Founded in 2012 by Liv Vaisberg, Edouard Meier and Pieter Vermeulen, POPPOSITIONS has grown over the years into the leading critical fair for contemporary art in Belgium. Conceived as an experiment with the art fair format, POPPOSITIONS aims to trigger experimental and innovative approaches to the art market, while promoting acquisition. An interview with Rachelle Dufour, Fair Director and Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk, Artistic Director.
POPPOSITIONS is coming up for its eighth edition. What are the major evolutions and developments the fair has witnessed?
POPPOSITIONS was conceived as a platform for the very young, mostly nomadic galleries. As they could not apply to regular fair and too fragile non-profit structures, we wanted to enable them to find a marketplace (everything is for sales but looks like an exhibition) for garage art. The whole fair - which we prefer to call an arts assembly - was realized as an experiment with the art fair format: no white cubes, only solo-shows assembled by a curator under a theme, an itinerant event highlighting a different and special historical building in Brussels each year.
After eight years, POPPOSITIONS has become the leading critical fair for contemporary art and has proved its international influence by serving as the main inspiration for emerging critical fairs in Cologne, Turin, and Madrid. It now took the shape of a curated exhibition and ongoing critical dialogue and collectively emphasizes matters of shared concern, rather than business as usual. We believe that by creating a quality show for sale, it will trigger interesting market outcomes for our exhibitors. The unanimous shared feeling from participants, visitors, and organisers alike is that POPPOSITIONS has greatly improved its professionalism and confirmed that it remained, now more than ever, relevant during the Brussels fair week but also as a concrete alternative within the art market.
POPPOSITIONS has increased its visibility and attendance every year and this year promises to be no exception, as it has become a hotspot for all types of art collectors, curators and art aficionado's from all over the world. Our level of attendance has substantially increased and we now receive world-class collectors which we did not have at our beginnings, being more a platform amongst peers.
For this edition, POPPOSITIONS invited artist and scenographer Mathias Prenen to produce the scenography. For the first time, we have built wall structures, but rest assured no white cubes. Mathias Prenen approaches ideas on gallery walls, pedestals, fair booths, film sets and theatre halls through the concepts of Edo-period tea-house design, early modernist architecture and sculptural avant-garde methodology. Prenen strives to heighten people’s experiences by creating spaces that encourage mental openness and mitigate the difference.
What are some of the challenges – for instance, in negotiating the interests of independent and non-profit initiatives alongside those of commercial galleries?
POPPOSITIONS offers a platform, and we do not discriminate on the state or type of participants: the participation fee is the same for everyone. Young commercial galleries who do not benefit from public support are often weaker than non-profit institutions. Regarding the latter, it is up to them if they wish to sell to support the artists and re-introduce the benefits in the production of new shows. Other fairs often decide to put the non-profit separately in a less good spot and in give them less commercial exposure, which is why we chose to handle things differently.
We believe that at this stage of their career, young artists do not always have the opportunity to be shown at fairs and thus to reach collectors and curators. We now are the only side fair remaining during this period, which is very positive for POPPOSITIONS and shows that today, more than ever, the concept of our fair is highly relevant and welcomes for each new edition both a loyal and a new public of collectors, art professionals, journalists and art aficionados.
Considering the difficulties emerging structures are encountering momentarily, we are confident that our model, which we constantly adapt to the art market evolution, is an effective answer to the current market and art field. Our low participation fee, combined with our excellent network and a team of professionals and advisors, supported by volunteers, enables galleries and non-profit organisations to meet new relevant contacts and present themselves without taking too much financial risk.
What about this year’s curatorial framework: wokeness in the context of capitalist structures – what kinds of projects and initiatives will be addressing this topical theme? Can you give examples of the ways in which it will be approached?
The range of subjects addressed under the programmatic heading of "woke" is wide, for the right reasons. The reason for this is that becoming woke is the process of consciousness raising about one's place in a scheme of things, of rendering oneself sensible and attentive to these subjects–and that differs from person to person. Our angle is to specifically work with the idea that advanced capitalism has assimilated most of these ideologies–say, for instance, feminism–and numbs them on the level of content and decisiveness as lifestyle attributes for consumers. We think it of utter importance to address and reclaim that territory, and seek for ways to defy being indexed on the vectors of advanced capitalism. As an assembly that is our strength: the collective address and seizing momentum.
1 – We will host Manoeuvre Kunstenplek from Ghent with artist Grace Ndiritu with the project Coverslut©. "COVERSLUT© is a fashion and economic research project launched in 2018 by Grace Ndiritu, which focuses on dealing with issues of race, gender and class politics. It incorporates Pay What You Can into its economic framework."
2 – SUPERDEALS from Brussels will host the artistic project Ecole Mondiale; "Being woke, let alone becoming woke, is not easy at all, otherwise it would hardly be a topic worth exploring. Becoming woke is not simply an issue of being more educated or having more information. In addition to empathy, “wokeness” requires people to envision a better world, explore unfamiliar situations, and recognize that people connect to the world differently. On this level, ameliorative art practices play an important role since they offer strategies for relaxing, listening, and being more observant, so that people can imagine other people’s situations."
3 – The fridge from Bulgaria will host artist Voin de Voin. "The project concern a study of the current geo-political negative effects on the human being and the state of consciousness. It takes on the speculations surrounding the tetrad of consecutive “blood moons” (full lunar eclipses) in 2014 and 2015 and the Apocalypse as foretold by the ancient prophets, building on commonly held notions, languages, visual and narrative clichés to introduce the theory of the advent of the post-apocalyptic Mental Age-a state of Woke. Asking the question if the Apocalypse already happened and might we have failed to register it? "In a postmodern, post-nuclear, post-human, post-Internet era, I find myself, as an alive being, entrapped in various codes, psychic dilution and ‘catastrophobias’."
4 – We are also pleased to host the project Colonial Cocktails by artist Alejandro Céron, who will be part of the public programme with his installation. "Colonialism kicked off with the first transoceanic ships moving subjects and objects across the oceans. Modernity is deeply based and supported by institutions, some of which date back from colonial times. The transoceanic logistical infrastructure fuels a market that perpetuates colonial capitalist dynamics of expansion, exploitation and extraction. Colonial Cocktails is a performative installation that mimics a market structure. The artworks produced within the installation can be ordered, purchased and drunk. The installation finances itself and the artist labor. While privilege and struggle are pervasive, the production/consumption mantra succeeded to colonise human logic. Has racial capitalist logic colonised every aspect of human existence?"
In what ways does POPPOSITIONS itself, as an alternative art fair, seek to act against the mainstream popularity and trendiness of such terms in order to work towards engaging critical perspectives?
POPPOSITIONS is not exactly an alternative fair in itself. We offer alternatives - an alternative way of presenting art in the context of an art fair for instance - but this doesn’t make us alternative, there is a slight difference. Also, what does alternative means? This word is indeed overused in the contemporary art sector as in any other (e.g. in fashion or music) and this has emptied the term from its meaning, which nowadays lacks precision and definition. That’s also where we can draw a parallel with the curatorial framework. What does it mean nowadays to be woke when the terms suffer from overuse?
In this context, the role of POPPOSITIONS is to constantly redefine what it means to offer alternatives, we do so by constantly adapting, innovating and selecting artistic proposals that indubitably are examples of freshness in this context. Eventually, this is also a choice for our new graphical identity, which was also developed keeping in mind this idea of constant movements, adaptation and proposals of new approaches.
POPPOSITIONS aims at stimulating discussions and encouraging dialogue between visitors, exhibitors and other stakeholders. The Public Programme is meant to extend the exhibition programme to a curated selection of events on site - such as performances, conferences, concerts, round tables but also a bookshop, café and restaurants. The high attendance for each event shows us each year that building a strong programme in parallel from the exhibition is crucial to engage critical perspective and stimulate discourse.
POPPOSITIONS also moves around for each iteration. Can you say something about this year’s venue – Le Centre Tour à Plomb-Hageltoren – and how it will be used, possibly thematically, in the presentation (i.e. site-specific works)?
POPPOSITIONS changes location each year indeed. Well first, in its core to POPPOSITIONS identity, which evokes the idea of popping up in different venues, we keep the visitors surprised and interested. It is also an interesting challenge for our participants. We intend to activate different neighbourhoods of the city, to propose a short-term event to bring a new form of life in the district. Also, we cherish the idea of being integrated and active within the neighbourhood by working closely with the stakeholders, associations, restaurants etc from the neighbourhood and also reinforcing our offline communication in the area.
This year’s edition will take place in Le Centre Tour à Plomb-Hageltoren, in the Anneessens district in the heart of Brussels. A former gun powder factory, this year’s venue forms an important part of Belgium’s cultural heritage which just opened as a cultural centre.
Therefore, we needed a scenography that would lead the participants away from the existing architecture and enabled a conversation at the same time. This was in direct line with the scenographic methodology of artist Mathias Prenen. He reintroduces already existing elements from precedent scenographic interventions into the new structures informed by the needs of participants and building specificities. The structures, therefore, revolve around the same proportions and colours, literally hovering between architecture, furniture and sculpture. These inclusive host structures intend to mitigate difference, exercise generosity and induce inclusive ideology for guest and spectator. Believing that if these ideas are introduced at an institutional and organisational level, it will be reflected in the reciprocity of the presented projects.
We’re curious about the new visual identity. Can you tell us a little about the new design concept and how the change came about?
It all began with this sentence “Your identity is a whole extended universe” of Christelle Bonnet, our Graphic/Web designer of LPDLS No Time No Life. Extended in time, in space, extended in each year’s changing location, proposals, exhibitors, and public programme. Extended therefore in the artistic direction from each edition. And for POPPOSITIONS, a universe that has now been extended for over seven years. The use of Univers Extended font is indubitably an echo about of all theses intentions. The brutalist and conceptual approach of Christelle Bonnet’s design reflects the spirit of POPPOSITIONS and remains, just like the artistic direction, in constant movement.
The new graphic identity will remain for the coming years as a departure point to the new artistic direction of each edition of POPPOSITIONS. Christelle opted for a black background to radically change from the usual white, slick designs of art fairs, as an extension of the white cube. The design of the title of each future edition will be subject to change, in relation to the framework and the artistic direction. For this edition, Christelle chose to use the font Perpetua (in echo to perpetuate: ‘to cause something to continue’), used in capitals with a white outline and shadow, to underline the inclusiveness and critical approach POPPOSITIONS undertakes each edition.