Exhibition with MA students from MA AKV|St. Joost Academy
Dates: July 1-10, 2011
Place: Lokaal 01, Antwerp
Credits image: Elsbeth Ciesluk, detail of the installation (2011)
How We Started This Beginning.
Keys to enter the exhibition by Angela Serino
It is always an interesting and exciting challenge to organise an exhibition with a group of students from either an art academy or participants of a Masters programme. Of such invitations, what I enjoy most is that they always stimulate a curator to seek out alternative logic and explore the necessities of presenting works that often vary drastically in intentions and styles, as well as for level of maturity (precision and density of ‘artistic material’, if you will).
What typically guides me in such situations is the desire to look closer and involve other aspects of the creative process, such as what it means or implies to make art. The finished results should leave the artists with more than just the satisfaction (albeit legitimate) of showing a work in an exhibition. After all, I believe that what is at stake within these invitations is the unique possibility to accompany a group of young artists for a brief period of their artistic evolution: a path through which they are expected to gain self-awareness (to know where they stand as artists) and professionalism (being capable of carrying out practical and theoretical choices that can strengthen their works on multiple levels). In all of this, the exhibition is but a moment.
When I first visited St. Joost Academy in Den Bosch and I sat down with the seven artists participating in this show – Elsbeth, Remy, Pim, Theodora, Raphael, Tanya and Nelleke – I had precisely those thoughts in my head, but, of course, not yet a clear answer or path to follow. I was not alone though. As a means to begin a conversation ‘among strangers’ (as we then were), I had brought with me “Six Memos for the next Millennium” by Italo Calvino. He’s a writer that I not only love for his short stories, but also for his unconditional faith in the power of visual imagery – a trait he could well share with artists. In this particular book, Calvino skilfully and beautifully intertwines excerpts from classical and international literature to describe the “principles or peculiarities of literature that are very close to my heart'' and "things that only literature can give us''. Those principles are: lightness, velocity, exactitude, visibility and multiplicity. They are the things he wishes to be preserved for future generations, but at the same time they are also commentaries on his own work – keywords that help to pierce his own novels and world of writing.
Calvino’s highly personal vision of literature has not only been a great incentive for breaking the ice and conversing with the artists about “things that really matter” in their works. It has also become a conceptual and working tool around which this exhibition and its booklet were formed. After that first encounter, in fact, and drawing from its positive feedback, I invited the artists to consider further if any of those keywords or concepts would apply or resonate within their own work: if they found those principles to be important in their art practices in some way; or if they felt instinctively attracted to any concept in particular; or, on the contrary, if they would include or refer to others left out by the author.
The result of this conversation with multiple voices (Calvino’s, the artists’, mine, as well as those of the MFA tutors) is sitting now in your hands and also captured within the works and presentation of the exhibition. In fact, the whole project has become a writing exercise where the artists have woven together words, images and artworks to present their practices.
The collection of texts you find in this booklet is not direct illustrations of the writer’s own theories, but rather comments and reflections which echo from the words of Calvino – those that remained etched in the artists’ minds. Inspired by one or more of Calvino’s original principles, each artist has given their own interpretation of it, as a way to explain more about their own way of working or their personal vision as artists. It’s about what catches their attention, what moves their hands, what they see when they look, what matters most to them and how they wish to be seen by others. Together, the texts and images in the booklet enrich the works in the show by offering insight into nuances or ways of looking at their work.
You could almost view the entire project as an attempt at stimulating self-reflection, and to some extent, also an act of self-definition: a way for the artists to test themselves with a narrative that combines words and images alongside the concrete works. As such, within this booklet, these new pathways of reference are now open and offered to you, to enter the artists’ creative process, while walking through the exhibition room. Such an act can make an artist feel extremely vulnerable to external judgment of their intimate reasoning and the mechanisms of their creative process, but it also ultimately strengthens what they stand for as an artist.
Finally, I’d like to share a few words about the title. Among the list of lectures that Calvino included in his book, there are some for which he wrote only the titles (such as the sixth, “Consistency”; and the eighth, “On the beginning and the ending [of novels]”). The title of this exhibition comes precisely from an initial slip of the tongue in relation to the latter title. But unlike Calvino’s unwritten lecture, with this show we are part of a narrative without a beginning and an ending. We are celebrating a moment between the first and second years of the MFA programme; a moment where the artists prepare for a new beginning within the Masters programme; and they are about to enter a new stage in their process of becoming professional artists. From this perspective, I see this writing exercise as an empowering tool in this direction, and the show and this booklet as only the beginning of many more potential narratives.
Angela Serino (Amsterdam, June 13, 2011)