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Tania Bruguera turns the Van Abbemuseum into a museum of useful art
Honest Stall - precursor of the Honest Shop - Van Abbemuseum, 2013. Photo Peter Cox.

EINDHOVEN.- On December 7 the Old Building of the Van Abbemuseum became the Museum of Arte Útil, a place where art’s use value and social function will be put to the test. The Museum of Arte Útil is initiated by the artist Tania Bruguera, developed with the Van Abbemuseum and constructLab. It is the latest phase in Bruguera’s project that has included an Arte Útil lab at Queens Museum, New York and residencies at Immigrant Movement International, also in New York.

Arte Útil in Spanish roughly translates as ‘useful art’ but it goes further suggesting art as a tool or device. The Museum of Arte Útil presents an archive spanning nearly two centuries. These case studies imagine, create and implement beneficial outcomes by producing tactics that change how we act in society. Some of the case studies are activated by users of the museum, whilst others are analysed and debated.

Arte Útil is part of a broader change taking place in society. The world is in flux. Classical structures are being challenged; our politics, economy, faiths and our art, are in state of creative rebirth. Whether through selforganised groups, individual initiatives or the rise of user generated content people are developing new methods to deal with issues that used to be tackled by the state. They form groups with their own esthetic and forms of internal communication. The Museum of Arte Útil shows how artists take position in these new social formations; how they are not isolated agents, but are part of global movement shaping our world today.

From a museum to a Social Power Plant
How do we ‘use’ the museum? How can it become a site of production, and output? Through this project the museum aims to transform the museum, with a fixed set of attributes, into a Social Power Plant. At the project’s core is the Arte Útil archive, which tracks a significant and growing development in artistic practice. This archive
provides the fuel for the Social Power Plant where it can be activated through use, analysis and debate. The central scenographic device of the Social Power Plant is a large wooden circle that cuts through all the walls of the museum generating a dynamic circulation system.

On entering the Museum of Arte Útil, the visitor encounters each space according to strategies that best describe Arte Útil such as ‘Use it Yourself’, ‘Space Hijack’ or ‘A-Legal’. Each room contains artists’ practices including previously realised case studies and live projects happening in the space. Many of the live projects relate to Eindhoven, for example through partnerships with local organisations, such as the Helicon opleiding (land based studies), the Pubic Library, Philips or the Design Academy. A number of invited artists will come and work in the city over a sustained period of time, including Jeanne van Heeswijk, Lara Almarcegui or the Austrian collective Wochenklausur.

Arte Utíl projects
Various live projects take place in the museum on a 1:1 scale. One of these is the Honest Shop, realised in collaboration with UK based arts organisation Grizedale Arts. The idea of the Honest Shop is to develop a production for and by local people. Home-made products can be brought to the Honest Shop and sold. Since the Dutch Design Week we have the Honest Stall, which has been attracting hundreds of users and suppliers. Another project is Light Therapy by Slovenian artist Apolonija Šušteršič. Light Therapy was originally made for the Moderna Museet, Stockholm to prevent a mild wild winter blues and sleeping disorders. At the Museum of Arte Útil, the light therapy room is conceived to increase communication and social interaction,
drawing on the benefits of ultramarine light. The public can use this light therapy, which is realised in collaboration with the Eindhoven based organizations Light & Health Research Foundation (SOLG) and Philips Lighting.

Debate and contribute to Arte Útil
A programme of public discussions, workshops and presentations will take place throughout the period of the exhibition debating some of the central questions and problems, raised by the term and connotations of Arte Útil. This will primarily take place in ‘The Room of Controversies’. The central room in the exhibition, the ‘Archive room’, gives users the opportunity to gain insights and knowledge into the different practices throughout the world, where case studies can be suggested, printed and added to the archive. Led by the public, printed and added to the Arte Útil archive. The Museum of Arte Útil, in its research and physical form is an ongoing and permanently unfinished process. It asks visitors to realise its potential by using the museum and its contents in different and exciting new ways.

Useful terms
A lexicon of terms is being developed for the Museum of Arte Útil. As much of the vocabulary that we have to describe art seems insufficient to deal with this type of practice, the Museum of Arte Útil has commissioned theorist Stephen Wright to develop a lexicon of terms. The lexicon includes terms that Wright feels should be ‘retired’ alongside what he refers to as ‘emergent concepts’ and ‘modes of usership’. Stephen Wright is a writer and professor at the European School of Visual Arts.

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Tania Bruguera turns the Van Abbemuseum into a museum of useful art

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