'StartPoint' creates too high expectations for itself

At the top of the stairs of the Amsterdam art society Arti et Amicitiae hangs a large announcement poster on which half the names of the participating artists have been taped with black tape. This is how the exhibition opens StartPoint in a curious way: you get the feeling that you have missed something even before you have seen anything.

StartPoint started in 2003 as a prize for graduation work of Czech art academy students. A jury team travels to different academies every year and makes an exhibition selection, one artist is then declared the winner. Over the years, the award has acquired a more international focus and in 2021, thirty-five art academies across sixteen countries were visited for this edition. The jury made a final selection of twelve graduates. Although the first exhibition always takes place in Prague, since 2014 it has subsequently traveled to Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam.

peasant protest

In Arti et Amicitae, curator and jury member Radek Vána has made an even smaller selection of the twelve originally selected, hence the black tape. Six artists show work spread over three contiguous rooms. Former Rietveld student Shifra Osorio Whewell is the winner of 2021 and opens the exhibition. Her video work Rebecca & Her Children shows a carnivalesque reenactment of a peasant protest in 19th century Wales. The artist himself plays the role of a news reader and refers to both the Bible and the Berlin Wall to bring local history to the present. The re-enacted scenes of interviews with farmers and the struggles with toll workers have a playful character due to the fancy costumes and childish songs, yet the work in all its messiness manages to convince with its enthusiasm.

None of the former winners are from Southern or Eastern Europe

In the second room, four artists have each been given one corner. Luke McCowan’s (HKU) oil paintings appear to be almost digitally constructed. As if they are graphic designs for posters. In her installation Mutal Otherness, Kvet Nguyen (VŠVU, Bratislava) shows two short video loops and a number of photos, each showing a person hidden in colorful textiles. The artist sees this as a way to create ‘formless movement’ that challenges the idea of ​​’the other’. It produces simple but beautiful images.

The austerely designed works by Assaf Hinden (KASK, Antwerp) show fragments of a disintegrated auction catalogue. By applying manipulations to the images, Hinden shows which stories can be hidden behind such a book. Like that of a forced sale of an art collection belonging to a Jewish collector in 1937.

Alexander Jermilov (KABK) presents a futuristic archaeological collection with the installation ‘What a life’. Keys, bonus cards, an internet meme, a vase and many more random objects hang from metal rods that end on the ground in heart-shaped turf. The installation seems both a celebration and a dystopian representation of all things artificial, and remains somewhat incoherent. In the last room is the video work ‘Transparency of voice and light’ by Adam Hejduk (FaVU VUT, Brno), in which he visually visualizes how a conversation is distorted and can flutter in your memory.

High expectations

The works in Arti et Amicitiae are very different in form but have clear similarities. All make references to historical events or social problems. Usually this is done indirectly, except in the case of the winner whose work comes in much more directly as a result. The rest are a bit distant. This also has to do with the high expectations that the organization creates.

There are also some comments to be made about the jury process. Although StartPoint expressly presents itself as an award for ‘European’ art students, none of the previous winners, or the participants selected this year, come from a Southern or Eastern European academy. In addition, the exhibition can only be seen in Prague and the Netherlands and the main prize went to a Dutch student no fewer than six times in the past ten years. This, in combination with carelessness, gives a less professional appearance and thus diminishes the legitimacy that StartPoint claims.

Previous Dutch students who won are: Matea Bakula (2013, HKU), Lisa-Marie Vlietstra (2014, Rietveld), Esther Hovers (2015, KABK), Stephanie Rizaj (2019, Rietveld) and Suzanne Schols (2020, Rietveld). The winner will be offered a residency and group exhibition in Prague along with number two and three. In addition, the winner will receive their own publication.

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