OUTLINE is a continuously evolving platform for exchanging stories and references. The project was started by two graphic designers and two photographers: Tjobo Kho, Wouter Stroet, Maite Vanhellemont, and Jan-Pieter ’t Hart, but also consists of a dynamic mix of individuals who participated, shared, and contributed.
BLUE talked with OUTLINE's initiators about the art scene in Sarajevo, the process of archiving spontaneity, and the creation of new interpretations through collaboration.
OUTLINE is currently focused on Bekegem. After a two week residency in the small Flemish village, they will participate in Kunstenfestival Plan B, taking place 1 + 2 September 2018.
Tell us a little bit more about the project – what inspired it and how did it all start?
Jan-Pieter: Initially we wrote a proposal to go abroad as part of our curriculum at art school. We wanted to go to Sarajevo for a month and have some exchange with the people there.
We organized seven events in the city; it started out really small – I think two people came to the first event, but gradually the word spread around, and we got more involved in the creative community there.
Wouter: We didn’t want to simply go to a city for a month and tell people what to do by organizing seminars and workshops. Instead, we decided to make an outline and show our interpretation and our experience of the city, along with other people. Essentially, it’s an outline of making new interpretations possible through exchange.
Tjobo: It was all really spontaneous. Part of the plan was that there was no plan, and I think that was a defining part of the process. After the month in Sarajevo, we came back to Amsterdam and worked on the publication which is one big collaboration involving the four of us and the people we met. In the end, we held a publication launch/exhibition in a gallery; a lot of people came, and it felt like the whole scene of Sarajevo in one room.
Maite: It’s important to be flexible, I think. The idea of a physical publication came about pretty late, mostly because we wanted to leave something behind.
How did you go about organizing events during your month in Sarajevo; what was the response of the local community?
Wouter: Everyone was welcome to join and collaborate in the events (which included screenings, performances, and lectures, amongst others). For example, at one event we had an empty gallery space, and we asked people to bring their own work, hang it for the evening, and talk about it. It could be anything – a sketch or a bigger project, and it turned out really diverse.
Tjobo: Actually the publication has nothing to do with the events, but the events were a way to connect with others. Gradually, we started forming friendships, and we came up with the idea to ask these people to write something since we had a lot of fruitful discussions about our position in Sarajevo and their position towards us.
Maite: In the beginning, many of them were really skeptical. For instance, we met a theater maker whom we eventually became close friends with, but initially he simply asked us what we were doing there.
Tjobo: We were aware of that question, and we weren’t able to answer it. This confrontation encapsulates the whole pace of our research there: what can we offer and do we have anything to offer. In the end, the response was really positive, but they told us many Western art students go there for a short period of time and return home full of inspiration, without leaving anything behind.
Maite: And it’s often a story about how Sarajevo got destroyed during the war and not about what’s happening there right now. What I found inspiring is that the art scene there is small, but the people are very motivated and more activistic in a way than in Amsterdam.
Wouter: A big thing we learned was that almost anything you do is political. Initially, we were not sure if we wanted to engage in political activities and make statements, but eventually it became clear that it was unavoidable. As soon as you go to another city as a Western art student and talk with the art community there, it’s already political.
Promotional materials for some of the events OUTLINE organized in Sarajevo
Would you say that this political aspect is integrated in the publication?
Jan-Pieter: There are different points of view in this publication. There’s a piece about being frustrated in Bosnia and Herzegovina and how you can translate that into art, and the closing essay is a more positive account of what the future can bring to Sarajevo. There are our own contributions as well – which aren’t necessarily all political but more so us trying to resonate with a city and map it in our own small ways.
Tjobo: Even though we had almost no control over the curation, the points of view feel balanced out. In a sense, it’s a fragmented outline to mapping a city.
Is there a particular feeling which you want to instill in people through the publication, and what would you like readers to take away from it?
Jan-Pieter: The format is quite small which makes it feel intimate and informal in a way. The design doesn’t take over, and it becomes a medium to share these fragments.
Tjobo: That’s also the hard part: the experience we had over there was so powerful, and this publication is way more valuable to us than to people who weren’t involved in the project. I think the experience we had is important for everyone though – going abroad to a country which is so culturally different and facing your own privileges, especially in creative communities. We were directly confronted with that, and it’s really hard to get such a feeling across. Hopefully this publication starts a dialogue about this really complex and abstract phenomenon of differences in culture and privilege.
Why did you choose this particular city?
Jan-Pieter: I work at Kriterion in Amsterdam, and there’s actually a Kriterion in Sarajevo as well, which was a gateway to the place. It worked really well because it’s a small city, so it was easy to meet people and become part of it.
Wouter: Sarajevo is also geographically close to Amsterdam but quite different culturally.
Maite: We’re doing a residency in Bekegem, Belgium this summer, and I think we’ll experience the same thing but in a different way. It’s geographically closer but culturally further away because we’re going to a tiny village. We might not have that many things in common with its residents, and the language barrier might be different.
Tjobo: Another aspect which makes me curious is that a big part of our generation over there is probably somewhere in a big city. We’ll try to make a radio program with older people who don’t talk about art in the way that we do – which is completely fine, but it’s going to be really interesting and challenging.
Photos from the publication release and the exhibition accompanying it
Is the publication something you’d want to remain unique to the experience you had in Sarajevo, or do you have plans for a second one?
Tjobo: This publication feels final, an archive locked in that particular place. But we do want to make a second one about Bekegem, and I think we’ll face the same problem of transferring the experience. Maybe in a few years all the dots will start to connect, we’ll see – that’s part of the working process.
Wouter: The radio project will also be an experiment. We’ll have to learn what it means to broadcast live and how we can archive that – does it have to remain audio or can we translate it into something physical like a publication.
Tjobo: The way we practice our research is work on its own. It’s interesting to think about trying to outline spontaneity, archiving such performative ways of connecting, and eventually reaching a bigger audience.
Call for stories, sounds, images, anecdotes, collections, and other talent from Bekegem
Two of you are photographers and two graphic designers – did you divide the roles in any particular way?
Jan-Pieter: It was really fluid; I think the graphic design was the only concrete role that the two of them had.
Tjobo: I consider this neither a graphic design nor a photography project, but it does come useful for producing print and online output.
Maite: When it comes to collaborations between different disciplines, I think in the end it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a click; the things we graduated with are very different, and that has been beneficial because we all bring something new to the table.
Tjobo: When we work together, there’s no hierarchy, and it’s really nice that we can criticize each other.
Are you still in contact with the people you met in Sarajevo?
Tjobo: Yes, we’re still in touch with most of the people who contributed. It’s not done, and it never will be because the connections remain, and they can evolve into collaborations.
Jan-Pieter: For example, I would like to work on a film idea in Amsterdam with one of the people we met there who is a filmmaker. We could invite him, show his movies here, and complete the circle.
Tjobo: One of the biggest questions we pondered was could this research be performed the other way around – could we have people from Sarajevo come to Amsterdam and do the same; and I don’t think that’s possible, financially at least.
Maite: Maybe because in this case, people in Amsterdam are less eager to get in contact with people from abroad. The cultural scene in Sarajevo is quite small so when we were there, people were excited that something was happening. While here in Amsterdam, there are simply a lot more things to do, especially in the summer.
Tjobo: As we mentioned, the last piece of the publication talks about the opportunities Bosnia and Herzegovina has to offer – which are not that visible because in general the focus lies more on what happens in bigger cities. Another problem is that many artists who become successful there leave. That’s quite unfortunate since in fact there’s a lot of quality and potential. Ideally, part of the overwhelming number of events taking place here in Amsterdam would go over there and then it would be a way more fertile environment.