A “sign of Autumn” (in Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century) was the emergence of finance and the increasing consumption of cultural products, which spearheaded the decline of material production. For Vincent Vulsma, it is “the connections between the re-purposing of cultural resources as a means to realize new cultural production and capital’s looting of the productive forces in our current time defined by finance capital.” The pivot of Vulsma's show at SMBA is a Baulè mask, on loan from the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Before being included in the institution's collection, the object has passed from hand to hand, shown as a private treasure by ethnographers and surrealists, and even exhibited at New York's MoMA in 1935. At SMBA, the fetish is presented in a glass case, face down. All around the gallery, a series of wooden stools (apparently made in Congo in the 1930s) are paired with stools by American designer Ray Eames, while a series of woven black and white patterns decorate the walls.
By setting up such a minimal and polished environment, Vulsma tries to point out how connected art and colonialism have always historically been. Traditional objects are recontextualized, their cultural value appropriated and leeched to feed the new simulacra of contemporary consumption. The Dutch artist literally presents the other side of those objects, turning the mask upside down –now facing the obscurity on one side and, on the other, ready to be filled by any convenient signified – and juxtaposing the stools to a modern reinvention of the same concept. The weavings on the wall exemplify two patterns: the self-evident one, followed by the actual strings being woven, and an overlapping one – the black and white, imposing another vision over it.
The subtlety of Vulsma's intervention and the sensual quality of the objects shown make up for the obscurity of the artist's plot, hard to grasp without the accompanying text, but intriguing nonetheless.
~Nicola Bozzi, a writer living in Amsterdam.
(Images: Vincent Vulsma, A Sign of Autumn, exhibition view; Photo by Nicola Bozzi)