A fire-red sculpture, a kitschy Venus, a misshapen giant, a stone which attracts grit, a girl with only one leg, a house without an entrance: summed up like that they seem like characters from a fairytale. But respectively, they are the works of Aaron Curry (1972) who made the fiery red abstract work that is a little reminiscent of Picasso or Moore, of Anselm Reyle (1970) who worked his gleaming Venus with a spraycan, of Thomas Houseago (1972) whose imposing and somewhat sad giant awaits you in the middle of a path, of Navid Nuur (1976) who gave magnetic power to a rock so that a metal fungus grows on it, of Mark Manders (1968) who rests a young but enlarged girl without arms and only one leg awkwardly on a chair, and of Sandro Setola (1976) who built, with wood from felled park trees, a beautiful but inaccessible house.
Since 2000 the Tilburg Fundament Foundation organises every three or four years a Lustwarande, (pleasure garden) a sculpture exhibition in the park De Oude Warande. The park was laid out in 1712 by the German prince Wilhelm Von Hessen-Kassel in keeping with the then Baroque garden fashion. The garden is divided in four quadrants within which paths are laid out in geometric patterns guaranteeing a sense of a treasure-hunt experience (even with a map in hand it is easy to get lost).
The exhibition guide outlines the most fundamental starting points for the fourth edition of Lustwarande: the works are not to relate to their surroundings, they are to be autonomous and to be self reflecting or refer to art history. RAW does not seem to stand for raw or rough but is an acronym for Referential Autonomous Work. (Incidentally, not all the works fulfil these criteria, but this is unavoidable in a group exhibition).
That there is a potential for friction between park and art is one of the strengths of Lustwarande. During the opening, for example, Sandra Kranich (1971) set off fireworks, at unexpected moments, bright, dense, light blue smoke escapes from four smoke outlets installed by Camila Sposati (1972), and Tatiana Trouvé (1968) created one of her uncanny, mildly masochistic, Blair witch-like installations. Among some trees we find a petrified mattress which is strapped with thick black belts to a tree, there are black, tar-drenched rags in the trees, and a pair of work shoes are nailed to a beam.
The work of the 26 participating artist in RAW is not discursive work, nor intellectual or overly theoretical. The references are mostly art-historical, and not essential in order to understand or enjoy the work.
For the last few years, it was almost blasphemous to speak of autonomy. Art works became projects and these projects related to current themes: cultural diversity, migration, globalisation, et cetera. Autonomy was something you did in your own time. In a recent protest issue of art magazine Metropolis M, Camiel van Winkel writes that due to the eagerness of artists to close up the gaps in the fabric of society, the autonomy of art was surrendered to its social relevance. Because of this art lost its unassailability and became defenceless against politics and social criticism. It is rather through autonomy that it is possible to achieve a greater involvement, as is predicated by Jeroen Boomgaard in his article ‘Radicale autonomie’ (Radical Autonomy) published in OPEN in 2006, and it was the subject of the recent exhibition Radical Autonomy that took place in Netwerk, Aalst (Belgium).
The qualification of art as refering to itself is perhaps not the strongest approach for curators to take when discussing autonomy. It is reminiscent of the historical l’art pour l’art (art for art’s sake) movement which was accused of being inward looking, narcissistic and decorative. The renewed definition of autonomy emphasizes that only the autonomous position of art can protect it from being instrumental (for example as an educational method, a social remedy or marketing tool) and that it is exactly the autonomous position that allows art to contribute to society by broadening the scope on reality. “The autonomous action of an artist depicts the world as we do not yet know it”, writes Boomgaard. It is something that has become, more than ever, significant in the political xenophobic, socially fearful, and closed-shutters climate. Setola’s house was probably not intended as a metaphor for the cultural changes happening in Europe, but with the boarded-up windows and blocked door it is a fitting image of a culture that withdraws itself and no longer answers a knock on the door.
Van Winkel concludes his assertion with the words: “We are entering a bleak and chilling period. Art can only survive if autonomy resumes a central position in the thinking and talking about art.” Autonomy without isolation, socially, politically and economical engagement without instrumentalization, that seems to be the answer.
Translated by Vanya Lambrecht Ward