What's in a title? In this case, a lot. The group exhibition currently on show at NIMk is about openness, but it's also a statement of – precarious, endangered...in fact, doomed – existence. The fact that the show is up until “the end” is just another hint to a situation that the average Amsterdam gallery-goer should know by now: NIMk is shutting down. Yes, We're Open is going to be the last of an almost two decade-long series of adventures in media art, a honored tradition that, since the institution came to be from the fusion of Monte Video and Time Based Arts, has put it on the international map. This alone, of course, is a good enough reason to pay the museum a visit.
As for the art displayed, this is definitely not an “easy” show. First of all, the visitor might find even less “stuff” than usual in the soon-to-be-vacant rooms at Keizersgracht 264. Several of the pieces – INTK's unCloud or Spiros Hadjidjanos's Network Time, for instance – are quite impalpable, so much that you might even miss them if you don't read the leaflet. The installations also require quite a bit of background information -- but that's kind of typical of media art, right?
The concept of “openness”, as explored by the works selected, is manifold: openness in form, in process, in structure, openness in a political sense. The art I mentioned above allows the visitor to interact through their smart phones, but there are also pieces that are open in a more intuitive sense, like DUS Architects' Bubble Building. The Dutch studio has provided three five-sided steel pools with as many metal frames, so people can cooperate and build instant pavilions that appear out of soap and water, literally bursting like the infamous construction bubble.
Martijn Engelbregt, ERGONED 'Illegalenformulier', action/performance, 2003; Photo courtesy of the artist and NIMk
Other works have more explicitly political undertones: in Baden Pailthorpe's video Formation VI a hacked military training simulator shows US soldiers and Taliban members running side by side in a loop, while Martijn Engelbregt's REGONED 'illegalenformulier' is a collection of fake forms, sent by the artist to thousands of Dutch citizens in 2003, actually filled in to report on other people's supposed “illegality”.
Of course, openness in culture and ownership is another big sub-theme. A good example is A tool to deceive and slaughter by Caleb Larsen, a minimalist cube with an inner chip that automatically auctions itself on eBay and whose owner mandatorily has to permit such transfer of property. !Mediengruppe Bitnik's Opera Calling – Arias for All (here documented in a video installation) was instead a bottom-up intervention bringing high-end live music to random citizens via audio bugs and phones, eventually tolerated by the institution it was infiltrating.
In terms of authorship and participation, we also have the Annlee project, by Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe. In 1999, the two artists bought the copyright for a manga character that they creatively reinterpreted, before killing her off and entitling said rights to the character itself. NIMk is showcasing the project, but also inviting the public to fill in and share any new version of the cartoon heroine by uploading her incarnations on a specific blog.
Coming to a conclusion doesn't make much sense for a show about openness, but conclusion is also the silent protagonist of NIMk's last exhibition. While Yes, We're Open is hardly the most exciting show I've seen at the venue, it does also offer the opportunity reflect on its heritage, encouraging visitors to access its archive, choosing their favorite artworks and submitting them as “picks of the week” for the website. A good chance to say goodbye and remind you of how relevant the institution has been for all these years.
(Image on top right: DUS Architects, Bubble Building, 2012, steel pool and frame installation; Courtesy of the Artist and Netherlands Media Art Institute - Montevideo/Time Based Arts)