Graduates mentioned: Tatsuhiko Togashi, Timo Demollin, Johanna Arco, Loidys Carnero, Niels Albers, Liene Pavlovska, Juan Pablo Mejía, Asja Keeman
For me, viewing graduation shows across the country is an annual exertion undertaken with my colleague to see what the youngest generation of artists is up to and to scout for talent for our P/////AKTPOOL.
Even though this is a programme for which we select two Bachelor’s graduates per year, we also actively look at the Master’s programmes and other postgraduate institutions. The Sandberg Instituut would be an obvious stop in that sense, knowing that all its various main departments and temporary programmes can yield worthwhile presentations well within the boundaries of what can be considered visual art. The unnecessary but much appreciated attractions offered to me through an invitation this year consisted of organised transport to the venues of the exhibitions and events, food and drinks – and the kind offer of a modest fee for my editorial contribution.
This “editorial” role also posed a first problem. What does it mean to edit, especially when you can initially only base yourself on a website with draft works and texts by the graduates, and not even half-filled with the information you need? To devise a theme would have been one tool to go by, but then again I do not generally look at art along thematic lines. Or rather: especially when on the lookout, I tend focus on individual qualities in works and presentations. That is, I look much more at the result than at what might have preceded that outcome in terms of thoughts, politics and research. And if a work turns out to be too literal in that sense, I even lose interest somewhat. I guess that has to do with a desire for art that can give me an “oomph”. By this I don’t mean that it should be impressive in a spectacular way, but rather possess the capacity to transcend, alienate and transform in a physical and poetical sense that I cannot quite put my finger on and is therefore more of a mental challenge.
So I started out by scanning the graduation website for things that caught my attention in a positive way, proceeding as I normally would, using our general P/////AKT outlook as a tool and keeping an open mind to just look at and appreciate the many final works. The Sandberg Instituut is a sizeable institution, and we could only visit so many of the programmes and departments … So there’s my second tool: to only say something about what I actually saw. I would normally gravitate towards the main departments Fine Arts and Studio for Immediate Spaces as offering the presentations of most interest – the main department Dirty Art as well, but hey, a presentation in Athens … good for you guys! Fortunately, the other two were part of my tour, as were main department Design and the temporary programme Reinventing Daily Life.
To start with the latter … Apart from the pleasant courtyard, where one could find salads and sandwiches – plus a G&T bar by one of the students – I found myself clueless about what I encountered inside the building. A set of sets? I do understand that these things were meant to be activated, to be literally introduced into daily life or to have daily life participating
in them, but why present them like this? If the projects don’t fit the exhibition model, just don’t try to make an exhibition out of them. (Kudos, though, to graduate Kees de Haan for the very painful, awkward and brave performance we got to see in the aforementioned courtyard.) The explanation by programme director Thomas Spijkerman did shed some light, and that leaves me wondering. As an outsider – especially one wary of having to participate, it just isn’t my thing – I cannot judge whether this programme has been fruitful from the perspective of the students, tutors and/or institution. Would it not make sense to continue a course that has perhaps been slightly problematic, but is interesting enough to develop and improve? Or to continue a course that has been successful, so future students might benefit, too? The way things are organised now means that none of the temporary courses will ever grow beyond an experimental phase, which I find both interesting and problematic.
Now to the steadier havens of Fine Arts and the Studio for Immediate Spaces. I had the privilege of meeting the Fine Arts graduates prior to their final presentation at Looiersgracht 60, and found more or less what I had been presented with already, during the studio visits.
Knowing a bit more beforehand (I would recommend more time in between studio visits and finals, I know this was also the intention, but why not already at the end of the first year and maybe a second round during the first half of the second year? (@Department Director).
Much to my appreciation, this group has stuck together and decided on a joint venue. I do understand the idea behind the previous Festival of Choices format, putting artists directly in touch with miscellaneous exhibition spaces in the city of Amsterdam, and thereby with a possible future reality, but this also creates unequal conditions for those artists and less of a choice than one might wish for – one of the main reasons P/////AKT stopped participating after the second edition.
Having said that, the overall presentation at Looiersgracht 60 came across as a proper exhibition with sensitive and intelligent works. Perhaps a bit cautious and polite, though, maybe as much a consequence of the graduates respecting each other as a product of the characteristics and possibilities of the space. Special compliments to Tatsuhiko Togashi for successfully and poetically using the space to his advantage, to Timo Demollin for conceptually and critically addressing the context and conditions, to Johanna Arco for her strangely hypnotising video and to Loidys Carnero for his interesting and well-executed project.
While the Fine Arts presentation provided some mental pops, the Studio for Immediate Spaces managed to achieve that through a strong physical presence. Some highlights: Niels Albers with a beautiful and highly accomplished slaughterhouse abstraction; Liene Pavlovska offering a compact David Lynch-esque experience; and a monumental building-site sculpture by Rein Verhoef. I learned that some of the students had some trouble completing the theoretical part of the course, but they did manage to use the space boldly and daringly, obviously spending many, many hours on a location where they could work relatively freely. While this doesn’t necessarily result in better inherent quality, it is a quality in itself – one which P/////AKT always strongly advocates.
As I have started to learn over the past couple of years, the Sandberg has developed into an institution consisting of various and apparently distinctive courses that I should not take at face value or judge by their names. Dirty Arts and Studio for Immediate Spaces are properly indicative of overlapping directions, more often than not often resulting in art. Design just sounds like design, though, although the course apparently sets out to “respond through design to world issues and question the relationship between practice and politics”. Yet I found some works here, by Juan Pablo Mejía and Asja Keeman for instance, which could easily have come from a fine-art practice and survive as autonomous pieces. Which is proof of the institution’s open approach when it comes to traditional boundaries between disciplines. I’m very sad to have missed the time-based events from temporary programme Master of Voice, as well as main department Critical Studies’ presentations and gatherings. For that reason alone, I have to admit that the graduation website updated with final works has turned out to be a fantastic tool for the likes of me … I am very much looking forward to the publication. Thank you, all Sandbergers!
Nienke Vijlbrief is founding director of P/////AKT, platform for contemporary art.