Looking back on CO-OP with Lars Willumeit

by Unseen October 03 2018

In the wake of a lively edition of Unseen Amsterdam, curator Lars Willumeit reflects on the second year of our most dynamic programme element: the CO-OP. A hybrid space dedicated to artist-run initiatives and collectives, the CO-OP encourages participants to present challenging works of art and new commercial formats.

Firstly, congratulations! Were you pleased with the outcome of this year’s CO-OP?
Yes, very pleased indeed! Despite the challenging weather conditions, the Transformatorhuis was lively and full, with many engaged visitors initiating conversations and participating in the workshops and presentation formats.

By introducing the CO-OP in 2017, Unseen Amsterdam created a dedicated platform for artist-run initiatives and collectives to present their work. In what ways have you seen the participating artists benefit from the event?
A nice example of this would be the Dutch collective Radical Reversibility that used CO-OP last year as a platform to launch their activities as a collective. This year they were back, but running an exciting programme consisting of a day-long symposium and a two-week long exhibition in another space in Amsterdam during Unseen Amsterdam. Some of this year’s participants received on-the-spot offers for artist residencies and invitations to participate in other shows and festivals, as well as print and book sales and interest by gallerists to represent some of the artists.

Each of the twelve collectives has a very different set of motivations and artistic output. As a curator, how do you go about ensuring this variety comes together seamlessly in the exhibition space?  
I don’t think it is about attempting seamlessness as you would aim for in a thematic or group-show, because that is not what CO-OP is. In a hybrid format like CO-OP, the goal for me is to enable maximum diversity in terms of approach, interest and presentation format. This year I think we managed to achieve exactly that, while ensuring that through careful placement and juxtaposition of the spaces, we also created opportunities where visitors felt challenged but not overwhelmed by the multiplicity of visual voices and artistic expressions.

The collectives come from countries from all over the world. How did narrow down your selection to these twelve? What about these twelve stood out to you?
As we had a geographical focus on Asia last year with collectives from Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we decided this year to have a focus on Africa with both Klaym showing work from Mozambique, Ivory coast and South Africa as well as Yaounde Photo Network from Cameroon. Beyond this, we also had Tokyo Photographic Research and Böhm Kobayashi which both focus on Japan but in very different ways and with different cultural backgrounds.

Has collective artistic production always been a common practice or has there been an increase in this kind of set-up? Can you identify any wider societal cause for this kind of collective formation?
My view on this would be threefold. Firstly, most forms of artistic production have collective components embedded in their production, dissemination and reception processes. Secondly, it is due to art-historical methodological biases that these were under-researched and, therefore, also underrepresented both in academia but also in the art system, such as in institutional and market sub-networks. Thirdly, I would say that there is an increase in collective forms of artistic production, as a reaction to wider societal tendencies or phenomena that paradoxically aim at both individualisation and massification, or at least the appearance thereof.

Brilliant, thank you Lars! Vist our stores page to read interview from our CO-OP Encounters series.

Image: CO-OP, Unseen Amsterdam, 2018 © Maarten Nauw