Who More Sci-Fi Than US?

Last May 26th it’s been eight years that my exhibition ‘Who More Sci-Fi Than Us?’ opened at Kunsthal KAdE in Amersfoort, The Netherlands. A memorable day: the very first exhibition on Caribbean contemporary art, also showing artists from the Dutch Caribbean within their own cultural habitat and context. And so it’s nagging at me that it had to be none other than Facebook that reminded me.

During 3 months we showed the works of 37 contemporary artists that are related to the Caribbean region, but also to South-America, Europe, the US, the (West-)African continent, etc.; in a firm attempt to show a broad range of new perspectives on this geographical Gordian knot that ties us all together. I even came to the conclusion that almost everyone on the entire globe is in some way tied or assessable to this region. Thanks to the support of Kunsthal KAdE’s director Robbert Roos and his team, we could even commission 12 new works and present a program of debates and movies during that beautiful summer of 2012.

Looking at the world today it makes me sad that we as a society are still having relentless debates on topics we were also trying to open-up back then: racism, implicit bias, the black-pages of our shared history, the huge and tiny signs and signals that are still projected on us (and definitely on some a lot more than others). Each work showed so many nuances, so many angles, gave such a layered view and an abundance of clues on all the prejudices that are projected on people from all over the globe. Day in, day out. We could have had such deep conversations, gained so many new insights on ourselves and Others, and still, so little did we take away from this great opportunity (and many before and after that). I’m not implying that my exhibition (and the catalogue that accompanied it) would have been a Panacea to all of this. Not by any means. There is probably a lot more I could have done back then. At the same time I often feel it would have never been enough. These days I’m reading Robin Diangelo’s ‘White Fragility’ and of course I do grasp why it didn’t work out the way I hoped. Still I don’t have real answers on how we could ever collectively have polite and meaningful conversations on these topics in order to find an entrance to the dialogues that are really, really necessary. “War is not the answer” Marvin said. Art is not the answer, clearly. Although I firmly believe that in some ways it helps…

P.S. A lot of people were puzzled about the title ‘Who More Sci-Fi Than Us?’ During the long conversations with the PR department of Kunsthal KAdE we had to (unfortunately) conclude that the subtitle ‘Contemporary Art from the Caribbean’ was a necessary suffix. All I ever wanted was to avoid labeling this exhibition as ‘Caribbean’; for no-one knows what that really is. And at the same time people all seem to know that it exists!? Reading Junot Diaz’ prize-winning novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao gave me the answer. Oscar, a ‘ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey’ comes to this conclusion: ‘It might have been a consequence of being Antillean. Who more sci-fi than us?’.

All the artists involved: Ryan Oduber – Joscelyn Gardner – Sheena Rose – Oswaldo Macia – Edgar León – Alexandre Arreachea– Carlos Garaicoa – Yaima Carrazana – Ana Mendieta (†) – Tirzo Martha – Tony Monsanto – Marcos Lora Read – Jorge Pineda – Limber Vilorio – Bruno Pedurand – Hew Locke – Mario Benjamin – Jean-Ulrick Désert – Edouard Duval Carrié – Marvin Bartley – Renée Cox – Leasho Johnson – Ebony G. Patterson – Jean Francois Boclé – David Damoison – Jhafis Quintero Gonzales – Jonathan Harker/ Donna Conlon – Pepón Osorio – Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla – Michael McMillan – Remy Jungerman – Charl Landvreugd – Marcel Pinas –Wendell McShine

Authors catalogue (EAN: 9789460222115): Nancy Hoffmann (ed.), Charl Landvreugd, Blanca Victoria López Rodriguez, Leon Wainwright, Giscard Bouschotte, Jocelyn Valton and Simon Njami. The complete catalogue can now be read online thanks to KIT Publishers.

Many thanks to: Francio Guadeloupe, Quinsy Gario, Josien Pieterse (Framer Framed), KIT Publishers, International Photography Biennial GRID en Koehorst In ‘t Veld (catalogue design) for their important role in this project.


COHORS’ first product on the market: TROUVÉ. An elegant and still industrial looking (dimmable) table lamp in four colors.

As announced before, on March 8th we’ve launched COHORS together with our first product: the TROUVÉ table lamp. We kicked-off with an exhibition showing all the artworks by the artists involved. So, what is COHORS then? Is it a gallery? Is it a design-label? Is it an exhibition? Is it an event? A shop?

Actually, it’s everything and none of the above. Well, a design label it is to be honest. But not your average design label. I’ve started COHORS to get a younger crowd involved with art and design; a crowd that is into street culture, counter culture, gaming, skating, festivals, Spoken Word, electronic music, whatever. On the other hand: I worked with so many damn good young artists that have trouble finding a platform that fit their needs. To me COHORS is an answer to some of that. At the same time it is a platform that focusses on the right crowd to match its supply.

A former Willem de Kooning academy product design student of mine, Marten van Middelkoop, created this lamp a few years back. Since he was fully immersed in a new company he started (PLASTICIET, please check it out! They are making really cool plastic recycled materials!!!), he left the lamp for what is was. I was mesmerized by that lamp… I wanted it. I wanted to produce it. And then finally, when I came up with the right concept around it, I started COHORS.

Around that time I invited a group of young artists around this first project: a motion graphic designer, a composer, a graphic art designer (who later-on came up with an AR designer to add to the team) and a wonderful art photographer. And I asked them one question: Do you feel like creating autonomous work that relates to this lamp?
And I can asure you: it’s amazing what came out of that process. And it brings new light to the work of a curator, working within the commercial realm. That’s for sure. It is very, very challenging to sell a product with such a diverse palette of art production around it. But what the hell; it’s been worth the (bumpy) ride!

You can check our website: www.cohors.one, if you want to learn more about the other art and artists involved. COHORS is also on social media: cohors.one. Or check here regularly. I will be writing more about their work here soon…

P.S. the COHORS website intro Motion Graphic was done by Joost Camaro with a soundtrack by Eric Magnée.


COHORS is created by: Curator/ founder yours truly, art director Rianne Petter, marketing designer Marian Oudenes, product designer Marten van Middelkoop, painter and graphic designer Eveline Schram, composer Eric Magnée, animator Joost Kraan, augmented reality designer Freek Rutkens, webdesigner Ruben Daas and team Studio Alloy and photographer Milan Boonstra. On March 8th our first product will be launched so stay tuned!

COHORS is on the move…

One and a half year ago I started working on a crazy idea. One of my former students (Marten van Middelkoop) had made a beautiful table lamp that mesmerized me. It got me thinking: so many wonderful artists I knew didn’t get the space, time nor means to an end to get the attention that they deserved and earn a decent living. And what was my role in all of this? A curator? A mediator? Waiting for funding to pull-off a new (temporary) project? That’s what I had been doing over the last 18+ years. I looked around in every corner of the art world: biennials, art fairs, I attended and spoke at conferences, worked in art education, worked as a curator, have written articles and essays on artists’ practices, etcetera etcetera etcetera… What I found out for myself is that the way the art world functioned in its core, felt strange and out of place. There had to be another way. For the longest time I thought that commerce was poisoning the scene. But when I looked up-close it wasn’t commerce itself, but just the way they played the game. Next to that the system of subsidizers and funding felt even worse. Is the commercial realm really such a bad environment for art to thrive on? I gathered some amazing, hard working, beautiful minds around me and we started talking. 
Today I am proud to present COHORS (actually, we launched yesterday). We’ve created it for everyone who believes that art and design are crucial elements to our lives; for people who want to learn more about art, design and everything in between, in a new way. People who feel free to enlist, engage, enjoy and plunge in to what the art world has to offer, but from new perspectives. COHORS is a little ‘army’ of artists that are creating a new world for you to enjoy all art and art forms. With each product we present, a new world will be opened. For now we started our so called teaser-campaign that will hopefully lure you in to our first world. If you don’t like this one, come back later! We are creating more worlds, more stages, more art and more products…
Wanna join? Please visit our website, like us on Facebook and Instagram (cohors.one), send us your comments and mailus@cohors.one. Of course we would like to see you as a future customer. But we prefer to see you as a part of COHORS.

So Emojinal….

A while ago I listened to the last episode of ‘A Piece of Work’; a podcast produced by the MoMa with TV star Abbi Jacobson as host/ co-creator. Now I’m a radio – and since a few years also podcast – addict, but I don’t know a thing about what’s on television. But Abbi is apparently someone who’s hot and happening on US Comedy Central. MoMabbi’s podcast is quite amusing. Not that bad even. I get that they are not aiming for me as a listener, so in a way I feel like I’m sort of eavesdropping. They spoke about popular culture and design this week and I like the way they lower the threshold. Seriously, I’m learning here…

This episode was centered around curator Paola Antonelli from MoMa’s design department and the very first set of emoji’s she acquired for the collection. It is actually a really beautiful collection of 12 x 12 pixel images, from 1999 already. And let’s not forget to mention the designer: Shigetaka Kurita.

Still I keep on wondering what these images are doing to our imagination; our lingual vocabulary but also our visual or illustrative vocabulary.  Nietzsche already mentioned several limitations of our western language (when we say leaf, we know what a leaf is; but there’s not one leaf in the world that’s the same). So, he says, in language we create groups of objects but there’s no room for exceptions.

Some of you might have heard about a similar experiment they did with kids in kindergarten/ pre-schools: the teachers asks the children to make a drawing of a dog. They understand the task, but there’s not one dog the same.

But now we have these emoji’s that reach us deep down in our subconscious. A while ago I even dreamt I was texting someone and I saw some emoji’s in my dream! The ones below, still seem harmless. I don’t believe your subconscious image of certain words and symbols will be filled with 12×12 pixel images. But with this contemporary stuff… to some extend it enriched our conversations in the digital realm, I’m totally positive on that. But on the other hand: couldn’t it just kill our imagination?

New Spaces

Alex Lebbink runs a marvelous gallery on a beautiful spot in the center of The Hague called SinArts.
I have known Alex for quite some time; we worked together at a Turkish art organization in Amsterdam. Funny, because Alex is a sinologist. Apart from Uyghur culture I don’t see a connection, but what the hell.
There are probably not that many sinologists brave enough to dive into the almost impermeable world of contemporary commercial art. Chinese or Asian contemporary art in this case. Alex does it with heart and soul. And I love the way he does it. He organizes lectures, sends out extensive (very academically oriented) newsletters and connects the gallery to anything that’s going on it the Asian cultural networks.

For this upcoming Saturday he invited me to do a public conversation with Yung-shan Tsou. Needless to say she currently has a show at the gallery which opened last Friday, October 27th. I know she would be grateful if I called her a Berliner, but her name probably already reveals her Taiwanese origin. On the other hand, even JFK got away with it, and at least Yung-shan has been living there for 17 years.

The title I gave to Saturday’s conversation I lend from a Radiohead song: Where I End and You Begin. I love this song. Looking at Yung-shan’s work reminded me of it. I hadn’t heard it in a while. The song describes the sometimes endless gap between the ‘you and me’. We all know and experience it now and then. It is exactly that space Yung-shan invites us into. A form of in-betweenness that she also speaks of when we meet. I know exactly what she means.

She creates the kind of work that you intuitively understand at first glance, but it takes a little bit more time to find the words that go along with it. Yung-shan creates books that give a whole new meaning to the possibilities that books normally hand out to us. To her a book is a free space, a public space, where you and I can come together and become anything we’d like. She the creator, I the perceiver, and dweller, where we both act as hide-and-seekers. Without words even. Just with things that maybe reminds us of words, or even less than that. “Typology or Chinese characters, they all become too symbolic and at the same time empty,” she says. “By now I entirely stopped using them. You can still find them in the older books.” No words required; it becomes so obvious in her space.

I feel like Yung-shan likes to hide between te pages. She knows her way around, she is running up front, leaving little traces behind. Like Hanzl und Gretl‘s tiny breadcrumbs for you to find, or like the little ‘Heinzelmenschen’ she made work about in 2016. In her case the breadcrumbs she leaves are an entire world in itself: paintings, sticky matter, little traces that remind you of centuries of book binding or seventies pamphlets. Even the East German obsession with public administration comes to mind. Stapled together, pasted, stained at the back by carefully applied forms painted in oil paint. Little booklets within pages, tiny stickers we all know and wonder what they are for, pieces of envelopes, some with little windows in them where things appear behind…

I carefully take one of her ‘Aufzeichnungen‘ off the table in the gallery. “Take it towards the light in the window pane. Use it as a book” she tells me. When I get to some pages that are pasted together, she tells me to “just rip them apart!”. It’s the soundtrack to her work, she explains to me. When I look at the work I feel a space beyond the place I occupy right now. It feels like a trick. At the same time it reminds me of something my mother used to tell me: “Nobody will ever ask you to pay toll for your thoughts”, meaning that in my head I am always safe and free. Yung-shan’s books seem to create a safe space for my thoughts, without me writing them down. In a way it adds a new chapter to Roland Barthes’ La Mort de L’Auteur.

Later that day Yung-shan sends me one of the short stories she has written. And again I’m being drawn into a space, a public space, where she wants me to enter, watch, listen, let her lead me into… No, not the garden of Eden. The chaos of life, of how her protagonist, a young aspiring photographer, perceives life. I get it. I felt the same thing today. The world is becoming more and more complicated. At least her books are giving me an alternative space I’d like to reside in. It is like what De Certeau’s speaks of in his Practice of Everyday Life. She just gave me a new tool, a new tactic, to escape the agonizing structures of modern politics and commercial spaces. Life Hack! Yes!

Yung-shan Tsou on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anthrazit/sets/72157621827106295

Aufzeichnungen – work in progress by Yung-shan Tsou

Dirty Movies

Each Sunday morning I wake up to hear one of my favorite Dutch radio shows. I’m not sure if writing this will damage by spotless reputation since it’s alleged to be something for the elderly. Anyways, It’s a show about nature and environmental news, totally nerdy and I love it. For years and years by the way. It’s called ‘Vroege Vogels’ (Early Birds).

Lately It seems that the amount of shocking news about natural catastrophe’s as a result of climate change can’t accellerate anymore – unless the end of the world already on our doorstep – but yesterday I heard something that sounded even more shocking than all the other shocking facts I have heard up to now. Apparently during the last 30 odd years 75 % of all insects has disappeared. Seventy five percent!?!? I was dumbfounded. Still am. Just plainly don’t know what to say.

So I went on with life as if nothing had happened, as we all do. I decided to go visit the last day of The Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. Maybe I subconsciously expected to find some hopeful signs there, who knows. Maybe we all do stuff like that to overcome the idea that there’s nothing left to do. On my way to Eindhoven I read my daily dose of nonsense (“Nonsense also makes sense”, my partner always tells me) which told me my neighborhood cinema KINO is treating us to a special film program: Dirty Movies. It even caused a little tumult because a member of the Dutch Christian Union (Christen Unie) called it “a typical waste of tax-payers money”. Someone should explain the guy about the (early) birds and the bees I think. To me it sounded like the only solution to the problems we’re facing right now – including the latest popular hashtag: a new, better, more emancipated and respectful sexual revolution!!! That’s what we need. Right now.

After years of uber-frumpy Neoliberal sexlessness – losing brothels and our red light district while gaining more human trafficking and illegal drug criminality – I think it’s about time that we start standing on the tables and hanging from the chandeliers again. And so I was happy to see Melani De Luca’s work in Eindhoven, and Joel Blanco Martinez (Please click the link, you will not regret this!) but also Jian Da Huang’s Garden of Odour, or Laura Mongone’s Sexpression Tattoos and Porn for the Soul by Fleur Hulleman.

I’m guessing this post will get more Google hits then ever before. Enjoy! And let’s fucking safe the planet! ;-)

Porn for the Soul by Fleur Hulleman DDW2017 (Photo by Ronald Smits)

Salone del Mobile

At the beginning of this month the city of Milano flooded with the annual stream of designers, architects and design-lovers. It’s always kind of thrilling to be there again and to be persuaded by the latest interior designs and light designs companies are displaying. All my favorite brands were presenting: Louis Poulsen, FLOS, Michael Anastassiades, Foscarini, Linea Light, etc. were there with breathtaking new armatures. I also saw some young brands that caught our eye like Lambert et Fils from Canada that make make splendid little globes like mobiles; playing with balance and gravity. 

Visiting the stands at the Salone del Mobile I was especially struck by the dominant place that theatrical light effects have taken in our homes. Next to the fact that there is an immense difference between light and interior designers, which I will get back to later. Regarding my first point: many interior design stands have theatrical lightning next to the regular armatures lightning in their stands. Mind you: at EuroLuce stands you will (of course) never see that. If their armatures can’t do their work, their products are not doing the job. But I instantly realized it has become so normal for customers to be confronted with dramatic light effects which of course influences them in how they started regarding their own home. “And all the world’s a stage…” to speak with Shakespeare. That fact, together with the endless possibilities were are confronted with by technology, bring people to more and more value the work of light designers these days. 

Regarding the latter point I am making: the difference between light designers and interior designers when it comes to looking at light, is not new to me. It just still strikes me as odd that these two disciplines can’t stay away from each other when they clearly should. Or I should rather say: interior designers keep on designing lamps/ objects/ armatures when they clearly have no clue about light. They don’t even show a slight interest in light itself. The result is that you get big or small ‘objects’ floating through the air attached to threads, or standing in the corner next to the couch, that have nothing to do with light, just with the object itself. And it’s a shame. Compare this idea to – for instance – the pendule lamp by Davide Groppi you see below: isn’t that one – from top to bottom – all so delicately about light, shadows and what it does to the shapes and colors that surround us? 

Lucky enough at the Salone del Mobile one can educate him or her self on the difference. I just truly hope that people do watch closely enough…

(photo) Ingo Maurer’s light explosion…

Invisible Cities

It remains to be one of my favorite books, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. When you’re an art and architecture student it’s a must-read. Or at least it was in my time. Some of the books you read during your life seem to have settled down in a cosy corner of your brain and stir every time something passes that reminds them of themselves. I have no control over this; I am just a happy carrier of facts and stories…

Now that I am researching for my articles, again, I am looking differently at my city and its people. Why do we have a tendency to create images everywhere around us? Even on the surface of our body. And then why can’t we accept the fact that some also like doing that on city walls, spans and bridges? Now that I have been studying throw-ups and tags and interviewing graffiti writers  I see a whole new city in front of me. And not only that; I see how everything is logically connected.

What does this say about us as a collective? It seems far more complex then the cave paintings made by homo sapiens, although some people tell me that graffiti writers are nothing less then cavemen. When I look around these days these drawings and writings speak to me; about the city, about us humans, about the scars on the surface that tell us something about the the gut of things. I try to imagine what it looks like to new-comers coming from the middle east or African countries. If it helps them read us. Or what it would look like to someone who arrived here just after we all left earth… what does it all say about us?

 Photo: Micawber™ @Roffa ( @__micawber__ )

What is art?

This year I will be publishing some more articles on art and culture and especially do journalistic research for our documentary series LEFT WING HOBBIES. I have written before about DE ROTTERDAMSE BEELDMAATSCHAPPIJ; it’s not only about documentary but also about fact finding, as many facts as possible. You can call it journalism, we just call it slightly ‘pamphlettistic’.

So LEFT WING HOBBIES. Well, my love for the world of arts and culture in the Netherlands is a lot less I can tell you, and waning. But that’s where I come from and so that’s what I have to deal with. I guess. Nobody wants to hear more sobbing and moaning over art markets, institutionalized subsidiaries and budget cuts. Even I, myself, am fed-up with those stories. By the way: you can mostly read them in art magazines published for people in the art world; everything is carefully contained in the silo’s that have been constructed for them.

Anyway. I decided to research on the brighter side of life. I’m departing from the discrepancy between the official definitions of art and how art is experienced in general: free, unruly, independent, visionary, against the stream, against the odds, etc.

The only truly free ‘art forms’ that still fit within those parameters – as far as I can see – are graffiti writers and taggers, old-school video-bloggers, hackers, and even hooligans, to a certain extend, skaters maybe, and a bunch of other free spirits. Insane in the membrane, all-about-fun and totally committed to ‘their (in)crowd’… I didn’t know but that was my image of most of them. Now that I am researching this crowd for a few months, I see direct links between who we are as people in general and the art-world. As if they were the missing link I was looking for. As if… maybe here I find and answer that I have been looking for quite some time now: how can the western art-world escape its self-inflicted prison? I hope so…

Photo: ApFab