TUSSEN KUNST & QUARANTAINE: CREATIVITY DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in a period of confinement, during its research routine on news about art and culture in online media, Passeio came across an especially creative and stimulating project. Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine was born in the context of a global pandemic, in the Netherlands, by the hands of Anneloes Officier, and quickly became a viral platform, spread on a global scale, of “recreating famous works of art with objects and homemade scenarios”. The project, launched in March 2020, initially comprised a small group of friends, aimed, in the words of its mentor, to counteract the boredom and started from a very simple challenge that consisted of imitating a famous work of art using three items found at home, taking a photo and sharing it through a public Instagram account.
The surprising phenomenon Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine immediately put us alert to a set of questions, which largely expresse the interstitiality that characterizes the complexity of contemporary art. We therefore decided to use this specific case of creativity as a pretext for the discussion that we want to encourage here. The topics of our discussion should be seen as open questions.
Is anonymous collective recreation the end of authorship?
It is known that the initiative started, as already mentioned, from Anneloes Officier, together with her two flatmates, being the first images shared only with friends through her private Instagram account.
Learning that the Rijksmuseum, from March 19, in the quarantine period, followed her, Anneloes says that she decided to create a public account, which triggered not only an increasing collective participation in the project, but also the interest of several museums around the world — MET (New York), Louvre (Paris), Getty (Los Angeles), The Heritage (St. Petersburg) and even the Lamas Museum, in Portugal — that joined the project, encouraging their own audiences to recreate works of art and sharing their creativity on Instagram.
Thus, it is possible to observe that, in its original format, the project comes from an initiative that is simultaneously personal and shared between Anneloes and her roommates. The sense of collective production is reproduced from the dissemination of public participation in the project through Instagram and further accentuated by the appropriation of it by top international museums, which, in turn, join the publicity and the call for public participation. The discrimination between individual and collective authorship of recreations is not clear or taken as a principle. It’s important to note, moreover, that some of the shared images show visual and performative compositions in which families or several of the inhabitants of the domestic space participate. Adults, children, animals and the most diverse objects used to reproduce works of art without apparently having to worry about identifying the “authorship” of the recreation, safeguarding the circumstantial possibility of identifying the individual sharing the image through a personal Instagram account.
On the other hand, the juxtaposition between the famous works of art that inspires these recreations, can be seen as a risk, in some way, to leveling the status of the artist, traditionally understood as a genius, and the common and anonymous individual, displaced from their audience role to the role of creator. Going back to his famous and widely cited text, The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, started in 1936, Walter Benjamin observed, in particular, the transformations promoted by the cinema, that “in certain circumstances, anyone can be part of a work of art” (Benjamin, 1955/1992, p. 96). The author also said: “the difference between author and audience is about to lose its fundamental characteristic” (Benjamin, 1955/1992, p. 97). He thus foreshadowed what Jacques Rancière would later transform into his fundamental thesis with the expression The emancipated spectator that titled his homonymous work. Introducing the (re)emergence of community art, based on the example of Brecht’s theater (which, additionally, Benjamin does not fail to mention in his work in advance), Rancière (2010, p. 19) speaks of distance as “normal condition of every communication”, which must be transposed, between the “ignorant” and the “master”. Believing in the transforming action of the audience, considering as a start point his own eyes, the author defends the importance of an action, first of all, of learning: “the art of putting your experiences into words and your words to prove, of translating your intellectual adventures for the use of others and to translate the translations that others present to you of their respective adventures” (Rancière, 2010, p. 19).
In the 60s several artists, namely Warhol, Kaprow, among others, had already extended their creative process to collective participation, either from other artists, whose name remained anonymous, in the case of Warhol, or from audiences, encouraged to co-create the work, ephemeral in nature or intentionally exhibited in its unfinished performative form in exhibition spaces that are often unconventional, such as Kaprow (artist whose work is characterized by the use of performance and assemblage). It is also worth mentioning the importance of Beuyes (2010), whose artistic pedagogy determined the recognition of the creative capacity of the anonymous individual as the most important value. “Every man is an artist” is a well-known expression, attributed to Beuyes, which correctly summarizes the principle of desecrating the status of the creator of the work of art that in Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine happens in two ways. On the one hand, through the opening of the project to the participation of any individual, amateur and anonymous. On the other hand, through the challenge of recreating works originally created by renowned artists. This challenge allows us to explore plenty of possibilities of reinventing visual compositions and aesthetic effects that bring these same recreations closer to the works that inspired them, while, implicitly, distances are created between the artists of those works and the creative minds that reinvent them.
The boundary between the original and the copy. The appropriation movements
The use of household items as prosaic as the toilet paper, the appliances (vacuum cleaner, iron,…), the bucket and the mop or even the laptop — all signs of the routines installed in homes in the quarantine period — serve the purpose of recreation of famous works of art. Through this choice, originals are imitated, rescuing techniques and genres known in art history. The dilution of the aura, associated with the unique, authentic and original work, is especially boosted according to Benjamin’s well-known thesis, by the transforming role of the new possibilities of technical reproducibility, enhanced by photography, by cinema, and before that by woodcut and related techniques. This becomes more evident through several artists and movements from the beginning of the 20th century. Starting with the dadaism (Richter, 1993), movement born in 1916, in Zurich, and led by Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball and Hans Harp, it is worth noting the use of collage techniques, namely paper clippings found in everyday life, as well as the aspect of spontaneity and the inexistent price of this practice. Similarly, the creative process inherent in Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine manifests itself as an heir to the same process, since the intentional use of less noble materials reinforces, in itself, the sense of deconstructing the values of traditional art. There may be added the allusion to surrealism, which appeared around 1920, in Paris, directed by the poet and critic André Breton. Artists such as Antonin Artaud (theater), Luis Buñuel (cinema), Max Ernst, René Magritte and Salvador Dali (plastic arts), among others, are associated with this movement. As with surrealism, in the genesis of techniques, for example, collage or assembly, also in Tussen Kunst the common everyday objects lose their literal meanings to assume new roles and significance, in the context of a syntax that at the same time traces old compositions and reinvents itself, displacing elements between different semiotic systems.
The awareness of a “new collective identity” — an aspect that may be correlated with the sense of community, although ephemeral, that Tussen Kunst as a common project conveys — as well as the construction of “new perceptions” — stimulated by imagination, in the case of surrealism, relating to the mixture between dream and reality, and in the case of Tussen Kunst, an expression of the recreation of the look on the original works that were reproduced — are two aspects that allow justifying the allusion to the new realism (nouveau réalisme). Comparing the Tussen Kunst project with the new realism, it can be said that the limits between art and anti-art, the original and the copy, the individual author and the sense of the collective are imposed, in a way, on their opacity. The “accumulations” of objects by Armand Pierre Fernandez can, for example, be used as a metaphor for the approximation between art and everyday life, art and life. At the same time, techniques such as détournement, developed in the 1950s and embraced by international situationism, consisting of subversion of artistic productions aiming, for example, to transform slogans or logos into messages against advertisers or the current political-capitalist system, the pastiche (Dye, 2006), characteristic of works that openly imitate the style of others, having or not parody as an end, or even the use of bricolage, in the sense of improvisation and the use of the amateur’s imaginative capacities, intersect in Tussen Kunst under new forms of reinvention.
The idea of creative production based on a model, which is central to Tussen Kunst, comes close to “a transversal methodology in the recent practice of painting” (Sardo, 2006, p. 11), supported by reference and quotation. Translation between different languages is, nowadays, a recurring practice: “in the present situation of the practice of painting, there is a recourse to previous images from other image sources, be they photographic, or, in a more focused way, images from history of art” (Sardo, 2006, p. 11). Luc Tuymans is one of the many examples of plastic artists who in their creative process use photographic images, adopted as models, in the specific case, images shown in the media. Such an appropriationist methodology has even raised renewed questions concerning copyrights. Consider here the case of Tuymans, the controversy episode regarding his portrait of the Belgian politician Jean-Marie Dedecker (A Belgian Politician, 2011), based on a journalistic photograph, a circumstance that was condemned for plagiarism. This example leads us, once again, to Sardo’s words, following his reflection on the current issues of productive ethics: “the use of sampled images from the photographic, videographic, filmic world, or from ‘images of images’ of the press already reveals another relationship with images of second degree, already looking for another anthropology of the image” (Sardo, 2006, p. 14).
Taking as a source of inspiration “Time and text – anachronism and trans-memory”, by Avelar (2018), we can identify a similarity when it comes to the same temporal problem, regarding the way in which the spatial support of recreations in Tussen Kunst understands time as an endogenous trait. As the immediate relationship between the word and the image is not an issue in the project under discussion (a particular issue in Avelar’s essay), we are still interested in importing, by approximation, the concept of image trans-memory used by the author. This same concept is developed by Serrão (2008), in his work The trans-memory of images.
Before starting such an explanation, it is essential to understand that the Tussen Kunst initiative presents itself as a collection of isolated recreations, in response to a common starting challenge that aggregates them in a kind of juxtaposition collection, in the style of Aby Warburg. A structure like that, which at the same time maintains the individuality of each recreation and makes it dialogue, synchronously, with all the others, accentuated by the nature of Instagram’s structural and formal presentation, suggests, in a way, the remote concept of a museum. Going back to the “wonder rooms”, museums have always been a space for the progressive opening of private collections to the “audience”. Early on, museums acquired a pedagogical reason for existing, in the sense that they promote the popularization of knowledge and aesthetic experience. As Avelar says, “the banality of our coexistence with art is only possible due to the existence of an institution, the Museum” (Avelar, 2018, p. 430). This didactic action, in Tussen Kunst, develops, not only through the popularization of the original works recreated, but also by the way in which creative interpretations are exhibited, enhancing a new look on those same works. One of the appropriation and re-reading strategies adopted is to replace or add elements, in a way that it becomes both disruptive and anachronistic. Disruptive, once new elements are introduced in the composition, by adding or replacing the originals, being different from the work’s syntactic structure, such as the earring, in the portrayed female figure, from which there are tickets hanging, observed in one of the recreations by Vermeer (“Girl with a pearl earring”, 1665), or the version created by Elizabeth Ariza and her daughter of the painting “La Blanchisseuse” (1761), by the Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, suggestive of a similar domestic environment, although recreated with new and unusual objects. Anachronistic, in the sense that the replacement of original composition objects or elements by new domestic objects, such as toilet paper, vacuum cleaner or clothes drying, transports the recreated ambience to the historical present, the time of the “enunciation that also ends memories of previous perceptions…” (Avelar, 2018, p. 438). Understanding that by standing in front of the image we are necessarily faced with time, as stated by Didi-Huberman (2000), in his essay Devant le temps, it is interesting to note that in Tussen Kunst there is a possibility of a historical reinterpretation of the original work, questioning its own spatio-temporal structure, and at the same time, the archeology of the experience of the present, shared between the creator and the observer. This intersection is evidenced and emphasized by the appropriation strategies — disruption and anachronism — mentioned above, giving rise to a certain tense effect. We risk moving the following excerpt from Avelar to clarify, for similarity, such a discursive strategy: “…the dynamics of time, being endogenous to the image and experience of its encounter with the viewer, is not exactly related to the period of time that the referent represents and with what is represented, as Lessing defended, but with the strategy of its representation, with the indexes of the past and the present, and with the tension between both, existing in a certain microcosm” (Avelar, 2018, p 436). The details chosen for the purpose of recreation, since each new composition starts from a perceptual (and, as such, selective) view of the original image, invites us to a re-appreciation of the recreated work of art. The diachronic relationship between each new creative proposal and its model is, thus, revealing new possibilities for the compositional valuation of each element, in its articulation with all the signs that constitute the structure in discussion. Suddenly, the body and facial expressions of Picasso’s Guernica performative replica invite us to return to the original painting to better observe the corresponding portrayed figures, and the reconstruction of Irena Ochódzka (figuring a female body, sitting strangely with a vacuum cleaner), from a Greek marble sculpture, dating from the third millennium before Christ, awakens our attention on the unusual detail of the form that accompanies the pose of the original figure. Furthermore, the synchronic relationship between the different recreations produces a new discursive, transversal and shared texture, where one can read the expression of an experience lived on a global scale, in a quarantine period, motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as, in a second layer of meaning, the expression of cultural and aesthetic codes that give visibility, and as such valuation, to a given set of artists, works, supports or genres, often transforming models into compositions, both visual and performative, trans-typological: still nature replicated in the form of portraits, figurative works recomposed with abstract forms, two-dimensional compositions converted into sculptural compositions, etc.
Popularization of art and education for art/artistic literacy
One of the features of postmodernity, or late capitalism, according to Jameson (1998, pp. 24-25), is the disappearance of the “old (characteristically modernist) border between high culture and the so-called mass or commercial culture”. The emergence, from the 1950s, of the device Kitsch, the Reader’s Digest culture, advertising, television series, “paraliterature” or lower quality Hollywood cinema, among other examples presented by Jameson (1998), clearly express the integration of contemporary aesthetic production into the commodity production system in general. The consumer society (Baudrillard, 1995) supported by the aestheticization of goods (Haug, 1996/1971) incorporates artistic artefacts, leveled by their transversal condition of circulation, commercialization and valuation. In Tussen Kunst, works by Vermeer, Klint, or Mondrian are used as models of new creative reinventions, as pictorial references translated into new languages, both plastic and performative. Its dissemination, through a public account, reinforces the popularization of original works of art, contributing to the accessibility and artistic literacy of audiences, bringing them closer to works that would otherwise be exhibited in museological contexts: “The project was a rare example of visual art that crossed the broad cultural consciousness on a massive scale. And more than that, this happened in a way that seems highly inclusive, communal, and educational — adjectives that appear in the mission of almost all museums” (Taylor, 2020, 3§).
Although the consumption of reproductions of works of art through the internet has long been popularized, and therefore this project is not entirely innovative from this point of view, in the case of Tussen Kunst, it is more than a simple reproduction. Each original work of art is recreated, which means that it is reinterpreted, often surprisingly — “The audience understanding of art history was surprisingly sophisticated” (Taylor, 2020) — transformed into a form of psychosocial expression, displaced to a present space-time that resonates exuberantly in it, superimposing a new layer of meaning. The line that separates the interpretation of the work, its explanation, and its understanding, to use the terminology of Ricouer (1976/1987), and the process of infinite semiosis recreation is diffuse. In this case, the interpreters are truly creators, and they can ask themselves from what point we stop observing a simple reproduction and start to observe an attempt of trans-art. Improvising visual compositions supported by objects such as toilet paper, canned food tins, bath towels or phones, and having people to use their own bodies or that of the cohabitants of the domestic space to compose a unique aesthetic picture, suggestive of a famous work of art, the creators of Tussen Kunst express and share their daily psycho-emotional experience, in a mandatory confinement period. Since the initiative was triggered in reaction to a feeling of boredom, according to her mentor, it is interesting to see how much that same feeling can be a generator of creative imagination (Bachelard, 1988).
It is also interesting to watch the free movement of meaning, from the original works to the recreated ones, and the re-signification process that is stimulated in Tussen Kunst. Starting from Munch’s work The Scream, for example, one of the works of art frequently recreated, we can mention here the opportune words of Jameson (1998) to illustrate how much a given significant structure can be subject to updated appropriations of meaning: “The painting of Edvard Munch The Scream is, of course, a canonical expression of the great modern themes of alienation, anomie, loneliness, social fragmentation and isolation, an almost programmatic emblem of what could be called the time of anguish” (Jameson, 1998, p. 33). Associated with expressionism and modernism, in the assumption that art can have a role as a mediation between an inner world and an outer world, split off from each other, it will be relevant to safeguard that, in transmodernity, a new expressive realism comes to surface, characterized by the mixture of perceptual tones. The screams by Tussen Kunst, recreated and displayed on social networks, lie between the parody and the expressive dramatization of a particular psychosocial reality, between the portrait of private and intimate life, and its intertwining with public exposure, denoting a difficult coexistence of individuals with their own inner-outer metaphysics. Abruptly catapulted into a universe among doors, they rediscover themselves as beings (re)co-constituted in the virtual spaces of sociality, in lots of cases vital spaces from the point of view of their identity integrity.
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All images were retrieved from @tussenkunstenquarantaine
 Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/tussenkunstenquarantaine/?hl=pt
 Pay attention to the following quote by Benjamin (1955/1992, p. 151), in his essay The author as a producer: “An author who does not teach writers does not teach anyone. It is, therefore, determinant as a characteristic of the production model, firstly, the orientation of other producers towards production and, secondly, the availability of an improved device. In particular, the more capacity this device has to assign production to the consumer the better. In short, to transform readers or viewers into participants. Such a model already exists, which I can only speak about here. This is Brecht’s epic theater”.
 Lévi-Strauss (1976) uses the term bricolage to describe spontaneous actions that don’t completely follow scientific thought, considering as a base for inspiration the mythological way of thinking, which is generated by human imagination.
 About the designation “plastic artist”, it must be noted that it will make more sense to understand painting distended as “a bigger field of spatial intervention” (Sardo, 2006, p. 13).