Tactical Design

An interview with Jan Boelen
Interviewer Emanuele Quintz

The interview was originally published in a book ‘Strange Design – From Objects to Behaviors’ (2015), directed by Jehanne Dautrey and Emanuele Quintz.

Emanuele Quintz You work as an exhibition curator, as artistic director of the Z33 House for Contemporary Art, and as a teacher in the field of contemporary design. Over the last 11 years, you’ve curated a series of exhibitions that compose a sequence: a line that represents – like a very sensitive seismograph – the subtle reverberations of contemporary design. These exhibitions not only show innovative design practices, but also question – each time from a new perspective – the notion of design, its mission, and its social and cultural impact, identifying emergent definitions of design.

Your exhibition Designing Critical Design (2007) was one of the first events to focus on the emergence of critical design. But instead of recognizing and analyzing the phenomenon, you preferred to initiate new processes. You offered Dunne and Raby, Marti Guixé, and Studio Makkink and Bey the opportunity to produce original projects. Why did you do that? How does it relate to your definition of critical design? And what is its genealogy? Can you give me a brief description of the works presented in the exhibition?

Jan Boelen Z33 has been conceived as a place to initiate new ideas and produce new relationships and effects, and not as a place for simply presenting current ideas. In some way, this is not only a choice but also a responsibility, because many of the themes we want to investigate do not correspond with the traditional market structure. Therefore, we want to carry out research and projects that are not primarily focused on profit.

When we conceived Designing Critical Design, I enjoyed reading Dunne and Raby’s texts. At the same time, I felt that there was a misconception about the movement – everyone seemed to believe that they were the only ones engaged in critical design. Critical design is, in fact, difficult to define, because it cannot be categorized simply in terms of the formal appearance of the projects – it’s about an attitude. It focuses less on the product, and more on the process, with greater implications for other developments in society beyond the traditional boundaries of design.

To create the exhibition, I looked for a group of designers who were already related in terms of their approach. Jurgen Bey and Marti Guixé had done an internship together; Jurgen had also worked at the Royal College of Art (London) with Fiona Raby and Anthony Dunne. It was like inviting a group of friends who had a consistency in their approach, even if the formal results were completely different. In 2007, this was a novel framework for creating an exhibition. We commissioned each designer to create a new work related to critical design that would also contextualize their existing work. Dunne and Raby’s work linked the technological to the emotional, blending the irrational with the rational; they were already developing their Technological Dreams objects, so we presented them at the time (they were later bought by the Museum of Modern Art in New York). Makkink and Bey dealt more with architecture – the notion of objects becoming part of or composing larger structures, and questioning the scale of things. We asked them to make something related to the environment of the exhibition. And, lastly, Marti Guixé focused on public space.

EQ Critical Design, as it has been defined by Dunne and Raby, contemporizes certain strategies that were previously adopted by Italian Radical Design in the 1960s and ‘70s, and by Dutch Conceptual Design in the 1990s; on the other hand, the opacity and ambiguity of the relationship between the form and function of objects, and, on the other hand, the creation of ‘design fictions’ – narratives that challenge uses, behaviors, and values. The convergence of these strategies releases the object from the constraints of functionality, and gives it a critical, social, and even political dimension – as a strategy of “resistance.” With regard to these strategies, Dunne and Raby wrote: “A slight strangeness is the key – too weird and they are instantly dismissed, not strange enough and they’re absorbed into everyday reality.”[1] How do you analyse, in this context, the use of this “slight strangeness” as a design tactic? Don’t you think that this strangeness, as a deviation from function to dysfunction, shifts design practices into the domain of art?

JB I don’t think we’re shifting design into the art sphere. What we’re trying to do is to look at the everyday world in a different way. In this sense, when we present design objects, they still have a function – but that function is more concerned with researching and examining a certain situation, and developing a scenario in response. I wouldn’t go as far as speaking of such a function in art, in the same way as Dunne and Raby have described it in design. At the same time, they themselves declare that their role isn’t necessarily to solve the problems they’re highlighting in their work. This is more the role of the artist, and the boundary between the two spheres is becoming more and more blurred.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s particularly interesting or productive to dwell on the distinction between art and design. Rather, we should think about its impact on us as individuals – seeing and hearing a story, having an experience, and analyzing and reading between the lines. What impact does it have on us? How does it change us? The focus is more on meaning and meaningful effects than on questions about the discipline. Z33 has always presented both contemporary art and design, particularly work that straddles the boundary between the two. Perhaps the distinction is that the design exhibitions deal more with the discipline of design itself, while the art exhibitions deal more with the wider context of society, science, politics, culture, and so on. In that sense, the art exhibitions are, in fact, driving the debate on content, whereas the design exhibitions – Designing Critical Design, Design by Performance, Alternature, and The Machine – are more about stretching the definition of the methods and media that are associated with the discipline.

EQ Do you think there is a difference between conceptual design and conceptual art? What’s the difference?

JB Again, I maintain that the difference isn’t important. However, I’ve come to the somewhat strange conclusion that art and design are both primarily physical, material.

EQ English Critical Design – like Italian Radical Design, and, to a more limited extent, Dutch Conceptual Design – prioritized theory, and particularly theoretical manifestos. How important was theory in these movements and in design in general? How important is theory in critical design? What is its role in design in general?

JB Theory, in general, can be highly problematic. Manifestos are very easily transformed into dogma, which even discourages thinking. In this respect, I like to compare Judaism with Catholicism: Jewish philosophers in each generation are able to read the Torah and interpret it in a certain way, adapting it each time to a particular situation, whereas Catholicism is much more strict – the pope issues an edict and there can be no debate on it.

From my perspective, the role of theory is less important that that of contemporary culture, and how this contemporary culture digests critical theory and forces it to evolve. This is far more interesting that theory in itself. After all, in our current era, it can be difficult to find vantage point from which one can observe what is happening and then communicate that, from the inside, to a larger public audience. Metaphorically, we need some “mirrors” to reflect evolutions in society.

My role is therefore to observe the things that are emerging around me, to connect them together, and to analyze the situation and draw meaningful conclusions. Initially, we may be unable to say what exactly these isolated occurrences are about. Eventually, however, we find an attitude or framework to link them together, to perceive them in a certain way; this attitude or framework remains dynamic and critical, and theory can sometimes act as a sort of magnifying glass and shed light on a phenomenon.

EQ The exhibition Design by Performance (2010) was about ‘performative trends in contemporary design, which focuses not on the production of a finished product, but on the production process itself: objects whose realization is a continuous project, affected or formed by either the environment, the specific situation in which they find themselves, or onlookers.” How did this focus on the performative dimension emerge? What has this focus on the production process as a performance brought fort?

JB Before Design by Performance, we’d held an exhibition called SuperStories. At around the same time, the Victoria and Albert Museum presented Telling Tales. In both cases, I was not really satisfied with the approach. Every designer says, “my object tells a story,” but actually it’s more interesting when the object gives a performance.  Such objects are not intended to have a static, final form, molded by aesthetic preferences; instead, they emerge from open-ended processes. The notion of process in design is related to the notion of performance in art: performativity demonstrates the fact that the artwork has an audience, and makes the work respond to the public around it. In the same way that John Cage creates his pieces as interactions between the performer and the public, designers can do that with their objects.

At the time, I was exchanging ideas with the rapid prototyping firm Materialise. I was interested in the idea of objects being built up layer by layer, coming into existence almost like a film. I wanted Materialise to collaborate with several designers in order to introduce coincidence and randomness into the process, thus showing the consequences of action and reaction in the emergence of an object. They weren’t interested in that idea, because they didn’t want to make imperfect objects. Of course, imperfection is an essential part of a performance – that’s what makes it ‘live.’

Then I talked to Dries Verbruggen and Claire Warnier from Unfold; they had one of the first rapid prototyping machines for home use. They’d placed it next to their washing machine, and, as a result, they encountered problems because of the humidity in the room. I thought that was fascinating – the home “weather” influenced the machine and the quality of what it made. Rather than regulating the environment, they had the idea to adapt the material to a humid atmosphere, and they started working with liquid clay as the printed material. They eventually collaborated with Tim Knapen to develop a digital potter’s wheel, which scanned the motions of the hand to make the 3D form. This story shows how the ideas of randomness, interaction, audience participation, performativity, and the machine all came together within the framework of this exhibition.

Looking back, I think this focus on the production process has developed into a sort of fetish about the machine and the generative process. We were all curious about the possibilities of what could come out of it, but we were blind to the very real consequences and political questions related to process. In the meantime, it has become very problematic, and will continue to do so as it leaves the glass vitrine of the exhibition and enters the real world. Let’s take the example of using a rapid prototyping machine to print a gun. This feeling of freedom – being able to print whatever we want – has enormous consequences. In fact, the designer is becoming more like a doctor in terms of the responsibility he or she bears for the ethical consequences of their decisions. In making something possible, we also make it accessible – and that can become “dangerous” or, at the very least, lead to unforeseen outcomes.

EQ The exhibition Architecture of Fear (2011) explored how feelings of anxiety and fear pervade daily life in the contemporary media society. In his book Warped Space (2000), Anthony Vidler analyzed the emergence – in design, art and architecture – of a form of “distortion” of space that he called “warped space.”[2] This distortion is directly connected to the spread of a “new form of anxiety,” of an unfamiliar sense of fear. Vidler analyzed two forms of spatial warping: the first is “produced by the psychological culture of modernisms from the late nineteenth century to the present, with this emphasis on the nature of space as a projection of the subject, and thus as a harbinger and a repository of all neuroses and phobias of that subject;” and the second is produced “by the forced intersection of different media – film, photography, art, architecture – in a way that breaks the boundaries of genre and the separate arts in response to the need to depict space in new and unparalleled ways.”[3] In Vidler’s vision, the disorienting spaces, the alienated landscape produced by artists and architects (like Mike Kelley, Rachel Whiteread, Vito Acconci, Daniel Liebeskind, Martha Rosler, and so on), and the sense of fear come from the void, the desolate nihilism left by the decline of the system of certitudes proposed by modernism. What sort of fear was presented in Architecture of Fear? What is its origin and nature? And how do design and architecture stigmatize it, using the same notion of distortion?

JB Architecture of Fear addressed an invisible form of fear in our society. Fear concerns climate change, financial crisis, immigration, genetic modification, disease, and so on. This is the system of fear: it’s outside, and we can’t touch or see it. And strangely enough, we need it to continue, to develop as a society. That’s the tension that was examined in the exhibition.

Fear is not stigmatized by design and art; actually, they enforce it, by creating a pretense of order upon a foundation of chaos. Architecture creates order by building walls, blocking off the other, and making this separation more visible. Such walls are built in America, in Europe, and in Israel. This tension has always existed; even the new fears about drones are simply another manifestation of that tension between control, surveillance, and freedom, which, as Michel Foucault has observed, has created an urban environment in which the degree of control is maximized. Interestingly enough, we have an economy of fear, a scarcity of fear, and a demand for fear. The safer we are, the more security we want.

EQ Your work as curator and director of a house of contemporary art consists of extending the critical design strategy to cultural politics. As in critical design, the aim of the exhibition and of Z33 was not to propose (or impose) “an unambiguous answer, but provoke an occasion for doubt.” In your opinion, doubt can be “an agent for awareness of complexity.” What is doubt for you?

JB Z33 is not a museum: it’s a “white cube,” in the sense that it doesn’t have a permanent collection. Therefore, with every exhibition, we can start “from scratch,” with a completely new point of view. We can respond freely, in a relevant time frame, to developments that we observe in society, and hopefully our exhibitions have some effect on those developments or the society around us as well. My role is to initiate the exhibitions, but I’m also aware of the larger context. My priority is stirring up debate, making connections between different phenomena or agents, and bringing in different characters or groups as our “partners in crime.”

We use doubt as a strategy. The issues that we confront tend to have at least two sides, and, in order to maintain their complexity, we always have to consider these various dimensions; for example, in fear, you have the tensions between security and freedom, between order and chaos. You have to bring these different points of view together in a single exhibition, since no single perspective gives a complete answer to the question. This applies also to the people who we invite to participate as initiators, contributors, and observers. If we have successfully confronted an issue, then people will emerge from the exhibition with many questions. These questions create awareness.

At the same time, doubt is always employed via visual poetry. It’s not simply about the idea – the spatial experience is also highly important. The exhibition must create a different rhythm of time, where consuming and producing are defined differently than in the rest of the city.

EQ As your exhibitions demonstrate, the performative and participatory extensions of design lays the foundations of a form of social design. What is social design? And what are the theoretical references and the practical strategies of this approach of design?

JB I’m not sure that social design really exists, or that it’s of any particular interest. Furthermore, it doesn’t have a monopoly on either performative or participatory elements. After all, very autonomous art projects can also be performative; and participation does not always fit neatly into the definition of design. This definition of design is of much greater interest as a topic of discussion. There cannot be only one definition; everyone participating in a design process must be able to define his or her own way of working. Therefore, the multiplicity of approaches or attitudes matters more than a clear definition.

We’re now dealing more with what is happening in a changing world. Through these developments – in society, in the market, and in the relationship between labor, capital, and production – design and designers will play new roles. I hope that greater importance will be attached to the human aspect in relation to the object as such; I hope to see more processes than products, more living than consuming, and more context than concept. Design, under the guise of neutrality, has the capacity to transmit highly political critiques of these relationships.

As suggested by Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life, I think design is more to do with tactics than strategy. Strategy implies a theoretical, a priori attitude, while tactics are a reaction to what is happening on the ground. As in the exhibition Mind the System, Find the Gap, design can be used as a tool to discover, analyze, and utilize the gaps in this everyday environment. The question of everyday life is still new for design, even after the 20th-century projects to improve the world through mass manufacture. Much of the design we see today is representing everyday life, rather than taking part in it. This position is important: too far in one direction and it’s simply an illustration; too far in another direction and it’s reduced to a function or a market demand. Therefore, design needs to confront both extremes as a tool for debate and discussion. The power structures and systems of control are no longer clear, and neither are their representations in material objects.

EQ To conclude, do you think it’s possible to isolate certain general criteria that define design’s function? Is the function of design to adapt to human behaviors or to influence them?

JB The desire to isolate some aspects of design – and, by implication, to exclude others – is certainly attractive from the point of view of clarity and simplicity. But we have to be honest with ourselves: we’re living in an ecosystem, a biotope – a complex combination of objects, people, and systems. There’s no longer any distinction between nature and culture; it’s all culture, and everything is interrelated. The adaptations of our behaviours and our objects and systems are continuously evolving, and constantly reacting to each other in an unpredictable, self-organized system. We can try to provide insight on that ecosystem through design; we can show not only the relationships between things, but how those relationships become meaningful. Design has always existed, and will continue to exist, as a tool; but now, more than ever, it’s a tool for debate, for discussion, and for doubt.

Dautrey, Jehanne and Quintz, Emanuele (2015). Strange Design – From Objects to Behaviors. Czech Republic, it:editions. With contributions of Gijs Bakker, Jurgen Bey, Pieke Bergmans, Bless, Jan Boelen, Elio Caccavale, Florence Doléac, Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby, Didier Faustino, Catherine Geel, Ugo La Pietra, Mathieu Lehanneur, Luca Marchetti, Alessandro Mendini, Gianni Pettena, Stijn Ruys, and Noam Toran.

[1] Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby, Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects (Basel, Berlin, and Boston: Birkhäuser, 2001), p. 63.
[2] Anthony Vidler, Warped Space. Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture (Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000), p. VIII
[3] Idem.


In Good Hands

The interview is a part of an article ‘In Good Hands’ by Sven Ehmann for DAMn°39, published on 6 July 2013.

The role of design curator is slightly more recent than that of art curator, but it too suffers from opportunism by those who think that making an exhibition of objects is facile, disconnected, or fleeting. A curator worth his/her salt is someone who devotedly does the research and sets out to present seminal works that affect people’s lives; someone who considers the content and the larger context within the evolution of our time, and desires to introduce important or challenging developments to the general public, the very audience that is design’s best and most effective critic. DAMn° prods seven proper curators for their views.

DAMn° What makes an exceptional curator?

JB To be a curator today means operating in more than one field, often transgressing the division between curation and creation itself: it means writing, teaching, researching, commissioning works, participating in their execution, and so on. In effect, the curator has become a partner-in-crime in the design process itself. The contemporary curator may not have trained in “curation” itself or even in obvious fields such as art or design history, but rather in architecture or design “proper”. In short, the curatorial process is becoming another medium of expression in the vein of design or art.

Even more, curation itself is becoming a design process, with a crucial need to shape and create the form of an exhibition relative to its content. The subjects that we try to explore, the relationship of societal developments with intersecting and inter-melting spheres of art and design, cannot be presented through an objective, neatly catalogued museum filter. The contemporary curator knows that such clear answers are impossible. The challenge is to bring these subjects into material and spatial form that creates a powerful sensorial experience, one that opens itself to many related themes and that uses strong emotional, intellectual, and bodily impressions to render a powerful form of ambiguity.

DAMn° What is the context you are working in as a curator? You are in the special situation of working towards the restructuring of your institution. Could you describe the dynamics and challenges of the project with regards to the curatorial work or positioning?

JB At the moment, we are looking into the particular question of archiving and the timeline of curatorial practices. I have always found it a pity that many of the most interesting reactions and discoveries related to a particular exhibition happen after it has closed, meaning that opportunities for further collaboration are often limited. As a result, we are trying to move beyond the strict phases of separate exhibitions into a more research-oriented structure. We are putting together a series of research centres – including Studio Future, Studio Limburg, and Studio Meta – to build a platform for connecting with different partners and intersecting between themes in the longer term. Our programme has always been much bigger than just the exhibitions, with temporary projects in public space, installations, debates, performances, and education, but this initiative would take us even further.

DAMn° How would you describe your particular approach to curating? Is there a particular field you are specialized in? Which field? How do you find, decide for, or develop a topic? What are the main steps in the process of your work?

JB First, it is important to say that Z33 is not a museum with a permanent collection, so we can take a fresh start with every project. We observe what is going on around us in a larger context of people, culture, science, politics, economy, and so on, and try to trace an underlying network of changes and evolutions, and then react to that in real-time. Maybe our work could even have an effect on the developments we see, in turn. We are not very concerned with fitting into the normative conversations going on in the design world, nor with interpreting critical theory. I am much more interested in how contemporary culture forces critical theory to evolve.

Personally, I give a general starting point for an exhibition, but it is used to stir up debate rather than give a fixed boundary to the theme. We strive to maintain a sense of ambivalence or doubt, a tension between order and chaos, throughout the entire process, largely by giving space to many different voices without trying to harmonise them too much. It is also necessary to work in long time-frames on these projects, because sometimes the bridges between isolated occurrences or ideas need to evolve.

DAMn° How did you get into curating in the first place? What influenced, impressed or taught you the most – institution, person, show, text, something else?

JB In a way, it just happened with no predetermined direction. I studied design and graduated with two projects, one very “artistic” and one very industrial. Curation and art or design history were never my primary fields of interest; in fact, I was thinking more about the philosophy of science, chaos theory, quantum mechanics – in general, more philosophy than design or art themselves.

Still, I was very influenced by art and certain exhibitions when I was young. Most of the teachers who had an impact on me were artists. In particular, I recall one exhibition at Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts in 1993, called The Sublime Void: On the Memory of the Imagination, with works by Jeff Wall, Gerhard Richter, Cristina Iglesias, and Arte Povera works.

DAMn° What was your most challenging project so far and why? Please describe it a little in terms of the curatorial work.

JB The most challenging project is the one that we are currently preparing, a project on scarcity. The issue is now so omnipresent that it has become a very big trend, with very political consequences. At the same time, we have to present it in a way that creates a very engaging experience; we have to make people rethink the subject and re-evaluate their position when they encounter the works.

DAMn° Whom are you working with? What is your team like?

JB At Z33, we have a very strong team of people involved in the development and design of our projects and exhibitions. I am also fortunate to have an academic position, so I am constantly confronted by my students, as well as by my colleagues at the Design Academy Eindhoven, including Thomas Lommée, Aldo Bakker, Liesbeth Huybrechts, Louise Schouwenberg, and many more. I collaborate very intensely with former students like Tal Erez, a designer, and Tamar Shafrir, a writer. I also have a wider circle of people with whom I have very fruitful and reflective conversations about the themes we are observing, people like Franziska Nori from the Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina.

DAMn° How would you describe the work relationship between yourself as the curator and designers, architects, artists? What is your impact on them? How do they impact your work?

JB My working relationships with the many designers, architects, and artists connected to Z33 are in constant flux. There is no strict division between my responsibilities and those of others; these decisions are always made in a responsive way to the content. For example, take someone like Aldo Bakker – he is a designer whose work has appeared in exhibitions, but he is also now part of the team to redesign the building, and he teaches with me in the social design master’s programme at the Design Academy Eindhoven. Other artists or designers who exhibit at Z33 can almost be like mini-curators. On the other hand, we cannot merely be “curators” that pick objects to exemplify a certain theme. The issues we approach at Z33 are not usually supported by current market structures. Therefore, we have to be more active in the creation of projects related to our chosen subjects, commissioning work and creating partnerships between different people: even if we do not know what the outcome will be, this is part of the underlying strategy.

All of these different practitioners challenge me; they change the visions I formed throughout the encounters I have had and absorbed. Someone can create an entirely new provocation, and from that moment I start to reflect, use it as a mirror, develop my own reactions and instincts. One of my students, Pablo Calderón Salazar, calls himself a “dialogue designer”: I think this is a very good description, and something to which I also aspire. True dialogue means coming to different insights and going further than a linear relationship or conclusion.

DAMn° In your particular field, what is currently the biggest challenge in terms of content and audience? What kind of development have you experienced on the side of the audience and the general media over the recent years regarding your work?

JB The greatest challenge is to identify and understand themes that are really contemporary, that reflect and explain what is happening in society. In the midst of our own time, it can be difficult to find a vantage point from which everything seems connected; and even if we do achieve that viewpoint, it can be even more difficult to communicate that idea to a large public audience. It is very difficult to achieve the right balance between the power of an imaginative vision and the doubt that emerges from complexity.

At the beginning, our work did not have much resonance with what was going on in the media, especially the design media of the early 2000s. The design magazines were quite top-down and fixed-format, and they were more product- or object-oriented; on the contrary, we have always been rather process-oriented, avoiding a snapshot definition. In the end, we did not really try to change our relationship with the media, but the media itself changed, expanding into online platforms, blogs, and multimedia content; furthermore, there was a shift in its focus after the financial crisis in 2008. They began to think about what role design might play in society, in a much bigger way. Because of that evolution, we have a much more fruitful relationship with media now. We even have done projects with magazines like Abitare to think about different issues, such as education, with articles and debates, generating content in a different way than through exhibitions.

DAMn° How does your work as a curator relate to the commercial side of – or interest – in your field? To what extent are you setting the agenda? To what extent are you as a curator “making stars”?

JB My primary concern is investing in ideas and subjects; of course, they are nearly always fulfilled and embodied by individuals with strong concepts, stories, languages, or tactics. It is true that we push people, in the sense that we begin to collaborate with them from the moment we begin upon an idea. We discuss with them how to produce, execute, fund, and communicate their projects, so we are involved with them in a trajectory that can last years. Sometimes I try to lead them to commercial work or introduce them to our network so that they can survive. Not everyone can survive on their ideas, and we are quite explicitly interested in ideas that aren’t profitable or market-friendly. These concerns have to do with supporting our relationships; they are not at all aimed at generating commercial power for the gallery. Regardless, I doubt that the people we work with want to become “stars” in that sense – that is quite obvious from the work they do, much of which has to do with open-source platforms, open methods of production, performances, etc. Z33 also puts almost all of its images, texts, and other content online with a Creative Commons license. For us, interest and engagement is much more valuable than money.

Of course, we are lucky to work in a context in Belgium and the Netherlands, where historically financial support for creative production has been seen as a public responsibility. This frees us from thinking too much about the commercial side. If that changes in the context of financial crisis, we need to rethink our methods, not change our ideas.

DAMn° Do you see yourself in a curatorial tradition? How important is the theoretical or academic part of your work to you? How are you following or contributing to the academic discourse around curating?

JB The curatorial tradition has been predominantly established by the art world. Meanwhile, curating and design, in design, by design, and through design is a practice that is still very much in development. This is obviously related to the rapid evolution of design in general, as well as the shifting and porous boundaries between different aspects of design. I am not overly concerned with the theoretical aspect of what we do at Z33, and focusing too much on theory always holds the danger of veering into dogmatism.

I do participate in the discussion on design curation through writing and publishing, but there is no organised forum for the subject. I think one can get inspired through these many informal kinds of encounters, collaborations, and dialogues.

DAMn° If you are seeing other exhibitions, places or media that inspire your own work, what are you looking for? Could you name a recent project that impressed you and tell me why it did?

JB Recently I am fascinated by the work of a Belgian economist, Bernard Lietaer, on money and its value and future. For some reason, there seem to be many Belgian theorists working at the moment on the way we organise our financial and social systems – including Gunter Pauli, who writes about sustainable economies, and Michel Bauwens, who writes about the economy of peer-to-peer and open-source platforms.

DAMn° Right now being a curator is like being a DJ, artist, or a barista a little while ago. What is your comment on that development? What separates the temporary curator from the professional?

JB I do not think there is such a thing as a “professional curator”. Professionalism lies in the attitude and commitment; it does not imply strict demarcations around the behaviour or strategies allowed. Already, it is impossible to define what a curator does with any uniformity, and for most curators, the organisation of exhibitions is only one of their roles. The most interesting practitioners let these different positions and relationships interfere and interact with each other.

Sven Ehmann: In Good Hands. DAMn°39, published on 6 July 2013.