The communal practice of Klaas Burger
‘I am here for the summer holidays, to pay my father a visit. With his turning machine he makes 300 leva per month. He has to pay 60 leva for electricity, 150 for food, just for himself. There is no money left for cigarettes or a cell phone. I went to Germany to work in a factory. With a similar job here in Bulgaria I make € 10,– a day. But in Western Europe I earn € 8,– per hour, € 1.200,– per month. So you can imagine my choice.’ | Photo: Klaas Burger, part of Love can wait, an artistic action research about migration labour within EU.
Date: 27.10. – 15.11.
with Cove Park.
On the day the UK was
due to leave the EU
Cove Park announced
the 8 project partners:
leading arts organisations and
residency centres based
in 8 European nations:
Belgium: Ultima Vez
Finland: Helsinki International Artist Programme and MUU Galleria
France: Cité internationale des arts
Germany: Literarisches Colloquium Berlin
Ireland: Dance Ireland
Norway*: Nordic Artists Centre Dale
The Netherlands: SEA Foundation
Sweden: The Swedish Film Institute
Text in collaboration by:
Riet van Gerven
AiR – European Exchange
Klaas Burger – communal practice
Art as a catalyst of expression, art as real-life experience, art as a way to expose blind spots. The practice of Dutch artist Klaas Burger falls within the School of Perception (Academie voor Beeldvorming), and is deeply rooted in the belief that art has the power to impact and connect. All projects are collaborations, so their ‘ownership is communal’. They revolve around the social and personal significance that interaction and participation can induce. The foundation of Klaas Burger’s work is the so-called artistic action research. With this working method, he studies what happens when multiple perspectives and environments meet, integrating professionals as well as citizens. It is not a goal-oriented method since it revolves around the lived experience of the participants ‘in the moment’.
Some people would say his kind of practice is not art, but Klaas Burger’s reaction to this thought is twofold. Firstly, that this opinion is stooled on a twentieth-century idea of what art is and should be. Secondly, the question ‘what is art’ is not an interesting and relevant question to ask, as it only diverts from the actual impact you can make with art. The twentieth-century view is hierarchical, top-down, highly institutional and collection-based. And, in Klaas Burger’s words, the ‘collection is the death of an artwork.’ That is, the work is then ripped out of its context, stripped from crucial layers of meaning. Thus, in museums the artworks are illustrative; they illustrate a value, a concept, importance. When it comes to participation and interaction, people become visitors, always one step divided and detached from the actual work.
Rather, Klaas Burger believes that art needs to operate independently, not controlled by institutional agendas or commercial interest. His work is not an illustration of something outside yourself, but a lived environment. In other words, it is about the different lives, stories and experiences of all kinds of people. Art is a matter of personal expression, in its broadest sense. Artistic action researches offer a strategy to initiate this expression, a relational process. This process is a time-based experience. It cannot possibly be reproduced in an exhibition space; the result would be almost meaningless. To clarify in Klaas Burger’s words: ‘An art space can be useful in artistic action research, to add status or to create focus. But the process is the most important part, so the institutional agenda can never take over.’
Klaas Burger’s projects are relational, in the sense that they invoke an intervention for conversation and interaction. For example, Lang Leve…! revolves around the perception of ageing. Increasingly, the perception of elderly people is influenced by insurance companies and care agencies, profiting from stereotyping the vulnerability of old age. Through three photo series by John van Hamond, Nenah Gorissen and Imke Panhuijzen, elderly were placed in a different light, integrating multiple cultural, social and personal backgrounds. In this case new imagery was used to expose blind spots and to create space for personal desires and expression.
Web of rules
The project Camping Kafka: Lost at Home, produced in close collaboration with, a.o., Ruben Pater (Untold Stories) and Yacinth Pos, takes a look at our society from the perspective of people living on holiday parks in The Netherlands. In the past, these parks were used as leisure grounds for families. Now air travel is affordable for everyone. Holiday bungalows and mobile homes became a lubricant in an overheated housing market. But, by Dutch law, living in recreation areas is forbidden. Camping Kafka: Lost at Home searches for alternatives in a tour together with policymakers, welfare and social professionals, campsite owners and residents: people in debts, labour migrants, single mothers with children or fathers in the middle of a divorce.
Since Camping Kafka Klaas Burger started to use artistic action research as a method to connect citizens and policy makers. ‘It’s really powerful,’ he explains. Policymakers are used to ‘blue thinking’: problem-based, goal-oriented and verifiable. But who defines what the problem is? Who sets the goals? Who verifies what? Artistic strategies are rooted in the lived experience. They are story-based and relate to feelings. Art is never a solution because expression is not necessarily an answer to a problem. So bringing art into the blue world of policy makers raises the question of trust. How to collaborate when dealing with different perspectives and responsibilities? How to open up yourself and others, to feel, to see and to be heard, to start learning from each other? Klaas Burger’s communal practice upholds precisely this. He shows that art should not retreat in its own world. That art in our polarized society is one of the few tools we have to confront, to connect, and to practice shared attention. Klaas will reflect and research this further while in residency at Cove Park.
– Klaas Burger
– Academie voor Beeldvorming
– Camping Kafka
– Lang Leve…!