(95-00) The Birth of the Internet – Part 2

Kees at Kunstvlaai 2010

With our newly gained knowledge of internet art it’s time to put our money where our mouth is. After Exploding Digita the exhibiting of internet art quickly gained a substantial follow-up. So substantial that it required a national collaboration of artists. On this yearly event the avant-garde of Dutch art presented a holistic program of media-art, music, performance art you name it. On the dystopic industrial terrains of Amsterdam, silos were decorated with endless rows of screens and cars were destroyed by scary figures wearing balaclavas. No wonder the KunstRAI felt nothing for it when in 1997 the Sandberg Institute asked to bring an alternative arts program to their conference… To protest against this obvious form of gatekeeping the Sandberg Institute took matters into their own hands with an event that would eventually be called De Kunstvlaai (after the original name ‘Niet de Kunstvlaai’ was forbidden from use).

Kees: from the period of 95 onward, PLANETART and I had achieved a great visibility within the Dutch art scene. We were very active in Amsterdam and Enschede, and structurally within the whole Twente area. I would give guest lectures at the Rietveld Academy and join in many of the art projects organized in the squatted buildings of Amsterdam. It was the same in Twente, where Exploding Digita was only one of the many dozen events that we hosted in the Bathhouse of Hengelo or at other locations. Due to this all of this activity, PLANETART quickly appeared on the radar of Jos Houweling, the CEO of the Sandberg Institute. It was him who, starting in 1997, organized De Kunstvlaai in the Westergas Factory in Amsterdam. This was an amazing initiative to gather attention for art collectives that were not able to enter the prestigious and exclusive art institutions of the Netherlands. These included De Appel, Stichting Zet, and De Nieuwe Vide. Once every year in May, Kunstvlaai dedicated a whole week to them at the Westergas Factory, to show what they were made of. It was an absolutely essential impulse for the Dutch art avant-garde.

‘’The building of the Westergas Factory became a labyrinth of the dizzying artworks that were so characteristic of PLANETART and friends. Only this time it felt even more extreme because the influence of the internet was clearly making itself felt.’’

From the first time that we joined with PLANETART, Houweling put a lot of trust in us by giving us exclusive command over one the largest industry buildings on the terrain. Here, we would work together with artists like Arno Coenen, one of the first VJs, and Gallery Mama from Rotterdam, which was then a leading institute when it came to media art. Supported by the art collectives of the Twente region we would drive westwards in a huge column of trucks and trailers filled to the brim with artworks. Considering our media-driven practice we came with a clear approach in mind that set the tone for the spaces that we curated. It was focused on immersing and overwhelming the viewer, especially because we were on the forefront of veejaying and internet arts – two forms that focused chiefly on these forms of experience.

Poster for Kunstvlaai 2008

The primary goal was to draw the viewer into this weird world as much as we could, in such a way that even the boundaries between the individual artworks started to distort. We darkened the huge silos and would put together as many beamers as we could, placing the different installations between them in an organic mess. The building of the Westergas Factory became a labyrinth of the dizzying artworks that were so characteristic of PLANETART and friends. Only this time it felt even more extreme because the influence of the internet was clearly making itself felt. We fittingly introduced the coming of this new era at Kunstvlaai by creating a space for which meaning, left and right, then and now were no longer of any significance. It was all erased by our chaos of trash, tech, and noise.

‘’A broad smile appeared on his face as he spoke the words ‘’I like techno too’’, and the rest is history.’’

Even when we weren’t using digital tools, confusion was one of our primary goals, as well as the propagation of our firm anti-capitalist, anti-right politics. Problematizing the status quo has always been a thread that ran through mine as well as many of my collaborators’ artworks. A good example was the performance of Jonas Staal at the 2008 edition of the Kunstvlaai. During this performance, him and his colleagues dressed up in balaclavas and, armed with baseball bats, went ham on a car in the middle of the parking lot that was meant for visitors. Unexpecting bystanders thought it was a burglary or assault, but this was a performance to address the failing immigration policies of Europe.

During our participation in the 2000 edition of Kunstvlaai we were visited by the curator of the Busan Biennale in South-Korea. He had travelled through Europe and just came from the white gallery atmospheres of Venice when he was confronted with our chaos of techno beats and psychotic projections. A broad smile appeared on his face as he spoke the words ‘’I like techno too’’, and the rest is history. That same day we were invited by him to move the Kunstvlaai exhibition all the way to his gigantic museum in Busan.

Mechanical Dog of Freerk Wieringa at Kunstvlaai 2008

So that same year in November we – this was me, Arno Coenen, Julian van Aalderen, Sjors Trimbarg, Peter Luining, Max van Aalburg, Wilja Jurg and others – went to South-Korea to do it all again. We brought the same combination of computer art, internet art, performances, and installation; but also graffiti art, street art, and Neopop Dada (the style of ViaOral). Our three year participation in the Kunstvlaai had brought along with it some developments. This project was an especially interesting one because of the unique opportunity to bring our unpolished, raw DIY-culture into the prestigious world of the white gallery. Surely, this was not the first time that  we, being in some sense the outcasts, found ourselves in the midst of the mainstream, but it was a totally new experience to clad the white walls of the Busan Museum of Contemporary Art with graffiti. And so a week later its halls had been transformed into a raw PLANETART exhibition that shocked many of its visitors.

Performance of the Neverporn Community at Kunstvlaai 2010

After Busan, PLANETART remained a loyal participant of the Kunstvlaai for many years. It was a yearly event until 2012, and then continued as a biennale. When the rent of the Westergas Factory became too expensive the organization was forced to move into other locations, but I have always been proud of it being an alternative event in the middle of Amsterdam. Different industrial locations were tried. Because of this PLANETART was even given a gigantic gasholder in 2010 that hosted dozens of new artists. That was also the year that the Neverporn Community set up a huge performance on our location and we won the Kunstvlaai Award of 2010.

In our next article begins a new chapter for PLANETART and secretly also for Enschede. Despite of the start of the digital era, the physical space still matters for PLANETART. Here, internet developments mix other technologies and artists start experimenting with 3D and new forms of exhibiting art. Then, something really important happens: in 2002, Kees asks the municipality for the key of an empty building in Enschede and… gets it. This will be the first step to the yearly, leading festival on technological art: GOGBOT.