During the Museum Night The Hague Stroom Den Haag
inaugurated a solo exhibition by Hans van Houwelingen, one of the leading contemporary artists explicitly engaged in the field of art and public space. His thought-provoking designs and proposals reflect a novel, and markedly critical, view on the contemporary monument. Within walking distance of the center of Dutch political power, Van Houwelingen addresses the way we think about art, public space and the power structures that impact both.
A variety of assumptions and strategies that define the way we conceptualize or relate to monuments come under scrutiny in the work and texts of Hans van Houwelingen. The artist deconstructs the hypocrisy, fallacies and political control in todays culture of remembrance the inflation and hidden agendas of gestures of commemoration in public space.
His recent proposal for a 'National Monument to the Guest Worker' in Rotterdam zooms in on the political motives and implications of a monument paying tribute to the social role of immigrant workers after World War II. Van Houwelingen proposed to restore the Bijenkorf Construction by Naum Gabo, on the Coolsingel. The sculpture is in dire disrepair, and the experts to execute the restoration were to be recruited from among the descendants of first-generation guest workers. The restoration was to equal political possession, as the Bijenkorf Construction, in pristine form, would have been officially declared a National Monument to the Guest Worker, achieving a monumental status dislocated from one historical narrative of war and reconstruction, into another narrative beginning with expatriation, post-war cultural and social mutations, and leading all the way to globalization and the current dilemmas of multiculturalism.
The exhibition Until it stops resembling itself forms a diptych with a book on Van Houwelingens recent projects, titled 'Undone'. In addition to the 'Gastarbeidermonument', both exhibition and publication focus on the work 'Sluipweg', realized at Kunstfort bij Vijfhuizen, and the 'Thorbeckemonument', proposed by the artist for The Hague. Among the shared concerns of these three projects, one noteworthy trait is an economy of the monumental genre, whereby the artist insists that new monuments need not be built, but that existing statues and markers can be looked at again, de-familiarized, engaged together with the histories they represent or silence, rearranged in a new urban syntax and a new critical configuration: as in a shifting, puzzle-like image of ourselves.
The exhibition takes into account the impossibility of excising such works from the contexts for which they were designed, of fully 'representing them - and publicness - in an art institution. Instead of direct representation, the exhibition proposes a reflection on temporal or social distance, on the passage of time and the ownership of symbols, reverting the gaze that monuments cast upon us. It will consist of a number of video projections, making tangible the spatial embedding, social effect and dynamic surroundings of the monuments, as well as of discursive events spread out over the duration of the show.
The publication complements the scarcity of visual information with a multiplicity of critical perspectives on the three projects. It aims to inscribe Van Houwelingens work in an international debate about memory and communality, with the generous help of eminent authors such as Julia Bryan-Wilson, Mark Jarzombek, Brian Dillon, John Heijmans, Jonathan Lahey Dronsfield, Gerald Raunig, David Riff, Jonas Staal and Marina Vishmidt.
The exhibition is curated by Mihnea Mircan, artistic director of Extra City - Kunsthal Antwerp. In 2008 he curated 'Since we last spoke about monuments' at Stroom Den Haag.
The exhibition by Hans van Houwelingen is a continuation of Strooms 'nu monument' program (2007-2010), about the (im)possibility of a contemporary monument.
Exhibition and publication are realized in collaboration with Extra City - Kunsthal Antwerpen. Extra City will also host an exhibition by Hans van Houwelingen together with Jonas Staal, from 18/11/2011 to 8/1/2012.