Corona turns Public Culture into a OnlyFans zone

By Quirijn van den Hoogen

It is generally acknowledged that the cultural sector was hit extremely hard by the Corona pandemic. Around the globe, public life came to a standstill and cultural facilities were shut down: libraries and museums, the musical theatres of West End, pop music festivals, and amateur culture such as choir rehearsals, were all impossible because of social distancing rules. All three spheres of what British policy researcher John Holden denotes as cultural ecologies, came to a standstill: the publicly funded, the commercial, and the homegrown culture. Those institutions that have re-opened, such as the museums in Rome this week, can only receive a small fraction of the visitor numbers of before 2020.

Governments have responded by providing aid packages, pumping large sums of money in the economy, including cultural industries. Aid comes in many forms and shapes, as loan or as gift, all aiming to preserve jobs in the creative sectors and beyond. The self-employed, however, benefitted little from these aid packages. They provide the backbone of the labour force in the creative sector, particularly the commercial part of this sector. So, lesson one of this crisis, in my view, is that solving the problem of precarity in the labour market is urgent. That will not only help the cultural sector.

Institutions in the cultural sector massively turned towards digital offering. This development was not new, the museum sector for instance has widely experimented with digital exhibitions that have turned out to be very conducive to cultural education purposes. The live arts have had to catch on quickly, learning that audience reach is much wider when performances are streamed. Though the live aspect is lost, a good live stream does provide a quality experience. From a public policy perspective this provides a golden opportunity to widen reach of culture. Governments and cultural institutions alike, see a blended future for the arts, also when Corona is over. And, just as open access is quickly becoming the standard in science, it is logical that publicly funded culture will become available for free on the Internet. How then can the cultural sector profit from such a permanently blended situation?

Let’s look at a sector that has already solved this problem: the porn industry. It provides boundless free content on the Internet – from a public policy perspective a logical strategy – that leads a proportion of the audience to sites where content is available behind a paywall. So free content is the advertisement for commercial production companies. Privately produced content is shared through websites such as OnlyFans. Thus, the homegrown sphere also has found ways of making money. However, both strategies primarily help the bigtech industries making more profit.

If we were to transplant the porn business model to the cultural sector, who will benefit mostly? The cultural sector – rightfully – needs to pay way more attention to quality, only raising the cost of production. A good live stream adds between 8.000 to 10.000 euros to the costs of a theatre production. That is per evening. So, digital distribution may merely raise costs while allowing the bigtech industry – quite shamelessly – to exploit publicly funded and the culture. Moreover, this would leave the surfing cultural consumer at the mercy of Google’s and Facebook’s algorithms. Isn’t it time to develop an alternative platform that is not guided by profit-maximizing algorithms? A sort of Blendle meets OnlyFans, based in a business model that properly compensates producers of content? Isn’t that the urgent job of the government, the EU maybe? If not, public culture will lose the battle for attention of surfing customers and only the rich will pay for exclusive content behind paywalls, leaving the titbits that commercial players provide as teasers to the rest of society. In such a scenario, publicly funded culture will lose all the social values it provided before 2020. As the Corona pandemic – at least across the Western world – has led to unprecedented government involvement in society, even by the most astutely neoliberal governments, why would developing a public portal be a farfetched idea?

This column is an abbreviated version of an analysis of Dutch cultural policy in times of Corona Quirijn van den Hoogen wrote for Sociaal & Democratie, the magazine of the Dutch Social-Democratic party. The article is available through: (unfortunately, behind a paywall).

Arts and Humanities in the Times of the Corona Crisis The Role of Cultural Institutions

By Tooka Taheri

The museum, as an architectural typology, has its roots in the art collection which was typical of Renaissance Italy and its fascination with the past and products of antiquity. [1] However, it can be argued that its function as a cultural institution and a public service only began during the Enlightenment era. Prior to the 18th century, such collections were private and exclusive. Their aim was primarily due to their aesthetic value; for the pleasure and entertainment of the aristocracy and the wealthy. [2] In accordance with their enlightenment ideology, these private collections were opened to serve the general public. Thus, the museum was born: a building, renamed after the Greek ‘mouseion’ -μουσείο- , in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited. A prominent and early example is when Sir Hans Sloane donated his collection to the British government in 1753, with the note that it should be exhibited to all the people of Britain. This resulted in the construction of the British Museum, open and free to all.

This change of ownership, from private collections to public, had consequences, resulting in the typology becoming a cornerstone of public and civic life. Since its conception, the significance of the museum has only increased. Many of them are compelling works of architecture, designed by the world’s most renowned architects and designers. H. P. Berlage’s Kuntsmuseum in The Hague and Zaha Hadid’s The Maxxi National Museum in Rome are just a few notable examples. This both reflects and expands upon the institute’s credibility and prominence within the city and society. Furthermore, the museum has the power to influence and regenerate the urban fabric, as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Tate Modern in London have done. Perhaps even more crucially, the museum is the conductor and curator of the individual’s particular experience of art in its many forms. This is supported by Anne de Haij, strategic advisor at Kunstmuseum The Hague, who mentioned the value a museum can have for people and for a community. She considers the cultural institutions as ‘vital for the mental and emotional health of our society.’ [3]

This significant position then comes to the fore at a time of the global pandemic. A situation which has had widespread drastic effects. However, at a time of great anxiety and difficulty, museums were forced to close their doors to the public. While a necessary move to protect the health of the population, it offers a sensible opportunity to ponder on the response of this cultural institution during this trying time as well as its role in society.

While the museum was physically absent from public and individual life, much like many other forms of interaction during the coronacrisis, there was a very strong digital presence. Online exhibitions, virtual tours, and a stronger presence on social media platforms became the new norm, practiced by many. From the National Theatre to the Royal Opera House, there are many institutes that have contributed their content online free of charge. [4]

The artist Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition ‘In Real Life’ at Tate Modern is one instance among many of the immersive and collective experience which would not have been possible in a digital format.

This trajectory towards digital means, which has been hastened due to the current crisis, is by no means a novel initiative. As far back as 2005 the British Museum boasted of its partnership with Google, which brought forth the possibility to view 5000 if its objects online. [5] It cannot be denied that digital content has the potential to reach an audience that far exceeds the boundaries of any physical building. The director of the British Museum at the time exclaimed how ‘that Enlightenment fantasy, about 25 years ago became an internet possibility, and today, thanks to the Google Cultural Institute, it is a practical reality.’ [6] There are numerous benefits in having this digital platform. Its availability and accessibility fulfill some of the institute’s roles; both in terms of education and research as well as merely entertainment and curiosity. In this way it does perform the Enlightenment’s aspiration to bring art and education to the general public which is at the root of the museum’s conception.

It would perhaps be apt to ponder on whether this move towards online platforms has rendered the cultural institute’s physical entity as superfluous. Yet, in certain places museums are slowly opening their doors, mindful of protective measures to ensure the health of their staff and visitors. It is again possible to look around The Kunstmuseum, and The National Gallery in London will showcase its collection to the public once more. It would be mistake to portray their role as merely a tool for educational purposes. Museums are also about the experience of art, within the space, at a given time. The immersive quality of certain exhibits is intertwined with the experience of the space. To reiterate Robert Oosterhuis, research coordinator at the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science: these virtual and digital contents are no substitute to art and the experience it provides up close.[7]

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an increase in this interaction between individuals and the museum’s online content. Traffic on the British Museum’s website is now three times higher than before the crisis.[8] However, this does not translate to a replacement or substitution of the museum experience. It rather addresses a more urgent and humane need within society during the current crisis. A study of the cultural field in Turkey during the pandemic accentuates how this online presence of cultural institutions ‘have offered people the sense of hope and unity they need’. [9] The document affirms the role that culture and arts have in dealing with the difficulties of the global crisis and refers to them as ‘one of the great uniting and healing powers for the public.’

Therefore, it can be said that the role of the museum as an institute is manifold and applies at various scales. From education, research, and entertainment on an individual level to the scale of the community and the city as a whole. While digital and online content are of value, and have offered a significant and necessary opportunity during the coronavirus crisis, it only provides a partial fulfillment of a museum’s role in society at best. It is not a replacement for the experience of the arts.


[1] Pevsner, Nikolaus. (1976) A History of Building Types. London: Thames and Hudson

[2] Newhouse, Victoria. (1998) Towards a New Museum.  The University of Michigan: Monacelli Press.

[3] Interview with Anne de Haij



[6] Ibid.

[7]Interview with Robert Oosterhuis


[9]The Uniting Power of Art and Needs of the Cultural Field During the Pandemic

Humanities overcoming crises

By Elisabetta Cuccaro

The Covid-19 outbreak is a crisis that is showing us the true face of our society: the virus, in itself so ‘democratic’ -everybody can get it and die because of it-, reveals with crude realism the inequalities present in our times. The most vulnerable categories are suffering the most, their precarity enhanced. How can you stay home, if you have none? How can you wash your hands, if there is no water? We could say that the health crisis provoked by the virus is actually a symptom or an indicator of a deeper crisis. We call it ecological crisis, doomily summarized as climate change.

Of course, looking at this bigger crisis which is threatening our own survival as a species, the question that spontaneously arises is: what are the causes of climate change? How can we mitigate it (we are already so far that it is unavoidable)? Science is warning us since a very long time: “In 1972, Limits to Growth was published as the first worldwide report on the human environment. […] The report stated that if human habits did not change, industrial production did not revolutionize, and ecological concerns were not embedded in business models, the limits of the Earth’s resources would be reached in the next 50 to 100 years” [1].

Evidently, things did not take a different path: not only our habits did not drastically change, but also the very denial of the problem has been ongoing: “Faced with a crisis that threatens our survival as a species, our entire culture is continuing to do the very thing that caused the crisis, only with an extra dose of elbow grease behind it” [2]. We can agree that this denial seems to be the real problem, the scientific facts are ignored as not valid. But why? Following Castillo and Egginton, the spread of anti-intellectualism and the subsequent disregard for scientific indictments can be analyzed as follow: “The explanation for this apparently willful ignorance lies in today’s medialogy.”[3]. This statement summarizes in the concept of medialogy the problems of our times. This term, at once, describes both the partiality of media and their specific functioning as framing device. Medialogy, which can be intended as the logic of the media, is the current state in which media are used by a limited elite as the main tool to make people see reality in the way that will make the elite profit. The logic of medialogy is neoliberalism, and it works for the latter’s aims. Medialogy’s interpretation of the world reduces it into a series of exploitable resources, while the person is represented or intended just as a consumer. The aim of this frame is the unlimited growth of the market, its constant expansion, as well as an increase of profit. Our medialogy frames reality as such, pretending to be the only viable way of interpretation.

Thus, survival of our species seems to lie in a battle of interpretation, where what reality could be and how we should read it is at stake. Here the Humanities enters in the game, as the possible savior, being the field where to practice interpretation: “Literature, art, and philosophy have the capacity to teach us to think differently, precisely and especially when they are not captive to a strictly representationalist or objectivist logic. […] Reading literature and viewing art and thinking and writing about these experiences is the vital and indispensable foundation for any possible liberation from today’s medialogy and the self-destructive traps of desire it engenders”[4]. This because the Humanities allow us to see not just a different version of the world, but “[…] how the world can produce so many versions of itself”[5].

But here it emerges the hardest observation that is truly needed, the real crisis that the Humanities are facing. Humanities are a medicine nobody knows it is needed, and this ignorance is not only medialogy’s fault. In order to save the world, the Humanities have to overcome an even longer-lasting crisis: their own crisis, the crisis of culture tout court. A crisis brilliantly diagnosed already in 1936 by Denis de Rougemont in his book Penser avec les mains. He finds that the problem lies in the separation between culture and the productive world; in other words between intellectuals and who is described as “profane”, who is not an intellectual (I would say, who is busy with state or market affairs). De Rougemont believes that intellectuals are guilty: “The fault I imputed them (the intellectuals), is not to have badly guided public opinion. Rather, they have refused of guiding it, invoking the pretest of our cowardice: the pretest of impotence” [6]. What is the result? That culture speaks in a vacuum. This happens because: “[…] it asks nothing […] culture in considered as a commodity and not as an activity of production”[7]. The active side of culture has been lost. Culture should be a “battle, […] a means for fighting”[8]. Action and words have to join forces again, to change culture’s fate as well as human survival.

The Humanities resemble democracy in that they share the same risk of “talking to nobody”. Both should keep in mind that they have practical implications, as suggested by the title of George Huszar’s book Practical Implication of Democracy (1945). When he wrote his book, his worries were that: “[…] the nation might soon experience the kind of “disintegration” of democratic culture which enabled the rise of dictators in Europe and Japan. And this was because democracy had become a thing of words rather than actions. Huszar writes, “Democracy is something you do; not something you talk about. It is more than a form of government, or an attitude or opinion. It is participation” (xiii)”[9]. Paraphrasing it: culture is something you do. It is an active participation in the ongoing process of society. And today, this process needs all of our creativity and engagement for the good of our own survival. We need to imagine differently, and we need to make these alternative visions a shared value. This could be the duty of the Humanities right now: “In the all- pervasive market society, it is not enough to defend the value of the humanities in an increasingly corporatized university. Instead the humanities can and should go on the offensive to denounce the blinding effects of market fundamentalism and poke holes in the media- framed reality that’s coextensive with it”[10]. Humanities, let’s get our hands dirty.

Once we’re all agreed that we’re living in a world in ruins, the ways in which we go about tackling the possibilities for change are important. (Fabrizio Terranova in interview with Sophie Soukias, BRUZZ 2016).

Fabrizio Terranova’s Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival by, 2016.

Addendum in memory of George Floyd.

The world is trembling, injustices hit harder and riots cannot but spread.

It is not enough to be non-racist and we need to be anti-racist. Non-racism resembles the appearance of talk-democracy, while anti-racism the one of do-democracy. We need to be engaged, one by one, and take a stance, and our behavior has to follow our values, and our values have to shape our behaviors. I think the same of culture, of the Humanities. It is not enough to be non-ignorant. We need to be anti-ignorance. And maybe the combination of anti-ignorance, anti-racist, anti-homophobic acts and values will make the difference needed to break the spell.

[1]   N. Petrešin-Bachelez, On Slow Institutions, in How Institutions Think: Between Contemporary Art and Curatorial Discourse, eds. P. O’Neill, L. Steeds, M. Wilson, MIT Press, 2017, p. 41.

[2]   N. Klein, This Changes Everything, 2, quoted in D. Castillo, W. Egginton, The Humanities in the Age of Information and Post-Truth, Northwestern University Press, 2019, p. 99.

[3]   Ibid. p. 101

[4]   Ibid. p. 98.

[5]   Ibid. p. 97.

[6]   D. de Rougemont, Pensare con le mani. Le radici culturali della crisi europea, Transeuropa, 2012 p. 23

[7]   Ibid. p. 28.

[8]   Ibid. p. 33.


[10] D. Castillo, W. Egginton, The Humanities in the Age of Information and Post-Truth, Northwestern University Press, 2019, p. 103.

Whose Lives Matter. Precarity in Times of the Corona-Crisis

By Polyxeni Fotopoulou

The time of the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the profound fissures of neoliberal capitalism.This pandemic discriminates against vulnerable people. This pandemic also allows and justifies state violence and constructs new modalities of living and co-existence under state surveillance tactics which demonstrate a problematic relation between the concept of freedom and security. To paraphrase Michel Foucault, this pandemic seems to be the utopia of the perfectly governed city (/society). In a more precise wording, it could be said that responsible for all the above is not the pandemic itself but the sociopolitical handling of it. Worldwide, presidents’ addresses highlight that we are all dealing with the same enemy. However, the only equal position that we have in the face of the corona crisis is that this virus threatens equally the health of all of us and our loved ones (Butler 2020). In this crisis we do not all have equal rights; homeless people are exposed to the virus, refugees are in camps unprotected without being provided with hygiene products, not everyone has equal access to health care, unemployment rises, there are more and more victims of domestic violence, there are more deaths of African-Americans than any other group in the U.S, there is racism against Asian people and populations are interpreted on the basis of a positivist and impersonal division between infected and non-infected bodies.

 Although the dichotomic conditions based on the sociopolitical dilemma of whose lives matter the most, solidarity between vulnerable people becomes their protective shield and a praxis of resistance against inequality. Collective initiatives of creating common spaces of solidarity and resistance emerged during the corona crisis shaping new social movements and collectives against these precarious conditions.

In historical moments of turbulent periods and great depressions, it is observed that spontaneous movements and collective actions emerge whose structure is usually not based on political parties ideologies and they deal with the precariousness of instability through alternative ways. I am referring to anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti- sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic collectives and movements which put clear boundaries against racism and they are in solidarity with vulnerable subjectivities. As Varvarousis and Kallis demonstrate; in a liminal period “sharing solidarity or horizontality are not introduced as indisputable a priori identity values. They emerge as the worth is experienced in practice in solving practical problems or in organizing collective actions”  (2017, 132). In other words, it could be said that in the initial phase of a crisis these collective actions function as initiatives of temporary relief of precarity. Particularly, in Commoning Against The Crisis (2017) Varvarousis and Kallis by focusing on the Greek Commoning Movement during Greece’s great depression (2009) present the idea of alternative commoning practices in periods of precarity claiming that these “new forms of commons follows a rhizomatic pattern” (2017, 129). Varvarousis and Kallis reflect this idea on Greek commoning initiatives and projects of austerity period such as the occupied squares by indignant citizens (Aganaktismenoi), communal kitchens and the occupations of Athens Metropolitan Clinic, Plato’s Academy, Empros,Vox, Scholeio, Hellenico, etc. where since the election of the current government (2019) the majority of them was violently evicted by police forces. Some of these commoning initiatives such as Aganaktismenoi (Indignant Citizens Movement) of Syntagma square (2010) became rhizomatic, namely “they have no center or periphery…and they are not stable but appear and disappear within a highly accelerating spiral” and others are still sustained till today and adapt to the new conditions such as the communal kitchens and occupations (ibid.,141-144) . While the Indignant Citizens Movement started as a collective spontaneous anti-austerity initiative, after a while the square was divided into the lower and the upper part(ibid.,138). This distinction had to do mainly with the “different functions of each zones”; the upper part in front of the Parliament was identified by protests “with the presence of nationalists or xenophobes” while the lower part was a space of “settlement, discussion and creation” (ibid., 138). In 2011, the presence of the Aganaktismenoi Movement in Syntagma square began gradually to weaken especially due to the violent intervention of police forces. Varvarousis and Kallis’ study shows us thoroughly how Greece, despite its deep rooted tradition in party interdependence, started to believe in the potentiality of heterogeneous assemblies with anti-capitalist and anti-racist character as well as in the existence of commoning initiatives outside the party orientation and hierarchy. The evolution of this phenomenon can be seen in recent movement of #SupportArtWorkers that started by people of the Greek art scene in May 2020 in the face of the corona crisis claiming support for the arts and cultural sector which has been particularly affected by the general lockdown.

Although the recent Greek extremely conservative government represents itself in local and international mainstream media as a great “rescuer” protecting Greek people from the “invisible enemy” some important visible facts are missing from this representation. Importantly, since the beginning of the corona crisis a number of significant shortages emerged in the public health care system such as shortages of ICUs (Intensive care units) and insufficient number of medical supplies, such as shortages of medical face masks, gloves and antiseptics. On top of that, according to the government decree which was published at the beginning of Covid-19 outbreak, due to the lack of medical staff in public hospitals doctors are forced to work overtime and to perform overnight duties without getting paid.

Furthermore, numerous professions that have been hit by the pandemic are not included in the two-month state support allowance. In particular, the Greek government is completely indifferent about the irreparable damage of the sector of Arts and Culture as theater performances, concerts, dance performances, museums and gallery exhibitions have been postponed until this summer. In the face of this precarity, in May art workers started on Avaaz webpage – one of the most known nonprofit organizations which promotes activist practices – an initiative of gathering signatures asking for solidarity support in their fight against the marginalization of Greek art workers. The movement appears on Facebook and in other social media with the hashtag #SupportArtWorkers, and art workers have already held a number of performances in public spaces and protest rallies in Athens, Thessaloniki and other Greek cities publicizing their demands. (1) May, 10, 2020

The “Art Workers Initiative” claims three key rights: firstly the enactment of a long term support plan which will contribute to the economic recovery of Arts and Culture sector, secondly the radical reformation of Cultural workers’ rights, as especially musicians and songwriters have for decades been enduring the results of a flawed and non-transparent system, and thirdly the governmental decision for an immediate and precise plan of the gradual return of Arts and Culture sector as it has already been announced for other professional sectors. The #SupportArtWorkers movement is not connected to any institution, organization or party-based politics, it is a spontaneous initiative which through these demands pursues to claim the immediate relief of art workers’ suffering. The spontaneous gatherings of art workers in squares and public spaces through dancing, singing and performing acquire a festive, powerful and bodily character. The forcefulness, the peacefulness and the non-hierarchical principles of the #SupportArtWorkers movement reminds us of the pulse of the first period of the Indignant Citizens Movement. The Art workers’ movement either becomes rhizomatic or expands to claim further fundamental rights, at least for now it has achieved to create a solidarity circle and a common space of resistance where art workers claim their rights which have been depreciated by the Greek state. 

@alicemdogan. Twitter Photo. May 21 2008, 2020. Accessed May 28, 2020.             

Some of us constantly live under the “feeling of precariousness” with a “damaged sense of future” related to the fear of unemployment, the “anxiety of illness and mortality” – especially if we do not have the privilege to be covered by health insurance – and the fear of the threat of violence (Butler & Athanasiou 2013, 43). In this crucial sociopolitical moment of high precarity, solidarity and collectiviness between us, the vulnerable, seem to be (once again) our only option.


Butler, Judith. “Capitalism Has its Limits”. Verso. March 30, 2020.

Butler, Judith and Athena Athanasiou.“Dispossession: The performative in the political.” John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison.” Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage 1 (1995): 977.

Varvarousis, Aggelos, and Giorgos Kallis. “Commoning against the crisis.” Another Economy is Possible: Culture and Economy in a Time of Crisis, 2017, 128-159.

Abruptly Altered Horizons: Covid-19, Momentous Events and a Not so Rare Phenomenon in Historical Reception Studies

By Julian Hanich

In this brief essay I draw attention to the effects that momentous historical events – such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the Brexit referendum or the 9/11 attacks – can have on a film viewer’s interpretive horizon. How we interpret films that were shot long before the event can be altered rather abruptly with the onset of the event and we seem to see the film with different eyes.

The essay appeared in the Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft: Open Media Studies Blog:

Click to read the blog.

Mayor Pete Goes to Washington

By Quirijn van den Hoogen

Dreaming is allowed, isn’t it? Last week the results of the Democratic caucus in Iowa came in. Mayor Pete Buttigieg beat Bernie Sanders by a hair. Quite unexpectedly. America took the very first steps towards electing an openly gay president. I highly doubt it will actually happen. But I am allowed to dream, to think the unthinkable. Aren’t I? It would be some election: Boot-Edge-Edge beats Make America Great Again, although on Castro Street that slogan has already been dubbed into Make America Gay Again.

Continue reading “Mayor Pete Goes to Washington”

And Nothing but the Truth

By Johan Kolsteeg

A recent experience made me aware once more of all things concerning facts, truth, politics, democracy, public space and the role of artists in reveiling their unstable relations. This happened to me when I attended a presentation in Utrecht on Forensic Architecture, organized by  BAK: Base for Art, Knowledge and the Political. Forensic Architecture is a research agency based at Goldsmiths University of London and  is regularly commissioned to reconstruct forensics in cases concerning crimes purportedly committed by governments. Multidisciplinary teams process overwhelming amounts of audio and video data into detailed reconstructions, which often betray the fallaciousness of government accounts.

Continue reading “And Nothing but the Truth”

Op de foto met een grote Velázquezpop

Door Carmen van Bruggen

Ze staan overal in de stad. In totaal zijn het er tachtig: De Meninas van Madrid. Het zijn levensgrote poppen in allerlei bonte kleuren. Soms zijn ze met graffiti, kindertekeningen of wolkjes versierd, dan weer met linten die zeggen ‘let op breekbaar!’. Overal zijn referenties te vinden naar andere kunstwerken, films, eten of mode. Zo is Star Wars vertegenwoordigd met een ‘Darth Vader Menina’, zie je een knipoog naar Andy Warhol bij een Menina met een colaflesje in haar hand of krijg je gezonde trek bij de ‘Fruit Menina’. Kortom, ze vormen een explosie van cultuuruitingen. Maar wat kunnen we ermee?

Op de foto met de ‘Darth Vader Menina’

De kunstenaar achter het project is Antonio Azzato. Hij bedacht niet de bonte versieringen, maar de vorm van de pop. Als een soort wit canvas werd deze vervolgens aan talloze Spaanse kunstenaars, ontwerpers en andere beroemdheden voorgelegd om versierd en beklad te worden. Het ontwerp verwijst naar een van de bekendste schilderijen uit de Spaanse kunstgeschiedenis: Las Meninas (1656) (letterlijk ‘de dienstmeisjes’) van Diego Velzáquez. Op dit schilderij staat prinses Margaretha als jong meisje in het middelpunt. Haar blonde haren en lichte wijde jurk steken scherp af tegen de donkere achtergrond.

De grap is dat ze de aandacht afleidt van het eigenlijke onderwerp van het schilderij. Wie goed kijkt naar de schilder achter het grote canvas – Velázquez zelf – ontdekt dat zijn ogen op iets heel anders gericht zijn. De kleine spiegel op de achterwand geeft de aanwijzing. Daar is vaag een impressie van het koninklijk echtpaar op te zien. Deze puzzel draait alles om: het prinsesje is niet de geportretteerde maar de toeschouwer van het tafereel en de toeschouwer van het schilderij – wij zelf – staan op de plek van de geportretteerde koning en koningin.

Diego Velázquez (1656) ‘Las Meninas’ afbeelding via

Op het eerste gezicht lijkt het alsof Azzato slechts verwijst naar de karakteristieke omtrek van de jurken. Het beeld is qua vorm ontleend aan de houding van het prinsesje, maar de kleding en de volwassen lengte is van de twee dienstmeisjes. Zij krijgen ook door de titel van Azzato de centrale plaats in het kunstproject. Er is echter meer. Wat namelijk zo bijzonder is aan het schilderij van Velázquez is dat het de kijker fysiek bij het schilderij betrekt. De voorstelling suggereert immers dat de koning en koningin zich voor het daadwerkelijke schilderij bevinden – op de plek van de toeschouwer. De kijker staat dus midden in de voorstelling. Wie de Meninasbeelden in de straten van Madrid tegenkomt, begrijpt direct de overeenkomst. Ze zijn zo laag op een sokkel geplaatst dat ze zich tussen de mensen bevinden. Iedereen kan ze aanraken, tegen ze oplopen of omarmen en dat wordt dan ook constant gedaan. Enkel om diefstal te voorkomen zijn ze loodzwaar gemaakt, anders zou je ook nog eens letterlijk met ze weg kunnen lopen. Kortom, net als in het schilderij van Velázquez is de afstand tussen de toeschouwer en de voorstelling weggevallen. De kunstenaar heeft dit met opzet gedaan. Want, zoals hij in de krant El Païs schreef: ‘El Arte, hay que tocarlo!’. Oftewel: ‘Kunst moet je aanraken!’. Dit aanraken gebeurt niet alleen letterlijk, maar ook in de thematiek. Door de talloze herkenbare onderwerpen, staat de kunst ook in haar toegankelijkheid dicht bij de mensen.

Het Spaanse ‘tocar’ is echter niet alleen ‘aanraken’, maar ook ‘bespelen’ en ‘beroeren’. In die zin draait Azzato het hele schilderij van Velázquez om. Het kunstwerk hoeft ons niet te overtuigen dat wij er onderdeel van zijn, maar wij moeten de kunst bespelen! We moeten het onderdeel maken van onze wereld.

Winkelen met een ‘Wolken Menina’

Dat lukt met de grote Velázquezpoppen uitstekend. Met een beetje verbeelding kun je ze mee uit winkelen nemen in Calle Serrano, met ze flaneren op het centrale plein Sol of een drankje met ze doen op een terrasje in Calle Argumosa. Uiteraard nemen we ze ook mee de digitale wereld in. Non-stop wil heel Madrid en haar bezoekers met hen op de foto. Dat is het leuke aan het Meninasproject: het is alsof de kunst rechtstreeks onze wereld in is komen lopen. Bij een hapering van de verbeelding, realiseer je echter weer dat het slechts beelden zijn. Ze staan stokstijf tussen al die honderden mensen op Plaza Mayor in. Ze kijken strak en zonder een spier te verrekken naar de duizenden auto’s die dagelijks langs Cibeles rijden en verschijnen als spoken op Instagram, zonder duidelijke identiteit. Wie de tijd neemt even over de beelden na te denken, belandt in een omdraaispel. Wij nemen hen mee in onze wereld, maar zij worden ons. Zo houden ze ons een spiegel voor. Wat wij en wat al die kunstenaars, ontwerpers en beroemdheden met ze doen: dat zijn wij.

Carmen van Bruggen is filosofie- en kunstdocent. Ze geeft lessen, rondleidingen en workshops in Madrid, onder andere voor de IE University. Van 20-24 augustus organiseert ze een zomercursus ‘kunst en filosofie’ in Madrid. Ga je mee? Klik hier voor meer info: Toon alle berichten van Carmen van Bruggen