Platform Beeldende Kunst Call-out Culture / Cancel Culture – Platform BK






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Call-out Culture / Cancel Culture

The trials and tribulations of the BredaPhoto 2020 scandal. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, but was anything learned in the process?

23/02/2021




Diana Gheorghiu, 'Demonstration'.

 

This text is a deep dive into the scandal that accompanied the work of Erik Kessels, which was set up in the Pier15 skatepark during BredaPhoto 2020 and contested by the collective We Are Not a Playground. I will attempt to map the main actors in the scandal, as well as the media, social and otherwise, which have framed the discussion, with one simple aim: to use this as a learning moment for our field.

By bringing all these actors in earnest around the same virtual table and revealing the way they are enmeshed, my hope is to allow them to process the incident, to accept the failure in communication, and move to a new understanding of what has happened and what can be done in the future to prevent this. For, if we are to take into account that we are a community, and this BredaPhoto incident has shown that we are – we move in similar institutions, we know similar people, we work with and around one another at any given moment in time – then we must be able to sit down together and talk things through, and criticism should be acknowledged and treasured as dedicated labor with the aim of bettering the field, not just as a minor inconvenience that needs to be ignored, or trivialized as an instance of moral panic.

 

The Case

With the opening of BredaPhoto 2020, one work of Dutch artist and advertiser Erik Kessels was promoted as the centerpiece of the festival. Kessels has an interest in found photography and often plays with the way in which images circulate. He made his name in advertising since the mid-1990s and rose to prominence within the art photography world throughout the 2000s and 2010s. The work displayed at BredaPhoto 2020 showed 60 composite reshuffled portraits of people that presented as women who underwent facial plastic surgery to an extreme degree. The work, titled Destroy My Face, was installed in the Skatepark Pier15 in Breda and the local skating community alongside visitors were encouraged to skate over the images to leave their marks. It was then heavily promoted on the social media channels of BredaPhoto, the skate park, and on Erik Kessels’s own channel.

From there the work came to the attention of We Are Not a Playground (WANAP), a self-proclaimed ‘activist research group, collecting and reflecting on institutional critique in the (Dutch) arts/culture/design field’. WANAP wrote an open letter to BredaPhoto, in which they argued that the work was unfriendly to women, objectified women, and promoted violence towards women. The letter gathered over 3.000 signatures in a couple of days. It spread widely, gathered traction, started a commotion, lead to eventual discussions within the skating community, alongside the art community, and in the end to the threat of withdrawal of sponsors. WANAP was represented by Rachel Morón and Mechteld Jungerius, two young graduates of Dutch art schools, fresh out of education in 2020, and with a social media presence focused mainly on Instagram.

The criticism towards Kessels, BredaPhoto, and Pier15 was also heard within the skaters’ community, coming from Women Skate the World. ‘Inspired by the positive effects of skateboarding on women worldwide, both at home and during travels as skateboard coaches in Palestine, Greece, and Iraqi Kurdistan, ‘Women Skate the World’ was born in 2018.’ The aim of the initiative is to use skateboarding as a means to empower and a tool for inclusivity. The initiative was established by Amber Edmondson and Nanja van Rijsse, and currently has 6 members.

WANAP’s letter demanded that Destroy My Face be taken down and an explanation be given for how the work ended up being displayed in the first place. Instead of engaging with the content of the open letter, the festival organizers decided to invite the initiators to an ‘artist talk’ with Kessels. WANAP refused, indicating they would prefer a less public instance of discussing the situation. The festival organizers refused to take the work down or have a private discussion. The work was ultimately removed because of the pressure from sponsors.

 

On December 3rd, 2020, nearly three months since the whole debacle, Medialogica on Dutch TV station NPO2 ran a long documentary on the work Destroy My Face and the phenomenon of ‘cancel culture’. I will use the documentary as a frame through which to look at the dynamics of the case, since it accurately maps the scandal, including its power imbalances. What follows is a play-by-play in which the overall struggle is revealed. In case you have not yet watched the documentary, you might want to watch it here before continuing to read.

I’m in the business of visual framing, and so are the main actors in this scandal, so it comes as an amusing twist to watch, in the first 5 minutes of the documentary: a full and immersive documentation of Destroy My Face, shot by following skaters over the skate track with the work still on it while ‘The Girls Wanna Be Her’ by Peaches blares as an audio overlay. The images segue into a rendition of ‘Yeah!’ by Usher ft. Lil Jon and Ludacris. This in and of itself happens to be relevant given that Usher has been known to dabble in the arts (and also feminism).

While watching, one can’t help but think about the production process. Did the team of BredaPhoto commission NPO2 to document the piece in its full immersive state knowing full well they would have to take it down at a later date? Or does the documentation belong to the artist himself? And doesn’t a full immersive shot of the work tied up with energetic music already set the tone for the entire documentary when placed at the beginning?

Nevertheless, the feature then moves on to the artist describing the work, naming the conceptual framework that it operates in, and it goes a little something like this:

 

Destroy My Face as Described by Erik Kessels

The work didn’t exist. The artist started from a space. He was shown several, among which an indoor skate park. He found the place ‘exciting’ so decided to go ahead with it. Then he had to think of an idea that could fit into that skate park. So he went with working with ‘fictive’ images of faces of women that had undergone cosmetic surgery. Mind you, in the artist’s definition, there are no men listed. This is important to note because at a later date, after facing criticism via the open letter, the description of the work was adjusted to say: ‘(it) consists of 60 portraits composed of 800 portraits of men and women found on the internet who have all undergone some form of cosmetic surgery or used filters.’ These ‘fictive’ images would then be glued to the floor and in the coming six weeks – the BredaPhoto festival runtime – skaters would trigger a process of ‘natural decay’. As far as the conceptual reasoning behind the work goes: the artist stated the work has to do with ‘self-acceptance’. With being happy with who we are on the inside and the image we are projecting on the outside. This is what the artist – Erik Kessels – presented as his proposal to the board of BredaPhoto. The timespan between being invited and making the work was of one year.

What BredaPhoto did with the initial concept is what every art institution tends to do, it curated it further into a concept that is more than the sum of its parts. It added the idea of ‘Instaperfect’ to it. ‘Instaperfect’ standing for a way of curating one’s image to look good in online representations.

And the idea that the attempt to look perfect in images that are distributed online can lead to the need for plastic surgery which can lead to deformity, transforming the person into a ‘monster’ (Kessels’s word, not mine).

The documentary cuts to a representative of the skaters, a young man, who was excited to take part in the work and is also the one that is shown riding on the work in the beginning. The sheer scale of the work was what was impressive for him.

Cut to the director of Breda Photo – Fleur van Muiswinkel – regarding the reactions that she received from people at the opening of the festival, and from people online, about the entire show. At the time one work, in particular, was attracting negative attention – the work of Erik Kessels. There’s an emphasis in Fleur’s description of how people mostly saw the work online and re-shared it, and ended up interpreting it very differently than the intention of the artist.

To put things into perspective Fleur van Muiswinkel is a curator that was trained at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and went on to study at Goldsmiths in London, where, one can assume, the by now classical and also contested and overcome the concept of the ‘death of the author’ surely must have been brought up at least once. This is a concept that does away with the artist’s interpretation of the work and allows the audience to take center stage, offering a panoply of interpretations, based on their backgrounds.

Given the understanding that Fleur has about the dynamics of art, people can disagree with what is being shown, not everyone has to come to a mutual agreement, so when negative comments first came up, she wasn’t particularly worried.

The initial reactions that the skaters had online were, on the contrary, positive ones. But the presentation the skaters made of the work in the online sphere failed to advertise the content of the work, only counting on the spectacular nature of having large-scale prints on a skate park. What is also visible in the viral videos that the skaters posted when the work opened for the public is the sheer absence of women skaters.

Cut to Women Skate The World-representative Nanja van Rijsse trying to explain just what is wrong with having images of women’s faces plastered all over a skate park – an already women unfriendly space – and skated over by only young men. It begs the question: does this even need to be explained? But here we go!

Kessels tries to argue that he wanted to ‘work together’ with skaters to bring about decay in a natural way because this is what skaters are known for – taking over a space and gradually leaving their traces.

Nanja argues that this is what the skate world used to be in its infancy. The concept of ‘skate and destroy’ is brought up, and also making fun of women and making them feel unwelcomed in the skate world.

Enter Rachel Morón and Mechteld Jungerius, the initiators of WANAP and of the open letter which gathered over 3.000 signatures and led to the removal of the work Destroy My Face. They are asked if they have experienced the work in real. This has not been the case. But they do rightly argue that they were confronted with the visual teasers of the work posted by the artist, the festival reps, and taken over by newspapers when the work was reported about.

 

So Let’s Talk Content of the Work, and Let’s Talk Access to the Work

To begin with, this begs the question: isn’t there a break between what the artist thinks he’s saying and what the work ended up communicating when it was documented and shared? One can start from a clear intention – even if we can argue that the operational concept Kessels started from was outdated – but one cannot dictate the reading of a work if that reading is no longer of this time.

Furthermore, experiencing the work in person requires access to the work. It requires a festival ticket, a couple of train tickets to and from (as Nanja pointed out), depending on where one is located, maybe even plane tickets if we’re to go as far as that. Has anyone informed BredaPhoto, that at the time of display we were living in a pandemic? It might also require a corona test and 2 weeks of quarantine if one comes from far away enough.

I’m not sure Kessels or van Muiswinkel are familiar with the concept of gaslighting, but what they were doing by saying one can only experience the work in person if they want to have an opinion on it – which seems to be the operating concept in this documentary -, an opinion which should fall in line with one of the organizers, is a pure form of making one question one’s sanity.

There’s a work, there’s its visual representation, there’s its curatorial text, there’s the explanation from the artist, there are the multiple audience readings. Yet somehow only positive and well-intentioned readings are allowed.

The representation, text, and open letter against the work were spread on an international level through both the art world and the skate world, yet no other readings are considered valid, even though readings coming from outside of BredaPhoto are much more nuanced regarding why someone would undergo plastic surgery and regarding the masculine and misogynistic tradition of skate parks. It’s like WANAP wrote their thesis on the work of Erik Kessels, and then the video cuts to Kessels stating that this is not what he intended and being almost offended that he is asked to give more nuance to his thinking. At a certain point in time during the documentary, Kessels states he’s not a politician. He’s allowed (one would deduce, as an artist) to freely play with concepts. But he has no intention to submit to talks of ethics, since – ‘art is free’?

 

Let’s Talk ‘Calling Out’

What is interesting in this dynamic is the fact that at this stage Erik Kessels is not ‘canceled’. The intention of WANAP when they made public their open letter, was not to go against the artist or the work itself but to address the organization of BredaPhoto which facilitated the work.

The open letter outlined 3 separate demands:

  • Remove the work and make a statement.
  • Be transparent with the community about each step taken with this work and what you will do to prevent this from happening again.
  • Take responsibility for the institution’s faults and fight for structural change. A climate needs to be created where criticism is not met with a default, defensive response but with reflexivity, accountability, and self-work.

Transition to Fleur van Muiswinkel stating that WANAP made demands about a work that they didn’t see with their own eyes, without first calling the artist, without calling BredaPhoto, which lead to her being scared. Immediate reaction: ‘Why is this happening to us and why like this?’

Further response: if you have a problem with something we programmed come talk to us. In a public ‘Artist talk’. This will be an event that we, as BredaPhoto are programming ignoring the fact that the open letter did not address Erik Kessels as an artist, but the organization of BredaPhoto, thereby not warranting an ‘Artist talk’.

 

Brief Mid-Way Conclusions

The concepts that Erik Kessels started from are outdated. The idea of ‘skate and destroy’ and the idea that women have massive plastic surgery as the norm, when things like botox, much more conspicuous, tend to take precedence. Or the motivation as to why women would undergo plastic surgery… On an additional level, both Kessels and the team of BredaPhoto seem to not understand the democratic mechanisms of social media and its impact on shaping public discourse. And the change between 10 years ago, when Kessels ascended as a superstar in the photo art world by producing work in which aesthetics topped ethics is also striking. If one is to look back at the work ’24hrs in photos’ from 2011, in which Kessels printed out 350.000 images off of Flickr – remember Flickr?! – without any particular care for their content, but with a sheer focus on their physical mass once printed, one would notice that we are ages away in terms of the discourse surrounding imagery.

 

Now, Back to the Documentary

The moment the open letter is brought into the discussion, there’s a clash and the assumptions of both sides are brought into sharp relief. WANAP operates on assuming an institution like BredaPhoto would like to perform institutional change if it is pointed out to them that they have an issue. This labor of love done through criticism, through taking the time to draft a petition, to engage and update a petition’s signatories list, this is manual labor and emotional labor that is necessary but never called for. But on the other hand, the institution of Breda Photo has operated for a long time without taking into account public criticism, most likely because there was no way for criticism to be so strongly embodied as it’s possible in 2020. In all this, an institution that never asked for critique, and never sought it, is not one that would enjoy sitting down and sifting through it.

As a result of the online movement of criticizing the work, Kessels, an active social media user, though one can wonder if he manages his account or if it’s a business account under his name, began being a target of online bullying. Hundreds of comments were posted on his Instagram framing him as a misogynist. Some were pointed, others, simply based on the violence and misogyny of this particular work, were pure aggression. There’s criticism about the bullying, but while processing the criticism van Muiswinkel doesn’t realize that it’s this very aggression that is directed at women daily. It’s stunning to acknowledge since she is a woman herself. She can see the bullying of a friend and colleague, but cannot understand the same pure violence that frames the daily lives of other women and to which Destroy My Face is complicit. There’s a brief mention of irony in there. What is this, the ‘90s?! I digress.

Overwhelmed by the online onslaught, Kessels took a few naps, watched some nature documentaries to relax. Fleur ended up with ringing phones morning ’till night. Nanja ended up re-sharing. WANAP refreshed their feeds. Look, nobody wanted to end up like this because the whole point is that this is not work easily undertaken. This is work that is done because it’s freaking necessary, and it was finally done in the year of our Lord 2020 because something had snapped. From social movements to online movements, something shifted in the field of arts. And that something is musically illustrated in the documentary by ‘Bad Girls’ by M.I.A. Well, could be worse, I guess…

There are soft consequences. Kessels lost his position on the jury of Format, yet another photo festival, this time from the UK.

Meanwhile, according to a report by the Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History:

Violence against women is a common phenomenon in the Netherlands. Almost half (45%) of the Dutch women interviewed for the FRA survey have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence (since the age of 15). The average figure in the 28 EU countries is 33%. These figures encompass violent incidents in all categories of severity: both one-off incidents and repeated or systematic violence, violence by known and unknown perpetrators, and violence both in the home and elsewhere.

A status quo that promotes work that incites violence against women can perpetuate an attitude that leads to the normalization of violence.

WANAP’s two members also received their fair share of criticism, which went as far as to liken them to Hitler. An argument that has a rich history online and can be called Reductio ad Hitlerum.

So, to round this bit up, not every form of criticism is censorship, not every form of censorship is equal to the Third Reich.

Nanja correctly points out that censorship has a history of being a top-down political endeavor, not a bottom-up instance of people with less power collectively disagreeing. But then what to do with placing a misogynistic work of art in a public space that should be in theory welcoming to all? The welcoming bit is at the very least something we should aspire to. And what to do with knowing an open letter is started by a group of young women? Should one take those seriously? No, wait, Fleur doesn’t have to take them seriously because while scanning the list of signatories of the petition she spots one of her own BredaPhoto curators, a man, and then she realizes… oh, wait, this is serious. (Facepalm). Though this does go to show that while women feminists are fantastic, it’s only once you win the other side of the fence that one can take the debate seriously. No, I’m joking, this is ridiculous.

There is no absolute freedom. There is no such thing for mere mortals and there is no such thing for artists. Though online and offline debates circling this last work by Kessels seem to advocate for it. There is no such thing as being unaccountable for your acts. To assume otherwise gives the wrong idea. The question is therefore NOT: are there borders to self-expression? The question is: WHAT are the borders to self-expression? If you’re a middle-aged white middle-class man, your borders to self-expression are instantly and universally wider than if you’re a woman or a minority. But that tide might be turning. In the grand scheme of things, the most disappointing bit is the fact that what took the work down and forced a reckoning might have started from the art field but needed to end up with the commercial field. What took the work down was an intervention from the sponsors. Thanks, capitalism!

Final conclusion: nobody is happy.

 

How to Move Forward? 3 Lessons

Let’s dig into a few strategies that might help. They are not fail-proof, but they can serve as a solid base for growth.

 

1. Know your time

BredaPhoto is a photography festival in, you guessed it, the city of Breda, the Netherlands. It is said to be the biggest festival of its kind in Benelux, including ‘over 50 exhibiting photographers in 15 locations’. BredaPhoto 2020, which took place from the 9th to the 25th of September, presented the works of:

39 men – MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

16 women – FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

3 non-binary artists – Nb Nb Nb

The director of BredaPhoto 2020 was Fleur van Muiswinkel. The curatorial team was made up of: Jan Schaerlackens (art-director), Reinout van den Bergh (curator), and Mohamed Somji and Azu Nwagbogu (associated curators). FMMMM.

Kessels is M.

WANAP are FF.

Women skate the World are FFFFFM.

This information is relevant for two reasons. First off, it matters what the gender balance in an institution is. It matters because it is then reflected in the content displayed since we are not yet there with abolishing gender norms. Second, we’re dealing here with a scandal that revolves around misogyny. Living in 2021 means this kind of issue cannot simply be ignored.

And while I don’t think that an artist should fit perfectly within their time and their context, it’s worthy of note that when it comes to making work that is presented publicly, if not the artist, then the curator of a show should be able to coherently frame the work, be that matching the times, or going against the grain, or previewing the future. As far as the mood of 2020 goes, this can be seen as the year in which political engagement has been at an all-time high within the art world and in the world at large. And the curatorial team of BredaPhoto would seem to agree if one is to read the curatorial statement of the festival. There is however a violent mismatch (pun intended) between content and stated intent.

 

2. Work on understanding the dynamics of social media

This is a two-sided point:
One: learn the vocabulary that is born online;
Two: learn how to engage with that vocabulary.

In order to understand the dynamics of contemporary public debates on social media in 2020, it’s crucial to distinguish between ‘cancel culture’ and ‘call-out culture’.

‘Cancel culture’ is part of a slew of composite words that have shaped discourse, online and off, in 2020. It does not, though, originate in 2020, but goes a bit further back, to the rise of the #metoo movement – circa 2017. To ‘cancel’ can mean to stop giving support to a person and to be critical of their actions. The term can specifically be traced back to Black Twitter – ‘a meta-network of culturally linked communities online’.

Cancelling can go further into ‘boycotting’ – refusing to buy someone’s books, see someone’s movies, engage with someone’s art, and so on. It can also take the form of addressing an institution that displays the work of someone whose actions one is critical of, which is a form of ‘de-platforming’.

The initiative to ‘cancel’ someone or something tends to be bottom-up and is born out of a need to demand accountability and hold public figures and institutions to a higher moral standard. The concept of ‘canceling’ is especially interesting to observe in the art world, where there’s a great deal of talking about progressive values in recent years (equality, anti-racism, trans-inclusivity, egalitarianism, pacifism, and so on), but also a clash between those progressive values and the concept of ‘absolute freedom and autonomy of the artist’. In the narrative of ‘absolute freedom and autonomy of the artist’ he/she/they seem to be held above any sort of criticism, implying that the title of artist offers them the possibility to play with any and every concept under the sun, with little to no need to justify their approach, being at once in the world, and outside of any system of moral reference.

The political right tends to feel more ‘canceled’ by the left than the other way around, and this might be because the political left tends to hold progressive values, but the left also self-cancels since there are factions of it that can one-up others in terms of moral discourse. At the same time, there is the notion that somehow artists reside outside of politics since ‘absolute freedom and autonomy’ are perceived as apolitical.

But ‘canceling’ actually stems from ‘call-out culture’, which doesn’t imply direct de-platforming demands or attempts, but rather highlights boundary-crossing behavior. ‘Call-out culture’ can be thought of as a tool of intersectional fourth-wave feminism (relying very much on the online to be carried out, but can be said to have originated on city walls and in bathroom stalls – think writing down ‘X is a rapist’ to warn others). ‘Call-out culture’ is aimed at criticizing in public certain people or institutions. It’s a warning sign, an alarm bell, a tool to protect others. And it also functions as a tool to fight against racism.

One can wonder whether the curatorial team of BredaPhoto was aware of the discourse surrounding the concepts of ‘cancel culture / call-out culture’ when the terms ended up becoming part of their everyday reality. And one doesn’t need to look much further than the fact that, even if they might not have known what the concepts meant, they decided to frame themselves as victims of these terms nonetheless.

The artist talk/debate that the festival tried to organize with WANAP eventually did take place, two months after the open letter was published, but differently from how it was first envisioned. The title of the debate?[1] ‘Cancel culture: justified criticism of the established order or the creation of a new taboo?’

It was held in Chassée Theater in Breda, in limited spectator settings, and it was marketed at 17,50 Euros a ticket. The debate was also live-streamed. The event was divided into two parts, the first of which framed the topic of ‘cancel culture’ and included Linda Duits, Koen Kleijn, and myself, Alina Lupu. The second part was about the festival and what had happened and included Erik Kessels, Fleur van Muiswinkel, Tundé Adefioye, Nanja van Rijsse.

For the event’s décor, repackaged fragments of the work of Erik Kessels (strips of Destroy My Face placed in a transparent plexiglass cube) were hung from the ceiling in the debate space, close to the debate table, and lit dramatically. Thereby making it more like an attempt to prop up the artist, a victim of the dreaded process of ‘cancellation’, whose work was taken down. All in all, the discussion was wrongly framed in the category of ‘cancel culture’, while ignoring that this was an instance of ‘call-out culture’ – the calling out of an institution, rather than of an artist. The same can be observed in the Medialogica documentary.

At the moment it would seem that the attitude the team of BredaPhoto has towards social media is still one of viewing it with disdain, or at the very least not with the reflection that one might conclude necessary after the scandal that the medium managed to generate. To illustrate this, I’d like to point out that while finishing up this piece, on January 26th, 2021, a new listing appeared on Culturele Vacatures, the job board of the cultural sector in the Netherlands. The position: Intern Social Media Marketing for BredaPhoto. 2 days a week, for at least 20 weeks, aimed at folks in their final years in training in Marketing and Communication. The position listed NO PAYMENT (!), but ‘reimbursement of travel expenses, good guidance whereby sufficient time is invested in your development and educational activities in an attractive organization.’

In the same spirit of knowing one’s time, institutions need to learn that the voices social media amplifies are forces to be reckoned with. An institution’s image should not be promoted as an afterthought. Put in the context of the entire BredaPhoto 2020 debacle, this ‘job’ listing looks like a missed learning opportunity for the ones running BredaPhoto. It seems like they not only missed the wealth that are the pages upon pages of comments that were gifted as free labor and insightful criticism by the online art community but they also clearly do not respect their online following enough as to list a paid position for a social media expert that can ensure they won’t fuck up big time in preparation of their next edition.

Then again, it’s only 2021. I remain ever the optimist. I keep the faith that until 2022 the institution still has some time to see the light.

 

3. Accept vulnerability and embrace criticism

It’s easy to get stuck in a traumatic moment. And in this case, the traumatic moment is the “call-out” moment. The moment was traumatic for everyone involved. For the director of BredaPhoto – Fleur van Muiswinkel -, for the artist – Erik Kessels -, for WANAP – Rachel Morón and Mechteld Jungerius -, for the representative of the skatepark Pier15 – Rinse Staal, and the one of Women Skate the World – Nanja van Rijsse. The documentary which was released a couple of months after the scandal shows all acting parties in a state of interrupted understanding. The debate which took place earlier than the documentary, but after the documentary was filmed, showed all parties still grappling with the same traumatic moment, but maybe, to everyone’s surprise, it showed Nanja as the most perceptive in trying to figure out the dynamics of the art world – a field which she didn’t ask to be a part of, which might be why she has been the most open to trying to understand it.

So, what would though be the possible next steps, since there will be a future edition of BredaPhoto, and the playing field of the arts will not forget this particular incident? One possible path forward is to adopt Nanja’s approach to things. Be open. Try to understand from a vulnerable position. Criticism can be on the surface. Criticism can be rushed. Criticism might not take intention, or background, or the work you put in into account, but consider that well-framed criticism is an act of care. If someone puts forth a comment and refuses to engage after, that can be disregarded. If someone dedicates weeks of their lives to understanding a situation, to putting forth criticism, to pushing for change, that is a force that you should, as a so-called ‘progressive institution’, reckon with.

One could argue that it’s difficult for an institution to be vulnerable since behind an institution lie complex power dynamics comprised of sponsors, donors, a board of directors, and curatorial and artistic egos. The thing is, and we have seen this play out in the case of BredaPhoto, it would be a shame to see that the only true progressive actors – the ones that decide to not promote misogyny – in an institutional setting are the sponsors. It would be a shame to see that an institution only manages to grow a spine once they are threatened with losing their funding.

To counteract that, as an institution, lend your ears to your audience and understand the values that are being promoted. Understand that intention and result don’t always match. Make space for truly engaged criticism and don’t make it play on your terms.

There’s something here to be said about the concepts of restorative and transformative justice.[2] The ideas of sitting down with your opponent and talking in-depth, with compassion, about the transgression that took place.

Until the next edition of BredaPhoto, one can hope that the trauma will be properly processed, the vulnerability will be tapped into and the humor will be regained.

Instead of trying to spin things into yet another promotional vehicle and show an archive of the dismantled work and ask for audience engagement – which happened! In spite of the documentary, and debate, and open letter, and public outcry, etc. – or trying to stuff a work in a transparent plexiglass cube just for kicks, why not just be humble, open, donate some money to an organization that supports and empowers women?

And deal with your trauma. You’ve fucked up. You’re a big festival. But that’s OK. Don’t let it define you. Use it instead as a springboard for growth. It can happen to the very best of us. Just be glad you had someone out there to point out the mistake to you instead of letting you carry on as nothing happened.

Also, support your critics. You’ll need them now and in the future in order to improve.

 

To be continued.

 

[1]    The debate is available for online viewing, though whether or not it was a debate is debatable: https://youtu.be/U2ZpeLd5dhs

[2]    Resources on Transformative justice from The Barnard Center for Research on Women: https://vimeo.com/365578002




About Alina Lupu

Alina Lupu is born and bred in Romania. She is currently an Amsterdam-based artist and writer. She was alternately employed and contracted by Deliveroo, Helpling, Foodora, Uber, Thuisbezorgd, Hanze Groningen, Willem de Kooning Rotterdam, de Taart van m´n Tante, and Poké Perfect Amsterdam. Her pension will eventually total a bit over 2 Euros per month. Her work has infiltrated: W139, Amsterdam; Onomatopee, Eindhoven; Drugo More, Rijeka; Rheum Room, Basel; European Lab, Lyon and Diskurs, Giessen, among others. Furthermore, Alina Lupu is a board member of Platform BK. She is currently unemployed.


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