Working method

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Johan Wagenaar – artist, teacher and director of Het Instituut

For Wagenaar, the poetic power of art is not confined to repertoire, conventions or social context. Strictly speaking, the possibility of art as human capacity is everywhere, in every life and in every domain. It is therefore not unusual for an artist to team up with scientists, entrepreneurs, technicians and musicians, or with people from the social domain, thereby ensuring that art is seen and experienced outside art institutions. This is reflected in his work, such as the project Kadoum.

‘Being in the world’ is also the basic principle behind Het Instituut, the foundation set up by Wagenaar in 1995 to bring together artists and designers, philosophers and poets so that they can draw on their artistic qualities to tackle social or cultural issues with a spatial dimension. Right to this day, Wagenaar has been developing successful interdisciplinary projects with various teams. A recent example is ONSbank, an initiative that offers youths who find themselves in serious debt a chance to escape from the vicious circle in which they find themselves.

Another distinguishing hallmark of Johan Wagenaar’s work as an artist is the combination of control and improvisation in its development. He describes that process as an organically unfolding quest to find the right method to bring the work to fruition. Something that is of great value in itself. A complex cycle of making, reflection, knowledge and intuition. So there is lots of input and involvement from others, lots of chance and serendipity, but there is also guidance from the visual and poetic director to ensure that moral clarity, ideological simplicity, technical and economic efficiency are kept at bay. This applies not only to his own work but also to projects undertaken with Het Instituut.

This same vision underpins Wagenaar’s work as teacher at the Base for Experiment Art & Research - Artez. Teaching has always been an integral part of his artistic practice.

“Ideally, artists are imbued with the vast richness offered by art in visualizing human knowledge and experience, in thinking about people and the world through images. Art conveys, in a compact and intensified form, the human struggle with dreams, desires, ethics, magic, violence and much more. Art is a domain with its own techniques and logic, but it brings together so much knowledge, politics, beauty and unpredictability that the involvement of artists in social projects offers fantastic opportunities to establish links between disciplines and conflicting interests and mindsets.”*

*Quote by Wagenaar from ‘Kunst tegen schuld’, an essay by Dirk van Weelden in De Gids, 2014/1
Wagenaar discusses ONSbank, one of the projects he initiated with Het Instituut.
(video by Art of Impact, 2016)

©Johan Wagenaar