basis voor
actuele kunst
Becoming Oneself
a series of conversations and publication 2002—2003

A series of conversations on art and institutional creativity today with Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé, Nicolas Bourriaud, Branislav Dimitrijevic, Charles Esche, Annie Fletcher, Maxine Kopsa,
Declan McGonagle, Sean Snyder, Barbara Vanderlinden, Daniël
van der Velden, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, and Andrea Wiarda.
2 June, 4 June, 15 September, and 22 September 2002

In four parts, ‘Becoming Oneself’ explores the potential and the new challenges which contemporary art spaces now face.

The conceptual and physical reconstruction of BAK, basis
voor actuele kunst (formerly BeganeGrond) provides the
unique opportunity of taking a pause, a time off to break the
circle of ongoing exhibition production, to re-think the notion of the art institution vis-a-vis contemporary artistic practices.
‘Becoming Oneself’ investigates the challenges which recent artistic and intellectual developments articulate toward art platforms and curatorial practice.

A publication accompanies the project.

‘Becoming Oneself’ has been made possible with financial support from: L’Institut Français des Pays-Bas/Antenne de la Haye; Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Ireland; and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia.


The publication ‘Becoming Oneself, four conversations on
art and institutional creativity today’ presents talks with
Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé (artist, London), Nicolas Bourriaud (director, Palais de Tokyo, Paris), Branislav Dimitrijevic (director, Center for Contemporary Art, Belgrade), Charles Esche
(director of Rooseum, Center for Contemporary Art, Malmö),
Declan McGonagle (director of City Arts Center, Dublin),
Sean Snyder (artist, Berlin), Barbara Vanderlinden
(Roomade, Brussels), and Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
(internet entrepreneur and artist, Amsterdam), moderated
by Daniël van der Velden (designer and writer, Amsterdam),
Annie Fletcher (curator and writer, Amsterdam), Andrea Wiarda (curator and writer, Brussels), and Maxine Kopsa
(curator and critic, Amsterdam).
The speakers discuss issues related to recent developments
in art and how a contemporary art institute can accommodate
the challenges articulated by new artistic practices.

Zero Visitors

Daniël van der Velden, Daniel (designer and writer, Amsterdam)
in conversation with Nicolas Bourriaud (director of Palais de Tokyo, Paris) and Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten (internet entrepreneur
and artist, Amsterdam) about issues regarding the diffusion and promotion of art in what is known as the attention economy.

see also:

Carving Out Cultural Space

Annie Fletcher (curator and writer, Amsterdam) in conversation with Declan McGonagle (director of City Arts Center, Dublin) and Branislav Dimitrijevic (director of Center for Contemporary Art, Belgrade) about subjects related to the establishment of critical and reflective contemporary art platforms within changing cultural contexts.

see also:

Models for Now I

Andrea Wiarda (curator, Brussels) in conversation with Barbara Vanderlinden, Barbara (Roomade, Brussels) and Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé (artist, London) about their projects, which reflect the search for possible models that would ideally accommodate their diverse practice of working and exhibiting.

see also:

Models for Now II

Maxine Kopsa (curator and critic, Amsterdam) in conversation with Charles Esche (director of Rooseum, Center for Contemporary Art, Malmö) and Sean Snyder (artist, Berlin) about their projects,
which reflect the search for possible models that would ideally accommodate their diverse practice of working and exhibiting.

see also:

Becoming Oneself

There are moments, I believe, when it is important to elevate the art institution to the center of attention. The practice of institutional critique taught us a lesson, but what if an institution itself desired to undergo intellectual examination of its own performance and future potentials? It is like smashing your own windows, a close friend paraphrased the Dutch saying to provide me with an answer, addressing the ambiguous attitude of the art world toward this issue. And indeed, discussing the notion of an art institution inevitably oscillates between appreciation of critical reflection and striving to rethink the format for our work on one hand, and on the other, skepticism about the potentialities of such an endeavor, accompanied by a belief that we have the choice of working outside the institutional framework. The series of conversations ‘Becoming Oneself’1 focuses on recent developments in art and the challenges they articulate towards the art institution. In a four-part dialogue, the conversations are based on the conviction that a contemporary art institution can become
a tool for reinventing itself (or, rather, what we conventionally understand to be an art institution), if it carefully looks at developments in art, listens to artists, and opens itself up to its cultural and political contexts.

Spaces marked for art
“What makes art interesting for me are the spaces marked for art, which function relatively autonomously. They can be used to develop alternative ideas, to make room for discourses, political stances and attitudes that have little or no place in society. Artists and intellectuals are then effective when they are able to use those spaces in such a way that society suddenly says: ‘aha, something is going on there that actually does not happen in the midst of our everyday lives’.”2

Idealistic perhaps, but I do not know any other field in society ­ except art ­ where nothing is predetermined, and where ideas can be freely meditated, discussed, negotiated and tested. It is the realm of art, where, in times like ours, one can articulate alternatives to
the unsatisfying real. To follow Boris Groys’ argument, spaces marked for art might become instrumental in offering a kind of
an intellectual refuge, and in providing a mental niche for imagining the world differently than it is. Such spaces can function as zones with an experimental and exploratory curriculum for society, where one could examine alternatives to the things we know. Let us imagine an ideal contemporary art institution as a basis,
a base. In the true meaning of the word it is a foundation, a ground on which something else is to be raised or built; a simple but well equipped understructure constituted to support current art practices. It is comfortable and values of hospitality order the day. Small in scale, but generous and concentrated. It has its own logic of time, contradicting the accelerated rhythm of the everyday. As a forum
for unfolding ideas, presenting and evaluating art projects, basis engages in long-term collaborative partnerships with artists and
a wide range of other cultural producers, as well as other art platforms.

Thinking together with Wolfgang Welsch in such a context, basis forms “a matrix which offers a variety of potentialities”3. I envision it as a grid of possibilities in a state of permanent readiness, prepared to be induced through creative proposals at any point of time. In
the moment of activation, the complex structure of future prospects transforms into an effective unit of operations. It turns into an intellectual and organizational supply center for developing, realizing, and analyzing our contemporariness in close cooperation with those bringing in the essential ingredient of artistic vision. Such a constellation carries a critical quality of the impermanent; once
a project is concluded, the matrix (with its archive enriched each time by another experience and new knowledge) returns to the state in which to await stimuli, so that the process can begin a new.

Every idea that catalyzes such a logic of action within an art institution seeks an ideal (and each time different) accommodation. And indeed, “rather than a number of strictly defined contents or projects”, as Welsch suggests, we are talking about “a way of living, acting and thinking”4. It is a variety of formats that art projects explore on this journey, as is the scale of references towards large cultural and political context (itself in permanent flux). The common denominator the projects share is the way the disparate perspectives on contemporary concerns inscribe themselves into symbolic space, and in particular, into the continuously renegotiated language of exhibitions. It is the relation to where basis is located that marks the difference; the point of intersection of the artistic, the political, the social, and the economic. Basis engages in the examination of their confluence on the worldwide register, but particularly in the production of difference on the level of the locale. Basis voor actuele kunst I believe two essential qualities constitute our contemporary condition. The first requires us to maintain a state of constant preparedness; the quality of willingness, of being ready, prepared for use or action. The second is the notion of the indefinite, of the yet to be, or what is to come5. In thinking about an art institution, these two attributes characterize becoming oneself, “a process and a development” and not “the discovery or realization of something pre-given”6. Or, in Duchamp’s sense, they form the institution that isn’t. Based on this notion, we envision basis voor actuele kunst and its new conceptual space for making the art of now, and its developments towards the future, accessible.

In place of a completion
In March 2003, BeganeGrond reopens as BAK, basis voor actuele kunst. The series of conversations ‘Becoming Oneself’ has been developed to accompany our efforts of re-coding this space marked for art. From the provisory offices that we inhabited for over one year we return to the fully renovated spaces, and begin working
with a different organizational model, new energy and vision. We could engage in such a process of re-thinking an art institution
only because those, who had created the valuable foundation and legacy to build upon, have entrusted us. It is all the artists and other cultural practitioners who have exhibited, programmed, or in
other ways contributed to the life of the artists’ initiative Stichting Utrechtse Beeldende Kunst since 1989, and its art space BeganeGrond, in existence since 1994, who deserve our genuine gratitude. To them, and to our audience we dedicate this book,
and our faithful story of becoming.

1. The idea and title of the series of conversations originates
in the lecture Wolfgang Welsch delivered at the conference
“Subject ­ Author ­ Audience” in Bratislava in 1996.

2. Boris Groys in conversation with Kathrin Rhomberg, in: Ausgeträumt..., Secession, Wien, 2002, page 36.

3. Welsch, W., Becoming Oneself, in: Subject ­ Author ­ Audience, SCCA ­ Slovakia, Bratislava, 1997, page 18.

4. Ibid.

5. See Derrida’s “democracy to come”.

6. Welsch, W., Becoming Oneself, in: Subject ­ Author ­ Audience, SCCA ­ Slovakia, Bratislava, 1997, page 18.

Maria Hlavajova, in: ‘Becoming Oneself, four conversations on art and institutional creativity today’, BAK, 2003, p. 13­15.

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