If travel broadens the mind, tourism must be regarded as a bright-eyed postcard façade you must peel, gnaw and scratch away at. The moment foreign soil is set foot on, heightened sensory antennae must circumnavigate officially designated palaces of culture and discover its rotten but throbbing heart.
For an artist-in-residence abroad, the experience is by its very nature a more mind-expanding experience. The 20-odd practitioners captured in transit in this large-scale international exchange make plain the state of permanent transience they’re in. Works on show aren’t so much dispatches from home, nor are they souvenir snapshots of faraway places. Rather, each work occupies a space between the two that’s neither here nor there.
Developed from the Netherlands’ unique network of artists’ residencies, whereby visiting practitioners are offered accommodation in residential studio complexes, works created in Rotterdam by artists from as far afield as the US, UK, Hungary, Estonia, France, Italy and Australia map out a loose-knit global village in microcosm. There are home-grown artists too, though no attempt at any latent displays of hegemony from the five centres involved here: B.a.d., Kaus Australis, Het Wilde Weten, Duende and Kunst & Complex. Rather, each artist occupies their own little republic of temporary hoardings which forms informal ‘neighbourhoods’ resembling the districts of any 21st century urban hub with a pan-global multi-cultural migrant influx. As with coming to terms with driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, then, Wrong Time, Wrong Place is cultural tourism in reverse.
Nikolaus Gansterer’s ‘The Eden Experiment’, in which plant life is nurtured by Death Metal music rather than compost, subverts both Darwinian and creationist principles from the off. ‘We are finding that the universe is composed not of matter but of music’. The accompanying evolutionary ‘Tree of Knowledge’ chart—of metal music, from Heavy to Black to Industrial to Death to Doom—suggests a parallel universe to the more accepted version it hangs next to. Trixi Weiss’s ‘Self Portrait’ hangs up a series of small kinetic sculpture cutouts, each of a girl splayed across assorted desks, sofas and ladders in saucily pants-down nudge-nudge poses. When activated, each model whirs with brief abandon as wooden hands mechanically frig themselves off.
Elsewhere, there’s a big Canadian influence, to the extent that Yvette Poorter’s ‘Knock On Woods’ declares itself a Canadian territory, setting down a little bit of its homeland’s expansiveness all tucked up in the Netherlands’ flatter, more bijou terrain. This again is the entrenched rediscovery of identity via the cultural stereotyping of quite literally ‘flying the flag.’
If this show was some empire-building expression of Brits abroad, we would see the haunting of the plethora of Irish bars for some acquired stag-do blarney. As The Beautiful South, of all social-realist pop cultural tourists, observed, ‘This Could Be Rotterdam Or Anywhere/Liverpool Or Rome/’Cause Rotterdam Is Anywhere/Anywhere Alone’. Then again, they were from Hull, a northern English town a ferry ride away. As a home from home, Wrong Time, Wrong Place is worlds apart.
Neil Cooper is a writer and critic