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Politics of Installation
Hans Demeulenaere & Bas van den Hurk

64 p, ills colour, 20 x 27 cm, pb, English
ISBN 9789491843464

with texts by Alex Bacon, Angelique Campens and Laura Herman

with contributions of Koenraad Dedobbeleer and Lorelinde Verhees

design Marc Nagtzaam

In the spring of 2015, two exhibitions under the title ‘Politics of Installation’ were made by Belgian artists Hans Demeulenaere and Bas van den Hurk. The title refers to a text by Boris Groys, in which he claims that installations made by artists reveal a sovereign world. Within these “worlds” there is not one dominant perspective, but rather an exchange of multiple perspectives. An important part of the project was to include art historical lines based on architectural elements. Demeulenaere refers to the work of architect Aldo van Eyck, and Van den Hurk to the architecture of Juliaan Lampens.

Negotiating the Relations of Space

1. The Experience of Space 

One of the recurring subjects in theoretical writings about art and architecture is the question of the aestheticized experience of space. In 1990 Rosalind Krauss took up the subject in her much discussed essay The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum, arguing that the scale of the space of the museum led the viewer’s attention to focus on a sublime experience of space itself, rather than to the works of art displayed within it. [i] The museum no longer produces affect but “intensities” for a subject “who experiences its fragmentation as euphoria, the subject whose field of experience is no longer history, but space itself.”[ii]Architecture theorist and critic Beatriz Colomina’s essay Exhibitionist Architecture[iii], however, seeks to revise Krauss’s diagnosis of the experience of space by highlighting successful attempts by practitioners to exhibit spatially without celebrating an easily consumable experience of space. For Colomina, architecture has seeped through the cracks of the exhibition space since the 1960s, while visual artists, in their turn, have conquered architecture’s territory.

One must note that the question of what is more important—the art object or the exhibition design—has already been a concern of the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century. Recognizing the need for radical changes in the concept and the roles of art, artist-designers like László Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky, Herbert Bayer and Frederick Kiesler attempted to radically re-think the ensemble of relationships between exhibition space, display objects and visitors. As Marie-Anne Stanizewski has noted in her seminal work The Power of Display, which narrates the evolution of exhibition design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York,a work of art, when publicly displayed, almost never stands alone:  “It is always an element within a permanent or temporary exhibition created in accordance with historically determined and self-consciously staged installation conventions.”[iv]

These insights into the art historical significance of the exhibition architecture and the display of art as the artwork itself offer a contextual understanding of Belgian artist Hans Demeulenaere’s practice. Moving away from reductive binary logics and complicating the divides between art, architecture, and design, Demeulenaere’s work investigates what exactly constitutes theobject of display. Entering into an intense dialogue with the legacy of modernist artists, designers and architects, and simultaneously engaging with his contemporaries, Demeulenaere’s research revolves around the nature of the exhibition as something, which has autonomy and an ontological quality in itself. Beyond exploring the exhibition as a construction that has a variety of possible spatial manifestations, Demeulenaere also plays around with notions of authorship and heterogeneity.

It is worth referencing Beatriz Colomina’s essay Exhibitionist Architecture in relation to Demeulenaere’s oeuvre. Colomina writes about artists Gordon Matta-Clark’s and Dan Graham’s architectural projects, among other works that took a less instrumental approach to their building in the case of temporary exhibition spaces and pavilions—and further suggests that such forms of experimentation persist in the Serpentine pavilion, for example. The work of these predecessors, as well as more contemporary practices dealing with the relation of art to space, inform Demeulenaere’s artistic research. In a time that is recurrently described as the culminating point of historical progress, there is no use in reinventing the wheel, or in pursuing an authentic act of creation. The artistic path Demeulenaere walks is a modest one: he appropriates existing forms, which allows him to understand how things work by extracting and reconfiguring elements from what already exists in the world.

At Be‐Part in Waregem, Belgium (2012), Demeulenaere collaborated with artists Wesley Meuris, Stijn Cole, and Honoré d’O and Pieter Vermeulen, who took up the role of a soundboard, on ‘Façades’. Captivated by Dan Graham’s New Design for Showing Video’s (1995)[v], a structure characterized by its dual identity as an outdoor pavilion and an indoor space in which to present video work. A construction that sat between sculpture and architecture, Graham’s installation engaged with the presence of the body as primary vehicle for knowledge and experience, rather than with the display of objects. In the framework of ‘Façades’, Demeulenaere wanted to further explore the shifting role of the viewer within a spatial installation. In collaboration with Kris Kimpe, architect and assistant to Dan Graham, Demeulenaere created a reinterpretation[vi] of the work comprising a copy of the wooden structure without the glass, and six video installations commenting on the work’s different intersubjective layers. Operating from Demeulenaere’s subjective frame of knowledge, the six videos offered different lenses to read and interpret the original work. Demeulenaere included a selection of Dan Graham’s favorite songs, downloaded from YouTube and functioning as homage to the artist. The other films largely comprised video registrations of buildings that act as counterparts to Graham’s work, like Aldo Van Eyck’s temporary pavilion built for Sonsbeek ’66 in Arnhem, the Netherlands[vii], which in 2006 was rebuilt in the Kröller-Müller Museum, or Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie.

Characterized by a lack of objects on display, in favor of a heightened awareness of the physical self in space, Graham’s constructions can also be linked to Mies van der Rohe’s much earlier German Pavilion design, which was commissioned for the International Exhibition in Barcelona in 1929[viii]. At the time, upon asking what would be exhibited in the pavilion, Mies van der Rohe was surprised to hear that nothing was to be exhibited but the pavilion itself: “Mies was treated here as an artist. The pavilion doesn’t even have plumbing. If for Matta-Clark the difference between architecture and sculpture is that one has plumbing and the other not, the Barcelona Pavilion is art.”[ix].  It took some time before the pavilion was recognized as an autonomous spatial experiment, but for Colomina it is clear that the most extreme and influential proposals in the history of modern architecture were made in the context of temporary exhibitions. She writes, “The visitor experienced Mies’ architecture, rather than a representation of it by walking through the display and watching others move. It was a sensual encounter.”[x]

Throughout his career Demeulenaere has had a recurring interest in pavilions and temporary architectural structures, from Mies van der Rohe’s pavilions, to Aldo Van Eyck’sSonsbeek-pavilion, and the Braempaviljoen in Antwerp, Belgium—not only because the pavilion is perhaps one of the most ambiguous building types, but also because it is manageable and malleable.  The pavilion is a type of architecture, which is compatible with the scale on which the artist builds his objects and constructions in his workshop or sometimes on location. Besides this, it has also been the quintessential type of building for architects to experiment with forms of display—it is an experimental format.  In 2010 Demeulenaere’s interest in pavilions materialized in constructing scale models[xi], a strategy often deployed by the artist to understand the potential of his object of study.  In collaboration with artist Robin Vermeersch, Demeulenaere made a reconstruction to scale of Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion in an exhibition curated by Guy Bovyn. The only sculpture in the pool in Mies’ pavilion, a bronze statue of a woman created by Georg Kolbe, was substituted for an artwork to scale by Vermeersch.[xii] Demeulenaere’s latest project, a collaboration with Bas van den Hurk, culminated in the reconstruction of a part of the Sonsbeek-pavilion by Aldo van Eyck, which will be discussed in part three, ‘Politics of Installation’.

It is clear that rather than adding something to the work of others, like in the case of Graham’s installation or Mies’ pavilion, Demeulenaere deconstructs it. He subtracts elements, makes subtle modifications or provides visual manuals for reading the work in order to gain a deeper understanding of how the installation operates. This process is a common thread in Demeulenaere’s practice: less interested in looking into the semiotics of modernism, his work focuses on form and procedure, the techniques of experience. This approach is reminiscent of sociologist Richard Sennett’s notion of the “craft of experience”. In his acclaimed book The Craftsman, Sennett reflects upon the craft of experience as a means to make things that give us insight in human relationships and the formation of subjectivities. “The craft of making physical things provides insights into the techniques of experience that can shape our dealings with others,”[xiii]he writes. The social and the empathic ramifications of craft form a crucial constituent of Demeulenaere’s artistic motivations.

2. The Compositional & the Collaborative              

While it’s safe to say Hans Demeulenaere is a builder, he rarely brings new forms into the world. The artist is far from a creator, but one could call him an interpreter. He draws upon historical books and archival materials; he appropriates modernist forms and translates them into a new context. Interested the double, the mirror, the mise-en-abyme, and the copy, Demeulenaere investigates what emerges from recreating, mirroring or rehearsing existing objects and procedures. Much as the American artist Elaine Sturtevant[xiv] began replicating the works of her contemporaries in an exploration of originality, authorship, and the interior structures of art, Demeulenaere has replicated the work of the protagonists of modernism, yet always with a slight twist.

                        His contemporaries, however, play a different role. Dialogue and mutual engagement lie at the heart of Demeulenare’s practice and every project is born from a different sort of collaborative effort. The artist discerns and exploits the dynamics that arise from working closely with other artists he befriends and appreciates. At times, it seems his process is inspired by Bauhaus’ core principle[xv]of joining forces with different disciplines, the end result being what you could denominate a Gesamtkunstwerk—the crystallization of heterogeneous approaches into a richer, more substantial whole.  A “compositional process” in Chantal Mouffe’s words, however, might be better suited than a modernist term to describe the culmination of a series of practices that constitutes Demeulenaere’s work. Mouffe emphasizes that design is a process that never starts from scratch, and that design is always redesign; it is never created from nothing, and it is never a tabula rasa. Similar to Bruno Latour’s claim that “we have never been modern,” Mouffe argues that design will never be revolutionized or modernized. An artist focusing on processes of (re)design, Demeulenaere makes the compositional explicit  in his art by constantly rearticulating existing practices. Within his collaborations Demeulenaere seeks to generate various dynamics, which alternate between articulating a response to the art of another artist and receiving feedback himself.  Sometimes artistic alliances involve presenting a complementary body of work in space, critiquing each other’s work, or taking up the role of a mediator or curator—Demeulenaere consistently moves between the particular and the whole.

                     A solo exhibition, for Demeulenaere, nonetheless mandates involving other people. For his solo exhibition ‘....and a lot of reflection’ (2013) at Annie Gentils Gallery in Antwerp, Belgium, Demeulenaere invited two artists and an architect to collaborate on a project or to respond to his work. With Kris Kimpe he created the installation Luxury Green[xvi], a sitting-pit, a semi-circle around the fireplace; sound artist Esther Venrooy developed a sound sculpture evoking an auditory experience of the gallery space. Marc Nagtzaam, an artist with whom Demeulenaere has collaborated on multiple occasions, participated with a structure for a drawing, a drawing of a structure [xvii], a work that through its repetition and formalism “coincided with Demeulenaere’s way of thinking”, as well as some independent drawings referring to construction drawings. While the exhibition was conceived as a meta-framework—a reflection upon Demeulenare’s work through the relations between his pieces and the work of others—the title of the show also hinted at the many different layers, doublings and mirrors that were physically present in the gallery. Demeulenaere built three wooden sculptures inspired by Gerrit Rietveld’s renowned Red Blue Clair (Chair)[xviii] as well as a doubling of one of Rietveld’s dining table, which functioned as jointing pieces for the exhibition. [xix] A shelf (Me, These Objects and This Show)[xx] comprising both a collection of shared objects between Nagtzaam and Demeulenaere, and a set of mirrors reflecting part of the exhibition, literally framed the layers emerging from the whole undertaking.

                         To which extent pieces of furniture could exist as sculptures within a gallery space was the starting point of ‘Several Possible Models for Dutch Design’ (2013)[xxi] in Gastatelier Leo XIII in Tilburg, the Netherlands. For this project, Demeulenaere collected pieces of furniture and stools from inhabitants of the neighborhood, and played around with different parameters, like color, scale, position, of what defines sculpture. Besides involving neighbors, Demeulenaere invited artists Bas van den Hurk and Esther Venrooy to intervene.

               While at Annie Gentils and Gastatelier Leo XIII the exhibitions centered around Demeulenaere’s more autonomous body of work and artistic agency, his works have also served as extensions, platforms or reinforcements for the work of others.  A Never Ending Story[xxii](2013), for example, commissioned by Extra City in Antwerp, Belgium, in the framework of collateral events to Luc Deleu’s exhibition ‘Orban Space’, involved the construction of a set of modules, which could be pieced together or set apart, inviting visitors to assemble and disperse. The modules could be stacked, arranged, and turned around, and oscillated between sculpture and functional furniture.  While the installation functioned as flexible movables, Demeulenaere insisted that each particular constellation of parts remain untouched for a short period of time after each event.

               He took up an even more self-effacing, anonymous role in his collaboration with artist Lucas Devriendt, which involved a close dialogue about a suitable scenography for ‘Kabinet Devriendt’[xxiii] (2013). While one could argue that designing the scenography is a merely subordinate role, these different gradations of involvement are at interest in Demeulenaere’s practice. On the one hand Demeulenaere investigates to what extent a mode of display is neutral, on the other he asks how influential even the loosest relation with another’s artist’s practice can be.

            Then again, some of Demeulenaere’s collaborations have developed on a more equal footing. On the occasion of ‘One Show About One Drawing’ (2011)[xxiv],curated by Eva Wittocx in Museum M in Leuven,land? Hans Demeulenaere and Marc Nagtzaam reflected on the act of exhibiting by proposing a show conceived as a trajectory. As always with Demeulenaere, the show was not about the singular pieces in themselves, but about how the visitors would climb the stairs, encounter the works and experience the total installation. The show comprised existing works and a new set of “shared” works based on a preliminary process where both artists would exchange visual materials of existing exhibition spaces. Stepping into each other’s thinking processes, embracing inspirational thoughts but also deviating from them, dialogue was key to come to a mutual understanding of what an exhibition about exhibiting could mean. The process materialized in spatial structures, drawings, projections, monumental wall structures[xxv]and speculations upon other potential outcomes of display.

3. The Politics of Installation

Demeulenaere’s latest endeavor, ‘Politics of Installation’, entailed a close collaboration with Dutch artist Bas van den Hurk. A twofold project, the exhibition was first held in Loods 12 in Wetteren, Belgium, and two months later reprised at P/////AKT in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Their objective was to employ the two-fold nature of the project as a point of inquiry into the “politics of installation”: the terms on which both artists agreed to collaborate and share the same space. ‘Politics of Installation’, whose title refers to a 2009 text by Boris Groys, was the result of a continuous process of discussion between the two artists.  As Groys argues in his text, the responsibility of artists to design the installation space is closely tied to revealing “the hidden sovereign dimension of the contemporary democratic order that politics, for the most part, tries to conceal.”  Display and the way an installation operates have always been political and imbued with ideology and specific worldviews. Demeulenaere and van den Hurk, concerned with the power dynamics and degrees of autonomy at work within the exhibition design put Groys’ claims to the test precisely by confronting “the ambiguous character of the contemporary notion of freedom that functions in our democracies as a tension between sovereign and institutional freedom.”[xxvi]

The exhibition spaces, both in Wetteren and in Amsterdam, thus became a testing ground for experimenting with spatial interventions, art historical influences[xxvii], different types of display, and their political implications. In exploring the “politics of installation” Demeulenaere and van den Hurk looked into the history of experimental forms of display and how these influenced modes of viewing. Besides presenting new works of their own, van den Hurk reconstructed a concrete cylinder of Belgian modernist architect Juliaan Lampens[xxviii] who introduced the open plan living in the 1960’s, while Demeulenaere recreated a part of the Sonsbeek-pavilion from 1965-’66, originally built by Aldo van Eyck. Demeulenaere used the same bricks as the ones used for the Kröller-Müller reconstruction, but modified the dimensions, and instead of masoning the stack of stones, piled them, leaving some space in between the rows. In doing so, the artist made explicit the openness and simplicity of the pavilion’s shapes and materials. 

Besides bringing in these two large installations, the artists also played around with the characteristics and elements already at hand in the spaces themselves. In P/////AKT, for example, the entrance of the former garage was emphasized as a display case, and a moveable wall was repurposed as a large platform where Demeulenaere showed a range of sculptures inspired by the furniture of Le Corbusier and Rietveld—an architectural element became a pedestal for a piece of furniture which became art.  In this way, the gallery space disclosed new configurations, arrangements, and orderings, but besides objects and structures taking on new meanings, social relations were equally reconfigured. Similarly to Demeulenaere’s collaboration with Marc Nagtzaam at Museum M, Demeulenaere and van den Hurk collaborated more complimentarily. The invited artists were more marginal to the process, instilling a degree of hierarchy.  In Loods 12, ‘Perroquet’, a group show comprising the work of the invited artists was installed at the periphery of the show, while in P/////AKT a sculpture and a lecture by Koenraad Dedobbeleer, textile pieces by Sanne Jansen, and a video projection by Lorelinde Verhees became part of a greater whole.  With ‘Politics of Installation’ Demeulenaere and van den Hurk emphasize the role of the gallery space as a place for debate, compromise and middle ground agreements. The exhibition also asks: when do we speak of collaboration, a duo show, or a group show?         While Demeulenaere has always been concerned with the experience of space in its dependence on different modes of display, ‘Politics of Installation’ clearly acknowledges that space is also made up of social relations and dynamics. Along these lines, Henri Lefebvre advocated for a new spatial analysis not determined by the notion of space as thing-in-itself, which only serves to isolate space in abstraction, keeping us from true analysis that “uncovers the social relations imbedded within space.” Less interested in the implications of display, Lefebvre argued “any space implies, contains and dissimulates social relationships—and this despite the fact that a space is not a thing but rather a set of relations between things.” [xxix] It is exactly these relations between things and how they come to exist that, along with an inquiry into the politics of display, lie at the heart of ‘Politics of Installation’.


[i] Rosalind Krauss,The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum, October, 54 (Pall 1990): 3

[ii] Rosalind Krauss ,The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum, October, 54 (Pall 1990): 3

[iii] Beatriz Colomina,Exhibitionist Architecture, in: Texte Zur Kunst, December 2013, 23. Jahrgang, Heft 92: 84

[iv] Mary Anne Staniszewski, The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art, The MIT Press, Cambridge.

[v] Dan Graham, Video/Architecture/Performance, 1995. © Generali Foundation. Foto: Werner Kaligofsky


[vi] Hans Demeulenaere & Kris Kimpe, New Design for Showing Videos/Dan Graham/1995 – interpretation (Hans Demeulenaere), ‘Façades’, Be-Part, Waregem, Belgium., 2012

[vii] Aldo Van Eyck, Sonsbeek ’66 Pavilion

[viii] Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Barcelona Pavillion

[ix] Beatriz, Colomina, Exhibitionist Architecture, in: Texte Zur Kunst, December 2013, 23. Jahrgang, Heft 92: 84

[x] Beatriz, Colomina., Exhibitionist Architecture, in: Texte Zur Kunst, December 2013, 23. Jahrgang, Heft 92: 88

[xi] Hans Demeulenaere, ‘Scale Model of a Structure – reflection’, plaats, land, jaartal.

[xii] Hans Demeulenaere & Robin Vermeersch, Mies van der Rohe – pavilion, plaats, stad, land, 2008 .

[xiii] Richard Sennett, The Craftsman, Yale University Press New Haven & London, p.289.

[xiv] Eileen Sturtevant. Haring Tag July 15 1981. 1985. Sumi ink and acrylic on cloth, 9 13/16 × 12 13/16" (25 × 32.5 cm). Estate Sturtevant, Paris. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris–Salzburg. Photo: Prallen Allsten. © Estate Sturtevant, Paris

[xvi] Hans Demeulenaere & Kris Kimpe, Luxury Green, ...and a lot of reflection’, Annie Gentils Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium, 2013.

[xvii] Marc Nagtzaam, A Structure for a Drawing, a Drawing of a Structure, ...and a lot of reflection’, Annie Gentils Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium, 2013.

[xviii] Red Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld / Hans Demeulenaere, Red and Blue (2012), ‘...and a lot of reflection’, Annie Gentils Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium, 2013.

[xix] Hans Demeulenaere, Rietveld Table, ‘...and a lot of reflection’, Annie Gentils Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium, 2013.

and another table – 2012

[xx] Hans Demeulenaere, Me, This Objects and This Show, ‘...and a lot of reflection’,Annie Gentils Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium, 2013.

[xxi]Hans Demeulenaere, ‘Several Possible Models for Dutch Design, Gastatelier’ Leo XIII in Tilburg,  the Netherlands, 2013.

[xxii] Hans Demeulenaere,  A Never Ending Story, ‘Orban Space’, Extra City,  Antwerp, 2013.

[xxiii] Hans Demeulenaere & Lucas Devriendt,  ‘Kabinet Devriendt’, Guislainmuseum, Ghent, Belgium, 2013.

[xxiv] Hans Demeulenaere & Marc Nagtzaam, ‘One Show About One Drawing’, Museum M, Leuven, 2011.

[xxv] Hans Demeulenaere & Marc Nagtzaam, ‘Two Walls of One Show’, One Show About One Drawing, Museum M, Leuven, Belgium, 2011.

[xxvi] Boris Groys, “Politics of Installation,” eflux journal #2 01/ 2009.

[xxvii] Lina Bo Bardi, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo

[xxviii]Juliaan Lampens, Huis Van Wassenhove

[xxix] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. by Donald Nicholson-Smith, (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991), p. 84.