WORK        ABOUT        SHOP
S.P.A.M. BOOK (APE 2011)
Pieterjan Ginckels (NAK 2008)
Archeoloog Van De Nabije Toekomst
    Sam Steverlynck

    Tom Nys

Pop Artz,
    Melanie Bono

A meaningful paycheck?
    Eva Plateau, Tine Holvoet

Creative entrepreneur in the dark
    Jörg Kohnen-May

1000 Beats, 1 Beat, 10 Questions
    Tom Nys with Magnus Voll Mathiassen,
    Cristian Vogel and Pieterjan Ginckels

Muziek en beeldende kunst 3: PJG
    Jozefien Van Beek

World Wide Winter
    Piet Vanrobaeys
Creative entrepreneur in the dark
Art historians today may argue whether a work by Rembrandt can be ascribed to the master himself or to one of his students. For contemporary customers of the Baroque painter this was not the crucial question. It was more decisive that the painting was made in his style and was wearing his signature. So, in his studio in Leiden Rembrandt employed numerous assistants and students who copied his works or carried out his sketches according to his instructions. The results he sold as products of his own brand – a successful and profitable business model. In the 17th century, this worksharing process had nothing objectionable. Only a century later, in Romanticism, it became widely accepted that a work of art – ideally – had to be an output of the creative power of a singular genius. Lonesome attic instead of classroom or studio, originality rather than technical perfection was the credo.

Although the standards developed more than 200 years ago are persistently adopted until this day, when it comes to the question “Is this a piece of art or not?” Romanticism was just an episode. Since long, artists have returned to the former practice: “Whatever you do, don’t do it yourself”, as the German discursive pop band Tocotronic sings. This also sets out the motto for an up-to-date art production in a post-industrial society. Like in Rembrandt’s time, artists don’t have to prime their canvasses or produce a work themselves. Rather, today’s artists are asked to develop ideas and initiate projects, delegate tasks or perform quality checks. Artists like Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons meet this personal profile perfectly, as does Olafur Eliasson. When the Danish-Icelandic artist creates an artificial waterfall in New York, he is supported by a many-headed project team, with himself as the leader. Eliasson accesses the know-how of experts coming from very different fields – artists, physicists, engineers, technicians. His Berlin-based studio, which he runs like an entrepreneur, is his think tank, test laboratory and project office at the same time.

Pieterjan Ginckels, too, isn’t particularly known for presenting himself as “the ingenious artist as creator”. As Melanie Bono stated in her essay ‘Pop Artz’ (2008), Ginckels rather aims at “making his own diverse interests and ideas accessible as an experience for others”. For example, in his project ‘1000 Beats’ for the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein (NAK), Ginckels co-operated with a multitude of collaborators. He activated NAK members and friends, DJ Cristian Vogel and the Norwegian designer collective Grandpeople. Pieterjan Ginckels gave the impetus and offered a platform: People from the NAK network followed his appeal and provided record players, Vogel looped a one-minute sample, which was pressed on vinyl and presented in a cover layout by Grandpeople. (Later, Pieterjan Ginckels appropriated this layout in a series of drawings). The track was continuously played from the record players arranged in a row in the NAK exhibition space.

S.P.A.M. OFFICE takes a collaborative approach, too. Through his website the artist requests e-mail addressees to forward spam e-mails to the office – as “raw material” for the artistic process. Pieterjan Ginckels is the project initiator and leader, while at the same time he appears as an entrepreneur and managing director. He recruits a team of employees, checks the minutely planned working process, criticizes the employees, motivates them, has an open ear for their concerns, controls whether the business plan has been fulfilled or not. Within an interior designed by himself, the staff has to provide a service for their director, who is their client as well. Their task is to screen the received e-mails, to sort useless e-mails out according to given formal criteria, to mark promising e-mails, paragraphs, phrases or single words on the printed e-mails, to classify and archive them. They act independently, they are free to make their own decisions, but the system in which they act is a strictly hierarchical one. In the entrance of the S.P.A.M. OFFICE in Be-Part in Waregem, a board shows an organogram of the company with the artist and patriarch on top. He is the ultimate decision maker in the firm: after an e-mail has passed all working stations in the office – from being examined and having the sender and interesting passages in the text marked to being archived in a file – the artist selects the e-mails, parts of the spam texts, or senders he considers suitable for his creative purposes.

S.P.A.M. OFFICE is a public agency; there is an “open house” whenever the staff is at work. The employees provide a “real” service, but their actions are also part of a performance taking place in the field of art. The artist is a “real” businessman, but at the same time he is not more than an artist posing as a businessman. True or staged, the final act, which S.P.A.M. OFFICE is targeted at, takes place outside opening hours and outside the office space: the creative transformation of archived materials into a haptic piece of art.

What the office work leads to, is visible for the employees as well as for the office visitors. The end result is placed on the wall of the “office building”: lyrical, cryptic text cutouts, assembled into assumedly authentic dialogues or claims, or groups of modified and soundful terms. They are set in carefully selected fonts and layouts, which gives the series of characters an image-like quality, printed in A4 format or sometimes in poster or bill-board size, on glossy paper, attractively and suitably framed. All this is done according to criteria not presented to the public, only known by the artist. The creative act is the secret he holds; S.P.A.M. OFFICE is just a form of pre-production. Its performance ends in the archive – in Be-Part in an almost completely dark room – in ring binders silently lined up on dimly lit shelves. When and what the artist draws from out of these folders, which specific lines and words his eyes pick up and why they do so, how he modifies and varies the material, how he derives the final text and images from it, all that stays in the dark – in an even greater darkness than that of the archive room. The artist fulfils the creative act completely autonomously – here he is again: “the ingenious artist as creator”? Yes and no. Profoundly and playfully serious and with subtle irony, Pieterjan Ginckels demonstrates how disciplined, goal-oriented teamwork and an individual’s creativity and originality can productively come together.

Jörg Kohnen-May, gallerist and communications expert, Cologne, Germany.

Text from "S.P.A.M. BOOK", APE Art Paper Editions, on the occasion of Ginckels' solo show S.P.A.M. OFFICE at Be-Part, Center for Contemporary Art, Waregem, Belgium in 2011.