DROP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND RUN TO SEE SWEET HARMONY AT HET HEM

IN CONVERSATION WITH KIM TUIN

Numéro had the chance to visit the underground exhibit ‘Sweet Harmony’, which is running for its last weeks. This is the first story in a series of two where we discover the exhibition through exclusive interviews. We start off with an introduction to the exhibition by Kim Tuin, the director of Het HEM. Kim’s personal journey in the nightlife of Amsterdam gives her a unique perspective on rave culture and clubbing. In Sweet Harmony, curators Maia Kenney, Rieke Vos, and Kim create the perfect harmony of freedom, art, and music

What made you want to get into the art world, and how did you eventually end up at Het HEM? 
My first real step into the art world started when I was a general director at Trouw, which was a temporary cultural hub. I noticed that the young people who attended our club received little exposure to visual art. They might have gone to the Stedelijk Museum before, but probably with their parents or maybe on a school trip – not on their own initiative. They would rather dance at Trouw than go and seek out art. So I reached out to Stedelijk Museum, who collaborated with us on a space for art at Trouw. That was fun.

After that, I was asked to be the director of the management foundation at the NDSM wharf. Of course, this was a complete 180º turn from working at a cultural foundation, as I had to juggle interests of project developers, municipalities, and town districts. It became a political playing-field, and I am not much of a political player. When I left NDSM, I got a call from Amerborgh, the investment company that bought the Het HEM building: They were looking for someone who wanted to create art programs in special places. When I saw the building, I couldn’t believe it! It is very rare to find such a property so close to the city. It has a unique character which had me instantly thinking: Yes, please! 

I got a research budget and the task to see just what I could do with this building, and it all came together. It’s all connected: My musical background, what I did at Trouw, what I did at NDSM; this is the culmination of those experiences. When I was still at Trouw, I noticed that there was a disconnect between nightlife and museums. At Trouw, the art installation we created in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum was a big success. People enjoyed the musical setting combined with a video installation. They were watching works they had never seen before with unwavering focus. We brought the museum into a space in which especially young people feel comfortable, lowering the threshold for the younger generation to go out and really connect with art. 

Do you think the step for young people is so big because they think they would have to know a lot about art to enter a museum, and that they maybe find it too rigid?
Exactly, this is what my research is all about. I’ve visited a lot of international museums, and everywhere it’s the same. You enter, you get a booklet, and you’ll hear where the exits are located; the entire route is predetermined. Every work is accompanied by a long description, telling people exactly what it is they should see, how the artist thought about it, and what the museum thinks it’s about. I believe what matters most is how you feel about the artwork you are looking at, without considering other people’s opinions. 

Your relationship with the art in front of you is what’s important, not the opinions of others. Art is a vital tool for understanding others better; it lets you feel with your heart instead of your head. That’s something you must learn to understand: The more you look at it, the more you experience it. It can shift your perception and bring you comfort in regard to life itself. That requires seeing it and feeling comfortable seeing it.

So, you shouldn’t be afraid to not ‘get it’?
Exactly, that’s something I wanted to try to eliminate with Het HEM.

Why did you bring “Sweet Harmony” to Het HEM? 
Saatchi Gallery asked us to make the third edition of Sweet Harmony. The previous editions took place in London and Manchester. I told them: “I’ll do it, but in our own way”. With all the knowledge the team and I have, and how close the nightlife culture is to me, I was convinced we could succeed. Where Saatchi had big white halls, I immediately thought of the shooting range in the basement of our building. It’s perfect: underground, dark, dingy… It’s sort of like a party of recognition when going down there. 

I personally really enjoyed the project, and I had a fantastic time working with the curatorial team and the artists. For example, Meeus van Dis made an iconic lighting feature that used to hang above the dance floor of Trouw. Old photographs from ADE show people on the dance floor partying under Meeus’ lighting installation, and everyone always recognized it: “Oh that’s at Trouw”. It was an important point of recognition. Meeus actually went and found the components of the installation and turned it into a site-specific symphony of light especially for this exhibition. When I’m in the exhibition space, this artwork makes me feel as if I’m back home.

How did you decide which artists to invite?
It was a challenge because an exhibition is not a rave. The question then becomes, how do we duplicate that same feeling in a different setting? I wanted to avoid it being too linear or following a certain timeline. It really had to be about the feeling. About the sensory experience. You have to hear a beat somewhere in the distance and think, “That’s where I need to go to.” I think we’ve pulled that off with Maia, Rieke and the Het HEM team.

Did the timing of the exhibition give it extra meaning? Reflection on 40 years of rave culture after a period of stagnation?
Well maybe actually yes. I remember back in 2020, I was growing more and more concerned about young people who essentially stood still for two years – that’s a very long time. Clubbing was my social education, that’s how I met my friends; it was an important period of my life. Missing out on that is a big deal. People around me were getting depressed. 

That’s when we did a dance experiment in Het HEM, right in the middle of another Covid peak: Dance of Urgency. Together with curator and artist Bogomir Doringer, we explored the strong impulses related to collective dancing. Our goal was to find new choreographies of intimacy and togetherness in times of the pandemic. You were only allowed to dance within the circles created on the floor. Meaning, everyone had their own place, by themselves alone, erasing the social aspect of going out. 

You were only dancing, and the connection with the DJ felt way stronger because of this. However, you were also very aware of everyone else in the room; you made eye contact and could feel each other’s energies. Everyone was quite emotional and didn’t want to leave their circle. It was so nice to be able to dance again. That’s when I realized: “This is needed”. 

I think that feeling has died down a little. Now I feel the urge to create something warm and soft. Living in a time where we are confronted with big questions, people are feeling unloved. It is nice to retreat and feel like a warm blanket is being wrapped around you. Many exhibitions are back to addressing heavy and major problems, such as climate change and war. I am not saying those things aren’t important; however, I do think it is good to sometimes feel like you can escape from all of that for a little while. That’s what makes rave – and “Sweet Harmony” so interesting; you enter the shooting range and immerse yourself in something entirely different. No cell phones, just your senses.

Don’t many people think of raving as something gritty and heavy instead of something warm?  
Yes, although I don’t think those people are real ravers. Funnily enough, the Dance of Urgency project showed us that when you are stripped of everything, there’s still an incredible intimacy between the people on the dance floor. You think you’re dancing alone but you’re not. It is a pretty bizarre idea when you think about it. Many people think they’re dancing alone, but you dance in a group. 

Many of the artworks in Sweet Harmony evoke this dichotomy between aloneness and togetherness. For example, Sarah Schönfeld employs drugs and synthetic hormones as an artistic medium to demonstrate the collective action of coming together to dance. One of the most intriguing works we have in the show is her work Hero’s Journey II, which is essentially a glass aquarium filled with 600L of backlit, drug-infused piss. She invited ravers to contribute to her work, showing that individuality becomes something less urgent when people can share an ecstatic experience. It’s a joyous idea – not dark or heavy.

When you’re at a rave you actually make more contact with others?
Yes, you open yourself up and become part of a collective. To do that, in my opinion, is crucial. I want to highlight that this exhibition is very much about the artists who use or have used rave culture as a breeding ground for creativity. In 1994, Rineke Dijkstra created The Buzz Club with Gerald van der Kaap, isolating and filming young dancers in Zaandam, Amsterdam and Liverpool clubs. She continued on with her art; nevertheless that free space to explore new things is exactly what makes nightlife culture so special. Gerald has made a new version of The Buzz Club together with Aukje Dekker. They are calling it Buzzclub Sexyland 2022 (Screentest #9), and in it they ask: what is happening on the dancefloors of 2022? What do the new generations look like and how do they act? There are a large number of important artists who got their start in nightlife culture. 

Peter Giele was an artist and founder of the legendary Amsterdam club RoXY, which was open from 1987 until it burned down in 1999. He said: “You shouldn’t think about whether you can paint, or sculpt, or whether there is a gallery which wants to showcase your work. It’s about the energy, that you do what you do”, and to me, that’s what nightlife is all about. You have to feel that freedom to produce creative work and truly feel what it is you want to make. Freedom without borders. 

Juha van ‘t Zelfde’s 2020 film ‘RoXY’, which we show in “Sweet Harmony”, was a true revelation to me. In it, Juha makes the connection between Amsterdam’s socialist, anarchist and free-thinking artist movements like CoBrA, Provo*, Fluxus and even punk, showing how all of this radical imagination led to the founding of the RoXY. That type of borderless thinking – I grew up with that. I don’t know any better. 

Seeing the film made me realize all of a sudden that I had a family who also liked to color outside the lines. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this process; it stemmed from that time. People might wonder why this should be exhibited in an art space, but it is important that lovers of ‘high’ art see this ‘underground’ movement as well. That type of borderless freedom was taught to me at these places. 

*(The Provo movement was an anarchist protest movement founded on May 25 1965 and was abolished two years later) 

What’s the difference between the rave culture 40 years ago compared to now?
So much has changed. Buzzclub Sexyland is a good example of this: Gerald and Aukje’s version is very different from the clubs of Amsterdam in the 1990’s once was. What we see now is this self-awareness in young people at the club – it’s a major difference. Now, you have the internet, selfies, Instagram, or whatever type of social media. There is more prudishness. In the exhibit, you’ll see flyers and magazines you’d get from the RoXY if you were a member, portraying real bodies and real intimacy. Real breasts instead of the aesthetically and pornographically photoshopped breasts people expect now. 

RoXY was one of the few Dutch nightclubs that played acid house, which was a new music trend in the late 1980’s. RoXY was very exclusive; either you got in or you didn’t. The bouncers tried to determine if you would fit into the crowd, or if you were just nosy. I think that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to create at Het HEM. This needs to be a place everyone can enter, preferably all kinds of people mixed together. I guess that is my fight, or how I want to contribute, to show that curating isn’t just curating. It is always in collaboration with guests and others, so not only our voice is heard, but everyone’s voice is. 

Here at Het HEM, we try to mix programs with each other, to attract different kinds of audiences and let them all mix together. Het HEM is a big building, so that’s possible. That, to me, is the ultimate success. 

What’s a message you would like to give to the visitors of the exhibit?
It is about freedom, feeling that warmth. We want to inspire you to move through the show freely, get lost in the industrial architecture. Enjoy the sounds echoing and resonating in the tunnel, visit works that caught your eye, your nose or your ears again for a second look. If you want to know more, Maia and Rieke have written a digital exhibition booklet that can help you understand the artworks more deeply. But remember to trust your instincts, let your own ideas of what rave is guide you.
  
– It’s your last chance to visit the exhibition ‘Sweet Harmony’ at Het HEM before they close their doors on the 30th of October. You can buy the tickets online here

Juha van ’t Zelfde & Karl Klomp – RoXY (2020) Video, Commissioned by Het Nieuwe Instituut
R.A.R.O.X.Y-room II, Erwin Olaf – Body parts (1992/2022), Curated by Joost van Bellen and Inez Giele-de Jong,
Spyros Rennt – photographic prints on forex
Sarah Schonfeld – Hero’s Journey II (Vitrine) (2014 —2017)

Header image on the left side of the page; Meeus van Dis – Bemerkungen über die Farben (2008) & Thomas van Linge – Fountain (ANGST) (FEAR) (LIES) 2019

all photo’s CASSANDER EEFTINCK

words AICHA PILMEYER, thanks to KIM TUIN & MAIA KENNEY

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