Thuistezien 274 — 23.05.2021

Mark Bain & Xander Karskens

‘Dance good. Theatre bad.’ In a quote including this statement from the artist Michael Portnoy, he clearly points out a phenomena in the arts relating to the art embraces dance but not theatre. A reason may be that dance is about the human body, which is a central theme in an ongoing shift in the art world. Whereas artworks traditionally could exist without humans, a tendency shows that artworks, more and more, require a certain presence of human bodies in order to activate it. This is a tendency clearly present in the performative turn of the arts but it may embody a broader aspect of contemporary art practices.

Recently, the urge to separate between traditional disciplines related to the arts has become less and less prominent, and the definition of art is more based on method than appearance. For a series of talks under the name ‘Reflections/Encounters’, which took place during Art Rotterdam in 2016, international experts were grouped to meet and have discussions related to this cultural phenomenon. Having experienced the turn first hand in terms of how art is produced but also how the work is presented, artist and researcher Mark Bain and curator Xander Karskens were invited to discuss aspects related to this theme based on their own artistic and curatorial experiences for the past 20 years.

Bain is a sound artist whose works centers on the interaction of acoustics, architecture and the physical mental reaction to the infrasonic which is sounds below the human hearing threshold. Bain has experienced first hand how sound has become more part of contemporary art and, as Karskens notes, is now experiencing the same turn that media art had several years prior to this. It is evident that institutions are becoming gradually more equipped to work with sound art which was the same case with media art a few centuries ago.

Karskens has worked for De Hallen Haarlem (Now: De Ateliers in Amsterdam) for several years and his experience is that some art projects may need a lot of negotiation and convincing from his side in order for less traditional art projects to be realised in the space. In his view, institutions such as galleries, are still a very limited space in which modernist notions of autonomy and display are continuously reinforced. As a consequence of this, only a limited part is told where many art practices, such as Bain’s, cannot take part in. Yet, with an institution such as De Hallen, there is a clear process of development taking place which is reflected in the works of the artists exhibiting. It does not only have to do with sound work in particular but with a more general leap towards durational works and ephemeral works. Perhaps, with the increase of art going online and it's easy accessibility from everywhere, artists’ works are requiring an interaction with their audience. The works are not there without the presence of an audience. The bodies are needed but not the theatre. A theatre stage makes the audience aware of their position as spectators where the spectated, thus, again becomes a static object, not able to engage and converse with its audience.

Text: Rosa Zangenberg