Junghun Kim at 'Whereabout', SIGN, photo: María José Cresp

All sorts of “space” – visiting the exhibition “Whereabout” at SIGN,  Groningen

Issue no3
June - July 2022
Make Friends Not Art

In Whereabout, the show that is currently on view at SIGN, Groningen, freshly graduated artists exhibit their works alongside more established artists. All explore the visualization of space. Upon her visit, Maia Paduraru notices that the artists share a strong predilection for the virtual dimensions of space.

At the edge of inner-city Groningen, a shop-like building lies next to the canal. A small yet flashy flag with the letters “SIGN” printed on it hangs on the wall, informing passers-by that it is in fact not a shop but rather something else: an art space. When you peek inside, you see an intriguing mixture of seemingly random objects such as stones, wood scrapes, and fruits spread out on the floor. At the entrance of the building I am welcomed by Marie-Jeanne Ameln and Ron Ritzerfeld: curators, organizers and managers of the space, the people who have kept this project running for the last three decades.

Whereabout, the show that is currently on view, exhibits freshly graduated artists alongside more established ones. Five artists, both Dutch and international, address the topic that the exhibition seeks to explore: the visualization of real, mental, and virtual places. As I walk through the exhibition, I notice similarities between the artists’ approaches. From the repeating use of digital methods such as 3D software modelling, I can tell that the artists share a strong predilection for the virtual dimensions of space.

Junghun Kim’s installation is meant to be a space for a workshop where guests are invited to walk inside, sit, touch, taste and smell the objects

Junghun Kim at 'Whereabout', SIGN, photo: María José Cresp

Junghun Kim at 'Whereabout', SIGN, photo: María José Cresp

In light of this, Junghun Kim’s rather more sculptural work stands out. I had already noticed the objects scattered around the floor when I looked through the window. Now I learn that the installation, consisting of filled plants, fruits, vegetables, stones, and many other things, bears the name ‘Geological Meditation’. “It is like a mental map”, Ritzerfeld tells me: “Seeing all these objects you start to wonder about your own relationship with your –natural–surroundings.” The installation is meant to be a space for a workshop where guests are invited to walk inside, sit, touch, taste and smell the objects. It tries to activate all of our senses, aiming to make us aware of the many different human-nature connections. One of the three sculptures more explicitly seeks to evoke this sensorial experience: a boat-like structure has the biomorphic texture of an octopus, and carries a mask depicting its eye and nose.

Similarly reflecting on the relations between humans and their environment are Bruno Neves’ paintings, fictive documents and leporello. Neves’ approach is “ethnographic” or “historical” Marie-Jeanne explains. He re-writes history, alternating truth and fiction. As Marie-Jeanne indicates, Neves ’creation calls to mind the classical way in which museums tend to showcase historical objects. Forged artefacts document the last city in Aztec history, Tenochtitlan. The artist combines this Aztec visual tradition with other forms of expression, displaying, for instance, medieval-style drawings of the city. Neves depicts the city as a “landscape of relation”, referring just like Junghun Kim to the embeddedness of human settlements in natural habitats.

Bruno Neves at 'Whereabout', SIGN

Polina Shuvalova at 'Whereabout', SIGN

Polina Shuvalova at 'Whereabout', SIGN

Polina Shuvalova, the youngest artist in the exhibition, was invited to explore the mental perception of space; the way spaces pop up in our memories. “She is interested in houses that are in reality non-existent but that are present in your mind,” says Marie-Jeanne. Shuvalova’s installation presents two short films created with the help of 3D modelling software, that explore the memory of “the childhood house”. On view are a bed, closets, a TV, curtains, and toys in white-greyish tones. The lack of color gives the scene a sense of sterility reminiscent of video games. One of the two films is projected on a wall and on a manufactured white staircase leading to nowhere. The other one is shown on a screen placed in a tunnel dug in the floor. Both films are accompanied with the homely sounds such as sounds of steps and water flowing through the sewage system.

Of all exhibited artists, Till Schönwetter probably took the most personal approach to “space”. He created a 3D universe complete with all his favourite sceneries from Groningen. The artist walked around the city, scanning buildings, streets and even the interiors of houses. “He was working in Groningen for a month, scanning almost all the spots in the city that he liked. The work reads like a subjective idea of Groningen,” says Marie-Jeanne. A kind of post-apocalyptic digital version of Groningen is the result, with random fragments of the town juxtaposed together. The work functions as a sort of a video game where you can walk throughthe virtual landscape and discover a different Groningen- a deconstructed one that looks both familiar and unfamiliar.

Till Schönwetter walked around the city, scanning buildings, streets and even the interiors of houses

Till Schönwetter at 'Whereabout', SIGN

Till Schönwetter at 'Whereabout', SIGN

Wouter Stroet’s work similarly consists of digital scans; although here their purpose is decisively more activist. With his digital and cinematic montage, Stroet comments on the housing crisis in Groningen by presenting 3D scans of the city’s famously squatted place called ‘Het Kraaiennest’ together with audio recordings of stories told by its residents – mostly students. “It on the one hand presents itself as an “objective” image of a squatted place, but on the other hand also offers a subjective impression of this same house. The building looks little bit old or decayed in the film, hinting to how unsuitable the house actually is for the students living there”, explains Ron. The building was squatted by the homeless students in Groningen last year, by way of protesting against the lack of houses available for young people in the city. Documenting the experiences of the student-residents, Stroet engages in a form of artistic activism.

With his digital and cinematic montage, Stroet comments on the housing crisis in Groningen by presenting 3D scans of the city’s famously squatted place called ‘Het Kraaiennest’ together with audio recordings of stories told by its residents – mostly students

Wouter Stroet at 'Whereabout', SIGN, photo: María José Cresp

Wouter Stroet at 'Whereabout', SIGN, photo: María José Cresp

Wouter Stroet at 'Whereabout', SIGN, photo: María José Cresp

Whereabout brings together a diverse group of artists that each present their own vision on the theme of visualizing space: a relatively broad theme for a small space such as SIGN to explore. Even though this makes the overall exhibition feel a bit eclectic, I leave the space confident about each of the works’ potential to be further developed in the future.

Whereabout is on view until the 10th of June at SIGN, Groningen

Maia Paduraru
studies journalism at the University of Groningen and is currently an intern at Metropolis M

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 3 — 2022