Rietveld ignored
a performance by Ruth Buchanan

Issue no3
June - July 2020
Troebele waters

Over four days in June 2009, artist Ruth Buchanan gave a performance in the format of a guided tour of the famous Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht. New Zealand-born Buchanan has lived in the Netherlands since 2005. She has an MA from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam and is currently a ‘Researcher Fine Art’ at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht.

After a series of precise instructions from Casco Office for Art, Design and Theory (organisers of the event), audience members gathered at the entrance of the Centraal Museum where the artist, performing as host and guide, welcomed the group. Before getting onto the bus, Buchanan issued further instructions and established the protocol of the visit to the architectural monument. Protective ‘booties’ must be worn over shoes and, whilst Buchanan herself would be free to touch the surfaces of the house, everyone else should refrain from touching anything or leaning against the painted walls.

Onboard the bus, Buchanan began reading, in a soft voice, from a stack of parchment coloured A5 note cards a poetic and playfully oblique text about the upcoming journey. A video was played as the bus drove through the city streets, replicating the sequencing of a slide projector, including its characteristic whirring and clicking sounds. The video consisted of a slide show of images, in random sequence and without explanation: a landscape, the interior of a library, the cover of a book, and many seemingly blank ‘pages’.

Upon arrival at the location, Buchanan guided the audience across the busy street to the entrance of the house, where a representative from the Centraal Museum joined the group. After gathering in the cramped entrance space, Buchanan picked up her note card monologue by quoting from an unmentioned source about objects being representative of frustrations. She then led the small group through each room of the house, with careful—to the point of being exaggerated—attention to how she opened and closed doors and windows, and demonstrated the workings of a folding table. As Buchanan moved through the house she would wait for everyone to gather in a room before continuing her disorientating narrative.

Only rarely did Buchanan’s script directly engage with the context of the house itself and its history. By and large, the house became a set for her performance, a series of shifting backdrops and surfaces. In this respect there was very little in common with a typical guided tour of an important historical building; there were no anecdotes about the former owners, the architect, or the objects on display. A frustrated curiosity lingered for the audience, which was in no way indulged by the artist who kept everyone moving along and took no questions until the end of her performance. It felt irreverent to be inside this architectural monument—this now fetishised object—and sidestep its history in this way, and this clearly did not sit comfortably with some audience members.

Buchanan has previously written: ‘when one describes a space at a distance one may use a language that would be entirely unsuitable if one were actually there. So then to achieve this distortion one simply needs only to speak in an inappropriate language and the place, space or thing is rendered entirely unrecognisable.’ This dislocation between language and site is precisely the effect achieved during her tour of the Rietveld Schröder House. Through this process, the house is liberated from the weight of historical significance and responsibility and is transformed from an architectural time capsule into a living stage for both real and fictitious encounters.

Nothing Is Closed is organised by Casco Office for Art, Design and Theory in collaboration with the Centraal Museum and is the first in an ongoing project titled Lying Freely by Buchanan that will have subsequent manifestations at the Frascati Theatre in Amsterdam (as part of If I Can’t Dance…), and at The Showroom in London. In 2010 Buchanan will have another presentation of the project at Casco. ‘Lying Freely’ is co-produced by the Jan van Eyck Academie.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 3 — 2020