Arnoud Holleman

Amsterdam — Saturday 18 May, 2024
nl / en

Artists Anonymous

Lowlands pop festival

Roma Publication no.135. Giveaway publication on the occasion of the NY Art Book Fair 2010. Text, 10 b&w photographs, paper napkins. Edition 500. Translation by Paul Evans.
Full text below pictures

RETITLED - a work of art without an artist.

The scene was set. A pop festival with 30,000 visitors and more than 60 bands from all over the world. Three days of great music, three days of letting it all go and camping out on the nearby campsite, a crate of beer beside the tent.
And the visual arts were not to be forgotten amongst everything on offer. For the last couple of years in a row, artists had been invited who felt at home in a big show environment. This had thrown up a number of lively and playful installations, but this year the budding tradition was in jeopardy: for a variety of reasons there was next to no money for arts projects.
The only kitty in the budget that might be called upon had been set aside for the printing of the half a million paper napkins that were to be used during the festival. This printing option was actually meant to bring in some advertising money, but now, thanks to an improvised budget reshuffle, the napkins would turn into art instead of advertisements. It wasn't a lot, but the continuity of the arts programming was at least guaranteed. And because the budget only catered for the printing costs of the napkins, and not the artists' fees, the arts committee convened to place itself in the artists' shoes.
The gallerist, her assistant and two freelance arts advisors thought deep and hard about an artistic message that was large enough to be art, yet small enough to fit on to a napkin.
One of them suggested they could take the form of the napkin literally as a two dimensional representation of the White Cube, in the otherwise not very aesthetic environment of the festival.
Another wondered whether the transformation of the napkin into litter might perhaps be used as inspiration.
The third member of the committee said that he understood to some degree what the first two were saying.
And number four said that they would only succeed in their assignment if they were able to mould the weakness of all of the preconditions into their opposite: Use your defect. He felt it would be their task to make a work of art without an artist.
The members of the committee found themselves embroiled in a chain of associations, which gave rise to an increasingly energetic to-and-fro debate, and from this enthusiasm the concept was born. They called it Retitled. A little while later, all four sat in silence, each craning over a sheet of paper, and writing.
They jotted down titles of works of art; titles that were lodged in their individual memories, from famous and obscure works of art, by well-known and unknown artists. They hoped that these titles would evoke the works in question for art connoisseurs like themselves, but would also preserve a certain meaning for anyone who was not familiar with the in-crowd references.
From the lengthy list that was so created, they selected ten titles. Think of this as a window was everyone's favourite, followed by The futility of artistic confession and I'm too sad to tell you. These were printed on to the half a million napkins along with the other seven titles, in a businesslike, 'un-designed' font, without any references to the original works of art or the artists that had made the works. During the three days of the festival, they were subsequently dispersed to the many food and drink vendors on the festival site.
The napkins wiped off thousands of mouths. They were wound around curried-chicken-salad rolls, or vegan wraps, or doled out with French fries. They dabbed up snot and sweat and disappeared into trouser pockets and handbags, but most of them fell to the ground after use, into the mud, to lie amongst the scrunched up plastic beer glasses, flyers and other sundry litter.

Arnoud Holleman, September 2010