BY Maxine Kopsa in Reviews | 11 NOV 01
Featured in
Issue 63

Sonsbeek 9

Arnhem, The Netherlands

BY Maxine Kopsa in Reviews | 11 NOV 01

Pitting yourself against such massive, art-historical deities as Documenta, the Münster Sculpture Project and the Venice Biennial is a tall order. And claiming to 'signal alternatives to the ubiquitous commodification of both art and public space' is nothing if not ambitious. Or so it would seem from Sonsbeek 9's result. 'LocusFocus' took place at three carefully chosen locations: Sonsbeek Park, a suburban shopping mall (Kronenburg), and the historical Eusebius church.This triple axis was meant to represent the pastoral, the sacred and the profane, and to accommodate the supposedly changing needs of both art and its public. But apparently it was more than that. A press release stated that 'LocusFocus' supported the growing idea that contemporary art can play an important role in the deceleration of our consumer-based culture and in so doing hopefully renew the supposedly forgotten impetus of experience. These are, needless to say, noble and very contemporary aims. But why a church as a 'new' location? Or a 1970s style shopping mall, which only ended up revealing the tragic demise of the efficient yet soulless commercial aspirations of 30 years ago? Why not a truly new urban development? Or a place where spirituality and concentration are respected even today?

Sonsbeek Park itself is without a doubt beautiful. Like a jungle with neat paths leading to carefully forgotten corners, it is the perfect location for a Sunday stroll. It is also a difficult venue to compete with. Jeroen Eisinga, however, coped well. His wooden hut, complete with fenced-in cornfield, was home to The Idiot (1999), a short video about a Jesus-like figure who preaches in Dutch to a cornfield. Irritatingly over-dramatic, the messiah (clad in a brightly coloured nylon jacket, jeans and Adidas trainers) takes off his shoes while standing on a park bench in front of green fields. Then he steps down and wanders off, leaving behind him a trail of bloody footsteps. A plea for Mother Nature? No matter really, because the effect became clear once the door to the hut opened revealing a somehow 'historicized' yet misplaced cornfield in Sonsbeek Park. This work resisted the clichés one might expect when nature meets art, such as the piped jungle sounds by Slava Nakovska or the 40-years-too-late stepped spiral hill by Peter Santino, which apparently quoted Robert Smithson's and Robert Morris' works from Sonsbeek in 1971. A much needed element of surprise was supplied by Belinde De Bruyckere's stuffed, mangled and hanging horses, and Mark Manders' suspended sculpture of a leather couch, table and plaster dog - part of his ongoing Fragments from Self Portrait as a Building. More subtle interventions were Lois Weinberger's Entrance (2001), a narrow green wooden box leading up to a brightly lit tree, and Michel François' clever and oh-so-simple Cinéma muet (Silent Cinema, 2001), a silent depiction of rushing water.

Outside the park Maria Roosen's wooden mini-replica church, suspended from the side of the Eusebius church, was definitely worth seeing, as was MafreDu Schu's enigmatic Volume 1000t. Freely referencing sources such as Marshall McLuhan, Paul Virilio and video culture, the promise of 'LocusFocus' was one of new notions and new forays into the established ways of exhibition making. Though not always the fault of the works themselves, Sonsbeek 9 instead managed to decelerate so much that it came to a halt. Ultimately, however, it was little more than a walk in the park.