Introduction AMVK at Fridericianum
by Anders Kreuger.
published on 04 Oct 2018 in Book intro
AMVK AT FRIDERICIANUM
Artists are a species that connects everyday things and their everyday-ness with each other. They connect eras and worlds. They are what makes a difference between generations and what makes them merge.
– AMVK, 2018
It is very rare that an exhibition of this scope and size gets a ‘second life’. We – Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven, the artist, and I, the curator – are happy and grateful for this opportunity to resurrect ‘AMVK’ and reconfigure it for the magnificent spaces of the Fridericianum. When her survey was shown this spring at M HKA, the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, it was already the third instalment of a series that was launched at Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach in late autumn 2016 and continued at Kunstverein Hannover in spring 2017.
In those two German venues the exhibition was titled ‘What Would I Do in Orbit?’, paraphrasing a title Van Kerckhoven had given one of her drawings: What Would You Do in Orbit? This title conveyed her consistent interest in technology and science on the one hand (not least the latter-day mysticism that shrouds much cutting-edge research into Artificial Intelligence) and bodily experience (not least when it is female) on the other.
Yet after reviewing her substantial and many-faceted oeuvre together we decided that the exhibition needed to be rethought for Antwerp, the city where she was born in 1951 and still lives. We knew, of course, that ‘no prophet is accepted in his own country’ (Luke, 4:24), but we wanted to challenge that too-gendered truth, so we set out to make an exhibition that would make viewers accept that they only thought they knew what kind of artist Van Kerckhoven is. And it seems to have worked. Visitors to the exhibition could see and feel for themselves how extensive and intensive her work is.
One of the first things we decided was that the exhibition title should be nothing more and nothing less than ‘AMVK’, the non-gendered acronym Van Kerckhoven adopted very early and that has, in her own country, become an instantly recognisable tag line. We also decided that the twelve ‘chapters’ she had devised for the first two instalments of the exhibition, based on long-standing engagements such as digitalism and mysticism, alchemy and numerology, evil and entertainment, would be replaced by a fluid display of images and ideas.
The project that now culminates in Kassel seems to illustrate the three stages of classical Hegelian dialectics. The exhibition in Antwerp could be thought of as the ‘antithesis’ to the ‘thesis’ of its German predecessors. It communicated the same concerns and inspirations and trajectories, but in a more visual and more visceral way. The exhibition at Fridericianum can, in turn, be seen as the ‘synthesis’ of both approaches, ‘sublating’ them to the next level. It is a story of Van Kerckhoven’s development as an artist from 1970 until today, told by hundreds of works that all have a voice of their own. At the same time, it is a conversation between all these drawings, paintings, objects, installations and films and the Fridericianum itself, whose spacious halls already follow each other as words in a sentence.
Or as chapters in a book. The dialogue between Van Kerckhoven’s oeuvre and the building often called ‘Kassel’s living room’ yielded nine new chapters. We consider them a truthful embodiment of her work and thought. This, in fact, is probably the essence of dialogue: that the resistance offered by both parties to a conversation helps us build a credible image of truth. The nine chapters corresponding to the spaces of the Fridericianum have also provided the headlines for the exhibition newspaper, which functions as a catalogue of all the constituent parts of ‘AMVK’.
What kind of artist is AMVK? You, the visitors to the exhibition, will eventually have to judge that, but this short biography, based on an even shorter presentation written by a friend back in the 1990s, is how she herself prefers to introduce her practice and her persona:
Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven studied graphic design at the Fine Arts Academy in Antwerp and has been prolific in her output of drawings and other works on paper and synthetic materials, as well as short videos, since the early 1980s. A straightforward feminist tone pervades in all her work, in which the erotic meets machine-fetishism. Interior, if not domestic spaces often serve as settings for her drawings and collages, from which dream-like futuristic enactments between human and machine-like forms unfold. In the 1990s, works on paper gave way to computer graphics, while text has always featured alongside images, underlining the message of Van Kerckhoven’s proud, sometimes exhibitionist female figures like song-lyrics. Music plays an important role in her creative production in parallel to her visual output, and she and Danny Devos have stood as a key pair of the Antwerp experimental music scene under the band name Club Moral (1981–now).
If this is read together with Van Kerckhoven’s introductions to the chapters in the newspaper and her concise background stories to the works on display, also printed there, it will give a rather good understanding of what prompted her to make the works featured in ‘AMVK’ and how they enter into dialogue with each other. It is all there: the drawings and experimental films as distinct sub-oeuvres, her concern for the spatial impact of the work, her interest in the visualisation of scientific thought and her approach to creative work as research into questions that concern her – and her viewers – both cerebrally and viscerally. How is the female body imaged and imagined? What might morals and mysticism mean today? Can interiority be a liberating power?
When I use the term ‘research’ I have in mind what the French poet and artist Robert Filliou once wrote: ‘Research is not the exclusive privilege of those who know. Rather, it is the domain of those who don’t know.’ To me, Van Kerckhoven is a prime example of an artist for whom the work is a constant dialogue with what she doesn’t know. Rather than seeing the work as an ascent to glory – which is not unheard of among accomplished artists – she turns it into a path towards understanding.
When I look at Van Kerckhoven’s still and moving images or read her words, I sense that I am included in her ongoing struggle to make sense of the world, and sometimes to overcome the bewilderment or even disgust that it causes in her (and also in me, possibly in all of us). I have never, not once, found myself thinking that she is using this or that tactic, this or that strategy, to achieve something at the expense of the world that surrounds her. For her, the freedom to investigate and respond to life as she sees and understands it must be absolute. And therefore it is.
I believe that ‘AMVK’ – in its mature version at Fridericianum, the one that that this newspaper accompanies – shall corroborate this view of Van Kerckhoven. I hope that the exhibition shall present her work and thought in such a way that viewers find their own path to understanding through it. This book, AMVK, was published earlier this year by Koenig Books in collaboration with M HKA, Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach and Kunstverein Hannover. It offers contextualisation and interpretation of Van Kerckhoven’s work. In connection with it, M HKA has also launched an online digital archive at amvk.ensembles.org, with detailed information about her oeuvre.
Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven and myself thank documenta gGmbH and the team at Fridericianum for the opportunity to realise this exhibition and for the pleasant collaboration. We thank M HKA for supporting this extended version of the exhibition it produced earlier this year. We thank Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach for commissioning and hosting its first version, and Kunstverein Hannover for taking over and refining it. We thank Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp and Galerie Barbara Thumm in Berlin for their logistical and moral support and all the lenders, private and institutional, who have generously contributed their work. We specially thank Danny Devos for contributing his technical expertise and much more to this project in all its stages and versions. We also thank Saartje Geerts and Katleen Schildermans for their efficient assistance.
Antwerp, October 2018
Curator of the exhibition
Senior Curator at M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp
Related solo exhibitions: AMVK - Fridericianum