A Conversation with Andrew Wenrick on the Occasion of his Exhibition "Displacement of Zero" at the Claremont Museum of Art, Claremont, CA, by James Scarborough
The Poetically Intelligent Design of Andrew Wenrick, by James Scarborough

A Conversation with Nathalie Hartjes, director of MAMA, on the Occasion of her Participation in POPPOSITIONS, Brussels, Belgium, by James Scarborough

Nathalie Hartjes studied art history and Archeology (MA, 2004) at the Leiden University. Since 2015, she has been the director of MAMA, a platform for visual culture and young talent in Rotterdam. MAMA is one of the pioneering institutions in the area of talent development in the Netherlands, working in a participatory manner with a large group of budding professionals in their twenties (Team MAMA) both behind and in front of the scenes. In 2014, she led Nieuwe Vide art space in Haarlem. She was employed by De Appel arts centre in Amsterdam from 2010 to 2015, where she was coordinator of both its renowned Curatorial Programme and the innovative Gallerist Programme that ran from 2012–14. She started her career at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, where she was based from 2004–08.

Nathalie also writes for several arts and culture magazines in the Netherlands and in Belgium and is keen on writing fiction whenever the opportunity arises. Her artistic interests are centered around acts of subversion within mass and popular culture, “camp” strategies, and forms of transgression as tools to trouble authority, revalue so-called low culture, and promote inclusion beyond a traditional elite.

MAMA is participating in this year's POPPOSITIONS.

(Also interviewed were Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk, Artistic Director, Dries Segers, artist, Freek Lome, Founding Director of Onomatopee Projects, and Alice Sparkly Kat, artist.)

JS. As MAMA focuses on how artistic practices are embedded within meta-artistic social, technological, economic developments, how does its mission correspond to POPPOSITIONS’ uniqueness hybrid proposition of part art fair/part exhibition?

NH: Art fairs are a dilemma for not-for-profit organisations as our own. I feel ambiguous about participating in these kinds of events. On one hand the festival-like atmosphere, the large public appeal and the opportunity to encounter a lot of art colleagues over a short span of time is very appealing. These events can be fun, festive and offer a very particular chance of making connections and feeling embedded within a wider cultural context. They serve as a testing ground of your home activities, see how the culture you support and produce lands elsewhere. However, I don´t think not-for-profits are naturally at home in these situations. Or at least for MAMA goes that our approach is focused on this social interaction, and that means the financial cost involved is really an investment in the artist’s practice, our network and future opportunities and relating to different (and new) places and discourses. We have no intent or expectation that appearing in such a situation will deliver sales – also we don’t necessarily have the network or skillset to support that professionally. But then realizing this, it does open up to play with the context or the notion of a fair, and playing around artistically with its capitalist connotations. This is what attracts us to Poppositions, it kind of doubles as a fair-like thing and yet at the same time seeking to undermine the connected assumptions.

JS: Given how your program is rooted in youth and popular culture, what role does social media play in the complicated relationship between popularity and capitalism? Do you find it ironic how, in this ubiquitous Social Era, so many voices have been under- or misrepresented or otherwise ignored?

NH: Sure. It’s pretty obvious that we have all become somewhat addicted or entangled with a number of the biggest companies in the world and the reap the profits. It sucks. A day feels better to me without being on Facebook, but hardly a day goes by without it.

I also see how social media offers platform for many voices that are otherwise ignored, and therefore is powerful and hopeful, or at least has part merit. Yet I think I experience what you call the Social Era, more as the Era of Amplification, and I think it puts a lot of stress on those who are constantly putting their voices out there. There is a total disbalance of what part of social media activity is considered labour (in a financially rewarded sense), and what is labour but goes unpaid. I think social media helps expanding voices immensely, but often with total disregard of the well-being of the people adding those voices. Let me use your question to pitch patreon.com as an opportunity to support your local activists.

JS: How does this year’s POPPOSITIONS coincide with your own curating and writing efforts?

NH: Allow me first to credit Caetano whose installation we are presenting and Maria Lamslag who curated the current exhibition Apa kabar? (What’s new?) from which we are temporarily relocating this work to play out in another context. They have had extensive conversations about their own diasporic experiences which all feed into this work Gueto Blaster Discos. One of the main questions underpinning the exhibition is trying to investigate the way culture moves through the world, if we can identify particular manifestations as belonging to a particular place, or are these places of belonging more complex? The show navigates the field of appropriation vs acculturation and a large part of that is recognizing the efforts of who produces the culture. So with that: Big up to Cae & Maria. I am touched that you are sharing this. What I love about being at MAMA is a strong sense of learning from each other, in any possible shape or form. Our programme structure, working with a pool of emerging exhibition makers, also puts me in the place of ‘teachee’ to the subject matter they are bringing to the table and makes it very personal and enriching. My personal subjectivities lead me time and time again to investigate stereotypes, question them and preferably find ways to create a space beyond the stereotype where you can thrive as an individual (or collective) human being. So Maria & Cae’s work is related that they also seek the edges of cultural expectations, prejudice and possibilities.

JS: In a prior interview Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk, POPPOSITIONS Artistic Director, wrote most of the participants have submitted proposals and project that are address being woke and wokeness, verging from the notion of the human body as living currency, identity politics as lifestyle attribute, to discussions concerning feminism, queer, gender, blackness, migration, and post-colonialism. In terms of subject and process, how does MAMA’s mission embody this wokeness?

NH: Ooph. I want to be really careful with adopting the term woke. MAMA really has the ambition to contribute to a more inclusive cultural field. That said, there is still much work to do, also in our own organization and I am also very aware that only to often once you state you strive for diversity doesn’t make it true. I am taking notes from Sara Ahmed and encourage many of my colleagues to do the same.

For MAMA goes, I think we have a broad awareness for inequality, and we are actively working on playing our part, but we do not always no the route yet, so we try and learn on a day to day basis. I think I also cringe a bit from the term woke in general. Because when you claim to be woke, you’re done right? You know it, you are on top. But if it is granted as a dot on the horizon, I can deal with it, something you strive for, always keep on listening and learning. And to me that part cringe-part idealism is also present in the title Capital of Woke, which I always took to be sarcastic. So can we escape a mechanism of self-righteousness, acknowledge that we are always still learning and at the same time operate in a field where a ‘right opinion’ has currency?

JS. In the context of this exhibition, what is the social value of art in general and MAMA-affiliated artists in particular?

NH: The social value is first of all the gathering, the potential collectivity. I believe art to be a physical manifestation of collective learning. The object might be made in a studio by one artist alone – even though that is also often a shared endeavor – but once art makes itself into the world, it becomes part of the conversations and therefore lives and growth of its audience.

So what to do with a gathering: Dance. Caetano has an incredible ability to create social cohesion, by facilitating a kind of space. Also body knowledge is also knowledge. So I think it is great he will engage the crowd in a set of performances throughout the show.

I hope that we encounter a show where the theme as a backdrop is reflected in the presence of spaces, hopefully focused on learning, empathizing and figuring a way out of our current paradigm. A bit more space for every human being to have a place in.