Judit Bodor: A “third type art space” from the Netherlands.
Exhibition, lecture and concert at Artpool P60, 20.06.2003.
“Future art history will be written differently, taking into account the contribution made by the so-called unofficial art world.” /Kitty Zijlmans/
Since the 1960s, Paul Panhuysen has been involved in a range of practices relating to contemporary art. His work as an artist moved away from the traditional to experimental, interdisciplinary, and interactive art situated at the crossroads of science-art-music. He also led several experimental music groups such as Bende van de Blauwe Hand and The Maciunas Ensemble. He worked, moreover, in different museums as a curator and for a while was the director of an art school. After years of fighting with bureaucracy to find a context within official institutions of the art world to develop his and others’ work, he decided to lead the building of a structure that would correspond to cultural networks and allow new possibilities. The result was the founding in 1980 of Het Apollohuis (The Apollo House), a particular and significant art space that operated for 21 years until, sadly, financial problems forced its closure. Despite this, aims and ideas for art behind Het Apollohuis gave Artpool reason to invite two of its co-founders, Paul and Helène Panhuysen, to Budapest in 2003. An exhibition concerning both documentation of the history and projects of Het Apollohuis and works by Paul Panhuysen was opened on 20 July at the Artpool P60 space. In addition, the Panhuysens gave a presentation about installation projects during the 21 years of the space and the evening culminated with a concert by Paul Panhuysen on a ‘string-installation’, entitled: “Peekaboo 4 Long Strings”. [sound 5′40″] [sound 19′24″]
Panhuysen’s work with interdisciplinary media crossing audio and visual arts results from an interest in sounds of the natural and man-made worlds, the consequences of the Fluxus movement, and his previous experience with architecture in the field of urban design. The installation as an object (instrument) transforms the space spatially while the sounds emanating from the object transform it temporally and abstractly. The visible object and the invisible sound are either inside or outside of the space and therefore both connected within and without. The transformed space is thus simultaneously a visual artwork and a medium channelling sound. The audience, also both inside and outside of the work, takes part in the ‘situation’, which the artist call his ‘audience-involved’ works. “In this sense a ‘situation’ is not only the metaphor of reality, but also metaphor and reality in the same time”. In a time-space context, these ‘situations’ mix the ephemeral but spatial features of an installation with the ephemeral but temporal features of an action. In his sound installations, Panhuysen is not interested in the traditional qualities of music, like pitch and rhythm, but researches how sound as a 3D medium helps to define and make visible a particular architecture. He has developed his best known installations (“Long String Installations”) in this way since 1982. Initially he built these with his friend, Johan Goedhardt, but nowadays works on them alone. These site-specific ‘wire-installations’ are in fact 3D drawings defined by the architecture of a particular space and expanded in time. Each installation is an experience using different kinds of wires, modified instruments, and found objects. The installation in Artpool P60 was built between its two rooms. The 7-meter long ‘wire-installation’ consisted of four wires, two boxes at each end of the wires and four “mechanic crickets” (sun-cells and chips) constructed by the artist.
His other work shown at the exhibition included a colour print from his ‘Calcuco’ series. Though looking at first sight like a chaotic mass of colours, the meaning of this work’s content was explained in a book accompanying the print. The series was based on years of research into the possibilities of visualising numbers and drew together different methods of counting (thinking) and perception. The complexity of the works depends on the complexity of the series of numbers. Originally the ‘Calcuco’ had two parts. One contained two wooden boxes (360 x 360 x 360 mm) each containing 2560 cards (60 x 60 x 1,2 mm), which gave innumerable variations of the sample. The other part was a further 20 cards (10 in each box) with different geometrical patterns on the front side of each. Each pattern was printed in a different colour combination, giving all the possible combinations used for most of the 160 patterns and 5120 cards. On the backside of the cards there were numbers and letters intended to make the use of the cards easier. The numbers corresponded to the patterns were written in the middle of the cards’ back, while the numbers corresponded to the colours were written on the top right corners. The cards numbered 1-10 were in the box ‘P’ (positive), while those numbered 10-20 were in the box ‘R’ (reverse). The reverse were the opposite or mirror versions of the positive cards. The third sign on their backside was always one of the letters A, B, C or D. This sign gave the position of the patterns. The sample exhibited on the wall on P60 was made of six aleatoric patterns chosen by the artist by accident. The image of the samples were based not only on how the patterns are linked to each other, but the chosen square-grids and the counting schemes (Fibonacci series, magic-squares etc.)
The third part of the exhibition documented the history and projects of Het Apollohuis in posters, flyers, postcard-invitations, catalogues, LPs, CDs, photos, and slides. For 21 years the House, as a “permanent space of situations”, created possibilities for “art to happen”. Paul and Helène Panhuysen founded the art space with the artist Remko Scha in the site of a former cigarette factory. The choice of the name ‘Het Apollohuis’ came from the time of the factory’s incarnation as a perfume factory called “Apollo”. The opening of the space fulfilled Panhuysen’s long-time dream. In the 60’s as an artist and curator he thought it very important to open more artist run spaces besides museums and galleries because of the difference in ideas about art held by artists than by collectors or art historians. Values of trade and commerce mean that the artists’ names are of principal importance to collectors, while the values and context of previous history occupy the attention of art historians. Galleries and museums thus exhibit artworks based on these values. For artists, however, art is a kind of a life-style, a method for understanding and expressing their feelings and ideas about everyday life. The existence of the artist run spaces means the survival of art, of “laboratories” producing the art of the future. Instead of a preoccupation with formal aesthetics, their focus is on research and experimentation in new directions of art. These mostly non-profit organisations attracted very small audiences and had limited, restricted chances to gain funding from any mainstream state or private institution.
From the end of the 70s the Panhuysens tried to find a proper place for their ‘laboratory’ in the suburbs of Eindhoven. Their first home was an apartment, exhibition space, and studio in the same time, but after a while they had to leave because of the emerging rent fees. In 1978 they found the half-empty factory building. At first they only wanted a studio and an apartment for themselves, then they decided to have an exhibition space and an apartment for guest artists. After renovating the building they started the programs in 1980. The idea to transform former factory buildings for exhibition space is not so rare but using them for apartment/rent/studio and exhibition space is unique. The half private-half public context gave them the possibility to deal with art not as ART but as the organic part of the everyday life. Het Apollohuis became a platform for presenting the visible results of the permanent work and discourse about art and life.
For 21 years, and for 9 months of each of those years, different exhibitions, installations, lectures and concerts were held every three weeks in the three rooms of the ground floor of the House. Besides these events it was very important from the beginning to come out with different publications (posters, postcards, books, catalogues, CDs, tapes, LPs. etc.) and to take part in co-operation and exchange projects.
As an alternative space the main aim was to encourage the dissemination of information between artists and the audience, to present those projects and artworks that carried important progressive ideas in contemporary art, but for whatever reason were not shown by the museums and the galleries. The artist’s ‘name’ was not a criteria during the selection process and so, besides new developments in well-known artists’ work, the space gained renown for providing opportunity for talented young artists to show their works for the first time (e.g.: Henk Visch, John Körmeling, Christian Zwanikken etc.). The selection was determined principally by two criteria that made the resulting programme was unique to Het Apollohuis. Firstly, the architectural structure of the factory building (long undivided spaces with low roofs and concrete floors) allowed neither the programming of dance nor the exhibition of tall objects. Secondly, Panhuysen chose mostly artists who were similarly interested in working across fields of science-art-music, whose work evolved from serious research and who thought of art as an instrument for understanding the world around them. Before taking part in a project the artists had to explain their ideas about the proposed work and the processes behind it clearly.
As all events during the years were documented, there is now an extensive and particular archive of photos, videos and sound. These materials were made accessible to researchers and were also published in catalogs documenting each 5 years of their activity (1980-85, 1985-90, 1990-95, 1995-2001). Up until 2001 they had organised 253 exhibitions and installations, 476 concerts and live performances, 49 lectures and symposia in the House and had, moreover, taken part in many joint projects. Besides the events their publishing activities were also impressive with 106 artists’ books, catalogues, monographs, CDs, LPs.
Among their most important international music festivals was the FLEA Festival (1997) that they organised with three partners. For this event, organisers invited artists from their own countries. All the artists and artist-groups involved worked with different media in the field of experimental music as a meeting point between music and visual art. To mark the 15th anniversary of Het Apollohuis in 1995 they organised an eight week-long series of events as part of a Japanese-Dutch Contemporary Art Exchange with Gallery Surge/ICAEE (Tokyo). During these two months 12 Dutch and Japanese artists presented performances and installations working with new technologies in Sound Installation, Performance and Photography. As Shinichi Sakai, the leader of the Gallery Surge explains: “These works, which use light and sound, stimulate different kind of interaction between audible and visible. The spectator-auditor is involved in the work of art because he can touch the machines. The analogically generated sound and light are exceedingly faint and dim, but our ‘bodily’ sensations can be revived while the binary oppositions Spectator/Work of Art, Man/Machine, Subject/Environment disappear.”
One of the participants was Panhuysen’s The Maciunas Ensemble who have existed since 1968 with different line-ups and play experimental music on self-made musical “instruments”. They took the name from George Maciunas, “the father of Fluxus”, as a homage to his piece, “Music For Everyman”.
Alongside festivals and joint projects, the Panhuysens also invited artists and artist groups to work in the Het Apollohuis for extended periods of time. During each residency Paul and Helène lived, ate and worked with each artist, giving them a friendly environment in which to work. Among their guests were several Hungarian artists such as Group 180, Tibor Szemző, Péter Forgács and Sándor Kardos, works of whom were also published by the house.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, the programme of Het Apollohuis diminished noticeably due to the government ending its financial support in 1992 on the advice of the Committee for Institutions of the Council of Arts. This committee advised that Het Apollohuis’ activities had been “insufficiently thought out and random”, that their programme “does not contribute to the current developments in the visual arts” and that the “activities of Het Apollohuis receive too little attention”. “There are not enough contacts with other initiatives and persons at home and abroad....Hence Het Apollohuis does not contribute toward the current international discussion about and reflection on development in the visual arts.”
Despite written support from individuals and institutions at home and abroad which demonstrated the international relevance of Het Apollohuis, their appeal for support and re-assessment of the Council’s advice failed. In the meantime the Council of Arts became the Council of Culture which – meaning less money for more institutions – also mitigated against the Panhuysens chances of funding. This new Council again advised against Het Apollohuis, relegating them to an annual cycle of funding which meant further uncertainty in their planning of programme in the medium term. As a result events have taken place very rarely there since 1997.
In 2001 Het Apollohuis ceased to exist as a publicly accessible art space. Despite this sad end, Paul and Helène insist on the importance of the project’s 21-year existence. The building is still there with the apartment, Paul’s studio, and the archive. They still live and work there classifying and ordering the documentation. Their hope is that a larger institution might take notice of the importance of their archive and make it public once again, so its importance and the traces of their activities might survive.