The clock is ticking. The stretcher beds are being difficult. The scissors keep disappearing. There may not be enough candles and fabric in all of Amsterdam to satisfy our artists’ needs. And it is too damned hot.
But relax, you're at Sleep Inn.
As part of Temporary Museum Amsterdam, Mediamatic has opened Sleep Inn. A place where visitors of Art Amsterdam and Temporary Museum Amsterdam can rest their weary bodies after a day of art appreciation and by doing so participate in an art installation themselves.
Sleep Inn is the site of Mediummatic, five days of alternative communication, a program organised by artists Melanie Bonajo (NL) and Kinga Kielczynska (PL). But when I arrive at the space I find they are not yet in the mood for communication. Melanie, drowning under a swathe of chiffon, sees me approach and fearing I am there to interview her and Kinga on the spot greets me with ‘No, no, no!’ There is no need for concern however, I’m happy to let them get on with constructing their spiritual installation and simply observe the work in progress…
Despite the frenzy of activity, it’s not hard to feel happy in the space, even though it’s not yet finished. The windows have been lined with vertical panels of colored crepe paper and the sun shining behind them creates a lovely rainbow effect. The space has been broken up into different sections via billowy white curtains. There’s a comfortable looking fur-lined mattress sitting under an apricot chiffon tent ready for all-day massages. A table, lined with black lace and covered with numerous black candles is destined for a séance. A small inflatable house covered with gold fabric serves as a private temple for one. And, perhaps my favourite thing – an inflatable washing machine sits on a pedestal, underneath a festive, hanging decoration, surrounded by candles. It is a shrine for the Ritual Energy Cleaning. Naturally.
Later in the day this space will become the site for the first of an array of activities of an alternative and sometimes supernatural variety. It’s time to leave your hang-ups at the door and as you walk around the installation, surrender
to its spirit.
In the process of art making both Melanie and Kinga view their role as performer. With a background in video art, Kinga is most often the subject of her own work, which she describes as ‘shiny, colourful, joyful – like my life.’ Through photography, Melanie uses the camera as a way to ‘record one second performances’ she explains.
Melanie and Kinga met as students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and have participated in a number of group exhibitions together. Previous works show their early involvement in each other’s art, however their first official collaboration, The culture that does not exist was staged in late 2007 at Fons Welters, Fette and Rotwandt galleries. This project won the 2007 PUP (Prize for Unique Photography) Award, which will produce a book of the show in early 2009.
The culture that does not exist, an exhibition of photographs and installation, revolved around the documentation of a fictional cult living in the forests of Eastern Poland. The community believe human kind originate from plants and seek a return to the source by living like plants and worshipping the forest through mystical rituals.
Mediummatic investigates the notion of ‘media’ in its original meaning; the way in which ideas and feelings are communicated. In particular, the program seeks to explore the power of human senses and what they are capable of.
Melanie and Kinga, who as collaborative artists, wish to be quoted as a unit rather than separately, explain the relationship between the ideas behind The culture that does not exist and Mediummatic:
We’re interested in humans as part of a collective. Today, everything is focussed on the individual – the individual’s fears, desires, whatever...But there is no individual. Everything, everyone is connected. This is one of the feelings behind both projects. We also want to get back to art possessing spirituality. We think there’s been a move away from that and we want our art to have a strong spiritual element to it.
Mind reading and spirit channelling might seem like magical hocus-pocus of long ago, but when the artists respond, ‘when I think of what we do with modern technology today – it is like a miracle,’ it’s hard to disagree. There is another aim behind Melanie and Kinga's programming. ‘We wanted to expose an art going audience to things they might not normally accept or be open to,’ they said.
And then there’s the ‘spiritual installation’ itself.
‘We found a lot of similarities between a spiritual experience and the transcendental perception of art. Our installation is a re-construction of a spiritual centre in the context of an art space. It is a work in progress. It is a flexible space that changes and develops through the process of us being here and the activities that take place,’ explain the artists.
But while they share a sincere passion for their subject, Melanie and Kinga make it clear there’s a healthy dose of humour involved. The importance of being able to laugh at yourself, to see the funny side of life, even the absurd, permeates their work. The inflatable private temple and Cleaning Ritual Shrine are wonderfully whimsical examples of this.
The Laughing Workshop
Night has fallen and the spiritual installation has been transformed. Fans blow the hung fabric in a gentle sway, peaceful music plays in the background and the space is littered with lit candles. The bar has some interesting additions. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and towels can now be purchased along with your beer and wine. For those who feel the heat of the day has taken its toll – a ‘puff of perfume’ is available for your refreshed pleasure.
The program this evening is a Laughing Meditation Workshop with Dhyan Sutorius. The turn-out is not huge but with dozens of other openings on this is not surprising and we fill the space without being cramped. After some explanation, Sutorius takes us through the meditation. It goes for fifteen minutes and has three stages – stretching all the muscles, laughing and silence and is supposed to have therapeutic effects. There are titters and tears and hearty laughs. Some laugh more than others and some don’t at all. But whilst it may not have gotten everyone laughing, it certainly got everyone talking. This may not be what you want running a Laughing Meditation Workshop but it’s definitely something you want staging five days of alternative communication in an art festival context.
During the meditation, we were asked to close our eyes and think of two words that best describe how we feel in the moment and feel a YES to it. Well, I can think of three.
Mediummatic, Sleep Inn....