Curator, art critic and poet Freek Lomme speaks to us about his work for “Can you feel it? Tactility and/in Print,” an exhibition honing in on the relevance of the tactile in a post-digital society. Now at Z33, the exhibited artists offer diverse routes to perceive and explore tactility in a way that goes beyond our daily experience.
Sema Berikovic. Photographed by Kristof Vrancken
Can you tell us about the exhibition? What were its starting points? Did you have any preconceived intentions or directions you wanted for the show?
As director of Onomatopee, a publishing house/exhibition space, many people say they love our books because of ‘their great tactility,’ (especially designers, who nearly fetishize it!). I always wondered what this really meant. Also, I’m interested in the position of the tactile within a technocratic society.
Tactility is something being produced by big companies. They assemble teams and think hard about how people experience the feel of a cup, or of a table in a restaurant. For normal consumers (or normal citizens), this technocratic layering of daily sensibility becomes way too distant, even though it is all so close to us. In a biopolitical way of speaking, if you will, this technocratic regime affects our sense and our brains and our experience of things. For example, we don’t put wood into things anymore, we now put technology into wood. Or we can make stuff look like wood while it isn’t. I think that’s an interesting phenomenon to relate to and to try and understand.
Artistically, within the spectrum of the tactile, I wanted to focus on alternative and independent stances with artists with a consistent oeuvre, who work with specific materials and whose practice develops its unique vocabularies of the tactile. I also always want to include critical perspectives by people who are very likely to contribute smart things. I got Pierre Martin on board as graphic designer because I connect well with him, and his work lends a personal and dignified touch to the exhibition.
Whilst drafting ideas for the show, I had the opportunity to organize a residence at the Frans Masereel Centre in connection with this show at Z33. I value the approach that Sofie Dederen has for the artistic direction of the Frans Masereel Centre, as they are very open to experimental exhibitions. Z33 has always very much inspired me as a mediator over the years. Therefore I was happy to do a project there.
Thomas Rentmeister. Photographed by Kristof Vrancken.
How does the exhibition’s name help to evoke its content?
The title ‘Can You Feel It’ evidently holds a double reading: one of a beat sounding in our head, even without hearing a disco or acid house song, and one of a sound we can actually hear resonating in our ears. Relating to popular culture or collective consciousness also works as an entrance into an exhibit. So I just hope the title will be alluring and sympathetic.
How would you describe the majority of the works on show? In a general sense, how would you describe the artists’ approach and aesthetic?
Nature, roots, skin: elements like this return in the material, in modes of artistic processing, and in themes addressed by the contributors in a rather poetic way. Many of my projects also have a political component, which I hope has found its way into this exhibition. This is really aesthetic on the level of the works, but it also features texts by various authors that allow the audience to wonder off into a context beyond and touch upon tactility’s “edgy” sides, as well as its subversive aspects. Some of the works respond critically, on a visual level, such as those by Lieven De Boek (BE) or Matthieu Blanchard (BE). Most artist’s motivations and thoughts also hold critical stances.
Ulrike Mohr. Photograph by Kristof Vrancken.
In terms of approach, how did you go about producing the show?
Most content of the show was produced over the course of the last few months. The project is a collective exploration or a bundling of focuses on the tactile. The only thing I could do was to set off the quest to the contributors, as clear and personally addressed as possible and to mediate the results to the public eye. I like to work with such dynamics, as this is what contemporary art is about: exploring clues within a field charged with material and cultural urgency. In the end I also distributed my trust to all participants, committing to them and relying on them fully. Nevertheless I try and post-produce, the overall framing / editing / curating, on the go, using advice of others involved, and testing out modes of conduct and so forth. I’m committed to such operatings within the experience economy of our capitalist society.
Would you say any influences or references played a major role in shaping the exhibition?
I could not have come to this subject without having developed a fascination for this subject through friends and colleagues in art, design and theory: people who’s stances I’ve experienced as a viewer, reader or in conversations.
Thomas Rentmeister. Photograph courtesy of Freek Lomme.
How did you select the artists for the exhibition?
I started searching on the basis of the profile mentioned above: artist with a particular usage/processing of materials throughout their work, addressing a particular poetic field. But given short notice, I was confronted with the issue of availability. That led me to seek the advice of others for making the selection. I really did that in collaboration with Evelien Bracke of Z33 and that Sofie Dederen of Frans Masereel.
Some artists I knew, and others I didn’t know. For example, Frederic Geurts (BE), who always works with lines and space, or Matthieu Blanchard (FR) who is more like an alchemist working with chemicals. I value this type of focused ambiguity in art, and it calls out for considering and questioning our – possibly alienated – relation with the material of our time.
In the end, possibly because of the material basis of the practices, this is possibly one of the most aesthetic exhibitions I’ve ever made. In the sense that the space, the works, and the exhibition design are sensory, ephemeral and really gentle; as in an Elle-living late summer edition. From an art perspective the works might appear as visually traditional, yet I feel they all very much have their contemporary qualities. Such as the works of Thomas Rentmeister (DE), which are both readymade, through integration of day-to-day objects, as minimalist in looks, as it combines popular and elitist elements. In the end I endeavor to ‘reach out and touch,’ as well as to consider the opportunities of print and craft that which can only be widened, both technically as expressively.
Ulrike Mohr. Photographed by Kristof Vrancken
As a curator, how important is your relationship with the exhibited artist?
It’s a professional relationship based on trust. All of us have to operate effectively: we have to create and deliver. This is a fragile balancing act, especially as all of us have multiple commissioners and agendas, not always easily synced.
On a more personal note, how has working on this exhibition enriched your understanding of the artist’s work? And of contemporary art in general?
I evidently came to appreciate the different poetics and stances of the various people involved, even more along the process. I hope this is reflected in the short texts written about the artists. Touching upon these practices delivers me ways of understanding that resonate within the positioning of my own experience and experiencing.
Lastly, what do you hope viewers will get from visiting the show?
I hope people will be fascinated during the visit, and grasp a sense of cultural awareness on the position of tactility in our contemporary culture. This tension between active and passive consuming is very relevant for curating the contemporary.
Mathieu Blanchard. Photograph courtesy of Freek Lomme.“Can you feel it? Tactility and/in Print” is up until the 11th of October, 2015. z33.be fransmasereelcentrum.be onomatopee.net