Locating the Producers – Paul O’Neill

A Situations/UWE research project in collaboration with Projectbase and Dartington College of Arts/UCF

Blue House

DATE: February 2009

INTRODUCTION: This Case Study Report is a working text in progress, authored by Paul O’Neill, that maps out some of the key issues relating to a four-year project called The Blue House (Het Blauwe Huis) in Ijburg, Holland, due for completion at the end of 2009.

THE ARTICLE:

Brief Outline of Background context to this Report

The following Case Study Report is a working text in progress that aims to map out some of the key issues relating a four-year project called The Blue House (Het Blauwe Huis) due for completion at the end of 2009. It was initiated by artist-commissioner Jeanne van Heeswijk in 2004, when she arranged for a large villa in IJburg, to be taken off the private housing market and employed for a four-year period as a residential space for interested practitioners, with view to enabling participatory research and place-responsive cultural production to take place within IJburg and to respond to the conditions of a new urban development.

It is part of a wider research project called Locating the Producers – an on-going collaborative research initiative between Situations at the University of the West of England, Bristol, ProjectBase in Cornwall and Dartington College of Arts/University College Falmouth. Whilst acknowledging the exponential expansion of scattered-site exhibitions, biennials and regeneration initiatives in the last ten years, most temporary public art projects still tend to be short-lived with the peripatetic involvement of the curator, commissioner, and/or artist, with few taking an embedded, residential and long-term approach to how they engage with a place. Perhaps as a curative to this parachuting culture, there is now evidence of more time-specific, durational and temporal approaches being initiated by commissioners/ curators and artists.

This research project aims to explore the complexities involved in commissioning public art from the perspective of the artists/curators/commissioners, by undertaking an in-depth qualitative study of different commissioning methods and processes, centred on durational projects, which have emerged during the past ten years.

Six exemplary projects have been selected for research, including The Blue House, IJburg, The Netherlands (2004-2009); Beyond, Leidsche Rijn, The Netherlands (1999-09); Trekroner Art Plan, Roskilde, Denmark (2001 – on-going); Grizedale Arts, Cumbria, UK (since 1999) and Edgware Road, London, UK (2009-11).

These case studies have been identified as representative of the recent durational turn to public art, and will form the basis of a detailed analysis of the work of commissioners, curators and artists as they respond to each specific commissioning context. Through a focused study of individual projects within longer-term commissioning processes, this research aims to assess how and why commissioners are adopting durational approaches to commissioning contemporary art for specific places. The research seeks to examine how each commissioning process conceives of time as part of a cumulative curatorial practice.

Some of the key questions underlining this ongoing investigation are: Is this recent durational turn in commissioning part of a wider critique of established models of nomadic commissioning for public space? Is there now evidence of a corrective call for more sustainable forms of commissioning and artistic practice that remain in place over time, with a view to transforming the way commissioners, curators, urban planners, developers and artists work? Do these durational approaches imply an investment in longer-term approaches to place, as a means of impacting upon its social and cultural infrastructure, communities and residents? These are just some of the questions that the following report hopes to outline, to investigate and to problematise as a means of instigating further debate.

This report takes Van Heeswijk’s self-commissioning practice as the starting point of a focus on The Blue House as:

1/ a space for the unplanned within a city’s urban development programme.

2/ a cumulative research-led project responsive to its locale.

3/ a long-term durational process embedded in its specific place.

4/ a counter-organisational model.

5/ a critique of short-term commissioning in the context of urban planning.

Case Study Report – Het Blauwe Huis (The Blue House), 2005-2009, IJburg

‘I realise, on location, I work within and not from without.’[1]

‘People always think that I am commissioned, which in nine out of ten of my projects actually is not the case. I am quite often sort of half commissioned or I commission myself.’[2]

‘New possibilities open the way to the transformation of public spaces and to innovative urban experimentation, preserving multiple identities. Here we are beginning to define new tools and methods to let these realities represent themselves, producing neither objects nor projects, only paths and relationships. The discipline becomes hybrid, moving on from architecture to public art, something we can start calling “civic art”.’[3]

Abstract

The Blue House is a durational project initiated in the Netherlands by artist Jeanne van Heeswijk which began in 2005 when she arranged for a large villa in a housing block to be taken off the private market and be re-designated as a space for community research, artistic production and cultural activities. The project is situated in a newly-built neighbourhood suburb of the city of Amsterdam called IJburg, which is set for completion in 2012.

Over a four-year period, artists, architects, thinkers, writers and scholars of various nationalities are being invited to live and work in the Blue House for periods of up to six months. Invitees conduct research, produce works of art, films and publications, and are involved in discussions and other activities. This has resulted in numerous research-led interventions being made by practitioners in and around the Blue House, which respond to the specifics of a place undergoing construction as part of an extensive urban renewal plan.

This report is an analysis of material gathered during three site visits, a focus group session held at de Appel in Amsterdam, and semi-structured interview conducted with the artist and her collaborators, including the city planners.[4] It seeks to understand how Van Heeswijk and those involved conceive of The Blue House as both a curatorial project and a self-organised network of research-based practice.

Facts and Figures

Commissioner/Artist: Jeanne van Heeswijk in collaboration with Dennis Kaspori and Hervé Paraponaris

Duration: 05.2005-12.2009

Websites: www.blauwehuis.org and www.jeanneworks.net

Location: Villa in Housing Block 35, IJburg, Amsterdam

House Owner: de Alliante Housing Corporation

Architect: Teun Koolhaas Associates

Participants: 41 during the first year

Visitors: 10,000 during the first year – approx. 200 per week.

Number of events: 50 during the first year

Membership of Housing Association of the Mind: The Housing Association for the Mind is an expanding and changing group of local and international practitioners who are invited by Van Heeswijk to be involved in the project and to take up residence as associates, researchers and producers.[5] Involvement varies from person to person and evolves according to the development of projects, with the degree of active participation changing over time. The criteria for selecting members are flexible, and members are invited for different reasons; members also bring other members on-board; members have equal decision-making rights.

Range of Projects: Research drives each of the wide-ranging projects, of which there are three main strands – Histories, Instant Urbanism and Hospitality – some of which will be described in more detail later.

Blue House - Roof during Pump up the House

Blue House - Roof during Pump up the House

Blue House - Edible Garden

Blue House - Edible Garden

Blue House - Cinema

Blue House - Event

Blue House - Event

Examples: ‘Histories’ include artist and designer Joost Grootens’ design of the logo, graphic identity and wallpaper for the Blue House; art historian Marianne Maasland and sociologist Marga Wijman’s publication of their findings based on social research conducted with IJburgers into the transformation of public spaces in IJburg during its first phase of construction, and artist Barbara Holub and architect Paul Rajakovics’ (Transparadiso) collaborative research project Blue Fiction – The Blue Block (An Anachronistic Centre), looked at the expectations of new IJburgers, with the aim of integrating this research and that of other artists from the Blue House to propose a design for a new ‘model’ housing block for IJburg in the future. ‘Instant Urbanism’ includes Rudy J. Luyters’ design for an edible public garden in the grounds of the Blue House that is accessible to inhabitants from block 35 as a shared communal and harvesting space; the ‘Chill Room’, a temporary meeting and production studio housed at the Blue House, was developed by art student Ingrid Meus, in close cooperation with local youths and ‘Parade of Urbanity’, initiated by Van Heeswijk with architect Dennis Kaspori, which enabled small temporary interventions such as a community restaurant, a library, a hotel and an outdoor cinema to be manifested in the public domain, responding directly to the needs and difficulties of residents during IJburg’s construction. Under ‘Hospitality’, Igor Dobricic, who is programme director for the European Cultural Fund, has visited Blue House every Wednesday since November 2007, when he exchanges offices with Van Heeswijk as a means of questioning the funder-to-funded relationship as part of his project ‘ALMOSTREAL’; [6]Mauricio Corbalán and Pio Torroja of architecture collective m7red developed ‘Chat Theatre’ as a series of conversations on notions of public space held at the Blue House and linked to further conversation in Porto Alegre through an online blog, while artists Cheikh ‘Papa’ Sakho and Jo van der Spek worked together on an audio memorial for those who lost their lives in the fire at the immigrant detention centre at Schiphol airport in 2005, which was broadcast on ‘Radio Ruistriet’ – a local radio station based on the ground floor of the Blue House, broadcasting every Friday from 7-10pm with a programme of music, conversation and storytelling involving locals.[7]

Brief Commissioning Background

In 1996, the city of Amsterdam decided to extend the city beyond its north-eastern boundaries. Land was reclaimed from the surrounding water to create an artificial island with housing and amenities for 45,000 people. Housing blocks were built, each overlooking a central courtyard, with the ratio of privately owned to social-sector housing set at 80:20. Twenty minutes by tram from Amsterdam central train station, the island-town called IJburg is, at the time of writing, in its third year of the first phase of building (begun in 2005, due for completion in 2009).

During the planning and pre-development stage of the project, in 2003, artist-commissioner Jeanne van Heeswijk was invited by designer Dorine de Vos – with whom Van Heeswijk had previously worked on a project in New York – to consider making the entrance to Block 35 of the new housing estate more visible.[8] Having rejected this because of its limitations, the artist began to look at the projected plans for IJburg.

Around the same time, public art advisor, Tanja Karreman[9], in consultation with de Vos, asked Van Heeswijk if she could make a proposal that would reflect the future identity of IJburg and the role of art in this newly-created environment. Noting that little room had been left for the uncontrolled, the unexpected and the unplanned, the artist’s attention was drawn to a large cobalt-blue-coloured villa, designed by Teun Koolhaas Associates (TKA), which was intended for the central courtyard of block 35, facing privately-owned dwellings on one side and social housing on the other. Van Heeswijk proposed to AFK that they help to take the villa off the market and, although the cost of the building (€600,000) prohibited this, the artist pursued the idea. She spent the next eighteen months looking for a buyer for the house who would be prepared to donate it to the community as ‘a place for the unplanned, for the still to dream, for yet to desire…’[10]

Self-Commissioning as an Artistic Practice

Around 2004, Marinus Knulst from the private housing corporation, De Alliante, agreed to buy the house at Van Heeswijk’s behest, with the artist agreeing to pay the interest on the mortgage for the next four years in exchange for use of the house as a core site for a durational project. Instead of being a private dwelling, it was established as a house for cultural activities and socio-cultural research during the urban renewal process. From May 2005, Jeanne van Heeswijk spent six months living in the house, preparing it for habitation and making connections with local residents as they began to arrive on the island.

Van Heeswijk thus ‘sidestepped’[11] the original brief to initiate a process of engagement with the commissioning context, to become a self-commissioned artist. In turn, The Blue House would become the commissioner, inviting other practitioners to develop their own research-based projects as part of a cumulative process of research and intervention.

Rationale for the Durational Approach

The Blue House was conceived as an unfixed four-year project during which time the artist-commissioner remains actively engaged with IJburg, its residents and its development. Van Heeswijk gives two primary reasons for choosing to work over four years. Firstly, this period allows for a complex set of interactions and, secondly, four years coincides with the first phase of development at IJburg.[12] There is no intention to continue the project after the four years, although this has been left open as a possibility and members are thinking about how elements could be carried forward or transposed onto other projects elsewhere.[13]

Although a longer term is necessary, to allow for a certain connectivity to develop between The Blue House – as an association of participants – and local inhabitants, the durational is also proposed as another way of resisting the logic of functionality within an over-planned and pre-regulated environment.[14]

‘Long-termism’ and the ‘durational’ are strategies employed by Van Heeswijk to create a sustainable engagement with a particular place that ‘manages in four years to accumulate a critical mass of research, without necessarily serving another agenda’ such as those of urban planners, developers, commissioners.[15]

The Blue House as an Associative Organisational Model

Van Heeswijk describes her role in The Blue House as that of a ‘participating embedded observer’ who, like other members, observes and steers the operational aspects of the project, with particular attention to public permission, civil legalities and other outside forces that form the house and its activities.[16] This notion of being embedded, or present, implies a kind of operation where ‘to be present means to observe sympathetically, to suspend judgement, to pay attention to the processes’ whereby one’s participation might activate a unitary process that binds observation of place with a contribution to its transformation.[17]

Selected on the basis of affinity and an interest in experimental communities, those invited undertake an unconditional engagement with the project. But members must be willing to surrender in some way to the concept of the community as an evolving entity, and to find their place within its changing organisational structure. The Blue House provides a physical and mental space for discussion, research and intervention in the public domain.

The Blue House is set up as a foundation with Van Heeswijk as an advisor. It is not funded by the city planners, but by a combination of funding and in-kind support including that from the European Cultural Fund (ECF), Amsterdam Funds for the Arts (AFK), de Alliante (Private Housing Corporation), the Mondriaan Foundation and the Prince Bernhard Culture Fund. Commissioned participants can also bring or source their own funding for specific projects, and apply for residential support from the foundation.

Associate members can decide how, when and to what extent they wish to engage with The Blue House. There are two apartments available on request to members for up to six months if they wish to spend some dedicated time on location, and time slots are booked with the concierge of the house, Irene den Hartoog, a social worker employed by Van Heeswijk to look after the everyday affairs of the house. Residents are allocated €6000 for six months plus travel expenses by the foundation. There is one flexible-use office and a semi-public meeting/office/exhibition space which is open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Van Heeswijk maintains a high level of involvement within decision-making processes and is kept informed of decisions made by other members in her absence. The organisational structure of the group and its dynamics are shaped by its membership and through discussion, conflict and disagreement; decision-making is undertaken democratically within the group rather than being explicitly hierarchical. Such a structure adheres to what Ned Rossiter calls an ‘organized network’, which operates horizontally rather than vertically, with communication functioning within the network via ‘relational processes’ rather than ‘representational procedures.’[18] As a model for self-organisation, The Blue House supports non-representational processes of communication and exchange, whereby process is an on-flow of activities, not a device for bringing about resolution via representations forms or subject-based presentations.[19]

This follows the logic of a networked model of sociality made possible by information and communication technologies. There is a deferred and dispersed distribution of responsibilities across the organisation, whereby some members might have a greater level of participation in the decision-making process at any one time. As Rossiter points out, this acknowledges ‘a prevailing consensus that experiences of sharing, feedback, flexibility, and friendship are primary to the culture of networks’, with decisions still having to be made in order for the network to remain operational and open.[20]

The Blue House as an organisational model also corresponds well with what Bruno Latour refers to as the need for more ‘cohabitational time, the great Complicator’, with democratic space being understood as the time spent together in contradiction to one another. For Latour, an entirely new set of questions is needed when thinking about how democratic discussion is ordered, with the two key questions being ‘Can we cohabitate with you?’ and ‘Is there a way for us all to survive together while none of our contradictory claims, interests and passions can be eliminated?’[21]

Both Rossiter and Latour’s ideas can be found mirrored in Van Heeswijk’s comments from an essay published in 2005. In it, she describes her practice as ‘a call for sociality’, in which relational processes can produce ‘nonhierarchical forms of distribution of resources’ for a self-organized community of interested subjects. There is also an interest in the maximization of ‘potential within [these] communities for open dialogue, communication, and collective action’.[22] The Blue House is representative of Van Heeswijk’s interest in producing models of social relationality rather than producing artwork with its own intrinsic values. This project offers itself as a model for fostering dialogue within an organisational structure that aspires to create certain conditions for critical discourse to take place, for information to be exchanged and for social change to be encouraged.

The Blue House as the Accumulation of Actors and Actions

The Blue House unites diverse modes of participation; it is formed and informed by many individuals, members, residents and agencies. From the outset, it has been articulated as a self-commissioned artwork-in-progress by Van Heeswijk. This plays on a different set of expectations than if it was a social or community project intended to do something ‘for the good of the community.’ [23] As the project enters its closing stages, members are beginning to think about how their research, their projects and The Blue House as a whole can be dispersed without adhering to a ‘single representation’ as the work of individual artistic agency. [24] Van Heeswijk has suggested that there are certain concerns around how the project might be adapted elsewhere and how it might be misunderstood. These include how an organisation can be created which can be reworked without the model becoming unique, and how the model can be functional without being instrumental, remaining autonomous but engaged.[25]

Central to how The Blue House might be considered within art discourse are Van Heeswijk’s questions of how urban issues can be dealt with while retaining artistic notions, and how both ethics and aesthetics can prevail without value being limited to considerations of either social effectiveness or artistic merit.[26] The ‘social turn’ in art has prompted an ethical turn in art criticism, with heightened attention being paid to how ‘good’ collaborations are practised and judged. [27] The Blue House appears to emphasise process over product – particularly through its interest in the evolution of a dense organisational model. But it also operates as an agency for artistic production, in which its understanding as an artwork and an accumulation of artworks is conflated with its identity as a cluster of participant-driven social- and community-responsive interventions. As Van Heeswijk has previously stated, ‘My entire artistic practice departs from the belief that art has the capacity to contribute to life.’[28]

Van Heeswijk carries the project forward through her commitment, energy and a certain ‘charismatic agency’[29]which keeps things mobilised without foreclosing possibilities. There are also many actors and actions necessary for the project to be sustained. The project could be said to be a product of, or an accumulation of, both short- and long-term engagements, with individual projects, research outputs and public manifestations forming elements in an evolving accumulation of energies, responses and individual moments of intensity.

The Blue House and its Precedents

For Van Heeswijk, in thinking about The Blue House, historical precedents included the Yellow House in Arles, which Van Gogh wrote about as a potential place of hospitality for fellow artists to visit and live within and to exchange ideas under the one roof. Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, or Blue House – in Coyoacán, South Mexico (also home to Diego Rivera), where Kahlo was born, often worked and later died – was a hub of activity that influenced the small town, as well as visitors including Leon Trotsky, and would serve as inspiration for artists and thinkers. When describing the concept of The Blue House to planners and potential buyers, Van Heeswijk initially employed the idea of ‘a place where you could cook up everything that still had to come and actually follow along the growth of the island and force some kind of flexibility in the planning.’[30]

Another, perhaps less obvious, analogy can be drawn between The Blue House and the Hull House Social Settlement of the late 19th/early 20th century, established in Chicago by Jane Addams, as a social sphere that was simultaneously private and public. Sharon Haar recently described it in terms of ‘the work of those who lived and worked with [Addams], and the Hull House Settlement itself [encompassing] complexities of overlapping, ambiguous, and sometimes contradictory private and public interests and spaces [where] a diverse range of environments and projects transcended rigid categories of private and public space, domestic and civic concerns.’[31] Hull House was not only a temporary residential space for women and recent immigrants, but it also operated as a sustainable and flexible institution that adapted to its immediate environment and the people who flowed through it. Throughout its lifespan, it was a meeting place and a site of multiple cultural activities where a programme went on in and around the house, but was also conducted by residents outside the house, which brought them into contact with the city and local inhabitants.[32] This resonates with Van Heeswijk’s establishment of an evolving associate membership for the Housing Association of the Mind.

Like The Blue House, Hull House was established by its founder and employed by its residents as a utopian ‘site for collective living and as a means of forming a community’ which ‘grew in response to the needs of its neighbours, the interests of its residents, and the concerns of its network of intellectual, political, and financial supporters.’[33] Van Heeswijk describes the condition for those taking up residency at The Blue House as one of ‘actively entering into dialogue with one another, with their co-inhabitants in IJburg, and with the public. The aim is to establish links between the world within (their world) and outside (IJburg in development and the rest of the world), and thus to become co-authors of IJburg’s genesis and evolutionary history.’[34]

Blue House - Restaurant

Blue House - Restaurant

The Blue House as a Central Hub for Fields of Interaction

The Blue House building is the central hub for ongoing interactions between members and residents. Playing the part of the ‘uninvited guest’[35] as an organism on the island, The Blue House is also the hosting organisation for other guests who are, in turn, invited to engage with one another and to create new forms of density and interactions ‘as part of the community.’[36] The Blue House is ‘still a guest [who] will leave at a certain point and, in that sense, you are also working from this position as an outsider’ who can raise certain issues from that position.[37] As an uninvited guest, there is a ‘relative autonomy’[38] maintained in the relationship between The Blue House and the local community. The Blue House operates from within the community, while retaining sufficient distance to be able to facilitate and to enable things to happen there. It is not there ‘to serve the community.’[39]

Blue House - Garden

The Blue House as Local Engagement

One of the key factors that informed Van Heeswijk’s original proposition for The Blue House was the notion of a ‘house for the arts’ which could connect to the community of IJburg, while remaining autonomous from the master planning process.

Van Heeswijk claims that The Blue House did not have a pre-existing set of objectives; instead, it tries to operate as a ‘model under development,’[40] encouraging diverse ways of working on location and with others. The Blue House functions as a laboratory for ‘research into the development and the evolution of its history’ in parallel with the first phase of the building process and the development of IJburg as a community.[41]

Many of the projects engage with IJburg. As member and co-developer of The Blue House, Dennis Kaspori, states, ‘the community – those people who live in IJburg – this is the driving force of The Blue House.’[42] To employ the term ‘civic art’ as coined by Stalker above, The Blue House operates as an organisation with an interest in ‘trying to involve the inhabitants’ creativity and inventiveness, to share areas emerging’ from their exchange as co-habitants in the same place, in which ‘one participates in establishing rules and shares the general aims.’[43]

Of the many public manifestations, ‘Parade of Urbanity’ by Kaspori and van Heeswijk is one of the most community-driven projects to emerge from this initiative to create ‘instant urbanism’ in IJburg. As part of the project, Nicoline Koek – a street trader from Zeeburg (the larger city borough of which IJburg is a part) – had wanted to start a flower stall and, when she asked for permission from the city council, it transpired that no street trade regulations had yet been established for the island. Under the title Bloemen voor IJburg [Flowers for IJburg], Koek was able to install a flower stall on the 8m2 of privately-owned ground in front of The Blue House every Saturday.

As part of the initial master plan for the island, 2008 was set as the date by which a library would be available to IJburg residents, by which time planners expected there to be enough children to use it. Marthe van Eerdt, a librarian who lives on IJburg, thought this was too long and collaborated with the association to initiate a children’s library, which continues to operate every Wednesday. Later on, another resident, Johan Bakker, established an adult library in a glasshouse on the main square, based on the exchange of books exchange between inhabitants.

Together with Usha Mahabiersing, who lives in Block 35, and member Pluk de Nacht, an open-air ‘Blue House Cinema’ was organized. This included the screening of a film by Daniela Paes Leao, one of the first members to take up residence, which documented the migration history of the inhabitants of Block 35, based on recorded interviews about their past and their observations of new lives in IJburg.

The Blue House as a Response to Gaps in Planning

The Blue House addresses ways in which communities are formed through methods of planning that are ‘structured on the definition of a clear objective.’[44] As an alternative to this approach, it proposes a space of reflection that builds on the notion of community as a temporary construct, founded on multiple desires, possibilities, intentions, promises, necessities and expectations.

Various interventions to have built upon this notion in and around the house include a temporary neighbourhood café and restaurant when there was not one on the island, a temporary supermarket stall, a chill-out room for kids in the area and a local radio station. Pump up the Blue House, instigated by member Hervé Paraponaris in 2007, proposed to re-scaffold the outside of the house, which was intended not only to reflect the continued building process in IJburg, but also to swell the building’s dimensions. Almost doubling its size, to create much-needed extra space, it became a hub of local events, concerts, meetings, exhibitions and performances for six months.

As an embedded four-year project, The Blue House is an example of a self-organised initiative with a durational approach to urban creative practice. Other examples to have emerged in Europe include Park Fiction in St Pauli, Hamburg, aaa architects’ Ecobox in La Chapelle, Paris, or some of the initiatives by the collective City Mine(d) in Brussels since 1996.[45] These projects correspond to their specific contexts by adopting long-term positions. While they support place-bound research – employing tactical intervention and strategic thinking that responds to the development of a place – the goal is not immediately clear from the outset. Through open-ended processes, actions and strategies developed in parallel with the development of new urban areas they employ a methodology of ‘direct urbanism’ that ‘considers planning as a participatory principle and places emphasis on the complexity of the situation and the responsibility of all involved, including residents.’[46]

Sustaining a Durational Process while Resisting External Agendas

While it may be too early to evaluate the full impact that The Blue House has had on IJburg, its residents and the planning process, as an initiative aimed at sustaining an ongoing relationship with the building process and continuing its presence on the island for the first phase of IJburg’s development, the project ‘manages in four years to accumulate a critical mass of research without necessarily serving another agenda.’[47] As the project is not funded by the city planners, public art agencies or the developers responsible for IJburg, it does not have obligations to fulfil in terms of public outcomes, deadlines for exhibitions or a proposed programme of activities that meet funders’ objectives.[48]

At the same time, Van Heeswijk and the association maintain regular contact with the city planners as part of their engagement with those involved in the development of IJburg. According to Igor Roovers, Director of Project Bureau IJburg (the public planning agency responsible for IJburg), the timeframe has allowed for a ‘connection with the people and they have a good connection with the project developments, a network.’ [49] Certain feedback loops have been created between local residents, those involved in the project and the city planners, who are aware of activities and in regular correspondence with The Blue House. As Roovers states ‘the impact of a long-term project is bigger’ and by staying there for four years, The Blue House are ‘asking people to review the [planning] process, to review the results, to talk with people and now we are trying to create more space…’ for these kinds of temporary or small-scale activities within larger-scale developments.[50] This suggests that the city planners have learnt from the project, and that it has played a role in the life of the first inhabitants of IJburg. Although it remains to be seen whether the four-year commitment is sufficient to have any lasting affect on the future life and infrastructure of IJburg, it allows enough time for results to emerge that could not have been foreseen at the outset.

Curating the Long-Term versus the Short-term

Van Heeswijk refers to the project as a kind of ‘un-curated’ space,[51] a ‘self-organising, self-growing mechanism’, akin to a found object as ‘gesamtkunstwerk – an artwork without a central figure.’[52] Her desire to formulate a decentralized ‘curatorial’ approach establishes commissioning practice as the production of a space of potentiality where the organisation and the framing of research, cultural activity and production are brought about through a more open-ended series of principles and possibilities.[53] Here, place-bound curating is more about ‘preparing an empty space and then allowing different things to enter it.’[54] The Blue House as a curatorial model proposes the necessity of a space for the unplanned within urban developments, a space to enable both artists and local residents to engage with the development process during its evolution, particularly within an overly-predetermined environment. For Van Heeswijk and fellow Blue House associate Dennis Kaspori, the ‘starting point here is not a predetermined identity, but an aesthetic sensitivity with regard to differences that are situated in space both physical and temporal.’[55]

Blue House - Pump Up The Blue House

Blue House - Pump Up The Blue House

Although the Blue House is not an overt critique of more short-term, itinerant or nomadic approaches to place-bound commissioning in the context of urban regeneration, there is an implicit belief in a more cumulative research and curatorial approach to place, based on relational and temporal processes. Van Heeswijk and many of those she is working with seem to understand duration as a long-term practice, as a means of keeping things moving, maintaining a flow of activity across time, hoping for the unexpected and resisting instrumentalisation in the process. Research into community formation and practice that engages with the specific context of a place under construction provides the focus of a multiplicity of exchanges, interactions and temporary interventions into the public domain. Time and space to engage with place and between people has been left open long enough ‘to create a certain sense of existing outside’ the normative temporal limitations of deadlines, completions and necessary outputs. [56] Four years is deemed long enough so that it still remains possible ‘to behave temporarily as there is no time involved’. [57] Unlike shorter-term commissioning projects in the context of regeneration programmes, The Blue House aspires to create an ethos of patience, perseverance and attentiveness which is otherwise ‘very hard to have, if you are hopping from place to place, very quickly.’[58]

The Blue House could be understood as functioning somewhere between that of a cumulative curatorial project, and a form of individualised artistic practice built on a belief in a networked organisational structure. Modelled on the civic art centre as a research machine for place-responsive cultural production, Van Heeswijk sets fields of interaction in motion that result in activities stemming from these interactions. The result is the culmination of a body of research that reflects upon the transformation of IJburg, its communities and the organised network of participants. As the project enters its final year, the ways in which it will be documented, represented and disseminated will become key issues, determining how this cumulative work could support and affect change in the commissioning of temporary public art within broader urban renewal and planning strategies beyond the original curatorial process.

Blue House - At Night

Blue House - At Night


NOTES:

[1] Jeanne van Heeswijk cited in Van Heeswijk, Jeanne. Interview with Paul O’Neill, The Blue House, IJburg, 01/12/07, pp. 4.

[2] Ibid, pp. 1.

[3] Stalker, ‘Stalker and the big game of Campo Boario’ in Architecture and Participation, Eds. Peter Blundell Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till, (London and New York: Spon Press, 2005), pp. 232.

[4] The interviewees were Igor Roovers, Director of Project Bureau IJburg (the city planners); Marinus Knulst, Director of de Alliante (the company that own the house); Astrid Bonder (resident of Block 35, IJburg); Irene den Hartoog (social worker and concierge of the house); Daniela Paes Leao (filmmaker); Marianne Maasland (sociologist); Igor Dobricic (dramaturge who works with European Cultural Funds – ECF), and Dennis Kaspori (architect) – all of whom are members of ‘the Blue House Association of the Mind’. The focus group, held at de Appel on 15th May 2008, was entitled ‘Locating the Producers: Interrogating the Curator – The Blue House Focus Group Session’ and centred on The Blue House. Van Heeswijk was invited to respond to questions by the following group of invitees: Mick Wilson (artist and Dean of Gradcam, Dublin), Kerstin Bergendal (artist and commissioner of the Trekrøner Art Plan, Denmark); Liesbeth Bik (artist), Dennis Kaspori (architect), Tom van Gestel (commissioner, SKOR – Office for Art and Public Space, Amsterdam), Jonathan Banks (Director of ixia – the UK national public art think-tank); the discussion was moderated by Paul O’Neill with Sara Black (Director of ProjectBase, Cornwall), Renee Ridgway (curator), Ann Demeester (Director of de Appel), and Yulia Aksenova, Jesse Birch, Sarah Farrar, Inti Guerrero, Virginija Januskeviciuté (the 2008 de Appel Curatorial Training programme graduates) were present as respondent observers

[5] Members range widely from international invitees to local residents, from frequent collaborators with the artist to individuals she has never met. Current members include: IJburg inhabitant Johan Bakker, artist Sonia Boyce, artist Yane Calovski, artist Roé Cerpac, curator Howard Chan, dramaturge Igor Dobricic, artist Ella Gibbs, designer Joost Grootens, activist Wilfried Hou Je Bek, landscape designer Bart Janssen, architect Dennis Kaspori, IJburg inhabitant Peter van Keulen, IJburg inhabitant Nicoline Koek, artist Rudy J. Luyters, architecture collective m7red, art historian Marianne Maasland, IJburg inhabitant Usha Mahabiersing, art student Ingrid Meus, writer Marcel Möring, art student Evelien de Munck Mortier, artist collective Orgacom, filmmaker Daniela Paes Leao, curator Amy Plant, artist Hervé Paraponaris, artist Cesare Pietroiusti, collective Pilot Publishing, artist Tere Recarens, artist Silvia Russel, artist Cheilk papa Sakho, philosopher Johan Siebers, architecture collective Transparadiso, IJburg inhabitant Marthe van Eerdt, activist/ radio-journalist Jo van der Spek, artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, theorist and architect  Carel Weeber, writer Dirk van Weelden, and artist Inga Zimprich.

[6] The experience of both parties will be documented in a publication and a short film by Daniela Paes Leao. See www.almostreal.org

[7] Cheikh ‘Papa’ Sakho, a survivor of the fire, was offered temporary residence in the Blue House until he found more permanent accommodation.

[8] See ‘Hotel New York PS1′ in Jeanne van Heeswijk, Systems, (Berlin, The Green Box, 2007), pp. 197-217.

[9] Karreman was employed by AFK (Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunsten – Amsterdam Funds for the Arts) at the time, which was commissioning artists as one part of the renewal scheme).

[10] Jeanne van Heeswijk cited in Van Heeswijk, Jeanne. Interview with Paul O’Neill, op. cit, pp. 3.

[11] ‘Side stepping the Brief – Creating an Open-Field’ is the title of a case study report written by Kathrin Böhm on Van Heeswijk’s project De Strip, Westwijk, Vlaardingen, from 2002-2004. See Böhm, Kathrin, 5 Case Studies, (London, publicworks, 2007), pp. 5-10.

[12] Van Heeswijk, Jeanne cited from ‘Locating the Producers: Interrogating the Curator – The Blue House Focus Group Session’ held at de Appel, Amsterdam, 15/06/08 (audio file, untranscribed document).

[13] Van Heeswijk, Jeanne cited in Ibid.

[14] Described as being ‘Dense in the sense of regulation; dense in a sense of being packed with content and being totally designed in every detail.’ Dobricics, Igor. Interview with Paul O’Neill, The Blue House, IJburg, 12/03/08, pp. 4-5.

[15] Van Heeswijk, Jeanne. Interview with Paul O’Neill, op. cit, pp. 14.

[16] Van Heeswijk, Jeanne cited from ‘Locating the Producers: Interrogating the Curator – The Blue House Focus Group Session’ held at de Appel, Amsterdam, 15/06/08 (audio file, untranscribed document).

[17] Stalker, ‘Stalker and the big game of Campo Boario’ in Architecture and Participation, Eds. Peter Blundell Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till, (London and New York, Spon Press, 2005), pp. 233.

[18] Rossiter, Ned, in Organized Networks: Media Theory, Creative Labour, New Institutions, (Rotterdam, NAi Publishers, 2006), pp. 13.

[19] The project is not interested in referring to something outside of itself, as representational procedures do. It is anti-biographical in the way it considers non-representational processes as a means of enacting (bringing forth) or performing a world, where experience and inter-relationality precede individual thinking and intentionality, and thus precedes representing. The performing or acting out in relation to others is part of an actualising process, where keeping the on-flow of discussion, movements and praxis going forward in present-time is the primary aim of the organisationFor a more in-depth analysis of non-representational theories, see Thrift, Nigel. Non-Representational Theory: Space/Politics/Affect, (London & New York, Routledge, 2008).

[20] Ibid, pp. 14-15.

[21] Latour, Bruno, ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik’ in Latour Bruno and Peter Weibel, Eds., Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, (Cambridge , MASS., & London, The MIT Press, 2005), pp. 40.

[22] Jeanne Van Heeswijk cited in Van Heeswijk, Jeanne. ‘A Call for Sociality’ in Ted Purves, Ed., What we Want is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art, (Albany, NY, State University of New York Press, 2005), pp. 95-98.

[23] Van Heeswijk, Jeanne cited from ‘Locating the Producers: Interrogating the Curator – The Blue House Focus Group Session’ held at de Appel, Amsterdam, 15/06/08 (audio file, untranscribed document).

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] For example see Claire Bishop’s ‘The Social Turn: Collaborations and its Discontents’ in Artforum, (February, 2006), pp. 178-183.

[28] Jeanne van Heeswijk cited in Van Heeswijk, Jeanne. ‘Fleeting Images of Community’, in Exploding Aesthetics, Eds. Annette W. Balkema and Henk Slager, Amsterdam, Lier en Boog, Series of Philosophy of Art and Art Theory, Vol. 16, pp. 175.

[29] ‘Charismatic agency’ was a term employed by Mick Wilson in an attempt to define a mode of agency at work in The Blue House that might resist the pitfalls of talk of artistic genius, single authorship or individual agency when discussing such projects in an art context. Mick Wilson cited in ‘Locating the Producers: Interrogating the Curator – The Blue House Focus Group Session’ held at de Appel, Amsterdam, 15/06/08 (audio file, untranscribed document).

[30] Jeanne van Heeswijk cited in Van Heeswijk, Jeanne. Interview with Paul O’Neill, The Blue House, IJburg, 01/12/07, p. 3.

[31] Haar, Sharon, ‘At Home in Public: The Hull House Settlement and the Study of the City,’ in Embodied Utopias: Gender, Social Change and the Modern Metropolis, Eds. Amy Bingaman, Lise Sanders and Rebecca Zorach, (London and New York, Routledge, 2002), p. 99.

[32] Ibid. p. 107.

[33] Ibid, p. 102.

[34] Van Heeswijk, Jeanne, cited in ‘Aims and Objectives’ at www.blauwehuis.org

[35] Dennis Kaspori cited from Kaspori, Dennis. ‘Interview with Paul O’Neill,’ The Blue House, IJburg, 12/03/08, p. 6.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Kaspori, Dennis, cited from ‘Locating the Producers: Interrogating the Curator – The Blue House Focus Group Session’ held at de Appel, Amsterdam, 15/06/08 (audio file, untranscribed document).

[39] Ibid.

[40] Kaspori, Dennis, cited from ‘Locating the Producers: Interrogating the Curator – The Blue House Focus Group Session’, op. cit.

[41] Jeanne van Heeswijk, Systems, (Berlin, The Green Box, 2007), pp. 391.

[42] Kaspori, Dennis, cited from ‘Locating the Producers: Interrogating the Curator – The Blue House Focus Group Session’ held at de Appel, Amsterdam, 15/06/08 (audio file, untranscribed document).

[43] See Stalker cited in ‘Stalker and the big game of Campo Boario’ in Architecture and Participation, Eds. Peter Blundell Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till, (London and New York, Spon Press, 2005), pp. 232.

[44] Ibid, pp. 233.

[45] For information about these projects see aaa’s edited publication Urban Act: A Handbook for Alternative Practices, (aaa, Paris, 2007). This book is downloadable at www.peprav.net and www.urbantactics.org.

[46] Barbara Holub, Paul Rajakovics and Bernd Vlay cited from ‘On Direct Urbanism and the Art of Parallel Strategies’ in Open 12 (Rotterdam, NAi publishers and SKOR, 2007), pp. 120-121. For further case studies of long-term renewal projects employing interdisciplinary methods and supporting sustainable developments see Claire Cumberlidge and Lucy Musgrave, Eds., Design and Landscape for People: New Approaches to Renewal, (London, Thames & Hudson, 2007).

[47] Jeanne van Heeswijk cited in Van Heeswijk, Jeanne. Interview with Paul O’Neill, The Blue House, IJburg, 01/12/07, p. 14.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Cited from Roovers, Igor. ‘Interview with Paul O’Neill,’ Amsterdam, 07/03/08, p. 5.

[50] Ibid, p. 6.

[51] Van Heeswijk, Jeanne cited from ‘Locating the Producers: Interrogating the Curator – The Blue House Focus Group Session’ held at de Appel, Amsterdam, 15/06/08 (audio file, untranscribed document).

[52] Van Heeswijk, Jeanne, quoted in De Ruiter, Marinus de, ‘A Home for non-conformity,’ in Amsterdam Weekly, 16-22 June, 2005.

[53] See Rogoff, Irit. ‘Smuggling – A Curatorial Model’, Under Construction: Perspectives on Institutional Practice, (Cologne, Walther König, 2006), p. 132. For Rogoff, ‘In the realm of “the curatorial” we see various principles that might not be associated with displaying works of art; principles of the production of knowledge, of activism, of cultural circulations and translations that begin to shape and determine other forms by which arts can engage.’

[54] Dobricic, Igor. Interview with Paul O’Neill, The Blue House, IJburg, 12/03/08, pp. 12.

[55] Van Heeswijk, Jeanne and Dennis Kaspori, ‘Hospitality for the What is to Come’ in Open 12 (Rotterdam, NAi publishers and SKOR, 2007), pp. 120-121.

[56] Dobricic, Igor. Interview with Paul O’Neill, The Blue House, IJburg, 12/03/08, p. 10.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.