the future. In addition, the artists transformed research results into a legend, which in turn serves as the basis for a performance, and they made a libretto.
For Zwischenlandschaften I (2016-2017), Nabuurs and Van Doorn immersed themselves in the Furk’art project, in which sixty artists made works of art in the Swiss Alps between 1984 and 2000, from an hotel on the Furka Pass that functioned as an artist-in-residence. Nabuurs and Van Doorn interviewed some of the artists via e-mails. Statements from these e-mails formed the basis for artworks and for a performance (Game Piece I), performed during Documenta 14 in Kassel. They also made a poetic film.
For Zwischenlandschaften II (2017), they dove into the archive of the wood processing factory Picus in Eindhoven and uncovered forgotten projects and never-executed plans and designs. Texts from documents and correspondence served as the basis for works of art by the artist duo. A poetic film was also made of this project.
An exhibition of the striking American artist Mike Kelley (1954-2012) and the Austrian artist Franz West (1947-2012) at Villa Empain in Brussels in 1999 sparked Zwischenlandschaften III (2017). Mike Kelley's installation Categorical Imperative and Morgue, purchased by the Van Abbemuseum, caused Nabuurs and Van Doorn to travel to Vienna and Detroit and conduct research there. This project resulted in a film, purchased by the Van Abbemuseum, and installations (research sculptures) that are now shown at Pennings Foundation. Due to the corona virus, the planned performance (Game Piece II) cannot be performed for the public. This will be pre-recorded so that the film can be seen during the exhibition.
The planned performance (Game Piece II) could not be performed for the public due to the corona virus. This was recorded in advance by technicians of the Van Abbemuseum and can be seen during the exhibition. The performance was staged by a drummer, a dancer and an electronic voice.
The Van Abbe choir was supposed to perform a Libretto, made in response to a discussion between curators about Mike Kelley's Morgue. But due to the coronavirus, the performance of the choir cannot be done for the time being. The artists made a book of the Libretto. Visitors who want to sing the Libretto are invited to ask for the booklet. Then they can enter the Game Piece, with the Libretto, and sing.
‘Something could actually happen.’ Something can happen, but it depends entirely on how the visitor experiences the exhibition. Words and text fragments get - once detached from their original context - something timeless. They can evoke associations. It is up to the visitor to interpret. Visitors are challenged to investigate the exhibition themselves. The modules (written texts) and the poetic films (spoken texts) provide a lot of information.
Carolina Calgaro's text provides a lot of information on the methodology of the artists and in particular on the three projects:
Zwischenlandschaften (lit. Between Landscapes/Twilight Zone) is a series of works by Eindhoven based artist duo Nabuurs&VanDoorn. The series started in 2016 and currently the duo is working on the fourth version. In summer 2020 Nabuurs&VanDoorn present 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 Dialogues intervenes 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 video Zwischenlandschaften 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 modules are equiped for live performance. A legend (right) serves as a guide for the performers. photos Hetty de Groot
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 Zwischenlanschafen 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 a 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.
The poetic film Zwischenlandschaften III is part of the collection of the Van Abbemuseum. For the time being, the video can still be seen there, as part of the exhibition The Way Beyond Art. photos Peter Cox
Read the review: (the review is in Dutch)