Frans van Lent,
Irina Danilova & Hiram Levy,
Jeanette Joy Harris,
Yvo van der Vat.
The title Unnoticed Art Festival raises questions for me and that’s good I think. Art is already too often marginalized and should be very present in my opinion. The second edition of the festival was marked in my agenda on 24, 25 and June 26, 2016. Until then artists had the possibility to send in their concept proposals and finally it was up to a group of volunteers to perform a selection.
Friday evening we gathered at the train station in Utrecht, the final destination was unknown for all of us. The exact meeting location; Burger King next to platform 14/15. The place where people rush to buy some junk food while they have just enough time to switch their trains. Thursday initiator Frans van Lent corrected our ‘image’ of this meeting place with an e-mail: “Burger King has been replaced by a Hema.” Nothing is fixed these days, the usual business at top locations.
The online dictionary tells me that the meaning of Unnoticed is “not perceived or observed”, but is it actually possible to be unnoticed? The artist Heinrich Obst decided to find out for himself with his contribution: do not meet me. there a work in which he took the concept of the festival literally and decided to disappear himself. While he was reported missing by the group of performers he noted later that his attempt to disappear had failed when he received the bill on his hideout. This example seems simple but to mention it here for me is essential.
I think out of context seems to me much better instead of unnoticed and this can be an important vehicle for social reflection. The feeling of being ‘unnoticed’ often appears after stepping out of a certain order and by doing so one becomes less noticed. I experienced as a participant that it felt sometimes as if to be part of a secret community (disconnected) and therefore the experience of the performance stayed more introvert between the group who knew and the performer itself. The festival is a beautiful initiative where people enjoy playing with each other and experience what it feels like to play together in an unfamiliar city. The white walls are missing here but still you do not feel a connected public space as if society lacks the ability for contact.
My love for this festival appears most of all in all these aspects in which it differs from the usual festivals. Maybe it is even better not to call this a festival. Because it is not operating in favor of local politicians and serving a city branding agenda and it is not part of the established art scene. It is as free as it can be in our repressive economic environment. This is both its strength but also its weakness. From this marginal unannounced position important opportunities arise and if I am sincere I do wonder whether all these opportunities were actually fully exploited.
Therefore, I would like to attempt to articulate the pitfalls of this alleged invisibility. It is in my view a missed opportunity when an artist places a representation of his image made of cardboard at the opening party. I also do find it inappropriate to serve crazy concepts with the knowledge that you yourself are not the one who has to actually perform it in the city. Invisibility is a dangerous and serious game because you never play alone. An appropriate responsibility is therefore necessary. It is tempting to imagine yourself autonomous but before you know it you import the introverted bubble of the white cube within the city.
We sometimes seem to forget that we are part of an invisible and complex power structure that has already observed us long ago. The rich palette of interconnections to which we are exposed as we move is far from neutral. It is a naive thought to place unnoticed art here in a central position. I think it is much more important to construct hybrid imaging applications that are able to fully seduce a certain spot to open itself.
The importance and the complexity to do so became clear with Denial-of-Service. We advised clients on the available deals in an Albert Heijn supermarket and asked people to join a collective action where we tried to empty a table with discounted pineapples. We intended to investigate the influence that customers can have on the shop offerings. Many people looked away or were in a hurry. We were unable to get enough attention to explain that this was a collective action with a shared goal and not about the individual question whether or not you yourself were a fan of pineapples. While we were supportive to the shop owners advising their clients on the best available deals both Jumbo and the AH liked to stop our intentions. Twice we got a lesson in economics. Together as performers we agreed that if we wanted to continue, our strategy had to be adjusted.
The passivity with which you as an individual without any problem may experience a sense of freedom in a city that is shaped by commerce will change once you actively decide to engage playfully and differently to this very same surrounding. You will quickly discover an image that stays too often unnoticed…
The Unnoticed Art Festival wants to thank all artists:
Alice Vogler, Andrew McNiven , Bucky Miller, Chris Wildrick , Connor Frew, Edwin Stolk , Elia Torrecilla, Florence Jung, Frans van Lent, Heath Schultz , Heinrich Obst, Ieke Trinks, Ienke kastelein, Irina Danilova & Hiram Levy, Isaac Chong, Jeanette Joy Harris , Jonathon Keats, Josh Schwebel, Joyce Overheul , Julia Dahee Hong, Lee Nutbean, Liam Herne, Marika & Leopard , Mark F Beasley, Mathias Will, Maureen Bachaus, Mikio Saito , naakita feldman-kiss & Roby provost Blanchard , Nanne Muskens, Nico Parlevliet , Paul Money , Paul Shortt, Peter Christenson, Raluca Croitoru , Roekoe M , Royce Allen Hobbs , Simon Farid , Tamar Banai , Thomas Geiger, Thomas Tajo , Vladimir Ivanov, Yvo van der Vat,
and all participants:
Petra Laaper, Tiiu Jansen, Sofie Hollander, Ienke Kastelein, Annemieke van Diepen, Monika Murawska, Heleen Langkamp, Caroline Kapp, Jos Deuss, Ton Kraayeveld, Andrew McNiven , Joyce Overheul, Geerten Ten Bosch, Michiel Tollig, Alexandra Baybutt, Jolanda Jansen, Archie McNiven , Alona van Rosmalen , Heekyung Ryu, Malou van Doormaal, Safanja Bendeler, Nico Parlevliet, Ieke Trinks, Iris van Wijk, Jello Reumer, Manon Verkooyen, Yvo van der Vat, Frans van Lent, Caz Egelie, Edwin Stolk, Heinrich Obst, Thomas Tajo, Gijs Velsink, Jelle Schroor , Marichel Boye, Lisanne van Brakel, Eliot Bo, Lisa Frey, Bert Verwijs, Peter Bogers , Jasper Budel , Tom Slegtenhorst , Arje Snelders, Thijs Vink .
and of course the inhabitants of the city of Nijmegen,
for creating a fantastic weekend and an unforgettable experience:
This interview was first published online in Dutch on 20 January 2015 on MetropolisM.com.
Translation: Willem Jan Gasille. An interview with Frans van Lent, who organized the most conspicuous inconspicuous festival of recent years. Set in Haarlem, it was hidden from all laws of modern art events. Why?
The Unnoticed Art Festival, which took place in Haarlem last year, was without any doubt the least visible art festival of that year. You are the spiritual father of that event. Can you tell us something about its background?
Frans van Lent:
Actually, I should first say something about my work. Until 2012, I recorded my performances on video, they were not seen live, there was no-one there to observe them. The works came about in seclusion. The viewer saw the work later on, as a projected moving image. They were not present at the work itself, they were present at the showing of the work. Another place, another time, another event. In my performances the physical experience is paramount and it is exactly that aspect that I wanted to share. In the end, video as a medium was not suitable for this purpose. I had to find another form.
In 2013, I carried out a performance in a train driving between Amsterdam and Berlin (In a Train). I asked five travellers to take part. The outline was no more than a series of inconspicuous movements according to a predetermined score.
When it was over, the participants were very enthusiastic, not so much about the design of the movements, but rather about the – secret – collaboration in public space. This work knew two different public groups. Firstly the travellers who were involved in the work by performing it, secondly the other passengers who were reading a book or were looking out of the window and were not aware of any performance being carried out. The fact that the second group were not involved, had an important role in the process. It isolated and defined the first group, the participants.
These thoughts gave rise to the idea of organizing something big, which would drive the contrast home: a festival that would not be directed externally, to an audience, but rather internally, directing itself at the experiences of the performing participants.
Where did you manage to get the participants from?
Frans van Lent:
Twice I placed an Open Call on a number of websites and internet forums. The first one was an international call for artists to submit their performance concepts and the second one was a national call for volunteers to actually perform the works.
What exactly was the question?
Frans van Lent:
It said that we were looking for ‘performance concepts for performances that hide themselves in everyday life. Work that because of the language used blends in with acceptable social behaviour in public space and therefore probably will go unnoticed by the passer-by’.
I added that the concept and its actual performance would be separated. The ideas would be put into action by a group of volunteers. For that reason I asked the artists to submit their ideas in the form of ready to use manuals as much as possible.
Many of the performers would be inexperienced volunteers and would need their tasks to be described as clearly and simply as possible. Actually, I realized that this would mean that a part of the authorship would be transferred, which would demand a blind trust in the integrity of the performers. We were positively surprised by the enthusiasm and willingness expressed in the responses to the calls. Seventy artists submitted their works for selection.
Was it difficult to find a location?
Frans van Lent:
The location had to meet a number of conditions (size, crowd, walking distances). In the end it was quite easy to find a suitable city. In all respects, Haarlem was the right choice.
Can you tell us about the event, how did it come about?
Frans van Lent:
We carefully kept the location of the festival secret to prevent people to come looking (and become an audience). Even the participants did not know where the event would take place until they arrived at the spot. Our group of 40 spent the night in tents at a camping site.
On Saturday at 11 o’clock the programme started with a loud scream in a park. All weekend, a mini-bus drove to and fro to bring everyone at the right moment to the sites and to collect them again. When they returned to the camping site, each performer noted down their personal experiences in a few lines, as a means of documentation. No visual recordings were made, as cameras on the spot would define the events too much.
On Saturday night four chefs prepared a meal for the entire group. Since everyone was present, contacts could be made and experiences exchanged. On Sunday morning, the first performance of that day took place as early as 8 o’clock. At 6 o’clock in the evening the festival ended, with yet another scream in a park.
All art wants to be visible, but this art wants the opposite. Why?
Frans van Lent:
This art is looking for visibility too, perhaps even more. However, the audience was not just an audience, but had a key role in the coming about of the work, they collaborated with the artist. Their translations of the performance concepts were an important part of the work.
The passer-by was no more than a mere passer-by. If the passer-by perceived the event, it would often have been a passive perception, seen from the exterior. Because of this lack of much attention from outsiders, the – often inexperienced – performers could focus on the essence of the work. Their experiences, both individually and as a group, were important. This invisibility, this being ‘unnoticed’, was in fact not the aim, but the means.
Did the participants think differently about this? Did they talk about it on the spot?
Frans van Lent:
Since each volunteer chose to take part in the festival, the concept Unnoticed was meaningful to everyone. They talked much among each themselves about the public effects of their performances. Even though in the street everything is visible for everyone, the performances did not attract much public attention as they were not presented in an artistic context. The current code is to ignore the acts of a person we don’t know, to grant them a certain privacy.
Everyone who uses public space has their own motives and aims for doing so. The participants dealt with this in different ways. Some sought concentration and internalization of the work, while others were primarily outgoing and focused on confrontations. The programme was deliberately designed as broad as possible, giving both ends of the scale their space.
When can you call an event like this successful?
Frans van Lent:
That mostly depends on the experiences the participants had when they carried out the performances. Being unnoticed is less important, but it contributes to the quality of the experiences.
This reminds me of flash mobs. But then again, these want it to be visible in social media. You don’t. Why was it important to stay out of the media?
Frans van Lent:
Flash mobs are organized with a direct public effect in mind. They are usually quite spectacular and over the top. They seem to be meant to surprise as many people as possible, and to convert public space into theatre. This is opposite the intention of the festival, in which the individual experience is the focal point. Performances that hide themselves in everyday life.
This sounds rather Calvinistic, a sort of denial of image, away from the spectacle. As if a certain purity would be touched once it gets in the media?
Frans van Lent:
There was no reserve towards the media whatsoever, except of course if publicity could obstruct the design of the festival. The performances had to take place without any public attention. Attention from the media would have turned the street performances into special events. We could do nothing else but keep the locations top secret. However, I did offer several journalists to take part as a volunteer, without their cameras of course. That might have yielded an exceptional story, but unfortunately no-one took it up.
From what I gather, for all those involved the festival was a very satisfying, enriching experience. Does it make you long for more? Will there be more? Are you working on anything else?
Frans van Lent:
This was an intense experience for everyone involved and will be remembered long afterwards. I don’t know yet if it will be organized in this form again. On 31 January 2015 the book Unnoticed Art will be published, which contains reflections about all the artists’ performance concepts as well as the reactions of the participants.
After the festival I set up a website, theconceptbank.org, where artists present their ideas ‘open source’. Visitors of the site can print the concepts for their own use and carry out the performances at a time and place of their choice. At this moment, 17 concepts (by 12 artists) are online and the collection is expanding. And other experiments with the ‘unnoticed’ form will continue. Soon I will be carrying out a work (The Parallel Show) simultaneously with four colleagues at five different gallery presentations. Parasitic performances, since they will not be announced and we are strictly speaking just visitors of the exhibitions.
In April 2016 TheConceptBank comprises 44 artists and 75 performance concepts (TheConceptBank.org). So far TheParallelShow took place at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, Naturalis Bio Diversity Center in Leiden (NL), Museum M in Leuven (B), Tate Britain in London (UK) and Art Rotterdam Art Fair (NL).
More will follow (TheParallelShow.com).