Jan Hoet interviewed by Blauer Hase.
What was the connection between Chambres d’amis and that specific moment in 1986?
In 1986 there was Chernobyl. It was a catastrophe, a private catastrophe, for private individuals. And I think that Chambres d’amis was a protection of the individual.
What do you mean by “protection of the individual”?
It was in people’s houses. And a house is always a form of protection. My house, my home, my castle. The house is protecting the human body. And the reason why I did that exhibition was to get the city involved. The museum is not an island, but an...
Yes. The idea of the house is also because it is inspired by the artist: the studio of the artist is the psychological factor in the reception of art. I was also interested in the ambiguity between private and public. Today, what could be private? What could be public? I think the private is also public. And the public is also private. Today the public is private because it is made for the individual car: the lines, the red lights, everything is in function of the individuality. So public space is also private space, because everybody has a car and mostly everybody is alone in their car. And private space becomes public, because of television, communication, telephone, Internet and all the actual properties of media.
But in 1986 it was different, wasn’t it?
Yes, of course. It was different but it was the beginning of this ambiguity between private and public. Maria Nordman, for example, did an installation in a house which was a reflection on the cathedral with the work of Jan van Eyck, so there was a link between the house and the public.
What about the connection between Chambres d’Amis and this specific moment in 2009? How would that project respond to the present moment, to contemporary Gent?
The S.M.A.K. was a huge success meanwhile, today the museum is accepted by the city and by the people. And it has been accepted because of Chambres d’amis. It was the first start to have a link between the museum and the people and between the people and the museum. It has created a social network in the city.
So this was the change you wanted to introduce in the relation between Gent and the museum?
Yes. The city, the population and the museum, but also the position of art in society.
What do you mean?
The importance of art in the individual approach of reality. Because art is the only medium to obtain freedom. Art is not at condition, art is always out of the condition.
Do you think it would make sense to repeat Chambres d’amis today?
No, I don’t think so. I think the reference and the memory of Chambres d’amis are bigger than a possible repitition would be. Absolutely. The memory of it is much stronger than a second time. Also, it would become touristic: that is the danger of this kind of exhibitions. One of the competitive references of that time was also Skulptur Projekte in Münster – the exhibition, the landscape of the city. Another kind of exhibition which was very important at that time was Sonsbeek ’86 in Arnhem, curated by Saskia Bos.
So these were references for Chambres d’amis?
Not references, because everything happened at the same time. I remember, for example, that there were a lot of artists – Mario Merz, Ettore Spalletti, Luciano Fabro and so many more – who participated in all these big exhibitions but also participated in Chambres d’amis the same year. I think the best would be to have Chambres d’amis as a unique moment in history, it is strongest when you have it one time only.
Since Chambres d’amis, many art exhibitions in domestic contexts have been produced. What are the ones you value the most?
I am not so sure that I have found an equivalent to Chambres d’amis, I don’t think so. Honestly I have to say that sometimes it is better to have domestic shows with poets or musicians than with visual arts. Other art exhibitions in domestic space were never that expanded in the city. For example, I remember the exhibition Hans Ulrich Obrist did in a hotel [Chambre 763, Hôtel Carlton Palace, Paris, 1993]: that was very interesting, at the beginning of the 90s. It was an important moment, but you cannot compare it to Chambres d’amis, because Chambres d’amis had to do with the city.
So not only with domestic spaces, but with the city itself.
Yes, because it also gave an idea of the history of the city. All the major historical moments of the city were also part of the show and of the selection of houses. That is a totally different thing.
So you were more interested in the city than in the house.
Yes. Art and the city, through the individual house.
What is the status of the artwork in a domestic space? We can say that the function of the white cube is to create a vacuum around the work, to facilitate the creation of an aura. How does it work in a house? What are the ways in which artwork can interact with context?
Chambres d’amis was a reaction to the white cube. It was against it, because it was an unusual space. A house is not an isolated space, because my house is also yours. The structure of the house is always the same: the entrance door, then the corridor, then the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom.
Why did you decide to go against the white cube?
Because everybody was speaking about the white cube, and everybody was like: “the best space for art is four walls and light from above”. I said, “no, because there is no psychological frame behind the work”. When I visit a studio with an artist, I have the psychological way of life of the artist, the perception is helped by such a situation. And I, as a director of a museum, am privileged to get into the houses or the studios of the artists; not everybody has this opportunity.
Is there a particular kind of intimacy in the relation the viewer has with the work of art when it is placed in a house?
Yes, there is intimacy but there is also a breaking of intimacy.
What do you mean by ‘breaking of intimacy’?
It becomes public, and everybody can enter the house. It is also a negation, because it is not an exhibition in the traditional sense, with a painting above the furniture – Chambres d’amis was not that. When you entered the house, you were in the artwork. That is the difference.
Can you give some examples from Chambres d’amis?
Salvadori and Spalletti completely changed a house, and that house is still the same way today. The inhabitants of that house are living in the work of Spalletti and Salvadori. You cannot compare it with a physical collection of artworks. In this case, the house is the frame; it is the support of the work.
What is the starting point in history? Is it Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau?
Yes, that was a reference. So were El Lissitzky and Vladimir Majakovskij. Then, Marcel Broodthaers did an exhibition in his house in Brussels, in 1968 [Musée d'Art Moderne, Département des Aigles].
Do you think contemporary art’s relation with domestic spaces has changed in the last 20 years?
I think much more in the direction of design than in art. But that is difficult to see, because today the relationship with art has also changed.
What about the Internet?
People, when they hear a name, check the Internet and they think they have seen it. The space is more virtual, while 20 years ago it was much more concrete. Today the only thing you have is maybe the nostalgia towards concrete ideas.
So you think the house is becoming a virtual idea?
Absolutely. And much more uniform. The house but also the people! [laughs] And the politicians are looking for uniformity. Chambres d’amis was much more about the individual and much more about differentiation.
Let’s go back to what you were saying at the beginning of this interview: protecting the individual or protecting individuality?
Protecting individuality and providing individuality. And individual freedom.
Domestic space often informed cultural production: Adorno said that chamber music was bourgeoisie’s specific cultural form. Do you think a specific cultural form of domestic space exists, today? And, if so, what is it an expression of?
I think domestic space has this kind of bourgeois reflection: bourgeois reflection of protection, and protection of what individual people possess. My things, my world. Today I have the impression that there is a greater uniformity in the world. But I am not so sure it is less bourgeois.
Do you think Internet is a bourgeois cultural form?
It is difficult to say
Maybe it is too early?
Anyway it is an illusion, it creates an illusion. An illusion to be part of the world. This is my opinion: the most important thing, today, would be to make people conscious about the selection they are making. It is all about selection, and the Internet is not always a selection. We need to be conscious about how to deal with this illusion, with this virtuality. You have to be autocritical, and I think there are lots of people who are really autocritical.
Are you optimistic?
I am still optimistic. Of course, the economical crisis and the monotheistic wars are dangerous signs, absolutely.
Last question: What does art need from curators, today?
I think what is necessary for curators is direct contact with the artists. Curators should be present in the studios of the artists, not start from information but get their own information from direct contact with the artists. A lot of curators are based on information/network. They should not start from an existing network, but build their own network.
Which is what you wanted to do with Chambres d’amis, right?
Yes, for example.
Many, many thanks.