WERE IT AS IF
Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art
What is hidden, forgotten, cast away, or overlooked in the day-to-day operations of a cultural institution? How can one make tangible the container of knowledge of the factual succession of exhibitions and publications?
Conceiving their research into Witte de With’s history as a site-sensitive project, WERE IT AS IF highlights what might otherwise become lost in the history of the institution as well as art’s history in the city of Rotterdam. Paying close attention to the socio-economic and political context in which the institution was created, and departing from the belief that cultural institutions and their legacies are as much made up of stories, ephemeral objects, subtle traces and violent scars, Bik Van der Pol’s process can be likened to a long term forensic investigation that examines, tests and actively exposes that which lies concealed in the folds of history.
Equating seemingly-in-the-fringes-material – leftovers, support structures, plans, notes, stories, and witness reports – to artworks, and so exploring the viability of approaching ‘archival document’ as ‘art’, and ‘art’ as ‘source material’, the artists revive histories preserved in the documentation of exhibitions.
Bik Van der Pol extend the investigation beyond the white walls of the institute itself, turning to the cities’ forgotten or disappeared crevices, which have stood as departure points for artists working at Witte de With, such as Perron Nul (Platform Zero), a former methadone distribution center and safe haven for drug-users near Rotterdam train station, as well as the closed down ‘tippelzone’ (streetwalking area) at the Keileweg, where the divergent worlds of sex workers, protesting citizens, and artist initiatives – including Kaus Australis and Kunst & Complex – clashed repeatedly.
Recent political turmoil, urban developments, stories and (sometimes un)realized artistic and social projects are brought to light as they come together as multiple voices in the exhibition space. These many voices, among them deputy director Paul van Gennip, fulfill the role of parrhesiast, which, together with archival research, and the development of the cloud (the institute's logo), formed the basis for four scripts, performing as soundpieces in the exhibition spaces.
WERE IT AS IF is sparked by an understanding that much remains active yet unnoticed in the layers of the past.
To resist memory loss is to avoid falling into the trap of repetition, conservatism or fundamentalism. People’s activities (which make and determine history) must first be consumed and digested to make progression and change possible.
A program with public interpretative readings by Maziar Afrassiabi (artistic director of Rib Art Space), Samira Ben Laloua (founder of Extra Extra nouveau magazine erotique), Lex ter Braak (writer, artist and former director Jan Van Eyck Academy) and Wouter Davidts (writer, researcher, art historian) accompanied the exhibition.
So: whom does a contemporary art institute like Witte de With belong to? How are its stories told and untold? And could a staging of its exhibition history through traces, remains, and scars constitute an act of resistance against the tide of accumulation?
The publication WERE IT AS IF Beyond An Institution That Is, designed by Bardhi Haliti and edited by Bik Van der Pol and Defne Ayas, is a case study and much more. Many-voiced, it enlists the power of fragments as points of provocation to engage with methodologies of the contemporary. With texts by Defne Ayas, Bik Van der Pol, Manuel
Borja-Villel, Marianna Hovhannisyan, Brian Kuan Wood, Doreen Mende, Peter Osborne, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Samuel Saelemakers, Terry Smith, and Ana Teixeira Pinto.
WERE IT AS IF Beyond An Institution That Is is selected as one of 33 Best Dutch Book Designs 2017.