SAVVY's HAND

April 15, 2019



Press texts can be so obnoxiously bad. I had to laugh when I read the first paragraph of SAVVY Contemporary that entered in my mailbox last week:

“How do we celebrate with one hand up in praise, and another hand up calling for attention to question and reprimand? [...] We at SAVVY Contemporary are bound to negotiate that in-between space, off the path paved by the canon,” explains Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, founder and director of SAVVY Contemporary."

I was trying to imagine Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung standing like a pope with his one hand in praise and in his other hand wagging the finger while reprimanding. Such a pompous gesture and a totally shallow statement meaning nothing much but quoted as if it's the most radical thing that had been said in the 21st century. Adding to it, just for the sake of backing up the statement with authority: this important statement was made by the founder and director of SAVVY. The traditional power talk but one that is so-called intended to be off the canonical path. And the funny thing is that this is what the conventional art world loves. They love this shit. I just wish project spaces would be more critical of the language they use and the structures that underlie it. There is a lot that SAVVY could do by looking critically at its own workings.
Press texts can be so obnoxiously bad. I had to laugh when I read the first paragraph of SAVVY Contemporary that entered in my mailbox last week: “How do we celebrate with one hand up in praise, and another hand up calling for attention to question and reprimand? [...] We at SAVVY Contemporary are bound to negotiate that in-between space, off the path paved by the canon,” explains Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, founder and director of SAVVY Cont…


Press texts can be so obnoxiously bad. I had to laugh when I read the first paragraph of SAVVY Contemporary that entered in my mailbox last week:

“How do we celebrate with one hand up in praise, and another hand up calling for attention to question and reprimand? [...] We at SAVVY Contemporary are bound to negotiate that in-between space, off the path paved by the canon,” explains Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, founder and director of SAVVY Contemporary."

I was trying to imagine Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung standing like a pope with his one hand in praise and in his other hand wagging the finger while reprimanding. Such a pompous gesture and a totally shallow statement meaning nothing much but quoted as if it's the most radical thing that had been said in the 21st century. Adding to it, just for the sake of backing up the statement with authority: this important statement was made by the founder and director of SAVVY. The traditional power talk but one that is so-called intended to be off the canonical path. And the funny thing is that this is what the conventional art world loves. They love this shit. I just wish project spaces would be more critical of the language they use and the structures that underlie it. There is a lot that SAVVY could do by looking critically at its own workings.

Observations in Culture

April 11, 2019

"I sound much more sophisticated in Japanese than in German," my student at the writing course in the library says. "Great opportunity to un-sophisticate!" I encourage her.

I'm teaching in Halle at the art university on Tuesdays. So I take the opportunity to buy some new clothes. I always think it's cheaper in the "province" than in the capital but that might be an illusion. I bought a Levi's T-shirt, something I've been wanting to do for a while now. "That's so 2018", A. tells me. "Well, in Halle it's very 2019," I smirk.  

My neighbour gave me three "detectives" to read: All That I Have by Castle Freeman, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson and Samaritan by Richard Price. After a while I notice that they all start with a quote from the same source. "Shakespeare?" A. guesses. Very British to think so. But no, it's the bible. A. tells me it's probably because of some moral need that books about murder do so. 

My favourite book is All That I Have about a sheriff in Vermont. It uses sparse language, just the way I imagine a sheriff talks, and a very sparse amount of thinking, as I also imagine a sheriff's mind to be - blank and calm most of the time. For instance, when he's offered his deputy job and asked to think about it: "I thought about it for two minutes. No, I didn't. I didn't think about it that long. I didn't think about it at all; I didn't have to." 

Or take this beautiful bit of philosophy in the chapter titled "It is what it is": "How do people get where they are? I don't mean in any fancy way, but just that: where they are at. Location, location, location is what counts, they tell you, and they're right. Where have you passed through to get here, what's your geography? It looks as though you can work it either or two ways: straight line or winding. Some people, if they left tracks all through their lives and you could follow them, you'd find they wandered around like a deer in the snow. [...] They're not me, those people. I'm the other way: straight line. It's like I was born at the station, got right aboard the train, and then went along on the rails. Started here, here I am, here I'll finish up."

From Richard Price's book I got this beautiful idea of "leaning in." When something happens to Price's characters, then they lean into it and they don't brush it off. It reminded me of what curator Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi told me about Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, describing Janie and how something "fell of the shelf inside her" and Janie "going inside there to see what it was."

It was at the library, in a lull of some sort, when I thought about how in some places eyes are dominantly looking in the same direction. Take the library where eyes are mostly looking down. I drew those downcast eyes until the lull passed and I got back to work.  




A student told me she took a course at Sotheby's where she learnt how to look at art. You look from left to right, then from right to left, then up and down, down and up, then from the left corner to the opposite corner and from the right corner to the opposite corner. It's a full-on approach that doesn't leave anything undetected. My advice would rather be to see where your eye stumbles and to zoom in on that. 



“What happened?” the mother asks her kids after school.
“Nothing happened.” the boy says.
“Nothing happened to me either”, says his little brother.
“Homework?” she asks.
“No.” the older boy says. 
“Again?!” the mother yells. 

Diest is a nice small town where nothing much happens. But the names of its cafés make me think it must have had a tougher and especially cooler past - probably in the eighties. I have a beer in an old  bar called “De Zigaret” followed by a spaghetti bolognese, topped with an extra portion of cheese in a bar called “De Garage”.





"I sound much more sophisticated in Japanese than in German," my student at the writing course in the library says. "Great opportunity to un-sophisticate!" I encourage her. I'm teaching in Halle at the art university on Tuesdays. So I take the opportunity to buy some new clothes. I always think it's cheaper in the "province" than in the capital but that might be an illusion. I bought a Levi's T-shirt, som…
"I sound much more sophisticated in Japanese than in German," my student at the writing course in the library says. "Great opportunity to un-sophisticate!" I encourage her.

I'm teaching in Halle at the art university on Tuesdays. So I take the opportunity to buy some new clothes. I always think it's cheaper in the "province" than in the capital but that might be an illusion. I bought a Levi's T-shirt, something I've been wanting to do for a while now. "That's so 2018", A. tells me. "Well, in Halle it's very 2019," I smirk.  

My neighbour gave me three "detectives" to read: All That I Have by Castle Freeman, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson and Samaritan by Richard Price. After a while I notice that they all start with a quote from the same source. "Shakespeare?" A. guesses. Very British to think so. But no, it's the bible. A. tells me it's probably because of some moral need that books about murder do so. 

My favourite book is All That I Have about a sheriff in Vermont. It uses sparse language, just the way I imagine a sheriff talks, and a very sparse amount of thinking, as I also imagine a sheriff's mind to be - blank and calm most of the time. For instance, when he's offered his deputy job and asked to think about it: "I thought about it for two minutes. No, I didn't. I didn't think about it that long. I didn't think about it at all; I didn't have to." 

Or take this beautiful bit of philosophy in the chapter titled "It is what it is": "How do people get where they are? I don't mean in any fancy way, but just that: where they are at. Location, location, location is what counts, they tell you, and they're right. Where have you passed through to get here, what's your geography? It looks as though you can work it either or two ways: straight line or winding. Some people, if they left tracks all through their lives and you could follow them, you'd find they wandered around like a deer in the snow. [...] They're not me, those people. I'm the other way: straight line. It's like I was born at the station, got right aboard the train, and then went along on the rails. Started here, here I am, here I'll finish up."

From Richard Price's book I got this beautiful idea of "leaning in." When something happens to Price's characters, then they lean into it and they don't brush it off. It reminded me of what curator Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi told me about Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, describing Janie and how something "fell of the shelf inside her" and Janie "going inside there to see what it was."

It was at the library, in a lull of some sort, when I thought about how in some places eyes are dominantly looking in the same direction. Take the library where eyes are mostly looking down. I drew those downcast eyes until the lull passed and I got back to work.  




A student told me she took a course at Sotheby's where she learnt how to look at art. You look from left to right, then from right to left, then up and down, down and up, then from the left corner to the opposite corner and from the right corner to the opposite corner. It's a full-on approach that doesn't leave anything undetected. My advice would rather be to see where your eye stumbles and to zoom in on that. 



“What happened?” the mother asks her kids after school.
“Nothing happened.” the boy says.
“Nothing happened to me either”, says his little brother.
“Homework?” she asks.
“No.” the older boy says. 
“Again?!” the mother yells. 

Diest is a nice small town where nothing much happens. But the names of its cafés make me think it must have had a tougher and especially cooler past - probably in the eighties. I have a beer in an old  bar called “De Zigaret” followed by a spaghetti bolognese, topped with an extra portion of cheese in a bar called “De Garage”.





Travel Essays in Art: Braunschweig

March 27, 2019




I like to go around in Germany so I'm always excited when I'm invited somewhere new. I also feel it's part of my job to get to know the habitat of the art students I'm working with. So that's how I was wandering through Braunschweig's city center at the end of January when visiting the Open Studios of the Hochschule für Bildende Künste. Enthusiastically, I took photographs of the historical houses I saw and sent one to Asta Gröting, Professor of Sculpture at HBK. She wrote back that it's difficult. Braunschweig is difficult,  as a city itself, associated so much with Nazi Germany. But a difficult surrounding might not be a disadvantage for art students. When things are easy, like eternal sunshine, not much art tends to come about. 

I'm not such an adventurer - I like the comforting smell of coffee and the welcoming warmth of city libraries and that's what I do when I visit new places. I picked a coffee place in one of the medieval houses at the market square where there was just the right amount of coffee buzz going on to write (If you want coffee shop sound to write, I just found out about this great sound app Noisli that improves focus and boosts productivity!). At the library I ran through the different levels and liked the open platforms. Outside it was the first sunny day of the year. A kid was licking at a lollipop and one of the punks sitting around near the fountain generously called out to his friends: "Wer braucht noch ein Bier?" It put me in a good mood. 

At Asta's class I peeped into the hole of what looked like a cat box. Inside there was a QR code. My iPhone is from the year 2010 so I can’t scan it. But the artist Stefan Schramm showed me the photo that would have been taken if I could: a picture of me peeking inside the thing. “Sich ertappen bei Neugier”, Stefan said. "To catch yourself in a moment of curiosity." I very much like that idea. I like that moment. 

My memory has gotten a bit blurry about who said what at Asta's class but I remember fragments of conversation and images. Like a sleeping tooth brush on a fragile shelf by Lucila Pacheco Dehne, or "sich an die Zukunft erinnern" ("To remember the future"), and a "Kurzschreiberin." To take the outside and made it look as if it was an inside (Camilla Schiegnitz). Or to make something real that looks unreal, like Gregor Kieseritzky's puddle of peppermint liquor that seemed to come out of a comic strip. There was a work by Jan-Louis Gens called French Coffee, a composition messing around with the scales of romantic cinema music. Jiyoung Hong told me she paid her performers 50 cents, the usual toilet visit fee, to be photographed while using the bathroom. And Johannes Möller had observed an interesting axis going on in the studio space from the entrance door all the way to the back in a straight line. His installation looked like a kind of gutter following that axis.

Meanwhile in the main building, Candice Breitz' class was doing performances. I dropped in and out, picnicking along, going underwater and other spaces they led me into. At the photography class of Anna Pöhlmann, a student told me about his work with IKEA photos that  had blown out candle smoke in them. He found three of those in the IKEA sales catalogue. A morbid interior design idea, indeed. 

When I reached the studios at the Blumenstraße I couldn't resists the waffles sold by Manuel, who studies art philosophy. His waffles were baked with heavy dough, combined with chocolate and mango, so that I spaced out for the next hour and walked around in a daze. I got back to my senses visiting Raimund Kummer's sculpture class the next morning, where I became a fan of Sara Wiekenberg's Kotzgeschichten (puke stories): "Ich kotz dir / vor die Füße / da hast du den / Salat."  (I puke / in front of your feet / there you have the / salad)




When you leave Braunschweig, you have to make sure you don't have to wait at the train station. As it is, contemporary train stations are the saddest places in Germany: grey, cold and uninviting. I had the choice between McDonalds and Burger King. I picked McDonalds because that's where the sun was shining in. I had a small portion of pommes and chatted with A., who told me that Burger King has better burgers. A kid ran into a salesperson carrying drinks and its mother started screaming at the salesperson for not paying attention to her running kid. I squeezed my eyes shut for the sun entering through the window panes and let the time go by.






I like to go around in Germany so I'm always excited when I'm invited somewhere new. I also feel it's part of my job to get to know the habitat of the art students I'm working with. So that's how I was wandering through Braunschweig's city center at the end of January when visiting the Open Studios of the Hochschule für Bildende Künste. Enthusiastically, I took photographs of the historical houses I saw and sent one to As…



I like to go around in Germany so I'm always excited when I'm invited somewhere new. I also feel it's part of my job to get to know the habitat of the art students I'm working with. So that's how I was wandering through Braunschweig's city center at the end of January when visiting the Open Studios of the Hochschule für Bildende Künste. Enthusiastically, I took photographs of the historical houses I saw and sent one to Asta Gröting, Professor of Sculpture at HBK. She wrote back that it's difficult. Braunschweig is difficult,  as a city itself, associated so much with Nazi Germany. But a difficult surrounding might not be a disadvantage for art students. When things are easy, like eternal sunshine, not much art tends to come about. 

I'm not such an adventurer - I like the comforting smell of coffee and the welcoming warmth of city libraries and that's what I do when I visit new places. I picked a coffee place in one of the medieval houses at the market square where there was just the right amount of coffee buzz going on to write (If you want coffee shop sound to write, I just found out about this great sound app Noisli that improves focus and boosts productivity!). At the library I ran through the different levels and liked the open platforms. Outside it was the first sunny day of the year. A kid was licking at a lollipop and one of the punks sitting around near the fountain generously called out to his friends: "Wer braucht noch ein Bier?" It put me in a good mood. 

At Asta's class I peeped into the hole of what looked like a cat box. Inside there was a QR code. My iPhone is from the year 2010 so I can’t scan it. But the artist Stefan Schramm showed me the photo that would have been taken if I could: a picture of me peeking inside the thing. “Sich ertappen bei Neugier”, Stefan said. "To catch yourself in a moment of curiosity." I very much like that idea. I like that moment. 

My memory has gotten a bit blurry about who said what at Asta's class but I remember fragments of conversation and images. Like a sleeping tooth brush on a fragile shelf by Lucila Pacheco Dehne, or "sich an die Zukunft erinnern" ("To remember the future"), and a "Kurzschreiberin." To take the outside and made it look as if it was an inside (Camilla Schiegnitz). Or to make something real that looks unreal, like Gregor Kieseritzky's puddle of peppermint liquor that seemed to come out of a comic strip. There was a work by Jan-Louis Gens called French Coffee, a composition messing around with the scales of romantic cinema music. Jiyoung Hong told me she paid her performers 50 cents, the usual toilet visit fee, to be photographed while using the bathroom. And Johannes Möller had observed an interesting axis going on in the studio space from the entrance door all the way to the back in a straight line. His installation looked like a kind of gutter following that axis.

Meanwhile in the main building, Candice Breitz' class was doing performances. I dropped in and out, picnicking along, going underwater and other spaces they led me into. At the photography class of Anna Pöhlmann, a student told me about his work with IKEA photos that  had blown out candle smoke in them. He found three of those in the IKEA sales catalogue. A morbid interior design idea, indeed. 

When I reached the studios at the Blumenstraße I couldn't resists the waffles sold by Manuel, who studies art philosophy. His waffles were baked with heavy dough, combined with chocolate and mango, so that I spaced out for the next hour and walked around in a daze. I got back to my senses visiting Raimund Kummer's sculpture class the next morning, where I became a fan of Sara Wiekenberg's Kotzgeschichten (puke stories): "Ich kotz dir / vor die Füße / da hast du den / Salat."  (I puke / in front of your feet / there you have the / salad)




When you leave Braunschweig, you have to make sure you don't have to wait at the train station. As it is, contemporary train stations are the saddest places in Germany: grey, cold and uninviting. I had the choice between McDonalds and Burger King. I picked McDonalds because that's where the sun was shining in. I had a small portion of pommes and chatted with A., who told me that Burger King has better burgers. A kid ran into a salesperson carrying drinks and its mother started screaming at the salesperson for not paying attention to her running kid. I squeezed my eyes shut for the sun entering through the window panes and let the time go by.






Travel Essay in Art: Bergen

March 17, 2019

The most photographed view of Bergen

I’m staying at the Zander K Hotel in Bergen. It won a price for its architecture. My room has very high ceilings, concrete walls with wood furniture, wall paper, atmospheric lights and a huge mirror. 
Zander K Hotel is close to the library and that's where Cecilie A. Storksom takes me on my first evening. The library has a café with nice sandwiches, salads and soups. You can read books in the café and the first book I see is one about Andy Warhol. This is how I imagined Norway to be - perfect.

Zander K Hotel in Bergen

Soup at the library


Bybanen is the name of the new subway from the airport into town. It moves so smoothly that you feel like being in a better, more ecological future. We stop at places like "Paradisa" and every stop has a different jingle to it that is not loud or obtrusive but just playful, light and jazzy. I feel like I'm sliding into town.

On my flight to Bergen I'm sitting in the back of the plane. I don't like sitting in the back because it's more shaky. But then somebody tells me that there's less air in the back so you fall asleep. This sounds good but at the same time it's also a bit discomforting.


My neighbor in Berlin tells me that he only knowns about Bergen from a murder series on German TV. As it happens, when I am having breakfast at Zander K Hotel and draw my coffee cup, A. remarks on my drawing: “Are there fingers coming out of your coffee?” A murderous cup of coffee in Bergen? 


Murder in Bergen

Bergen lies in between seven mountains. Cecilie tells me it's like an island. It rains a lot in Bergen because the clouds get stuck in between them. When Cecilie moved to Bergen, it rained for ninety days. I’m lucky; I'm there for three days and it’s blue sky all the way through.

Cecilie is one of the directors of Tag Team Studio. In 2019 Tag Team Studio decided to have no exhibitions but instead writers are invited to have a desk in the space and write about art. The idea is to stimulate art criticism in the local art scene of Bergen. When Cecilie takes me out gallery hopping. I notice a lot of photographers around. “Yes,” Cecilie nods, “We don’t write in Bergen. We photograph. Documenting events is very important here.”


Writng at Tag Team Studio

In a flyer of Bergen Kunsthall I see that Eileen Myles is teaching a writing class in March. I'm a big fan. Her workshop is called "Radical reading and silent writing practice with Eileen Myles." I'm a bit surprised at first and tend to have an allergy for the word "radical" but then I get it: it asks guts to do a silent writing workshop, doesn't it? I check Eileen Myles' website and see that she's also giving a "write-in" in London. At this "write-in" you can bring your work material and write in the vicinity of other thinking writing bodies. Kind of like writing in the library but then consciously... I myself always tend to over-prepare for my writing workshops with too many exercises, as I did for Bergen. I consider to be more radical in the future. 

During my gallery hopping night out, my attention is drawn to a vase of tulips in the corner of the art space. I’ve also noticed this in Helsinki. To put flowers in an art space looks like a competition in beauty in which contemporary art can never win. In the space with the tulips an artist performs a minimalist performance, drawing and erasing a white circle on a black background. It takes utmost concentration but I wonder if the artist took into account the flowers. 

On my way to Tag Team Space on Sunday morning, I see a lot of people walking around with ski outfits and ski equipment in the city center. Even a baby has something on its back that looks like a mini-sledge in the form of a green plastic bathtub.

Instagram a photo of what I'm told later is the most photographed view of Bergen: on a clear day the city mirrors almost perfectly in the water of the lake. 

I'm surprised to find out that there is no sauna culture in Norway. But there is one thing that seems to make up Scandinavian culture: coffee. People drink coffee all the time. Cecilie tells me her parents drink coffee till 11pm. She says they don't suffer from any effects although her mother sleeps lightly. 


Norwegians have different names for their coffee: "midwife coffee" is strong, "ferry coffee" is sour. They always drink their coffee black and don't understand the concept of a cappuccino.

On the last night Cecilie takes me to a pizza place that has the name of a serpent: Hoggorm. It's the only serpent in Norway that is poisonous, Cecilie explains to me. "Cool," I say, and take a bite. 



I’m staying at the Zander K Hotel in Bergen. It won a price for its architecture. My room has very high ceilings, concrete walls with wood furniture, wall paper, atmospheric lights and a huge mirror.  Zander K Hotel is close to the library and that's where Cecilie A. Storksom takes me on my first evening. The library has a café with nice sandwiches, salads and soups. You can read books in the café and the first book I see is one about Andy Wa…
The most photographed view of Bergen

I’m staying at the Zander K Hotel in Bergen. It won a price for its architecture. My room has very high ceilings, concrete walls with wood furniture, wall paper, atmospheric lights and a huge mirror. 
Zander K Hotel is close to the library and that's where Cecilie A. Storksom takes me on my first evening. The library has a café with nice sandwiches, salads and soups. You can read books in the café and the first book I see is one about Andy Warhol. This is how I imagined Norway to be - perfect.

Zander K Hotel in Bergen

Soup at the library


Bybanen is the name of the new subway from the airport into town. It moves so smoothly that you feel like being in a better, more ecological future. We stop at places like "Paradisa" and every stop has a different jingle to it that is not loud or obtrusive but just playful, light and jazzy. I feel like I'm sliding into town.

On my flight to Bergen I'm sitting in the back of the plane. I don't like sitting in the back because it's more shaky. But then somebody tells me that there's less air in the back so you fall asleep. This sounds good but at the same time it's also a bit discomforting.


My neighbor in Berlin tells me that he only knowns about Bergen from a murder series on German TV. As it happens, when I am having breakfast at Zander K Hotel and draw my coffee cup, A. remarks on my drawing: “Are there fingers coming out of your coffee?” A murderous cup of coffee in Bergen? 


Murder in Bergen

Bergen lies in between seven mountains. Cecilie tells me it's like an island. It rains a lot in Bergen because the clouds get stuck in between them. When Cecilie moved to Bergen, it rained for ninety days. I’m lucky; I'm there for three days and it’s blue sky all the way through.

Cecilie is one of the directors of Tag Team Studio. In 2019 Tag Team Studio decided to have no exhibitions but instead writers are invited to have a desk in the space and write about art. The idea is to stimulate art criticism in the local art scene of Bergen. When Cecilie takes me out gallery hopping. I notice a lot of photographers around. “Yes,” Cecilie nods, “We don’t write in Bergen. We photograph. Documenting events is very important here.”


Writng at Tag Team Studio

In a flyer of Bergen Kunsthall I see that Eileen Myles is teaching a writing class in March. I'm a big fan. Her workshop is called "Radical reading and silent writing practice with Eileen Myles." I'm a bit surprised at first and tend to have an allergy for the word "radical" but then I get it: it asks guts to do a silent writing workshop, doesn't it? I check Eileen Myles' website and see that she's also giving a "write-in" in London. At this "write-in" you can bring your work material and write in the vicinity of other thinking writing bodies. Kind of like writing in the library but then consciously... I myself always tend to over-prepare for my writing workshops with too many exercises, as I did for Bergen. I consider to be more radical in the future. 

During my gallery hopping night out, my attention is drawn to a vase of tulips in the corner of the art space. I’ve also noticed this in Helsinki. To put flowers in an art space looks like a competition in beauty in which contemporary art can never win. In the space with the tulips an artist performs a minimalist performance, drawing and erasing a white circle on a black background. It takes utmost concentration but I wonder if the artist took into account the flowers. 

On my way to Tag Team Space on Sunday morning, I see a lot of people walking around with ski outfits and ski equipment in the city center. Even a baby has something on its back that looks like a mini-sledge in the form of a green plastic bathtub.

Instagram a photo of what I'm told later is the most photographed view of Bergen: on a clear day the city mirrors almost perfectly in the water of the lake. 

I'm surprised to find out that there is no sauna culture in Norway. But there is one thing that seems to make up Scandinavian culture: coffee. People drink coffee all the time. Cecilie tells me her parents drink coffee till 11pm. She says they don't suffer from any effects although her mother sleeps lightly. 


Norwegians have different names for their coffee: "midwife coffee" is strong, "ferry coffee" is sour. They always drink their coffee black and don't understand the concept of a cappuccino.

On the last night Cecilie takes me to a pizza place that has the name of a serpent: Hoggorm. It's the only serpent in Norway that is poisonous, Cecilie explains to me. "Cool," I say, and take a bite.