Jean Bernard Koeman
Observatory Crest

08.12.12  –  13.01.13

With Observatory Crest, visual artist Jean Bernard Koeman (1964) presents an exhibition that was conceived as a track between scenography and installation, a show that engages in a dialogue with the KIOSK exhibition space. In the central dome room Koeman has installed a new in situ work that is surrounded by a number of existing installations whose origins lie in a similar associative research method.

The central installation, The Unfolding of the Relentless Unforeseen, is a result of Koeman’s work as a scenographer with dancer and choreographer Koen Augustijnen (Les Ballets C de la B) and actress and director Abke Haring (Toneelhuis). Thematically this monumental construction is based on the notion of ‘complicit architecture’ and the personality cult surrounding the former Vietnamese president Ho Chí Minh. The woodwork refers to the communist leader’s stilt house while also establishing a physical connection between a series of associative references; Apollo 13’s ill-fated mission to the Moon, Buckminster Fuller’s futuristic visual style and Japanese science fiction all fuse together in a single work. The artist invited Koen Augustijnen to activate the work during the opening. During this ‘situation’, the installation effectively becomes a protective piece of scenery in which Augustijnen isolates himself in the guise of the character Ho Chí Minh. In a stream of consciousness, he broaches topics including the construction of images, responsibility and power(lessness).

Alongside the monumental stilt house is the closed REFUGE, the title of which suggests the representation of a mountain cabin and asylum, but which also presents the standard issue museological ‘white cube’. The work expresses ideas and opinions about the exhibition space as a necessary refuge: a habitat for the artist, art and the public.

The work entitled OBSERVATORY CREST (De Blinde Muur en het Conflict)* is based on a study of the conflict between Gerrit Rietveld and Theo van Doesburg. This finds it sculptural representation in two confluent volumes that characterize these two personalities and the rise of modernism: the blank wall of the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht and Van Doesburg’s never realized Maison d’Artiste. Text, photographs and objects are combined to relate the story in its details: in 1923, Van Doesburg engaged Rietveld as a craftsman for the model of the Maison d’Artiste, and in 1925 Rietveld designed the Schröder House. The ensuing conflicts about issues of ideology and authorship brought an end to their friendship. This discordant constellation is the very source from which Koeman draws for this work that reflects on artistic relationships, the designing of space and the point where sculpture attains a sense of scalelessness.

The expansive DISPLAYS (A Temporary but Willing Suspension of Disbelief) in the adjoining room can be read as an open platform displaying a staged collection of architectural elements. The piece’s style is inspired by a scene from Jacques Tati’s film Playtime (1967). Tati’s satirical and futuristic view of modernist architecture is transposed here to a contemporary reality in the form of a dreary, dystopian urban landscape. The abstract facades and empty containers are charged with ideas about the point where fiction tips over into reality, and about the construction of our cultural history.

The ensemble of these works shows a homogenous vocabulary; Koeman uses sculpture as an autonomous, psychological visual code that offers mental shelter in its architectural core. A series of plots intermingle, both in the expansive sculptural gesture and in the ornamental detail, making for a complex, non-linear intertextuality. A subjective track unwinds through the exhibition space, leading us to the concept of ‘mental architecture’: the works represent models of reflection capable of expressing and relating human emotions and ideas about influential historical events, art and architectural history, and their presentation.

Ultimately, the exhibition can be seen as a transdisciplinary experiential environment that hosts a multitude of artistic forms of presentation and experience. In this way, a collection of pieces of scenery is reformulated as an autonomous sculpture. In its turn, this static show also functions as a momentary performative platform featuring the exhibition track as choreography and the visitor as walk-on. Observatory Crest thus ultimately functions as a temporary vantage point and shelter: a custom-built stage setting from which to observe and study the world.

Observatory Crest is realized with the support of Toneelhuis and the Mondriaan Fund and with the cooperation of Ot Bastiaanse, Bass Beek, Mieriën Coppens, Christophe De Clercq, Franciska Dendooven, Joris De Rycke, Takahiro Kudo, Paulo Rietjens and Caster Vermoortele.

exhibition text / press release

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