Cure Park – Art practice as a model for reflection

Cure Park was an art manifestation that was held from 4 June to 16 July 2017 in the ‘Amsterdamse Bos’, or Amsterdam Forest. The theme ‘care’ – in the broadest sense of the word – was both highlighted and questioned. During this event, more than 30 artists, creators and thinkers joinend the public and healthcare professionals. The program consisted of an art route, experiments, interventions, workshops, lectures, performances and films. Webeditor Tessa Smorenburg interviewed curator Theo Tegelaers from TAAK and spoke to him about the potential and urgency of the art practice as a reflective model for the public domain.

Art as criticism

“Can art cure?” This was the central question in the research project ‘BETER, de kunst van gezondheid’ (the art of health) (2013) by artist Martijn Engelbregt of Circus Engelbregt and Theo Tegelaers from TAAK, an independent collective that initiates, develops and produces art projects about social topics. In a hospital in the Netherlands, during the period between 2012 and 2013, over a hundred people participated in this research project. Art and ‘placebo-art’ was used to study the potential healing effect of artwork. As a result of this research a conference took place. While the conference visitors were mainly interested in the outcomes and recommendations that stemmed from the research, this was not the starting point. The conference was more about asking the question: how do we measure the subjective experience of both art and health? The research thus criticized the measurability and growing influence of the neo-liberalisme in the field of care and well-being. At this conference there were many caregivers present. “They felt it was very valuable to look at and think differently about current issues in the care system in which they work, and in which we are actually (quite) imprisoned”, Theo Tegelaers says.

BETER by Circus Engelbregt & TAAK (2013) Photocredits: De Kunstverleners

The public space under pressure

In the course of the BETER project the need to further investigate into the definition of ‘sickness’ and ‘health’ became apparent. This led to the formation of the temporary master program Cure Master (2014-2016) at the Sandberg Institute (a masters-level study at the Gerrit Rietveld art academy in Amsterdam, NL). From this followed the Cure Park art exhibition in the Amsterdam Forest, lasting six weeks. This location was a conscious choice, as it is a place that was designed in the early twentieth century with the idea that nature promotes well-being and health and should belong to all residents of the city. “The public space as a meeting place for people has been in decline. In addition, the public space is under pressure from marketing and privatization”, says Tegelaers. By choosing this environment as a decor, the art manifestation wants to highlight this development and revitalize the original value of the Amsterdam Forest.

An artwork presented in the forest: Rory Pilgram, Software Garden (2017). Photocredits: Viku Ushkanova

A disorder as an expertise

TAAK is an organization that wants to have a finger on the pulse of what is happening in society. It’s aim is to tap into social discussions whenever it is most interesting. Therefore, TAAK gives a stage to artists who operate at the knife’s edge, who are adept at crafting imagery and able to conduct and cultivate discussion. “Art has the freedom to search for boundaries between what is speculative or subjective and to not be determinative”, Tegelaers says.

Baden Cathalijne Smulders (2017) Photocredits: Viku Ushkanova

At the manifestation subjects range from birth to death and from the spiritual experience of health to being homeless in the city. On the question of why the subjects cover such a broad spectrum, Tegelaers answers: “Care plays a role in all situations in life, what matters is how you deal with it”. Themes like attention, physicality, emotions, relativity, vulnerability and citizenship are highlighted. Tegelaers tells us about the performance Baden by Cathalijne Smulders. Smulders works together with people who’ve suffered from brain damage and therefore suffer from language-, speech- or movement impairment. In this project, which constitutes a theater performance that also involves improvisation, it is made clear how communication works. There is no translator present, which makes putting yourselves in someone else’s shoes a necessity. “It does not provide some kind of easy answer, but it does give you the insight that oftentimes the opposite is required in society: the other has to adapt to the ‘normal’ discourse. But what if we turned it around and see their ‘shortcoming’ as expertise?”, Tegelaers says.

Research through narrativity

Active participation of the visitor is an important factor in the art manifestation. Participating in a performance allows one to experience what it is like to be ‘other’ or to learn about other people’s stories and experiences through discussions about the art on display. I myself attended a screening of the film Meine, keine familie (Paul-Julien Robert, 2012) from the Love Community-program. This is a film about an Austrian commune where documentarian Paul-Julien Robert was raised. This community developed from the desire to break with traditional family structures. At some point one person became more of a dominant leader, the Viennese artist/activist Otto Mühl, whose abuse of power caused some murky practices. For example, we see a scene where a boy, around eight years old, is forced to sing a song for entertainment. He clearly does not want to do this, but is forced verbally. When he refuses, Mühl pours the content of his glass of beer on him. Crying in fear and panic the boy sings a few notes. Everyone is yelling along, and despite some resistance, no one does anything. Later in the documentary the mother of the documentarian says that she was just trying to do her best to be “a good mother”. In the post-film discussion it is mentioned that the members of the commune discarded their personal responsibility, making clear how certain constructions of power work within a community. It’s exactly these kinds of individual stories that can provide insight into what values like care, attention and responsibility can mean.

Trailer Meine, Keine Familie (Youtube)

The potential and urgency of the artistic practice as a reflective model is very present during the art manifestation. It is obvious that art functions as a narrative source of knowledge, and above all a way to get to a dialogue. In conclusion, this conversation does raise questions like: what is the role of the audience of the art? How does one create the sense of security to get people to share their stories? And above all there is the question of how you get those who would benefit to listen to the questions posed, even if they speak a different discourse?

Bookcover Art – Cure. Activating the Potential

*** For six weeks, The Future and PUB, students’ initiative at the Sandberg Institute reported weekly their reflections and interpretations on Cure Park, combined with various contributions by participants. These are bundled in Art – Cure. Activating the Potential. Cure Park posed the question: “Can art cure?”. Playful, the search for the meaning of healing is communicated in both language, partially English and Dutch, as well by image through graphical incentives in the design. The workbook is an artwork on its own. You can order Art – Cure. Activating the Potential by sending an e-mail to: info@taak.me

About the author: Tessa Smorenburg

Tessa Smorenburg

Tessa Smorenburg (1987) graduated as a master in Ethics of Care and Policy at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht (NL) in 2015. Her thesis concerned the discourse of transgender people in Dutch society.
She now cooperates with artists, assuming the role of journalist, and makes use of her knowledge and experience in the field of the ethics of care to provide perspective.
In her own artistic endeavours, like the collages that are her trade, she is intrigued by issues of gender and examining her position in society from a female perspective.