How can we, as a cultural organisation, contribute to society during an unprecedented crisis?
by Emily S. J. Lee
How can we, as a cultural organisation, contribute to society during an unprecedented crisis? That is, ‘Who are we? What do we do? And how should our role change as the world changes?’
This article reflects on our own practices during the pandemic and how these practices helped form the curatorial concept of Drawing Stories, a partnering project with Amsterdam Museum. It also touches upon pressing matters we aim to continue to tackle during times of uncertainty.
Readjustments and Actions Within Framer Framed
In the middle of March, 2020, we suddenly found ourselves needing to cancel and postpone scheduled events, shut down exhibition venues, and announce temporary closures without knowing when we would be able to open again. While it was difficult to digest all that was happening, we, like many other organisations, tried to reassemble ourselves and take cautious and relevant actions in a moment of crisis.
The resilience, versatility, and creativity demonstrated by our colleagues, led to the development of converting existing programs into digital formats. The team devoted time and energy in creating online reading rooms with researchers, filming virtual exhibition tours and studio visits with curators and artists, writing thematic posts on social media regarding our archival materials, and holding online panel discussions with scholars and activists to address urgent issues.
Primarily funded by governmental parties, Framer Framed is fortunate to have been disrupted to a lesser and more gradual degree than have other institutions and individuals. Feeling the need and responsibility to support cultural practitioners in related fields as much as possible, we took the action to order advertisements in art publications, commission artists to create new works, and make donations to organisations in our neighbourhood that have struggled to make ends meet.
The pandemic has brutally revealed how vulnerable our economic models and work structures are, particularly in the cultural and arts sector. In times of crisis, supporting the artistic community is, for us, a way to directly address and acknowledge our interdependency with other cultural entities; it is also an opportunity to actively explore new ways that may nurture more sustainable cultural landscapes.
Collaboration With Local Communities
In addition to conducting online projects and supporting the art community, we also reached out to our neighbourhoods in the east and north of Amsterdam. Several of our team members connected with local organisations such as Dappere Dames, Blije Buren, and Buurtvereniging Molenwijk to distribute food on a regular basis.
Furthermore, our education coordinators worked remotely with artist Karine Versluis and I-Psy Arts to conduct online photo workshops for immigrants suffering from psychological difficulties and adolescents in youth care. We have also produced a digital educational package based on our current exhibition, On the Nature of Botanical Gardens (2020), and distributed this package to teachers in local schools for long-distance learning.
With the pandemic reaching nearly all parts of the globe, we have witnessed the inequality and injustice produced by neoliberal systems. It has become ever more crucial for us to think fundamentally about the cultures we wish to cultivate now and in the future: who are the communities and structures that support and enable the creation of our cultures? Who can have a voice in the process of such creation?And who are these cultures for?
Sharing and Caring for Our Community
In 2020, ruangrupa, a Jakarta-based collective and the curatorial team of documenta 15, shared their practices under the pandemic in Indonesia. To support local communities, the collective transformed their space into a factory, where face masks and protective suits can be manufactured and distributed to other Indonesian islands; they also partnered with local initiatives and sourced donations in the process.
These actions align with ruangrupa’s core value, ‘lunbung’, which is also the core concept of the upcoming documenta 15. This Indonesian word refers to ‘a collectively governed rice-barn where harvest is stored for the common good of the community.’ For ruangrupa, the traditions of solidarity, sharing, and sustainability are crucial in the concept of lunbung, and those who share these values are considered lunbung members.
We feel deeply connected to Ruangrupa’s concept of lunbung, which puts emphasis on solidarity, sharing, and practices extending beyond our usual understanding of art. While the members of Framer Framed held on to each other and quickly figured new working methods despite being physically apart, we learned that communicating practical matters of our artistic programs and community projects are not enough in these difficult times. We want to find new ways to share stories, resources, ideas, and care among artists and others around us in order to cultivate solidarity.
This experience of sharing and caring during the months of Spring, 2020, has reminded us that it is precisely the professional art community and the wider community in and around Amsterdam, that play an indispensable role in continuing to inspire, remind, and question who we are and for what purpose we operate as an Amsterdam-based platform for contemporary art, visual culture, critical theory and practice.
While the core mission of Framer Framed is to demonstrate criticality and creativity through visual art, we also want to seize this moment to challenge ourselves in thinking beyond what is expected of us as a visual arts presentation platform. We want to create homely spaces, perhaps a lunbung, in ruangrupa’s sense, where knowledge and resources can be gathered and shared; where stories and ideas from a variety of life spectra can be freely exchanged.
These urgent practices and reflection have led us to partner with Amsterdam Museum’s online exhibition Corona in the City, the framework of which is based on an open-call procedure and several exhibition rooms curated by partnering organisations including Framer Framed. This format enables us to help make lesser known and represented communities visible, hopefully creating further awareness and communal bonds across people and cultural sectors in Amsterdam.
Making Stories Visible Through Artistic Means
We Sell Reality and TuncTop
To realise our goal of sharing stories of various communities in Amsterdam, our exhibition room Drawing Stories highlights the collective We Sell Reality and artist TuncTop, whose practices focus on collecting and mediating stories from groups of the peripheries.
The Homeless Quarantine is an ongoing graphic project depicting the lives of refugees who live under precarious conditions. The images involved resulted from continuous conversations among the members of We Sell Reality, whose members include undocumented people and social designers. The vibrant colours and vivid brushstrokes invite viewers to imagine what living as a homeless migrant might mean and feel like.
TuncTop, an artist and former resident artist of Werkplaats Molenwijk, was invited by Framer Framed for a ‘home residency’ to develop a new work called Mokum Stories. After gathering anecdotes and memories collected in the east of Amsterdam through conversations with local residents, TuncTop used a cartoon documentary format as his visual manifestation. In a relatively playful manner, Mokum Stories brings complex issues into a wider field, broadening the opportunity for further exchange.
Gluklya and Salim Bayri
In addition to sharing stories from the peripheries of Amsterdam and communities of diverse cultural backgrounds, we also wanted to show how artists such as Gluklya and Salim Bayri use drawing as a means to depict their surroundings externally and introspectively.
Gluklya’s Corona Diary illustrates the artist’s thoughts regarding social distancing through intimate drawings. This visual diary also depicts memories, dreams, and myths from multiple cultures and traditions. With a candid and honest tone, the accompanying text reveals Gluklya’s concerns regarding the power structures that pervade our daily lives and how revealing ‘vulnerability’ can generate invisible forces of change.
Salim Bayri presents in our room a collection of daily sketches drawn with gouache, fell pen, and pencil that appears casual and slightly absurd yet visually attractive at the same time because of its coherent style and hues. The artist’s fantastic imagery invites his audience to look closer into the work, in which many semi-social and political themes embedded by the artist can be discovered.
Domenique Himmelsbach de Vries, Marieke Zwart, and BetweenTwoHands
In the face of a global pandemic, the world has changed markedly and may never be the same again. Rather than dwelling on irreversible loss, the commissioned works of Domenique Himmelsbach de Vries, Marieke Zwart, and BetweenTwoHands encourage us to move forward and imagine our world from new perspectives.
Inspired by numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the lockdown and the coronavirus, Domenique Himmelsbach de Vries draws out ideas and fantasies regarding matters related to the new world order we find ourselves in. His first piece is a drawing of a mysterious coronavirus monument. Like most of his works, which aim to reach people with other convictions and values through a certain degree of lightness, this new series invites its viewers to participate imaginatively, or perhaps actively, in the creation of a new vision for the world.
As one of our participating artists in our previous exhibition, Elsewhere Within Here (2019), Marieke Zwart presents a set of drawn photographs of the centre of Nieuwendijk, where she has lived for more than a decade. These photo drawings are part of her final video work, The River. Witnessing her residential area transforming from a street overflowing with people to a motionless landscape, Zwart records this historical moment in an imaginative and poetic manner.
Artist collective BetweenTwoHands, composed of visual artists Erin Tjin A Ton and Gosia Kaczmarek, presents Ecognosis, Work in Process, a stop-motion animation that imaginatively illustrates how our world would look like if people left Earth and nature took over. During their time as residency artists in Werkplaats Molenwijk, BetweenTwoHands also organised a workshop with groups of children to produce their own stop-motion animations.
Seeing these ‘humanless’ animations struck us profoundly, not only because of their associative meanings with respect to this particular time where streets are emptied due to restrictions, but also the realisation of how the work was produced by a so-called ‘community of hands.’
Rethinking Methods of Sharing and Showing Among Our Communities
Looking back and looking ahead after a year of pandemic with everything still uncertain, we have come to understand that even though technology helps to keep our society functional in a time of lockdowns and quarantines, the value of random encounters, physical interaction, and informal conversations in our everyday life are simply irreplaceable.
We truly miss each other.
We have also learned that the extended lockdown has cost serious impact on the wellbeing of multitudes of people. Some communities are at risk from political and economic forces, others suffer from psychological distress and desperation. Aware of these issues, we want to continue to initiate creative ways to reach out to those in need. We want to contribute to society by sharing and showing how things can be thought about and done differently.
Certainly, this endeavour cannot be accomplished without the numerous artistic and social communities that support us, just as our online exhibition Drawing Stories could never have existed without the participation of the artists involved and their extended set of resources. To continue to remember and share stories and emotions of residents in different corners of Amsterdam, Framer Framed will be working on a new presentation for Amsterdam Museum entitled Shaping Feelings, featuring artistic activities we have been executing over the past few months.
These activities attempt to offer safe spaces for active listening, caring and being for and with each other in these times of trouble and fear, where intangible and non-verbal feelings can be materialized in different shapes. Shaping Feelings is scheduled to open in May, 2021, a year after the opening of Corona in the City.
We hope by then, we can share these stories and feelings not only in a digital format, but also through an intimate situation, where people can walk towards each other, express, and embrace.
See Framer Framed’s online exhibition Drawing Stories for Corona in the City here.
 ruangrupa on their lumbung concept for documenta fifteen, June28, https://www.documenta.de/en/documenta-fifteen/#news
 documenta fifteen and lumbung practice. Announcement of the first lumbung-members, June 28.
Community / Action Research / Amsterdam Noord / Amsterdam Oost / Museology /