9535 words on 2012:
Chris Fitzpatrick in conversation with Post Brothers
Post Brothers: This year you joined Objectif Exhibitions as its new director, and I’m intrigued by how you’ve reorganized the institution’s programming into a succession of overlapping solo exhibitions. Each seems to exist within its own temporal scale, but collides with others at different points along the way, so time seems to be a core element in your programme. Since at least 2008, you’ve been exploring the temporality of exhibitions through quirky maneuvers as an independent curator, but for your tenure at Objectif, did you start with the intention to temporally distort the existing conventional structures of arts institutions?
Chris Fitzpatrick: Simply having “tenure,” as you say, was a big shift. When I was working independently before, I travelled on a project-to-project basis to organize exhibitions from one context to another. That’s a different sort of continuum. Now I live in the same city where I work, and I’m contracted here in Antwerp for four years. To their credit, the board doesn’t renew the director’s contract, so this specific length of time became a starting point for thinking about what the programme would be, how it would be structured and could operate, and which artistic practices would inflect the programme and, in a larger sense, the situation here in Antwerp.
PB: How long has Objectif Exhibitions been around?
CF: Since 1999. Philippe Pirotte, Win Van den Abbeele, and Patrick Van Rossum founded the organization when the Flemish subventions became available for the visual arts. Philippe was the first director, and the three of them made a lot of solo and group exhibitions, editions, and publications. When Philippe went to Switzerland to work as the director of Kusthalle Bern, Win became the second director of Objectif Exhibitions. Then, in 2007, they hired Mai Abu ElDahab, who moved it to this current location. She focused the programme largely on production-based solo exhibitions, with discursive events, performances, publications, Circular Facts. It all makes for a great lineage to join.
PB: You were hired in November, restructured, and then reopened in April, which was very quick. What were those first months like?
CF: Fun and frantic. I pretty much created the programme in hotels, bars, and on flights. It’s good to be out of time.
PB: What’s the first thing you did at Objectif?
CF: We exhibited ourselves to our neighbors by throwing a party for all of the residents living above us in our building.
PB: Do your neighbors come by regularly?
CF: Some, but one family and their pet rabbit Luka have gotten involved in various ways. So the new programme started right here, above our heads, in our own building, and we’ve worked outwards. Win is the president of our board and, for several months, I think he and I went out almost every night in Antwerp. I wanted to see everything and meet everyone I could—artists like Luc Tuymans or Guillaume Bijl, galleries like Office Baroque, Micheline Szwajcer, van der Mieden, which later moved to Brussels, Stella Lohaus Gallery, which has since closed, plus Marc Ruyters at H/ART, institutions like M HKA, Extra City, LLS, NICC, underground spaces like Gunther, bars like Witzli Poetzli, Scheld’apen, Ra’s kitchen and shop, and so on. Early on, Mai introduced me to Etienne and Margot at Etablissement d’en Face—a really important space in Brussels—and that’s where I finally met Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys. Of course Win and I also went to Gent, Leuven, and other places so I could learn more about what’s going on in Belgium.
PB: Do you think your plans made sense to people then—the different durations?
CF: At first I had a few people ask me if we’d made a mistake with the dates of Nina’s four-year exhibition, but by now I think it makes sense. Time also led to space, because everything we’re doing is grounded in an interest in presenting exhibitions at differing physical scales, and in seeing how they could cohabit Objectif Exhibitions. But although the lengths have varied widely, most of our exhibitions lasted six-weeks. It seemed important to begin with at least some regularity and familiarity. In 2013, the ground floor and basement spaces will also host a few exhibitions of different durations and at some point we’ll probably abandon any pre-set duration whatsoever.
PB: Why didn’t you move Objectif to a new location again?
CF: I didn’t think this was an economy to expand in, but quite frankly I really like our space. I just followed its architecture and carved up our premises into zones in order to determine what types of exhibitions we could accommodate, and how to arrange them—temporally and spatially.
PB: The office, the basement, the windows of your neighbors in the shared courtyard, the ground floor—
CF: In some cases the artists have dictated these decisions, while others stemmed from an interest in expanding without getting any bigger.
PB: How so?
CF: By using all available space. By thinking of all space as available. We didn’t fix up our decrepit basement. We just cleared it out, closed off our storage and wood shop with something between a door and a wall, and now we regularly programme the basement as its own exhibition space, with its own obstacles and advantages, but we still treat it the same as all of the other spaces—without hierarchy.
PB: There’s no primary space and no primary programme.
CF: Well, a white rectangle is no better than a basement.
PB: They’re different.
CF: It often feels like spaces have a main programme plus a supplementary parallel programme, which feels really supplementary; instead, we try and present everything at the same level, or at the level most appropriate to the exhibition or to the practice being exhibited. But to go back to your question about time from another, simpler angle, if every exhibition lasts the same length of time then doesn’t that assume that all artists produce the same type of work, and have the same needs? We’re obviously not the first to experiment with scale, duration, or mediation, but the reason durations are such a central focal point here is that I don’t think of exhibitions as fixed periods of time for presenting finished work. They can be engines. They can be extensions of the practices exhibited. Those practices can be enunciated, so to speak, in the artist’s own dialect.
PB: And the “exhibition” becomes only an event within a broader duration.
CF: A duration from before, which outlasts its time at Objectif Exhibitions, but which can’t be separated from its time with us once it passes us.
PB: The watch, for example.
CF: We’re exhibiting Dexter Sinister, Watch Wyoscan 0.5 Hz for six months, but it will live other lives afterwards, and it has been living others since September. And they’re exponential. In 2013, it will appear on Anthony Elms’ wrist, as he goes in and out of the Institute for Contemporary Arts in Philadelphia, as part of White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart. It’s an exhibition Anthony organized separately from ours, but I like that our exhibitions will overlap in different time zones.
PB: The watch is an open edition, right?
CF: Yes, which allows it to be doubled, tripled, more—in various contexts, time zones. We supported its production this year with Halmos in New York, which is Erik Wysocan’s imprint, and with Yale Union in Portland, Oregon, which is definitely one of the most interesting places in the US. I think we’ll see the watch continue to diffuse further and further from the art context that helped bring it into being. Sometimes it will come back, and sometimes it will oscillate between commercial and creative economies. Wysocan and Dexter Sinister are not turning huge profits. And we’re not turning any. That’s not what this “product” is about.
PB: It reminds me of Henri Bergson’s notions of duration—a subjective notion of space-time where the experience and registration of time is not limited to the broken movements of hands on a clock. This watch seems to be the perfect version of this.
CF: Well, I’ve always liked how even a stopped clock is right twice a day, though this doesn’t pertain to a reverse-engineered digital Casio with a 24-hour display—repeatedly scrolling, as it does, from left to right, and with one line segment out of the seven segments comprising each digit appearing at a time. You can tune it to your own circadian scroll. It becomes functional.
PB: You’re exhibiting a timekeeper that is always in the process of becoming and arriving. It is always in between times.
CF: Exactly, the time that starts on the left is never the time that makes it to the right.
PB: You mentioned scale earlier, and I wonder if time was also on your mind because Objectif is a relatively small organization?
CF: Yes, time is always an issue, like money, but here it’s generally ticking in a positive way. Everyone wears various hats. It’s fluid. I couldn’t do all of this alone, but a small team is not a handicap. We can act quickly and responsively.
PB: No need to waste time drafting memos when they’d only be going six feet from your desk.
CF: There’s very little fossilization here, that’s absolutely true. Take Nina Beier’s exhibition Four Stomachs, for another angle. It extends for four years, but still there’s a sense of urgency. It’s always changing. In some cases, Nina decides something should move and we make that happen, or the reverse. In other cases, a new neighbor decides to get involved and we add another bust to the population above. In 2013, Nina’s whole project will change.
CF: Nope, not yet. Come back in March next year.
PB: Okay, so the timing is neither a contrived plan, nor something haphazard, but always dependent on a variety of conditions that are changing.
CF: The various chains of events are interesting, too. When I invited you to write a letter to Nina’s exhibition, we knew I would read it aloud in the courtyard while the rabbits ran through Will Rogan’s exhibition.
PB: This was during An Evening Inside Four Exhibitions.
CF: Right, but back then I couldn’t have known that Annual Magazine would later ask Nina for a text and that she would submit your letter as a bloated caption for images documenting a different body of work. You’ll eventually see that she was using it as a sort of cross-fade between the first and second “stomachs” in her ongoing exhibition. Even if it’s only in hindsight, these types of distribution, confusions, mirroring, or splitting roads into sinuous forks—they accumulate, and they’re meaningful, planned or not.
PB: They show the productive qualities of an exhibition.
CF: Yes. Laura Kaminskaite’s Exhibition opened unannounced on our windowsill, to give another example. It was able to exist in peripheral vision for a period—available as anything else, but unclear what it was exactly. I would say it was an exhibition, and a preternatural “conversation” between objects. The flowers—those garish drip-fed RGB rainbow roses—came from different distributors in Amsterdam and were repeatedly replaced over the course of the exhibition. It was a real chameleon.
PB: A series of stand-ins.
CF: But of course the single living flower, the mouth-blown glass vase, the sugar cube, and the whole setting appeared differently once it was announced as an exhibition versus when it existed hidden in plain view.
PB: You celebrated her exhibition’s closing as an opening or reversed vernissage.
CF: And, with it, we released a text. So things shift between choreographed or improvised, or sometimes it’s both simultaneously.
PB: You said “hidden in plain view” a minute ago, and that seems to be an important part of what you are doing. Chosil Kil’s exhibition, You owe me big time, also extends subtly through your space—underfoot and over time. You could walk right over it when, in fact, not only was the floor resurfaced as a permanent work—or at least one that will exist until the next director remodels or moves the organization—but also a tile from another part of the floor was replaced with another work, which will likely also last long beyond the normal parameters of the show itself.
CF: Chosil grouted that new tile you’re referring to into the basement floor, that’s true. But this object, which she calls Osmosis, was actually removed after her show closed. She camped overnight inside Objectif Exhibitions in July with Peter Meanwell and Francesco Pedraglio, and then she took the original loose tile she found down there with her from Antwerp to Gwangju. She convinced a traditional Ceramist house to replicate it in yellow clay, rotten leaves, and tree ash. They were confused because they make exquisite pottery, not tiles, so Chosil had to go through several ritual tea ceremonies to get them to agree. After her exhibition, she asked that we put the original back where she found it in our basement, but now the original has been permanently fixed in place and Osmosis is nowhere to be found.
PB: So the duplicated, swapped tile became a sort of bracket for the exhibition—a marker for when the show was “on” and “off”—while the floor upstairs became the lasting trace that supports and influences other works by other artists long into the future?
CF: It’s Chosil’s ground floor now. You owe me big time is a stage on which everything else will take place, but always with varying degrees of visibility. And concrete is a strange substance; it reveals things it hid before at will.
PB: Like what?
CF: Imprints of the wood beams that supported the plaster for our walls, for example, that didn’t recede and weren’t visible. We surmised that they were stored mnemonically in the concrete. After the floor was refinished, they were visible.
PB: The watch is also “hidden in plain sight”. It’s an exhibition that doesn’t exist in the space at Objectif, at least not all the time, but instead resides on your wrist. How does this bring Objectif’s influence beyond its doors? How does it insert its augmented temporality into other situations?
CF: Well, I think you said it. I exhibit Dexter Sinister, Watch Wyoscan 0.5 Hz wherever I go, at Objectif Exhibitions and in other situations. I show it to people. We talk about it. A related advertisement also circulates through magazines, but it doesn’t advertise the exhibition. It advertises the object and the ideas that fuel the object. We took out a full page in Mousse, for example, and in the perfect issue, as there were a few articles about time, including an interview about the 10,000-year Clock of the Long Now.
PB: The magazine can be thought of as a parallel mobile exhibition itself and a complicit extension of your exhibition at Objectif. Circulating the ad inserts the idea of the watch and the exhibition into an unpredictable and widely distributed discursive programme—the magazine itself with all of its other contents.
CF: That’s a nice way to think about it, but it’s not exactly parallel. The watch itself and the advertisement of the watch are inextricable. Also, this year the watch went with me to Estonia, Vancouver, the U.S., and other places—crossing various time zones to be exhibited in other places and even in other exhibitions, including the San Francisco Pavilion in the 9th Shanghai Biennale.
PB: It wasn’t listed as part of your pavilion though. The artists, groups, and figures you included are based in San Francisco, which makes the watch’s presence in the biennale a parasitic inhabitation. You burrowed one of your exhibitions within another one of your exhibitions.
CF: The watch is also sold through Halmos online, through Project No. 8 and the New Museum in New York, Stand Up Comedy in Portland, and Ooga Booga in Los Angeles. And it’s available at Ra in Antwerp. Aaron Flint Jamison and Robert Snowden suggested that once Frank Ocean wears the watch, the line should be discontinued—”game over”.
PB: The ads add another form of temporality and implicit discursive positioning, while the commercial dispersal of the objects is yet another way of infecting time, but Frank Ocean? The goal is influence in a sense, a kind of notoriety?
CF: That’s how the commercial world works, we think. Snowden says Frank Ocean still has his copy of Dennis Rodman’s memoir, Bad As I Wanna Be, so it’s possible. Probably the biggest challenge would be competing with Ocean’s Rolex. In any case, I think the impetus comes from wanting to see what happens when art leaves art.
PB: It reminds me of French revolutionaries firing at the clocks to resist the tyranny of time—the abstraction of time becomes even more abstracted here.
CF: I’d like to see someone try firing shots at a cesium atom. This watch feels more like “time” than any normal watch I’ve seen—even one with analog, rotating hands. Angie Keefer came to Antwerp wearing one for a site visit in preparation for her exhibition here next year in 2013. Her watch had an orange light. Mine’s green. Our waiter had on the same watch, but it was a normal Casio. Seeing them all together, his looked like it was frozen, or wrong somehow.
PB: It’s almost a Futurist, or at least highly energetic, portrayal of time.
CF: Well, the time might scroll quickly and incessantly, but this makes reading it a slower affair than the Futurists might have enjoyed. Plus a Casio is a fairly archaic device. In the ad, and in the tiny offset booklet that comes with the watch, Dexter Sinister remind us that time is “both point AND duration”.
PB: —which seems exactly what your procession of exhibitions seems to indicate. Again, what I appreciate is that this playfulness with time disrupts the conventions of art exhibitions and institutional programming. There are temporary events, month-long shows, multi-month-long shows, seasonal festivals, Münster every ten years, Kassel every five, Venice every two, but on the whole there’s very little temporal experimentation.
CF: I see what you mean, but of course there’s been tons of experimentation and there are others like Yale Union, Artist’s Institute, CAC Bretigny, and so on. I think the unfortunate problem is that, despite whatever experimentation, the conventions ultimately haven’t really changed as a result. In the coming years we’ll push this aspect of the programme even further, and we’re not alone in this by any means, but honestly, what we’re doing at Objectif Exhibitions should just be normal. It’s simple enough. Why hang a watch on a wall as a fetish? Or why put a flower on a pedestal? Why exhibit everything for the same length of time? Put the watch on a wrist, the flower on a windowsill, and give them enough time to do what they do. If it sounds conservative for the display to follow the utility, I don’t care, because it’s what best suits the work.
PB: Your wrist points back to your thinking about the spaces you have at your disposal, and about identifying certain forms of activity within different contexts within and outside of the spaces. Nina asked you to arrange for your neighbors to provide the windows in their private residences as a site for her exhibition. You’ve made your office—typically a site of administration, production, and discourse—into a silent site of display.
CF: Right, with Cabinet d’ignorance, France Fiction has a one-year exhibition in our office. It takes place within a vitrine transplanted from their former space in Paris, which they curated collectively, and which was also called France Fiction. They were interested in the history of the cabinet d’ignorance—these crypto-museological containers for objects of unknown origins or functions. We adopted their cabinet, and gave them full curatorial autonomy. They first concealed its contents with an embroidered black veil when we reopened in April with the new programme. There has since been a rather performative unveiling, followed by two rotations of objects within the cabinet and, just recently, another performance in which they cut the veil into fragments and then wrapped the objects on display with the fabric. The exhibition is extremely hermetic and obscure, but perhaps it’s slowly explaining itself in its own language—a frustrating container for aliens of unknown utility.
PB: The objects are revealed and obfuscated simultaneously by the forms of display containing them—
CF: The displayed objects and the means of their display are dissolved, that’s true, and this obfuscation is also extended through mediation or, in this case, the lack of mediation. What can I say about what I don’t know? That’s a question here.
PB: Finding unknown knowns.
CF: Giving tours, I’ve stood in front of the cabinet and openly speculated.
PB: You mentioned mediation. And I’ve read that you present exhibitions with differing “billing”.
CF: Amplitude. Laura’s show opened unannounced. We have an exhibition I can’t tell anyone about until 2016. We’ve presented some things privately, while certain activities were announced after they were already over, and other things were sent out as widely as possible via newsletter to our audiences and to the press, as well as through advertisements in publications like Mousse and De Witte Raaf. João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva asked me to write a longer text about each of the ten films in their exhibition, while they produced an even longer text to offer a companion to the ideas, theories, phenomena, and anecdotes they were thinking through with the films. Neither text is a direct translation of the exhibition. I have regular discussions with our designer Goda Budvytytè about how to deal with the shifting levels of information and needs of the artists.
PB: So each project informs the way it is disseminated, advertised, contextualized—even if that is nothing at all.
CF: Right, as tough as that is, even if that is nothing at all.
PB: This interest in mediation extends to the content of your shows in general, and your avoidance of a typical discursive programme in your first year.
CF: The exhibitions were a discussion.
PB: And like I said before, there seems to be a complex look into forms of hiding and delivering knowledge—and generally through presentations that are sometimes so spare they seem to be economical critiques of supersized spectacle. You also had two simultaneous shows that operated as a sort of dialectic.
CF: You mean What Remains and Halation?
PB: Exactly. Anthony Discenza’s exhibition, What Remains, had no objects except speakers and seating cushions. The sound piece was a cut and pasted procession of contextualizing material, as if the voice was describing a hidden visual situation, elevating secondary information as the primary site for information. So he had this exchange of senses, where language supplemented an unknown or missing experience. Conversely, Anna Franceschini’s exhibition, Halation, was only the primary sensory material—pure image and affect being delivered. Here you have pure affect and detached language presented separately, but simultaneously.
CF: Split by a floor, but true. With What Remains, Anthony collated textual descriptions of visual events into a manuscript, which was then read aloud by a professional voiceover actor. Anthony’s transition from one description to another hinged on the recurrence of the words “what remains,” which are really written way too often. Listening, a mind could suspend the impossibility of these incongruous descriptions being contiguous. They blended. The recorded voice could be followed and, if followed closely, a mind would construct a visual experience out of all of the audible descriptive imagery. Downstairs, in the dark, Anna’s show was very visual—gritty, but visual—save the sound of the projectors. Afterwards, we sent Anna’s exhibition to Auckland, New Zealand, where it went on display at St. Paul Street. It had a very different character in their austere space, versus our raw basement. The mental process of construction was similar to that of What Remains, but Anna and Anthony employed different forms. The exchange of senses you mentioned was certainly at play, and both were somehow complimentary and confrontational.
PB: Both were attempts to glean knowledge from excesses of information, or in spite of little information.
CF: Overlooked things—a writing tick, night labor. Anna honed in on these magnificent sights that we don’t necessarily register as such, whereas Anthony offered the conditions for something magnificent to come from all of this banal blather that gets written in and out of art. Similarly, what happens when Triin Tamm’s thoughts around exhaustion and withdrawal, surrogacy and collective production, or containers and generators, are put into proximity with Will Rogan’s protracted inquiry, handwork, magicians and agency, failure and comedy? There’s always something playing out between the exhibitions, whether it’s articulated or not.
PB: And yet they don’t depend upon that contextualization.
CF: They’re solo exhibitions.
PB: Certainly Will Rogan was interested in hiding and revealing as well in Curtain.
CF: Collages, lightboxes, video, mobiles—I liked that a fifty percent redaction makes a trick more visible somehow, or that a lightbox could push a page’s recto through its verso and amplify the abstraction that already exists on the opposing sides of a catalogue page. His looping video, Time Machine (Destroyer), is a technological anachronism, and a perceptual tool pushed to new functions—infinitely. The rabbits loved it.
PB: What interested me most about the dialectic between Discenza and Franceschini is that, while your positioning forced a specific form of internal cognition, both exhibitions catalyzed this process by giving only parts, so as to force a conceptualization. They also seemed to elicit a cinematic notion of time—a piecing together of elements to form a narrative—and that was true for Rogan’s exhibition as well.
CF: There’s something really intriguing to me about Rogan sitting there erasing those magicians from so many magazines, by hand, over and over and over, for so many years—the intensity of that focus. Animating.
PB: It’s kind of like closing and opening the shutter to find the blind spots in our vision that resist sight yet allow sight to happen. You don’t just see the work, but you see the seeing of the work.
CF: Right, or as you’ve said before, “those islands of lost acuity that allow sight to be seen”.
PB: Gusmão and Paiva certainly achieve this. Let’s go back to pointing, or to seeing the exhibition or the object as a marker—a demarcation of a zone or period where activities, ideas or objects converge. Of course this depends on the secondary information you develop with the artists to contextualize, identify, and disperse the works. Franceschini’s and Discenza’s exhibitions operated as pointers, and Gusmão and Paiva also seem to be pointing to a whole host of issues—philosophical, psychological, technological, biological, cinematographic, and so on.
CF: Gusmão and Paiva had me reaching for books I haven’t read in years, and for others I’ve never read. Their references are wide and their work is as deep as you can swim. Yet there’s something so material and immediate in their imagery that I could imagine your great-grandmother walking away from their exhibition viewing the world all over again for the first time.
PB: Cataracts and all?
PB: But where pointing is normally tied to the fingers, Gusmão and Paiva are in a way celebrating the armpit as the core of identification—not only of a certain human exceptionalism, but also as a kind of base fulcrum that is the “in between” of cause and effect.
CF: An axis, not an axiom.
PB: And spooling along that axis, the films seem to contain their own armpits—zones where parts fold, converge, and disperse. But the camera itself seems to also function as a prosthetic arm, extending the body in time and space. Where is the armpit as you see it?
CF: Generally, the armpit goes unseen. When that’s not the case, hair also has something to do with it.
PB: The chimps in your basement have hair everywhere.
PB: So hair, defaced heads, a comedy mask, four stomachs, and an armpit—are there any other body parts that have appeared or will appear? Is this just a coincidence or are you building a piecemeal body à la Frankenstein’s monster for the space?
PB: But it’s less metallic. Plus there was a hand, a foot, horns, and some snouts in Franceschini’s 16-millimeter film. If this programmatic body gains sentience, could Objectif become Subjectif, à la Pinocchio? Can Objectif/Subjectif revolt against its master/director and direct itself?
CF: As exciting as it would be to see the programme go self-aware and stage a mutiny, the truth is that we’re already watering those seeds. We’ve been around since 1999, so we’re sticking with the name Objectif Exhibitions, but I once saw “JRETDROSTRENIKAL EXHIBITIONS” on one of Frank Chu’s serial protest signs. Plus Adam Kleinman put forward the idea of making a temporary “Roast Beef Exhibitions” recently and, at a certain point, Rosalind Nashashibi suggested “Absorbif” as an alternative, so things are already getting strange.
PB: Okay then, away from the body, you’ve had ignorant cabinets, pulsing images, scrolling timepieces, neighbor parties, obstetrical turtles, processions of descriptions, and redactions that are additions.
CF: And phantom floors. Rabbit invigilators.
PB: Lost walks in the park.
CF: The reformative forest. And stunt double artists.
PB: Triin Tamm?
CF: Triin couldn’t be here for her opening, so she got another Estonian woman named Triin Tamm—a business administrator living in Antwerp—to attend in her place. She’s a “certified scrum master”.
PB: I wanted to get to that. So here you have a number of “solo” exhibitions that exist at the same time, like having guests that arrive and leave at different times on their own paths and schedules. These solo presentations also include groups like France Fiction and duos like Gusmão and Paiva, but who is the real Triin Tamm if she sent one in her place?
CF: She’s an artist.
PB: It seems that working directly one-on-one with artists is important to your programme, but when an artist’s identity so often exists through surrogates doesn’t this complicate that part of your agenda?
CF: Triin just doesn’t want to make personal concessions and have to exhaust herself to meet the demands of the industry—work, work, work, travel, travel, work, travel.
PB: Outsourcing one’s presence?
CF: It’s about trying to meet artists on their own terms, for their work, or for the way they work, even if they can’t meet face-to-face. I think through this gesture Triin was saying something along the lines of, “I’d like to be there, but I can’t be there, so I’ll find another me to be me in my stead.” There wasn’t much fanfare about her stand-in’s presence, but trust me, she was there.
PB: The exhibition was called Wasn’t There Yesterday and involved a collection of 35-millimeter slides called the Carousel Collection, which were solicited from many other artists. Were those artists there?
CF: A few came through at different times. And this population grew, as slides were arriving throughout the exhibition, in envelopes. I’d rearrange the order of the slides each week—adding, shifting, subtracting, pairing, contradicting, and so on. For as spare as Tamm’s exhibition appeared, there was a lot of presence in the basement—that of all of the artists participating in the looping, circumambulating Carousel Collection, plus their accession forms, which seemed almost like correspondence art. And there was a peephole so you could see the projection through the wall while reading the titles and verifying the individual authors of each slide. Everyone’s name was listed. There also were two hidden framed works: one was visible only from the ambient light from the slide projections, and then there was Last Step First—the functional, but shrunken, sauna model near our basement windows.
PB: She had you open the windows.
CF: Every day, for a meteorological and conceptual distribution of air near the sauna. Together, they felt like a symbol—of the necessity to slow down sometimes, to not work too hard, and to not be everywhere at once. We later had Audrey Cottin downstairs in Tamm’s exhibition during An Evening Inside Four Exhibitions. Audrey engaged in dialogues with visitors at one end of the basement—behind a wall that used to be there—while Kassandra Stiles read an alphabetical free-association manuscript Cottin wrote. Kassandra slowly spoke each word—from Alien to Zombie—in time with each clicking slide in the looping Carousel Collection.
PB: Kassandra Stiles is your intern?
CF: No, she’s our “Actualizer”. In September she also performed a work by Chosil Kil, called It’s your birthday (two quarters), for two straight hours, throwing half-euros in elegant arcs, waiting for them to land, bounce, roll, and stop, then slowly walking over to pick them up and repeat in different directions. It also made a nice reverberant sound on the concrete floor when the coins dropped, spun, and slammed into the walls.
PB: And after the opening?
CF: Whoever was in the office would demonstrate the piece. I performed it for the video documentation. Chloé Dierckx performed it on Saturdays. Kassandra performed it during a “Nocturne”—that’s an occasional evening when all of the Antwerp galleries, museums, and institutions stay open a bit later for crawling enthusiasts.
PB: Again, a kind of surrogacy, like with Triin Tamm. The implication of timing in the title Wasn’t There Yesterday—it’s as if one just missed her. I also like how Triin manages to stay outside but is polite enough to find a compromise. The surrogate is both her own Triin and herself, the artist Triin—a sort of singular multiplicity that exists as an alien both in the artist’s absence and through the scrum master’s temporary presence.
CF: A twin Triin.
PB: I see all of this connecting to the way you regard exhibiting an expanded notion of “practices” and not just works; the objects are outsiders that appear within—they are detached from their origins and the artist’s trajectory yet are integral.
CF: I like to think that each artist speaks a different dialect, and we’re an intercom.
PB: I heard that Chosil’s MDF arc also worked as a speaker.
CF: Right, Wear your plate was a massive, perfectly curved sculpture in MDF and it spanned upwards from the floor, halfway up the wall, then arched upwards, just under our ceiling lighting system, before descending down a pillar to the floor in the center of the space. It looked like it was about to burst. Two people, though, at either side with their back’s facing, could communicate quite clearly. It amplified conversations.
PB: With all the different temporalities, forms of communication, and origins of these international artists, Objectif could also be an airport terminal where everyone is on different time zones yet exists momentarily in the same place.
CF: Like I said earlier, we sent Anna’s exhibition, Halation, to New Zealand, and we also sent Triin’s Carousel Collection—full of new slides from its time at Objectif Exhibitions—to CAC in Vilnius, who then sent it to Baden-Baden, and so forth. Chosil made a work using material from our broken freight elevator, which is going to be exhibited in London at David Roberts Foundation in 2013. We like to see our nouns circulate.
PB: I’m thinking again about choreography, or maybe it’s that I see you orchestrating some sort of symphonic composition. Yet knowing your experience in experimental music accounts for the dissonance—minor 7ths, silences, and explosions.
CF: It’s largely planned out, and the dialectics or productive collisions you noted are definitely there, but one of the things about curating solo exhibitions in this manner that’s different from curating group exhibitions is that there is really no impulse to choose specific works based on how they function within some sort of topical or thematic construct. It’s the reverse. I ask the artists what they want to show and we go from there. Those conversations have taken as little as thirty minutes and as long as four months. I can see what you mean about the programme being an orchestrated whole, but I can also see these exhibitions existing independently, however close their proximity. In any case, if we hit a minor 7th in all of this, I’m happy.
PB: It seems like you’ve also integrated this form of temporal distortion into the funding structure of the organization itself. One of the roles of a director is to secure operating funds during their tenure, but also to provide for the future of the space, and to think about the future of the institution after them.
CF: Two Futures.
PB: I understand Two Futures as a kind of absurd funding or membership scheme, and can only assume that you know it’s likely a doomed venture. You wrote that, “it has been made clearly to the attention of Objectif Exhibitions that one future is not enough.” What do you mean by this? Are these futures parallel or perpendicular possibilities? And the oddest thing is the way that you’ve written the invitation in horrible English grammar and odd language reminiscent of a junk email scam. If it’s a parody, what’s the motivation behind this parody? What are you saying about how organizations are funded and the limitation of single futures?
CF: That was a lot of questions. Let me see. The awkward language does come from those familiar spam emails offering to put six million USD into your account from the widow of some late General or oil barren. Really they’re looking to drain your bank account. That’s a particular type of manipulative language and address, which is sent out blindly, and I find it interesting, creative, as scams and cons often are. On one hand, this project is indeed a legitimate way to raise additional money—at least towards the five percent I’m required to raise on top of our subventions—but it’s also clearly a parody of American-style fundraising, edition-hawking, commercial gallery-tapping, crowd-sourcing Kickstarter campaigns, and auction-dinner-type-thinking in general, for which we simply don’t have the personnel to sustain. I mean, I’ve personally donated bits of money to kickstarter campaigns to support projects by friends, but it I wonder if in the end it encourages entrepreneurship. Fundraising is something for publicly funded institutions like ours to think critically about, as there’s a real danger to this way of thinking in this particular moment.
PB: Because the right wing is in power now in Antwerp?
CF: Even before it was already quite clear that the city of Antwerp is more interested in running its own populist cultural programme than supporting proven institutions like ours. Summer festivals.
PB: That’s surprising since you bring a lot of awareness and an international audience to Antwerp, when everything seems centered on Brussels.
CF: I like Antwerp. I live here. More and more people from Antwerp are coming to Objectif Exhibitions, which I’m happy about, but we also have visitors from all over—Brussels, Gent, Lisbon, Luxemburg, London, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Vilnius, New York, Milan, Warsaw, and so on. We need both, simultaneously. What’s happening politically in Antwerp is complex, so when asked who provides our funding the simple answer is the Flemish Community.
PB: The Flemish Government?
CF: Right, the Vlaamse Gemeenschap. They increased our funding this year, and for a full four-year funding cycle. That says a lot in their favor, and in ours. I mean, we’re not sitting around coasting comfortably by safely exhibiting marquee names and we’re not catering the programme to some imagined mass audience’s wishes.
PB: And you’re showing Belgian artists abroad.
CF: So far, I showed works by Ruben Bellinkx, Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, and Steve Van den Bosch in a group exhibition I curated for a contemporary art festival in Estonia. We’ll show work by another Belgian artist, Freek Wambacq, at Objectif Exhibitions in 2013, but not because he’s from Belgium. If the programme is predominately international it’s because it’s productive to bring in alien voices and hear how they resonate in Antwerp. I’m one such alien. With the increase we received this year, I think the Flemish Community clearly understands Objectif Exhibitions to be sending and receiving a two-way broadcast in and out of Antwerp, and that it’s far more beneficial than the money spent—further reaching, longer lasting.
PB: Plus your communications are in English and Dutch now.
CF: We just started communicating bilingually this year. It’s more than translation. It’s interpretation and interpolation.
PB: It must take a considerable amount of time and money.
CF: Well, we’re in Flanders, and that’s our policy now. I don’t speak Dutch. I’m clearly a foreigner here—a foreigner who much prefers cities to nations, and one who doesn’t care about an artist’s nationality or postal code. When I speak highly of the Flemish Community, when we release Dutch translations, and when we place the Vlaamse Leeuw logo online and in print, it’s not to say that Objectif Exhibitions identifies as Flemish. We are, however, an extremely important part of the contemporary art scene in Flanders, but this scene is also part of a larger international scene. It’s simply about reciprocity. The logo should tell you that the Flemish Government is progressive enough to fund an experimental programme full of difficult artistic practices. That’s something. That’s a lot.
PB: So the Flemish Community covers your operating costs, and you’re augmenting the lack of city support with Two Futures until they come around?
CF: The dues to join Two Futures are on an absurd sliding scale between 2 and 2000 euro, while everything members receive is distributed equally, regardless of how much money was donated, which is illogical from an economic perspective. If you donate 2 euro the item and postage costs more than the donation. So it’s a parody—a project. I think a larger problem is that there’s a misconception floating over Antwerp that contemporary art is elitist, and therefore alienating, because it’s an intellectual, rather than technical or purely retinal pursuit. You can’t have an opinion about a programme if you haven’t come seen it for yourself. I explain our exhibitions to people at our opening receptions, nocturnes, and during our regular hours, and I like doing that. We’re not Twitter. Exhibitions require a little time.
PB: What does this small faction want, a return to Flemish painting?
CF: Actually the Flemish painting tradition is an astounding legacy to celebrate, but so is post-war art in Belgium, conceptual art and a whole lot since, and I’d extend that to today. Anyways, as I said, I’m generally really happy with Antwerp, and people seem interested in what we’re doing at Objectif Exhibitions. But to go back to Two Futures, I want to make it abundantly clear that it’s okay if it fails, because it’s not out to succeed—at least not as an actual fundraising mechanism. The amount of private or alternative funding a director can bring in is not an indicator of the value of a programme. The market value of art is not an indicator of its cultural value. The amount of visitors attending an exhibition does not validate the work on view. Populist and market forces are interesting to look at and think about critically, but they tend to breed concessions, careerism, conformism, regression, sycophantic behavior, object fetishization—they’re ultimately stultifying.
PB: What’s after the future?
CF: Probably Sun Ra.
PB: Like a cow’s stomachs, projects and funds can be reallocated, digested, and redistributed into possible and real futures and presents. Whether Two Futures raises or loses money, this form of building support brings people deeper into the fold and shows they have an influence beyond just a singular path, but on many paths.
CF: The money Two Futures generates can be reallocated into the things we’ll be sending to our members in a sort of closed loop—orbiting the programme, but elliptically—so that it gets closer and further at different points and times.
PB: I read it also as a very funny riff on the idea of “futures trading” in speculative market economies that connects that investment to the soothsaying of investment in the arts—the risk involved is one of the exciting things about supporting an art space. The futures can commingle, but they can also feedback.
CF: Sure, but in futures trading, the interests of the buyer and seller are of course very different. They’re betting against each other’s predictions about a future price. With Two Futures, our members are “patrons”. Their interest is the same as ours—exhibitions.
PB: What if members are really speculating that the ephemera, items, information, and access they’ll receive in return for joining Two Futures will be worth money in the future?
CF: These things have cultural value right now. That’s why we’re producing them. If they accrue financial value then there’s a consensus about their worth. If they can be flipped on the secondary black market then there’s a demand that outweighs the markup, but again, using market value to gage cultural value is wrongheaded at best.
PB: Let’s talk about “boustrophedonic processions” and about this movement back and forth, this re-reading, this kind of alternating linearity you’re thinking about.
CF: Boustrophedon is an old way of inscribing text bi-directionally, where every line alternates in the opposite direction, with the characters reversed.
PB: The word comes from Greek.
CF: Yes, “as the ox ploughs” is how I’ve seen it translated. Processions, we know, move forward.
CF: Wrapping. Darius Mikšys and Jennifer Teets came to Parkbos Antwerpen with me, which is a massive artificial forest on the other side of the water from Objectif Exhibitions. It’s big, and it’s made up of row after orderly row of trees, which were planted that way, but seem to outgrow the confines of their construction in different seasons. So it seemed the perfect site—for proceeding not exactly forward, but back and forth, row to row, like oxen. It’s textual somehow, if off the tablet.
PB: Just as you seem to be continuously re-reading the exhibition space itself—observing the courtyard, neighbors’ apartments, basement, elevator, office—you make the park itself both the object and site of the exhibition.
CF: Parkbos was exhibited and it is an exhibition. It exhibits itself. It’s unclear to me exactly what will take place there when we return in 2013. This year, it was research. And what was found was quite amazing, but what else can be expected when going through a forest, trying to just simply look and not write? We think we found some leads. Darius might disappear on a boat into virtual reality, or into the patent office.
PB: There’s no fixed path for the project, as it involves progressively going forwards and returning, which I think is a good way to think about research sometimes. You’re letting the site determine the next step—like the rows of the trees growing back into a forest they never were before.
CF: Right, it’s a machine becoming nature. It doesn’t want to be orderly. It’s a forest. And it’s already interesting, that’s the thing. So it takes little more than a couple steps to create an event for the forest to be exhibited—the challenge here is to do as little as possible in the face of so many possibilities. The project is very much following that trajectory, and slowly. I’m not sure if the 2013 trip will be a culmination or a continuation.
PB: This potentially endless procession, this “boustrophedonic” movement, and its potentially endless development, along with the idea of having multiple futures, make me think of your repeated work with Frank Chu—professional protestor and intergalactic movie star. He’s an alien in an already alienated world.
CF: His conceptions of time, space, corporality, and dimensions are vast to say the least.
PB: He seems to exist in multiple places and times at once. Each day, he protests in San Francisco, with his signs, to inform us all of his labor dispute about royalty rights for his unwilling participation in an intergalactic reality TV show—
CF: The Richest Family.
PB: —which continues to be filmed on earth.
CF: In what he calls “live performances” of his protests—
PB: —which are screened and syndicated through galaxies we didn’t know existed. So, all at once, we have Frank the person in San Francisco or Oakland, California, and his reproduced images from the past and present, on earth and in other galaxies, existing in a cosmic future.
CF: Other than the almost imperceptible circulation of a footnote I found on an old business resume of Frank’s, we started his exhibition without “showing” anything material. His life is an exhibition. In 2013, we’ll have a slow procession of signs on display, but this year, we haven’t been exhibiting his daily activities in any traditional manner. Instead, we’ve been exhibiting his work simply by recognizing that it exists and is already being displayed elsewhere. He doesn’t need an institution to exhibit his work because he is an institution.
PB: —and far more mobile.
CF: Frank told me he is a reincarnation of the last emperor of China. The Chu dynasty. History doesn’t often speak of a Chu dynasty, so that’s one of many other histories he has implicated. He primarily protests in San Francisco, so people compare him to Emperor Norton, but that frame of reference squares him in simply as an eccentric. I see him as an artist. Actually, I see more of André Cadere in Frank’s work—informational codification, public presentation, parasitic inhabitation of other events, and so on.
PB: He willingly exhibits his work everyday, enters it into other frameworks, and he is also exhibited at all times, unwillingly.
CF: Maybe he’s a counter-exhibitionist. He’s being filmed all the time by what he describes as “top-secret hidden cameras that disappear into thin air”, and yet he’s actively trying to be filmed by legitimate news cameras or amateur videographers to talk about the fact that he’s being filmed. He knows every cameraperson, news reporter, and knows on which date he was published in which newspaper.
PB: Is it a fact that he’s being filmed?
CF: Is it a fact that he’s constantly receiving messages telepathically from his allies—the former Soviet and UN presidents? Is he also constantly enduring telepathic mental sabotage from his enemies—the 12 GALAXIES and their various nefarious networks on earth and across the 1000 GALAXIES? Whether fact, allegory, or indicting symptom of an abysmally flawed social system and pervasive media culture in the US, the 12 GALAXIES are real because their effects on Frank are real, legible, and relentless. I’ve seen it firsthand: discrimination, harassment, violence, and bribery. For example, I think the security staff at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles is definitely working with the 12 GALAXIES.
PB: How so?
CF: I went back to San Francisco to work on the San Francisco pavilion for the 9th Shanghai Biennale. And one of the artists I included was Floris Schönfeld, who was also interested in Frank. Floris and I met with Frank over chicken teriyaki for several days. Frank didn’t want to go to Shanghai because he doesn’t like to travel, but he hadn’t been to Los Angeles in some time. Since Universal Studios works in collusion with the 12 GALAXIES populations, we decided to drive down to LA and visit Universal Studios—we’d take a vacation, but also produce a video. Since Frank is being filmed all of the time for The Richest Family, Floris and Frank decided to film a simultaneous episode, and entangle the two. We entered their episode, which was altered by ours. It seemed appropriate that we stay at the Westin Bonaventure because Blade Runner was filmed there. On our last day, Frank knocked on the door of my hotel room, and was visibly frazzled. The hotel security had harassed Frank, profiled him, and even tried to trick him by saying his room number didn’t exist. He produced his key and my business card, since I booked the room, but they still followed him into the bathroom and tried to break down the door of his stall. All Frank did was post a letter in the lobby.
PB: And you confronted them.
CF: Of course, and as you can imagine, the head of security was a typical tough guy. The only thing missing were the bolts in his neck. He and a slimy manager—who thought offering us a free breakfast would make things right—tried to turn it all around on us when they noticed Floris filming me from across the lobby. They made Floris erase the footage, but they weren’t too bright. I emphatically refused the breakfast, and we kept the footage.
PB: Did you wear a wireless microphone?
CF: We never stopped recording.
PB: And if they find out and take you to court?
CF: They won’t. Frank would get paid, and we’d have a field day in the media.
PB: For Frank, was it an isolated incident, or was this the work of the 12 GALAXIES?
CF: 12 GALAXIES, of course.
PB: I’m realizing that Frank’s entire existence is inseparable from his work. His conspiratorial reality is fully integrated with everything he does and everything that happens to him, and that would include his serial signs, the video coverage he gets, the letters he writes to the media, the voicemails he leaves on their hotlines, his televised appearances, and the articles written about him. They are all traces within his story, but it seems that when his signs appear in exhibitions without his presence—without his activation—they can only ever be markers for the broader work he does.
CF: Right, like I said, he doesn’t like to travel, so the signs can’t be activated that way in Antwerp. We’ll show them and talk about them. It’s an exhibition that will slowly filter in and out of our physical premises in a variety of guises.
PB: As if tuning in, but always on—like TV waves?
CF: I don’t care about protest posters. I’m not interested in commodifying dissent, institutionalizing it, or fetishizing its material culture. For me, Frank’s signs are something else, much more. His exhibition is a period to work though just what that is exactly. We may have a sign on display, we may have a whole space full of them, we may host a screening, call a linguist, read a letter, write a book, or there may be nothing to see at all, but as you say, it’s always on.
PB: As long as he keeps going?
CF: His plight will likely outlast the programme, but yes.
PB: Here there is again this sensitivity to the artist’s practice—this role of just pointing unless another mode is deemed necessary. It’s an unusual way to “exhibit” someone’s work. But I think what is important here, especially for Frank, is exactly that you’re curating it. You know that he’s not just some comically eccentric figure, while so many others can’t get past what they perceive to be psychological and physical difficulties.
CF: This is a longer engagement for me. Frank doesn’t self-identify as an artist exactly, so he gets what he calls “campaign donations” from us and I purchase his signs so he can make new ones.
PB: When you were working with Frank on the biennale, you made a deal with Signographics in San Francisco.
CF: They agreed to produce a certain amount of Frank’s future signs for free in exchange for a sponsorship placement in the biennale’s catalogue. Frank has been calling in his terminology and instructions to Signographics for years. I think of them as his studio, as his fabricator, so to speak. It’s all just an attempt at non-patronizing patronage. I’m not a psychiatrist. Whether Frank has a condition or not, whether there really is an intergalactic trans-temporal conspiratorial network embezzling his royalties as a movie star or not, what he is doing is worthy of recognition. Bottom line.
PB: What’s going to happen in 2013 at Objectif?
CF: We’ll see a major shift in Nina’s exhibition, more from Frank Chu, the conclusion of Cabinet d’ignorance, the redistribution of Dexter Sinister, Watch Wyoscan 0.5 Hz, an event in Antwerp’s pedestrian tunnel, plus we are planning seven six-week exhibitions, a one-day exhibition with the first and only screening of the remaining part of an unknown Bruce Conner film, a three-day exhibition of film loops, which will remotely extend and disrupt a longer exhibition in Vilnius, a summer residency in collaboration with AIR, and a scattering of occasional elliptical events, talks, screenings, and intercom telephone conversations presented in ways that privilege those who maintain the right proximity, plus the release of our first annual publication. We’ll be making four of these—one for each year while I’m here. Each publication will look back on everything we did in 2012 through new texts by Julian Myers-Szupinska and Alex Ross, a group-interview with the artists who exhibited in 2012 by Jonas Zakaitis, as well as plenty of photographic documentation.
PB: Two Futures.
(This interview was recorded in Antwerp on 25 November, 2012)
Post Brothers is a critical enterprise that includes Matthew Post—an independent curator and writer often working from an elevator in Oakland, California. Post received an MA in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and a BFA from Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver, Canada. He has recently presented curatorial projects at Galerie Kamm, Berlin (2012); Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City (2011); and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2010-11); among many others. He also included both a video and an unrealized screenplay in the 9th Shanghai Biennale (2012). Post’s essays and articles have been published in Spike Art Quarterly, Fillip, Nero, Kaleidoscope, Mousse, Pazmaker, and the Baltic Notebooks of Anthony Blunt, as well as in artist publications and exhibition catalogues. From February until May 2013 he will be in residence at A-I-R Laboratory, Warsaw, and from May until August 2013 he will be in residence at AIR, Antwerp in collaboration with Objectif Exhibitions, Antwerp.