For his solo exhibition, social artist Domenique Himmelsbach de Vries uses the gallery space to reflect on his artistic practice of social interventions. Exhibiting two main projects, one about undocumented refugees while the other about embracing Geert Wilders, Himmelsbach frames his own practice of using art as a tool to break with social spectatorship and for discussion of public concerns and political attitudes. The exhibited projects bring to the foreground the inner mechanisms of trying to create socially engaged art through today’s different impositions of the art world, neoliberal economy, political uncertainty, and decreasing public funds for arts.
“A Paper Monument for the Paperless” is a series of woodcut portraits of 60 undocumented refugees residing in the Netherlands. The project was initiated by Himmelsbach and became a collective artistic effort involving 18 artists. The portraits have been reproduced by Himmelsbach and continuously spread throughout the Netherlands, on city buildings, park trees, beneath bridges, and in remote locations. They are meant to bring awareness to the situation of undocumented refugees in the Netherlands and commemorate, for a moment, a humanity that has been taken away from them. The project also served as a method to come in contact with 'the outsider' through first hand experience and conversation rather than as an abstract idea surveyed in the media. The “Wilders Webshop” operates similarly yet with humor. Responding to Wilders’ accusations against artists, Himmelsbach chose to commodify Wilders himself and turn his character into an online shop selling products featuring Wilders’ face. The project emerged out of the attempt to better understand oneself and one’s own perceived enemy through making a daily portrait of them over a prolonged period of time.
Both projects use artistic methods to reach those who do not make up the usual art audience, taking place in public or cyber spaces. Artistic methods are used towards social ends in a way that emphasizes the problematics of specific topics rather than claiming a clear position and imposing it upon the public which it engages with. There is something being said in both projects, but this something does not negate other opinions, emphasizing instead the debate itself. This exhibition gives a glimpse into a history of past projects and invites the visitor to reflect together with the artist on a practice of problem solving, participation, politics, and humor.
Bookstore Space continues the Pro-Gression program in 2017. The program has been realized with the support of the Leuwenstein Foundation and was established to give a new face to the existing Bookstore Space gallery and to offer opportunities to artists at the beginning of their careers. The exhibition of Domenique Himmelsbach de Vries is curated by Taya Hanauer.