Jack Segbars
Author, Platform and Spectator
14.08.2020 — 01.11.2020

Charles Esche is the director of the ‘Van Abbemuseum’, Eindhoven and of publishing platform ‘AfterAll’, as well as being involved in several educational/curatorial programs: ‘De Appel’, Amsterdam and ‘Jan van Eyck’, Maastricht. Esche’s practice combines many aspects of artistic production and its institutional forms. The interview centred around Esche’s ideas of the changing role of the museum, from a more modernist notion towards a more directly politically oriented form of art. In 2015, the project ‘Arte Útil’ by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera served as the starting point for a transformation of the artistic direction at the ‘Van Abbemuseum’.

Sami Khatib is a scholar in media studies and political theory (Walter Benjamin), and is concerned with notions of how art and academia can be brought together as a form of political organisation. An example of such a transdisciplinary project is the 2015 ‘Benjamin in Palestine Conference’, held in Ramallah Palestine, of which Khatib was one of the initiators. The interview delved into how the structure of this week-long conference served to facilitate communication between the different participants (artists, theorists and activists) by employing theory — most notably that of Benjamin — as a form of politics.

Maziar Afrassiabi is director of independent art space Rib in Rotterdam, whose program specifically mobilizes aspects of labour in artistic production, both in the projects shown and topics addressed. This is evidenced in how Rib structures work between artist and Rib as platform. As director-artist-curator Afrassiabi represents, in his person, the hybrid nature of the curating-art-platform. In the interview, Rib’s projects were unpacked to examine how they introduce a form of politics in the institutional infrastructure of art. As a relatively small space — precisely because of its compactness — Rib represents a critical attitude with regard to the larger institutional artistic platforms and how these have become embedded in the governmental frameworks of production.

Mohammad Salemy is the organizer and initiator of ‘The New Centre for Research and Practice’, a para-institutional research and education platform. In its curriculum art, philosophy, media-theory and aesthetics merge. As opposed to the more conventional formations, it operates in the institutional field of knowledge production as a mobile and adaptable institute. Salemy translates the relationship between art, philosophy, technology and education into a site of direct aesthetical and political activism, that he defines as ‘epistopolitics’. In the interview, the history of ‘The New Centre’ was discussed; the conditions from which it emerged and how this relates to the tradition of conceptual art. Salemy’s hybrid role as curator (organizer), artist (poeisis) and architect (of an epistopolical platform) was discussed.

Rachel O’Reilly is an artist, curator, poet, writer, lecturer and researcher. In her long-term project ‘The Gas Imaginary’ (2013 - ongoing) many of these forms of artistic work are combined. ‘The Gas Imaginary’ is a research project exploring the legal and aesthetic logics of 'unconventional' extractivism, specifically fossil gas fracking, and its continuity with and differencing from modernist mining regimes, as it has rolled out internally to the indebted settler colonial states of the West. The industry is exemplary of how capitalist expansion works to the detriment of planetary habitation. The colonization of Australia by the world's most significant fossil Empire, was a capitalist occupation of the land and resources shaped by settler ideology. Today, the damaging effects of this are coming back to haunt the descendants of these colonizers, who now experience land dispossession in the same areas of Indigenous resistance to frontier wars. O’Reilly examines this complex history through research on site, in communal and curated projects, films, writing and poetry, collected into The Gas Imaginary project. The interview centers on this project, notably two films ‘Infraction’s and ‘Drawing Rights’ which deal with the history of fracking in Australia. ‘Infraction’s (2019), commissioned by Kunstwerke Berlin addresses the issue through a more documentary approach, through talks with First Nations most affected by current shale gas plans. ‘Drawing Rights’ (2018), on the other hand, commissioned by Van Abbemuseum and Frontier Imageries uses a much more abstract language, including animations and data-rendering. The difference between these two aesthetic approaches was discussed with regard to their artistic and political relevance, and how this sits within the overall transdisciplinary character of O’Reilly’s practice.

Lietje Bauwen’s work can be defined by its multidisciplinary character. Together with Wouter De Raeve she participates in the project-based art-initiative ‘431’ in Brussels which serves as a multidisciplinary container for their research. This research-based platform initiates projects that often address societal issues informed by the conditions of work and life they find themselves in. ‘WTC A Love Story’, the main topic for the interview, is one such project. Here they intervene in Brussels’ city center redevelopment project ‘Little Manhattan’, a major urban upgrading plan involving many stakeholders: citizens, politics, governance, refugees, retail and other businesses, as well as the housing corporations themselves who have their own commercial interest. With their artistic intervention in these processes and the use of fictionalization through their film-project ‘WTC A Love Story’, they managed to open the discussion around this redevelopment as political-public issue. The interview centers around Bauwens’ ideas concerning the possibilities and limitations of art as public tool.