Photogenie at Museumnacht Amsterdam 2019
Did you miss us?
We sure missed you.
We have been away, but we have never left.
Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have seen our museums get taken away from us, reminding everyone of how vital they are.
At the moment, in the Netherlands, we can visit museums with the right precautions (yay!). Nonetheless, we feel particularly nostalgic about the Museumnacht, which sadly could not take place this year. So let's take a look back at the 2019 Museumnacht, which now holds an even more special place in our hearts.
What is Museumnacht?
Every November in Amsterdam, you have the chance to explore your favorite Museums at nighttime, during Museumnacht Amsterdam. Unfortunately, you still won’t be able to literally spend the night there (though Photogenie would love for a museum-sleepover initiative to happen!), but at least you can visit during dark hours from 7 pm to 2 am. More than 50 museums and cultural institutions participate with special programs; your adventure depends on your ability to yield a bike and on the revitalizing drinks or snacks that you can get at multiple of the museums.
The Museum Night Amsterdam first took place in 2000, taking inspiration from Die Lange Nacht der Museen in Berlin. Eventually, the organization turned into an independent foundation designated Stichting Museumnacht Amsterdam or N8. Museum Night has become one of the biggest and most popular events in Amsterdam’s city center, selling out completely in the last ten years. The next Museum Night is planned to take place on Saturday, November 6, 2021 (long but worthwhile wait!)
We are fascinated by the possibilities afforded by media forms. And when we talk about media, we are referring to the simple, all-encompassing idea of the medium: an agent for communication that comes in all kinds of material and (seemingly) immaterial forms. What we saw repeatedly, throughout the night, was the breaking – no, the decimation - of taboos. With all our senses engaged in eccentric ways, many socially unspoken, but pervasive themes were communicated to us through different media forms. Does that make sense? A simple example: we all experience death, but the topic is mostly avoided until necessarily addressed. Here, we felt death through creation, life through pain, fear through smell, and much more. What we hope to achieve at Photogenie, to address social themes through the medium of the image and social platforms, MuseumNacht achieved in one night, through the collaboration of many great creative institutions and infinite approaches to the mediated experience. At each location we were allowed to let ourselves be immersed deeply in a confrontation with a taboo (or simply an interesting topic), thereby giving us the opportunity to understand and deconstruct our discomfort and pre-existing judgments. Engaging with a topic such as fear, without literally experiencing it, but by sensing another’s unusual interpretation of it, our minds are broadened.
We started our journey at the Stedelijk Museum. After the opening ceremony, we joined one of the activities: The utopian Bandana Workshop. With a slight scramble, seats were immediately filled, but once we settled in, with the help of artist, ballroom artist, and clothing designer Yamuna Forzani, we made our Photogenie utopian bandana. What is a utopian bandana and how is it made? From a collection of unique fabrics and scraps, we envisioned and implemented the scent, color, and pattern of our utopia in the bandana. After designing bandanas reflective of your dreamland, there was the opportunity to share it with others on a catwalk. We saw this as an interesting exercise to reflect on what type of society we would like to achieve and what efforts we can make everyday to get there.
At Stedelijk, the theme was all about “discovering Paris within the walls” of the museum – with French tours, swift artists (in other words, students from ArtEZ art academy sketching your portrait), and even French fries sold from a French Fries Boutique.
After Stedelijk, we grabbed our bikes and cruised to Foam. What caught our eye was their “Rescued Food Fest” initiative: an effort to fight the waste resulting from the lost third of all food production that never ends up on a plate. Foam Café served dishes using ingredients that would have otherwise been thrown away. By relishing in the creative and flavorsome culinary creations, we were provided with a simplification (as is often required by stubborn humans) of the value of what is deemed ‘waste’. We admired this initiative because we know that big events like this are also often the reason so much food goes to squander. The available exhibition was admirable, but overall, we didn’t spend much time at Foam. The combination of a compact structure and superfluous popularity made the experience somewhat claustrophobic and eventually intolerable.
Mediamatic was less cramped. The visit was relaxing and allowed us to settle deeply into and experience the exhibitions - this was essential because the topic of the night was death! Activities were ranging from designing our own shroud, letting artists Krisztina Czika and Margherita Soldati make a (death) mask of your face in the Death Beauty Salon, to experiencing a Coffin and taking a selfie in it. By transporting us back to an old cultural practice - since it used to be a Dutch tradition to make your own shroud, to wear it on your wedding night, and to put it away until you died - you were encouraged to think of your death in a creative way. We found this quite beautiful!
Did we take a Coffin Selfie? Absolutely (see the pretty unattractive results below).
Then we moved on to another installation. This one based on emotions and smell, with each olfactory mixture crafted from unexpected and sometimes repulsive components into delicate and evocative scents, and to Gwen van der Zwan’s artwork Finally Free – an artwork that consists of processed offal and slaughterhouse waste turned into a floating 8 x 2-meter zeppelin reflecting the “posthumous freedom of the 350 pigs” that served to make the work.
After Mediamatic we grabbed our google maps, looked for, and, yes, found Nemo. At NEMO Science Museum the main topic was Pleasure & Pain – at an again very crowded museum the activities resonated with this topic, ranging from a birth-pain simulator to a bondage workshop, the opportunity to make a clit out of clay, and studying circuits with the help of vibrators. Unfortunately – given that it was extremely crowded – we mostly observed from a distance, only experiencing the latter, which was truthfully still very amusing and engaging.
Our last stop was VondelCS, the Media and Culture LAB of AVROTROS. The theme was the future of digital art and forced us to question the influence of new media and technology on art, and necessary new approaches by artists, curators, and programmers to deal with it. The exhibition ART FWRD: On technology, let the visitor become familiar with VR art, internet art, Instagram art, computer-generated art, and more, including works by Kate Cooper, Ali Eslami & Klasien van de Zandschulp, Harm van den Dorpel, Geoffrey Lillemon, Lilian Stolk by The Hmm and Jasmijn Visser.
One of the experiences involved looking through VR goggles that were placed in a frame – an allusion to newer, multidimensional forms of art that constitute a stronger physical sensation (whether material or immaterial). There was also the possibility of playing around with Instagram face filters; an opportunity to witness Instagram slither into the VR artworld and vice versa. Overall, we enjoyed our time at VondelCS: less congested, we were able to experience more of the artworks with a reduced sense of hurry.
In short, as we described earlier, what we especially liked about this edition of the Museumnacht was the inevitable confrontation with taboos and discomfort.
We were encouraged to look at death as a natural rite of passage that can be beautiful and calm - rather than something that we are supposed to dread and erase from our minds completely. By joining an increasingly present and familiar practice (selfies) to an event that most opt to completely ignore - as though that would help us escape it - we are encouraged to embrace our fears and become comfortable with them instead. Observing and analyzing the Absurd is healthy! For those of us who suffer from stress and anxiety that often arises from acknowledging our own mortality (particularly during times like this, when a great many people are experiencing loss) this can be a beneficial and therapeutic exercise.
At the same time, by using vibrators to learn about circuits, Nemo is making the effort to normalize the use of sex toys by women: showing that it is, ultimately, a source of learning that should not be demonized.
Furthermore, to shape your clitoris using clay may also be seen as a sign that we need to make it as something more visible and part of our dialogue: a plea for people to be more in touch with a part of their body that is regrettably so often neglected by society. Why should we be so afraid to talk about such a magnificent organ? We should be celebrating it instead.
We love institutions that are not afraid to speak up about what matters, even if it is a subject that could be considered a taboo. Ignoring discomfort is not the solution. Way to go!
We absolutely can not wait to see what the next Museumnacht is preparing for us.
By Rita Bolieiro and Isa Fernandez Reumann