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Philippe Pirotte

Interview with Philippe Pirotte
On 16th Dec 2006
Kunthalle Bern

As the last step of our Swiss trip, we stopped at Bern and met Philippe Pirotte, Belgian curator, the director of the Kunsthalle Bern since 2005. As it is known, Harald Szeemann was a director of this institution from 1961 to 1969 and curated exhibitions such as < Science fiction>, <Light and Motion> and <When attitudes become form>, among many others. During this period in Bern, he formulated conceptions which later also became sources of Documenta 5. Although he had a « permanent independant curator » contract with Kunsthaus Zurich since 1981, Kunsthalle Bern was the only institution where he was fully engaged. It is also known that Szeemann left Kunsthalle Bern due to the conflict with the City of Bern after <When attitudes become form> show.
By visiting Kunstalle Bern, we could see catalogues, including newspaper style catalogues, which Szeemann had published in 60s, and reproduced recently by Kunsthalle. We could also observe the exhibition spaces, consisting of 2 floors (ground and basement) and multiple rooms.
Interview with Philippe Pirotte gave us fresh outlook towards Harald Szeemann’s work. He started by explaning the City of Bern’s sudden interests of Szeemann, after his death in 2005 in contradiction to the opposition Szeemann received from the City during his career. Pirotte described also in detail Szeemann’s work at Kunsthalle and specificities of <When attitudes become form> exhibition.
When Pirotte arrived in Bern, he was asked to organize an exhibition related to Harald Szeemann, <Villa Jelmini – the complex of respect>. During this interview, he explained how he conceptualized and organised this exhibition evading the hommage while appropriating Szeemann’s concepts into his own.

These four short videos are edited versions of this interview which took actually for one and half hour. It’s divided in four main issues which we consider important and enlighting for our research.

1. Kunsthalle Bern and Harald Szeemann? (7mn 20s)

He explains the complex relation between Kunsthalle Bern and Harald Szeemann. Then he talks about Szeemann’s curatorial practices during his direction, including the<When attitudes become form> show.

2. About <Villa Jelmini> ?(2mn 20s)

Exhibition held in Kunthalle Bern, from January 27 to March 26, 2006, in response to the City of Bern who asked to organise an exhibition dealing with Szeemann’s legacy. Pirotte explains how he responded to this demand by curating an exhibition which deals the complex notion of respect and how he brought some Szeemann’s obsessional concepts into this show. ( see entire press release)

3. Is there a common ground ?(5mn 12s)

In the press release, Pirotte affirms, « Is it possible to demonstrate an ‘other’ to our system of thought and how can we then specify this otherness ? The impossibility of a ‘common ground’ within the widened understanding of art might be the most interesting outcome of Szeemann’s curatorial practice » Quoting from this, we asked him about this notion of ’common ground’.Then, he raised question on the problematic contextualization of art works in nowadays exhibition practice, where the works are juxtaposed, put to be echoed together, with no consideration of different social, political and multiple background.

4. Do you have an archive ?(3mn 50s)
As the archive is also the main theme of our research, we asked to Pirotte whether he has an archive. He explains his own idea about archive in regards to the perception of archive as western culture practices. He advices and gives ideas on how to deal with Szeemann’s archive as a theme of research.

Hoping this editing isn’t the distortion of the original meaning of his talk, we thank again Philippe Pirotte for his time and interview.

Text and Video editing: Haeju Kim

part 1

1. Kunsthalle Bern and Harald Szeemann?(7mn 20s)

part 2

2. About Villa Jelmini ?(2mn 20s)

part 3

3. Is there a common ground ?(5mn 12s)

part 4

4. Do you have an archive ?(3mn 50s)


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