Farewell to institutions: KIRAC 24
In Dutch – afscheid van de instituten

Under a Sinking Sun

In 2018, KIRAC made a film about the decision of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy to cancel a KIRAC screening. The film is unique in that the cancelled party successfully persuaded their cancellers to partake in a discussion on stage. It is a portrayal of the confusion that arises when an alienated management with no affinity with art tries to save its reputation by going along with the iconoclastic ambitions of a few young art students, who are so neglected and deprived of knowledge and prospect, that the only meaningful engagement with their surroundings is achieved by designating a scapegoat. This complicated role of scapegoat proved very fruitful for KIRAC; a vantage point for a work of art about alienation, justice and nihilism. The episode was screened in cultural centre De Balie in Amsterdam, and was received by the audience as an exciting and nuanced work of art; relevant, no less. The title Stigma turns out to be a prediction: a monstrous reputation rushes through the woke grapevine to arrive at any destination before we do.

A reputation is something the artist plays with; a bottomless pit that for that very reason forms an inexhaustible artistic source. KIRAC’s reputation has attracted young people who, like KIRAC, have been cancelled, for various reasons. Art student Maria, for instance, was not allowed to show a film that she made as a result of her experiences with violence and sexual abuse, as this would disturb other students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Jini, the heroine in Honeypot, and once again in Under a Sinking Sun, was canceled too: after she broke up with a fellow philosophy student he took revenge by falsely accusing her of rape and encouraging the student association to orchestrate a trial against Jini, resulting in Jini’s ejection from the student association.

Then, in 2020, the artist Juliaan Andeweg presented himself. He was accused of assault and rape by a group of women in an article in the NRC. KIRAC decided to take on this subject, based upon the conviction that an artist who excludes all but innocent, and therefore harmless subjects from his repertoire, is no artist at all. Juliaan Andeweg has been accused but has not yet appeared in court to be found either guilty or innocent, and this uncertain state makes him all the more scary in the eyes of outsiders. They simply don’t know how to place him. In the midst of – and about this moral confusion, KIRAC is making a film without having the ability or desire to claim Juliaan Andeweg’s guilt or innocence; a judgement that will, after all, be passed in court, and even that doesn’t exclude the possibility of the existence of guilt or innocence.

KIRAC looks at social and cultural processes and makes them visible through performances. The reception of Juliaan Andeweg on horseback at the Honeypot screening was such a performance, and it will remain ambiguous and mysterious to its makers for as long as the artwork is unfinished. Apart from the fact that KIRAC can be open about its methods, it cannot yet say what the exact meaning of this performance is. For the time being, it is an expression of the terrifying and uncertain figure Juliaan Andeweg. An apotropaic knight on horseback. The full, complex and nuanced meaning will become apparent in the future film, and in doing so KIRAC appeals to your trust in – and respect for, the democratic function of the artwork, which is capable of revealing other truths than, say, a decision made in court. Art is concerned with the truths of human nature.

Incidentally, the opponents of this way of working want to make it appear as though KIRAC works without any understanding or knowledge of sexual violence, assuming that in such a case you would never make art about it in such a way, that is: in a way that can be confused with glorification. But what if traumatic events only endure the light of day in sublimated form, in a form that is hard, beautiful, and impenetrable against the feelings of weakness, pain and shame with which the trauma normally presents itself? The fact that sublimation shows similarities with glorification is not a thing to frown upon, but rather a fascinating psychological connection worth investigating.

To say that it should not be done in this manner, is to say that it should not be done at all. Ironically, anyone who wants to deny this art a platform, embodies the very patriarchy that suppresses any form of deviation by dictating how certain subjects may and may not be treated. This is exactly what the feminist movement was up against. Women have fought for the liberty to approach subjects in their own way; so as not to let a figurative male gynaecologist make you give birth lying on your back, for the sole purpose of giving him a comfortable overview.

I wrote the previous paragraphs in the run-up to the premiere of the latest KIRAC film, which was to take place Saturday April 2nd in KIOSK, an associated gallery of the Ghent art academy KASK. Under a Sinking Sun is a film that was made in collaboration with graduating students from KASK, and is about the desires and illusions of young people coming of age in a world that is saying goodbye to the Enlightenment and its values; about the cheerful anticipation with which they face the possibilities of a setting sun. Months before the premiere, KIOSK director Simon Delobel began receiving messages from complete strangers warning him of the dangers of KIRAC. As time went on, the messages became more intrusive and started coming from “concerned” colleagues. The pressure mounted on Simon became so severe that he wrote a press release, saying he was willing to lose his job over Under a Sinking Sun.

The enthusiasm of Simon and the students somehow gave me the feeling that the humble history of 2018 would not repeat itself, a feeling that turned out to be completely naive when the dean of KASK, Filip Rathé, reached over Simon’s autonomy last night and bluntly cancelled the premiere. The entire campus of the KASK was closed on Saturday April 2nd because, in its own words, the board “cannot guarantee everyone’s safety”. Once again, a management yields to the demands of anonymous, inflammatory collectives, who take to their social media pages to threaten with throwing faeces; who not only never engage in discussions themselves, but also long for the destruction of discussion altogether.

If the ailment of our times is that people cannot distinguish the literal from the figurative, then the decomposure of the premiere of a film about decomposure is a fitting end. Still, I think it’s a sad outcome.

And so KIRAC says farewell to institutes, as they promote a sickly climate in which no art thrives. Art is in the hand that makes it, not the hand that smothers it.

Kate Sinha