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Artist Freedom, Limitations and Inevitable subsidies


VOC VIP Cool Mediators

— ​A talkshow with an online audience that can influence the proceedings?

​A talkshow with an online audience that can influence the proceedings? The form of the Cool Media Hot Talk Show is something you will not see very soon in the Oprah show, but it does provide an interesting platform for discussion on various subjects put forth by an online community at The topic discussed at this edition of the talkshow at De Balie in Amsterdam was: 'New Media Art Subsidies and Alternative Support Models'.

Speakers for this edition were David Garcia, from HKU/KMT, and Lex ter Braak of the Fonds BKVB.

After being announced by the virtual talk show host, David Garcia starts off with his speaker statement. Garcia mentions that he does believe in the notion of new media funds. In doing this it is important to 'transcend national boundaries and create new metropolitans, which art, in its best moments, is able to do'. The whole discussion of art subsidies, however, would not have existed according to Garcia if it wasn't for modernism. Before modernism 'art was there to honor and celebrate the powerful'. The period of the 18th, 19th and 20th century reversed this notion that there was a cosmological order: 'Once that was turned on his head, art became something else,' says Garcia. 'Public provision would not have existed before modernism, because art before that was an extension of power'. The fact that art can also grow from the grassroots is 'most visible in despotism: the best Russian poetry was written under Stalin's rule and in troubled times'.

In this new order of art from the bottom up, the artist now has to be self legislative, Garcia: 'When I'm practicing as an artist, I am not aware of freedom, but of constraints and limitations. You are the person who decides where those boundaries are. It is a self legislating freedom'. In this notion, Garcia sees a very clear relation between art, freedom and democracy because you have to explore where your boundaries actually lie. As an example Garcia mentions Palestinians in Gaza as people who live in liminal space. In an introduction to her documentary "What I say three times is true", which is about these liminal spaces, Angela O'Hara says about the Palestinian situation: '[The Palestinians] exist within a liminal space beyond reality and beneath consciousness. They have the ability to trespass political borders and social boundaries, an ability long denied to a people under occupation by another'.

Garcia sees an important role in the "trespassing" of boundaries. Bringing together various parties, like in the (Un)common Ground meetings where Dutch institute Virtueel Platform, art school HKU and the English Art Council come together, is important to think outside the confines of the nation state. Before getting to his key example, however, Garcia is interrupted by the lovely talkshowhost who bluntly announces the next speaker, Lex ter Braak. Fortunately in this written report, we can give that example now: Garcia sees Mediamatic's El Hema as a project that really transcends the borders of the nation state. A project that fueled the El Hema idea is called typographic matchmaking, which has ten Arab and Dutch designers collaborate on designing Arabic companions for Dutch fonts.

The robotic voice of the talk show host, or hostess if you prefer, announces that the speaker statement of Lex ter Braak is up next. He starts by saying that he wants to challenge Garcia's view on modernism. For example Ter Braak does not agree that art as we know it exists because of modernism: 'Modernism is connected to horrible things of the past'. In his talk, Ter Braak focusses mostly on the more practical side of new media art subsidies because of his background at Fonds BKVB: the national institution for providing subsidies to individual visual artists, designers and architects.

In artist collaborations, Ter Braak doesn't see market and commercial constraints as a negative thing: 'You need a place where experimental art and new forms can flourish and where buyers are interested as well. I think foundations that subsidise artists are open for that and we are trying to stimulate those artists that are really doing newthings and are pushing the borders of art'. Later Ter Braak returns to this statement with a warning: 'If an artist wants to collaborate with other companies, it is wise for him or her to do so. However if it is the only way for artists to make their work, it might not be that wise'. A good example of pushing borders is the "VOC / VIP: Holland Experience" short film by Arno Coenen en Peter Leeuwerink which is shown at this evening's Cool Media Hot Talk show. In this 15 minute short Rembrandt, XTC pills, Willem de Zwijger, DJ Tiësto, 3D animation, classic painting and many more of these examples are put together in a mixture of Dutch "heritage".

On the practical side of subsidies, Ter Braak talks about specific procedures at Fonds BKVB. Everyone is free to apply for membership of the committee, however the committee has to have some criteria to be believable; members have to have a good CV and there have to be multitude of disciplines, ages and demographic backgrounds in the committee. Aside from these limitations, Ter Braak really makes no mistake about it: the procedure is open for discussion and he invites everyone that disagrees or has new input, to come and visit Fonds BKVB to talk about it. In judging applications from artists by the committee it is important 'to look at the artwork and the criteria of the artwork itself. Ter Braak: 'If an artwork is about addressing social issues you can't judge it on painting'. Furthermore Ter Braak, continuining Garcia's statement on artist freedom, thinks that 'those artists who work with an imaginary committee in mind will probably not get subsidies, while those who do will probably have a greater chance of getting it'.

Applying for subisidies requires a humble stance from the artist's point of view, which is in contrast with the thought of art as being divine, like in the period before modernism. Theoretically speaking, that is an interesting lesson we can learn from this Cool Media Hot Talk show. On the practical side, it is interesting to see that artists in these days have to define their own constraints and borders, but that these should perhaps not be limited to, for example, just a nation state. The creation of new and interesting ways to collaborate is essential in this.



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