Body Doubling
Interview with Emilie Oursel

Issue no5
Oct-Nov 2019
Catalogue Imaginé

Currently, Emilie Oursel (25) is guest-curator for the 2009 programme of Nieuwe Vide in Haarlem (near Amsterdam), where she is responsible for the exhibitions Blind Chance & Possible Futures and Body Double. Her other activities include being founding director of the non-profit organisation Violet Bureau and editor of the publication .doc//m.

—Hendrik FolkertsI would like to start with asking you what your experiences at Nieuwe Vide are so far, especially in regard to the exhibition space at your disposal. And secondly how your curatorship at the Nieuwe Vide differs from your other activities.

—Emilie Oursel It is certainly very different from what I previously experienced. Before coming to Nieuwe Vide I had a non-profit foundation, called Violet Bureau (France/Netherlands), with which I organised partnerships between different organisations and institutions. Its main focus was the exhibition-publication .docs//m. Now, at Nieuwe Vide, I have an actual exhibition room, a white cube I have to think about. Of course, this is a privileged position for a young curator to have, because it allows me to focus on artistic practices that I would like underwrite in the current artistic discourse. However, we have to remember that this is a physical space, a space that imposes something on the art exhibited in it. I am also interested in questioning and challenging the limits of the white cube, for the space is not just the premises for the presentation of artworks, but also a place where a dialogue can be established. For example, for my first exhibition at Nieuwe Vide, Blind Chance & Possible Futures, I really wanted to question the white cube as an object itself, as something we can manipulate. In the next show, which is called Green Revolution, about art and biotechnology, I want to play with the exhibition setting by proposing to stage the exhibition in the dark. Naturally, each art work will have its own specific lighting, but the visitors will have to dwell in the darkness.

—Hendrik FolkertsIt is very interesting to see that the first time you have a white cube at your disposal, you immediately question it. This challenging of the exhibition practice, was also present in one of your earlier projects, the magazine publication .docs//m. Each issue you invite a single artist to make an exhibition on paper. With this you create – or rather, curate – a kind of mobile exhibition space. Could you elaborate on how the notion of space is used in this ‘paper exhibition’ as opposed to an exhibition in a three-dimensional space?

—Emilie Oursel The first difference with a more conventional exhibition is that I give the opportunity for people to buy art for a very low price. I ask artists to produce new work to be published in .docs//m.. For the previous issue the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar made forty new drawings. This way the publication functions as an art work, or a collection of art works, in itself. This is a democratic idea of art, a way to diffuse it, to create new possibilities and make it accessible to everyone. In addition to that, people can engage with the art works more directly. If you put the works of Forouhar in an exhibition room, people will just walk by them and look at the drawings, but there is no interaction in the sense that they can touch the drawings. With the book this experience changes. People can also take out the pages and even make an physical exhibition of their own, they can appropriate the works.

—Hendrik FolkertsHow has .docs//m problematized your own relation to exhibition making and exhibition space?

—Emilie OurselIt has made me think more about the interaction with people. Exhibition making in general imposes a documentary approach to the displaying of objects. Even so, I try to emphasise the interaction with the audience and focussing on an exhibition as an experience as well. Very recently I started working on the notion of the ‘space of interaction’. This is the space between the artist – or the art work for that matter – and the audience. Within this space, both visual and intellectual knowledge are transferred and exchanged. It is the place where the artist and the audience meet: the visitor takes in the visual and intellectual knowledge of the art work, but also the the knowledge of the audience is imposed on the art object in the interpretative process.

—Hendrik FolkertsThe idea of a ‘space of interaction’, also in the sense of interaction between artists and society, is dominantly present in your current exhibition at Nieuwe Vide: Body Double. In it the artists adopt other professional roles, for example as journalist, filmmaker or spokesperson, in order to deconstruct the image making process of our society. How can, in your opinion, artists retain the ‘artistic eye’ you mention in the press release, when they effectively attempt to changesides?

—Emilie Oursel The artists in Body Double go off into differing terrain, infiltrating several professional domains in order to acquire the information they want. One could say this method is conceptually part of the work they produce, the actions of their ‘body doubles’ acquire a performative dimension. In the 1970s artists interacted with reality by for instance aligning themselves with certain political parties, or becoming activists and taking to the streets. Nowadays I see a different approach: the artists in Body Double interact with society by means of mimicry or infiltration, taking on a role to achieve something else. For example: In Deer Pass (WildWechsel), Matthias Fritsch got himself hired as cook at the 2007 G8 meeting in the German village of Heiligendamm. In this profession, ‘this role’, he was allowed to move between and outside the three major demonstrator’s camps, in order to bring them their food. Because of his role he was able to get the images of the police forces in transit, which comprise Deer Pass. Fritsch was truly involved in a real situation; there is strong relation - and more importantly - interaction with reality. However, he was not a cook, but an artist subversively posing as one in order to collect material for his own ends. We can compare his position to that of a spy. A spy is meant to adopt certain roles, just to get at certain information.

—Hendrik FolkertsHow does the idea of the body double fit in with the idea of the white cube? Where do they connect?

—Emilie OurselLet me answer your question by giving an example of a work in the exhibition, namely the ‘Pim Fortuyn square’ street sign by the artist Jonas Staal. After the death of Pim Fortuyn - the populist politician who caused a sudden landslide in Dutch politics in 2002 and subsequently got murdered a member of his party impulsively modified the street sign of the Hofplein in Rotterdam (Fortuyn’s home town, also the city where he started his political career) with a sticker, saying ‘Pim Fortuyn square’. Of course, this sticker was promptly removed. Staal restaged the party member’s action, this time asking another artist to do the honors for him while he recorded everything on camera. After this, Staal produced an actual ‘Pim Fortuyn square’ street sign and wrote a letter to Fortuyns party saying that they were allowed to use it whenever they wanted. [figure 1617_1524_3.jpg] The ‘project’ started out as an act of civil disobedience, a personal in memoriam, later to be drawn into an artistic context by being restaged and in the end displayed in an exhibition. In fact, Staal did not only do this for Fortuyns party alone, but for other – left-wing and right-wing – political parties as well. Staal claims he offers his services in order to support the idea of democracy, in which everyone is allowed to express oneself. In this way he succeeded (if only temporarily) in realising a deep-seated wish of the Fortuyn party: a square named after its former leader. The artistic sphere is used to give the work a kind of permanency: as an artistic performance – the re-enactment of the politician’s action – but also the street sign that is now displayed as an art object. Consequently, Staal uses the white cube to frame his work within an institutional context, to give the art work ‘artistic value’ as it were. Since the work he made is a functional object that can actually be put to use by the Fortuyn’s political party, the object can re-enter into society to serve concrete purposes. In this sense, exhibiting the work in the white cube is just showing one step of Staal’s process.

—Hendrik FolkertsYou are active as both a curator and an art critic. Does the term body double apply to you as well?

—Emilie OurselIn the past I was not curating, only writing about art. Being a curator has changed my position as a critic, in certain respects. Of course, as a critic it is still important for me to engage with a theoretical discourse, but my experience as a curator – working closely with artists and their projects – has made me focus more on the direct dialogue that I now have with artists. This dialogue, but also the on-site experience in dealing with certain curatorial responsibilities, has now become the basis for my own art criticism. In another way, I also act as a body double. The artists in Body Double infiltrate society, mainly to get hold of information they want to insert into an artistic context. I do the opposite . I infiltrate the artistic world and present its works and ideas in society. The art works and the exhibition are a way for me to critically engage the social and political issues that these artists point out, in order to encourage the debate about these issues and stimulate a dialogue between people.

—Hendrik FolkertsCould you perhaps tell me something about your future projects? How will the concepts you have been working on at Nieuwe Vide so far, evolve?

—Emilie OurselWith the program at Nieuwe Vide, I have been exploring different directions, different interactions of artists with society: art-journalism, art-science, art-architecture and so on. In the future, I would like to develop more projects outside of the white cube. To invest in real places and to focus more on artistic interventions and site-specific works, maybe in relation to the current context of the financial crisis, which I find very interesting. I would also like to elaborate on the issue of the space of interaction, which is for me really ‘outside’, in society. This is where the artworks get their political or social role and relevance, and where one can establish that social dialogue between people I look for What I want to develop for next year is the idea of artists as public citizens. Joseph Beuys had the idea that every individual in society has to be involved in the making of that society, thus regarding citizenship as something very serious. In my opinion, artists are acting as citizens, in the sense that they are implicated in the operations of society. Their work however serves an openly public function, as it is on display in museums, galleries, et cetera. I am very interested in this interplay, and for me it is also a way to question the creativity that people develop in society, both the ‘anonymous’ citizens or as artists in a public capacity. Along the lines of what we have been talking about, the artistic works become this interactive space where creativity and experiences are shared by both artists and people, and thus can be the departing point for a public dialogue or creative developments.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2019