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The visibility of the capital apparatus

January 11th, 2012 by Remco de Blaaij

Today I stumbled upon an interview with the new director of the Institute of the Tropics in Amsterdam. Since last year, as a wide array of other cultural stages, the institute has experienced a direct financial threat by withdrawal of large governmental funding. In order to be able to deal with this instant threat, the board has appointed a new director who hopefully will be able to save the institute from its urgent lack of oxygen.

The choice for the director perhaps can be seen as an archetypical one in dark days of cultural setback in the name of financial decline. Constructing his CV mostly in the entertainment business, he is hoped to deliver new forms of ‘earning models’, the only way forward to save an institution of its cultural importance. It made me think once again how the entanglement of clear capitalist systems can be read through the shift of cultural institutional practices. I was wondering if perhaps, in times where one is not allowed to exist beyond unavoidable financial catastrophe, offers a potential of visibility for capitalist and financial systems and surfacing of motivations to be read through the current (dis)placement and mobility of culture in the very name of ‘unavoidable’ financial crises.

The Tropical Institute and the appointment of a new financial strategic brain is not a unique event, but part of an array of measurements that seem to have initiated in the Netherlands parallel with the introduction of the  rhetoric of ‘the financial crisis’ starting in 2008. Since then, some major cultural institutions in the Netherlands have seen change of leadership, like the Prince Claus Funds appointing a lawmaker as its director, or a more radical shift undertaken by the merge of Fonds BKVB and Mondriaan Fonds, up until the threatening disposal of institutes like Rijksakademie and SKOR. Each history having a complex relationship to governance, which is something that one should read closer, could provide a new line of sight. A line that shows us not so much radical changes in cultural policy itself through social change, but the non radical changes in capital policy itself in a world where some believe capitalist systems can no longer be valid, non functional and the apparatus of betraying the people.

However, for me, the interview shows no signs of any despair, disbelief or even a collapse of any of these systems, or even a true radical rethinking of foundations of cultural policies, in fact, the true potential lies in surfacing a new capitalist possibility in total opposite of destruction. The language being operated is one that signals an urgent need of awareness and visibility in many institutional discussions occupying the current. Especially alarming however is to hear that culture can only retain its value by serving a ‘wide as possible audience’, a direct link to consumers. The new director recognises this by taking the total population of the Netherlands (17 million) and comparing it to the current visitor amount (200.000), concluding space for growth with many more visitors. This in itself is an equally evident as well as shocking conclusion where a gap in the market urgently seems to need a refill. In many fields, this mobilizing of the ‘customer subjects’ can be regarded valid, but in the case of the Tropical Institute and perhaps even in the wider cultural field, culture kicks in as a badly selling product in need of renewed strategy. This radical reduction is apparent in the attitude of the new director when commenting on new and broader audiences able to learn through the Tropical Insitute on new cultures as well as their own. But how then? I read nothing more than Dutch present colonial language that still functions on a form of ‘barbarising’ a culture through only acknowledging its economic value and using culture as a mere marketing language, it sells, but what does it do? It exchanges, cross examines and let cultures learn form each other, as if the Tropical Institute is the only institution capable of playing a role in cultural exchange and comes to this conclusion by drawing out a simple measurements of bodies.

In that light it could be that we are at a junction where intellectual approaches are believed to be out of economic potential, to be traded in ( as it no longer contributes to a cashflow) for something new. This ‘something new’ mostly finds its way in language forms of creating ‘wider audiences’ or ‘wider programmes’, but in fact the real potential is not existing in search for the new product, the new kid on the block, but its deep commitment to new capitalist urgency in the name of culture itself. This in itself could be worrying and at some times irreversible frightening for many people that still believe in the value of other value systems in operation, but it does give us one opportunity and that is to make visible and imagine capital apparatuses underlying our cultural infrastructure, networks and even future potentialities.

Waiting for modernity to arrive,….

June 19th, 2011 by Remco de Blaaij

As a student I was always joking with my colleagues that as an artist you have to wait a lot during your time of work. If not waiting for the paint to dry, one has to wait until funding comes in or a project to be accepted. I can tell that curators, societies and institutions have to wait too in order for something to arrive, or to leave.

But what is it that arrives and is this not something that oneself initiates in the first place? I’m here in the academy in Ramallah waiting for our painting to arrive and rethinking why we are doing this in the first place and how to tie what I see happening around me to this event. Already this in itself signals for me the connection of the endeavor to a structure that is much more sensitive to its efforts beyond taking in account only itself through acknowledgement of its own excellence, contribution to art history and its value in the magical market. It seems therefore that more issues currently at stake in different geographies can relate to this trip of Picasso’s Buste de Femme. Who could have think that an old painting could navigate us through these issues? A ‘top talent’ of sixty years ago who proved itself to the market! Thus, it makes me think about the current aggressive cuts in the Netherlands on (cultural) life, rather than only budgets, the cut of people not being able to mobilise themselves through territories here, the cuts and the Arab Spring that let new trees grow in the streets of Ramallah? A modern sign? (more…)

The Postcolonial Study Initative.

September 16th, 2010 by Remco de Blaaij

Yesterday I was at the start of the Postcolonial Study Initiative, for unknown reasons abbreviated to PCI ( allthough some say it refers to the former Italian Communist Party). It was about time that initiatives were made and especially in this part of the world. Central speaker and former holder of the Treaty of Utrecht seat at the University of Utrecht was Paul Gilroy. I saw him several times speaking over the last couple of years here and this time it was no other than giving a smooth, understandable and urgent speech on cultural consequences so necessary to understand our situation we are in, maybe just for a little bit.

The Black Atlantic was one of the key works of himself that he referred to many times, a work that for the first time, in 1993, opened up an understanding of the cultural travel, consequences of slavery, black identity in an ever existing diasporic and dispersed idea of living, in minds of people other than the ones that suffered from atrocities that officially ended in 1863 in Suriname as a colony of The Netherlands and as one of the last countries in Europe to do this.

The talk of Paul Gilroy pretty much took up everything that is written and argued about in The Black Atlantic and took up this idea of modernity and the forming of black identity more. From the esthetics of clothes of the slaves towards an interesting geneology of the human rights ( as a secular US idea of freedom that was offered to the world) Gilroy navigated us through the oceans of identity forming and the commercial selling of this identity in order to come to terms with certain pasts. Pasts that we don’t know anymore ofcourse, or at least deny that they existed in forms and scales of any importance. The talk gave a very nice image of how black identity was formed through different media in the light of amnesia and how this is propelled in our new-modern time, even to the strategy of diplomacy that we see in the EU and USA, where cultural diplomacy, development and defence is part of the argument to engage in military orientalism or building up something like a world citizenship.

For me and others in the room I’m sure, it was clear that we are left with a total amnesia and cultural denial, at least on the ‘white’ side on what happened roughly before 1863 and the 250 years before this. My feeling on this amnesia and denial was represented in one of the anecdote’s that Gilroy told us about an interview with a British soldier who fought in Afghanistan;

At some point we came to the village and we were swiftly received by the local community by the words;”It’s been too long that you were here, last time you burnt down our whole village!”. The soldier was confused, because their unit was never there before, so it must have been special forces that secretly did something in that village. He explained, but the villagers said, “no, no, it was 120 years ago that you were here, but we still remember very well”. It was in another war that same representatives where there to conduct these activities.

It was a simple anecdote that left traces for me that are very important to understand modes of time and the understanding of history. In the same I can recommend the book of Anton de Kom in whcih he constantly sees these modes of perception also in the Surinam colonial times where cruelties happened for hundreds of years too. It is a mode of perception that does not contribute at all to a ‘white’ idea of collective rememberance, because it cannot see beyond the borders of the individual. In Anton de Kom’s book ( We, Slaves of Suriname) it is referred to as this:”You, the white reader, should know that these cruelties have never been part of the books of your history, but it has been in our souls forever”. It made me clear once again that this directed and choreographed amnesia is part of the soul of us, I am white there is no doubt about this, and it’s not in our books. It seems to me that we have to keep fighting also beyond the borders of the university to enlighten our historical perception that still is propelling us into the future everyday. Hopefully if we can be able to at least accomplish this for a very small part we would see what the real effects of crimes committed in the past knew how they find their way to the post-colonial people, but never to the colonial ones. We need also action in this rapidly on the visual level, as I think the visual and imaginary is at least a border or door that as a tool is close to remembrance. We should grab every chance to contribute to this. Yes, to the initative, yes to much more initatives,…

Geographies of Doubt

August 11th, 2010 by Remco de Blaaij

A small remark on my recent visit to Palestine, a part of a text that I recently used in a bigger one. A small alinea that I quite like in terms of thinking of the geography of an institution like ours.

Photo by Sander Buyck
Photo by Sander Buyck

Photo by Sander Buyck

Geographies of doubt

In a global community endlessly confronted by self-reflexive responses to topics that slide from inter-cultural exchanges to the geo-politics of emotion, a change needs to be registered in already existing methods and reactions. The arena of artistic practice with its ever-changing positions and knowledge of affect and implication seems to be urgent, but why? Why does a museum have an interest beyond the borders of its own geography?


Questions that began the series of activities I just narrated come from the belief that physical and mental boundaries exist and that nationalities, due to political conflicts, imply physical exclusion (the meetings I described are probably the most direct example of this). These boundaries have to come down in order to directly confront these issues and open gaps offering imaginable alternatives for an unknown future. Of course these systems cannot be changed in a moment, confined to the faults inherent in national regulations, restricted travelling and personal inhibition. But what are the practices of occupation and restriction that we come across? On what terms do we retrospectively see colonial motivations as we experience these places in the present? And are we ourselves repeating some kind of imperialism by our presence and activities there? Is it possible to offer new forms of criticality?


From the site of European Cultural Foundation:


Bringing people closer together through cultural cooperation and creative activities is at the heart of all we do. Our independence allows us to take risks, do things differently, and work where others might not go.

A very noble cause I would say, but can we not also think of modes of dependence rather than disconnection through ‘independence’? Is this not the greater risk? Collaboration and communality rather than exclusion and self-sufficiency.

The Jerusalem Post

July 24th, 2010 by Remco de Blaaij

I’m in Jerusalem at the moment, here for an almost ten day trip that has to propel hopefully Picasso in Ramallah as an endeavor into the future more and to meet Jack Persekian for an interview on CAMP ( Contemporary Art Museum Palestine).

I’m getting quite used to the Israeli border control, but now it was the first time they stopped me before entering, rather than only interrogating when I left. I know that some stamps of Lebanon and other ‘Arab’ countries do not help the process of getting smoothly through border control. It’s an easy thing to talk about and I imagine all international travelers, curators, artists, NGO active people, writers and journalist talk about this issue much too often, like I do now. I will therefore stop this nagging about my position and pseudo cruelties, knowing the real constrictions of many millions of people in West Bank and Gaza. Still, it is a discussion that I talk about every time and keeps on coming back.

I visited Jack today to interview him on the history and future of CAMP. We will use the material for a short film that will be presented during Play Van Abbe, chapter 3, The Politics of Collecting and the collecting of Politics. It was an amusing interview that I had very little work to do for, since Jack spoke lively and committed on anything that I slightly touched on. These are the easy and joyful parts of my job, listening to somebody who is talking about his lifelong work.

I was accompanied by Issa Freij, an equally passionate filmmaker who was one of the co-initiators of Al Ma’mal in the 90′s together with Jack and whom I met for the first time. He filmed the interview with Jack, without tripod, for over an hour long.

I always get lost in the Old City, I don’t know what it is, but I always seem to take the wrong turn. On one of these occasions however I turned up at the front of the AL Aqsa Mosque entry, on a Friday, fully packed with people everywhere. This was exciting.

Jerusalem is vibrant and for the first time, something like the Syndrome popped up. Not in terms of religious anxiety, but anxiety that imagines all the possibilities of this city, even given the conditions of occupation it is in at the moment. If you draw this back to a more institutional critique, it was lovely to see the workshops that Al Ma’mal organised for kids to paint and draw for a full two day course. It’s education at its best and makes Al Ma’mal a very natural combination between contemporary artproducts that reflect on life in the political Israeli/Palestine arena, but lives it through this education. An enormous simple example that we could even learn from.

More to come in the following days,…

East Jerusalem

East Jerusalem and Workshop at Al Ma'mal

Beirut has six letters

March 29th, 2010 by Remco de Blaaij

I’m currently in Beirut, Lebanon on a last-minute decided visit without having a project, book, idea or any other productive end result in mind. I’m not here to do a show on the Middle East or to seek for unique stories that artistically aim to tie political moments to an engaged practice. I have to tell you that coming here without prescription is refreshing in itself, to just be in a place and meeting people, see work and show some films. It made me realize again why I am doing what I’m doing and how nice it can be to share information and knowledge in a place that you don’t know beforehand and maybe not even at the end.

I arrived a couple of days ago from London on a highly modern and completely packed flight to Hariri airport. Quickly I was checking again, just to be extra sure, my passport for stamps of ‘the state that cannot be named’, although I made very sure last couple of times I was there to not get my passport stamped, knowing I had this tactics successfully completed, but still. It reminds us again that free travel is not a given fact for everybody.

Beyrouth 1948

Beyrouth 1948

Although the wrong stamps in your passport will not allow you to enter the country, the same sources of these stamps remind me actually very much of the first impressions of city aesthetics and dynamics in Beirut. The beach is the same, the houses in Jaffa look like the houses off Al Hamra and Ashrafiyeh, the streets look the same, etc. I’m constantly reminding myself that the humus however 200 km to the south is really not tasting the same, I’m sorry, but the Lebanese can cook, that is for sure.


A too early review

October 21st, 2009 by Remco de Blaaij

Fresh from a talk by Conditional Design, I could do nothing other than writing you a congratulate email on your efforts that took the form in Take on me, take me on. Please forget that I’m an interested colleague and hopefully will be able to beyond that role ellaborate a bit on why I think ‘Take on me’ is an important factory. Call it a too early review or something else, but allow me to write down some quick thoughts on the need for an alternative factory that can not only produce kilograms of Flowerpots, Bugaboo’s and Bikes that add even more value to our demanding lives, but can really give shelter to possibilities that feed ideas to a practice that so hardly seem to need an alternative in the process of making and a life that demands a shift of value.


Biennial location

September 30th, 2009 by Remco de Blaaij

A unique possibility in the Southwest of The Netherlands for an exotic, unknown and everyday spacial Centre West European location, very very close to Belgium. Perfect for a Manifesta or biennial. Anyone? Sorry, no trains.

The Spectacle of whose Everyday?

September 30th, 2009 by Remco de Blaaij

Last week I read the following text, a text that left me totally in-between wondering if I was reading a naive text, or an underskin attempt to radicalize critical thought on a biennial and a supposed global phenomenon that ‘everyone’ is experiencing.;

“In the age of globalisation, it is not enough for contemporary art to become a spectacular phenomenon embraced by almost all people in all corners of the world. It’s even more important to testify that artists and art communities from different parts of the globe are increasingly sharing the common understanding and strategies to reinvent themselves through engagements with the realm of everyday life. More and more artists are magically turning the ordinary into novel forms, meanings and usages while innovative collective mobilisations are brought to the forefront as a more democratic structure of art practices and their social functions. They are the core of the global art and culture scene today. Through intensely presenting and promoting these initiatives using the most efficient tools, including spectacular events like international biennials, truly innovative and relevant contemporary art practices will obtain a much larger visibility and help us build a new, genuinely public space for our era.

After 20 years of existence and growth, the Biennale de Lyon is now facing a new challenge to reinvent itself. Exploring and presenting the new tendency of the global art scene in its common efforts to reinvent the ordinary into something spectacular and unique, or a new multitude of expressions of diversity, complexity and interactivity, the Biennale itself will certainly reach a new youth. And it’s the best recipe to confront the current crisis that the whole world is entangled with…
The Spectacle of the Everyday is fundamentally changing both the spectacle and the everyday!”


The Idea of Cultural Leadership – Bassam el Baroni

February 18th, 2009 by Remco de Blaaij

A Concise Reflection on Questions of Culture, Excellence, and Authority

Culture is too vast a reference and too complex a term to have ever been invented by politicians scratching over how to liberalize a cultural economy. Culture is not an easily traceable phenomenon it is an evasive and an unspecific term to the point of confusion, yet it remains a habitat for the many logics and emotions of artistry, ingenuity, debate, as well as tradition and its protectionism. On the other hand ‘cultural leadership’ is a specific, recently invented, and hyper-pragmatic term that calls to mind a somewhat precise moment and place in history, politics, and economics. Whether we find the idea of cultural leadership to be our cup of tea or not, it is exactly its unambiguity, pragmatism, clarity of roots and agenda that makes it a good point at which to start addressing some of the severely tangled problematics inherent in the architecture of today’s highly politicized cultural industry.

Functioning within the borders of a country or as a cross-border vehicle, the cultural industry is on an over-dose of political utilization. Cultural Leadership’s role has been mainly to, among other things; raise the standards of this utilization process. It strives for excellence but, it has yet to formulate a strong questioning of the terms on which this excellence is being promoted. What units do we measure excellence in? A so called ‘gangsta rapper’ might have elements of influence, appeal, creativity, cultural leadership, and business entrepreneurship embedded in a cultural code that doesn’t make sense to a creative industries jobholder in an Amsterdam or London office. In this example of many, the conservative roots of the cultural leadership methodology begin to reveal themselves. However, there is still room for negotiation, maybe even a renegotiation of the moulds that have confined the relationship between cultural leadership and its industry.

What needs to be renegotiated is cultural leadership’s position within the wider context of the cultural industry. Can it remain in its current position, exceptions acknowledged, under the binding authority of air-tight cultural industry circumspection? Or should it attempt to gain some more authority and autonomy in the scheme of things? In other words, should cultural leaders be led by the industry or should they be leading the industry? It seems that the current situation is one that highlights cultural leadership on the leash of political leadership. It is up to a younger generation of potential cultural leaders, all over the world, to empower themselves with enough knowledge to create a balance in this authority dynamic.

© Bassam El Baroni

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