The STRP (pronounced “Strype”) Festival opened in the Strijp-S area of Eindhoven, Holland, from June 2-6. Makery spoke to festival director Ton Van Gool on the first day of the festival.
With the theme “All Of Us” about collectivity STRP is featuring 14 new commissions by artists such as Laurence Lek, avatar and artist LaTurbo Avedon, Disnovation.org (read their recent interview in Makery) and Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley (whose work Makery described in “Attention Reproducers!” at the Science Gallery London) and Liam Young, whose “Camouflage’ Choreography” devises a way for Hong Kong’s protestors to evade Chinese body-recognition cameras.
Rob La Frenais: Can you put into context STRP Festival’s history and location in Eindhoven? You mentioned the Phillips factory was a big presence in the city before it closed and is now the venue for STRP. How did this come about?
Ton Van Gool: Eindhoven was a series of small neighbourhoods until Philips located their company here in 1891. Eindhoven has always been a two-company-town: DAF (Automobiles) and Philips. Philips was the main employer but also took care of healthcare, parks, sports clubs, study grants, co-ops, housing. So the highs and lows of Philips always resonated very deeply in the city. When Philips was close to bankruptcy in 1990 the entire city suffered. Production of Philips hardware (radio, TV’s) moved to Asia and a lot of factories were unnecessary. The city of Eindhoven bought the former Philips plants and this was the beginning of Eindhoven re-inventing itself. Strijp-S became a new heart of the city and a hotspot of creative industries. STRP was one of the pioneers of Strijp-S and our initial mission was to make the fascinating combination of art, design and technology visible.
In the early 2000s Holland saw a shift in cultural funding from visual art practice to the creative industries. Was this a good or bad thing?
Because of Philips, Eindhoven always had a large community of designers. Philips Design was also established here and they were designing products and campaigns. The famous Design Academy was the follow-up of Philips’ own school for designers. I always get a bit annoyed when the words “creative industries” pop up. It’s everything and nothing at the same time. I think it’s a good thing that the curtains of the art world have been opened up a bit more. And of course there are very interesting design projects and works being realised. There is great photography all over the place and there are beautiful trans-disciplinary projects. But the idea that design is the key to all challenges and problems is a bit grotesque.
You say you had as many as 20 shifts from live to virtual. STRP is now a fully virtual festival in the end. How will you shift this to a blended version in the future?
We are already planning STRP 2022, which will be a blended edition. There will be an onsite exhibition and there will be an extensive online program as well. We will have live and digital music performances. We think we will find a good balance between onsite and online.
I notice you use the Ohyay platform in the anti-Zoom-fatigue Hmmmeeting rooms instead of more conventional platforms for social interaction. How did that come about and how well is it working? It’s great to get away from the standard rectangular format anyway.
The designers of the bars (The Hmm) are using Ohyay. The artwork of Post-Neon (Age of Collectivity) is presented on Twitch. It’s great that artists choose a platform that fits their work and intentions best.
You talk about collectivity being a challenge to hyper-individuality? You ask “What can we learn from the collectivity of organisms, bird flocks and cells?”.How does this fit with the older notion of the artist as a hermetic creative individual? This concept is more suited to the Maker community which we represent but does this approach not negate individual creativity?
We totally are ok with art for art and artists working in their caves. But we are a festival and organisation that reaches out to the audience and therefore we select artists and artworks that manage to communicate and interact with the world of today. Individual creativity is beautiful and positive but to make a deep connection to the others (humans, non-humans, other intelligences, microbes, nature in general) is necessary to find a new balance between all of us.
Bots play a big role in this festival. Can you tell me more about the virtual tour bots and how they developed and maybe expand on Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne’s “Synthetic Messenger” performance (a botnet that artificially inflates the value of climate news.)
For the physical exhibitions we always had physical tour guides, especially for students it is of great value that they get a brief introduction to the works and that they can ask questions. For us it made sense to have a virtual guide in a virtual exhibition. We are very happy with the result and we realise the bot could be way smarter. Tega and Sam suggested this work, thinking about collectivity. Describing the work they said: “How can we, represented by bots, influence the news about climate change. The bots are connected to real people; we have given them our hands and voices. We uploaded mp4’s of our hands and also mp3’s of our voices”.
How did the opening one-to-one phone performance “Distant Thoughts” (a series of 2 person interactions on telephones) go on the opening night? Will there be some kind of sound record of the interactions?
It went really well! The general reactions were: at first it was a bit scary, having an intimate talk with someone you don’t know but it felt really fulfilling and I felt totally connected with this person that I have never met. There will be no sound recording available because we promised the participants safety.
I get that but were there no witnesses at all? It seems strange to have an opening night performance experienced by only two people but maybe I’m missing the point here.
There were 55 duo’s participating in the opening performance. So it was a performance with 110 participants. The duo’s were paired by a computer.
I enjoyed the YouTube-mined dance sequences in “Universal Tongue” by Anouk Kruithof. Can you tell me the story behind this?
Best to let the artist speak about this: “Do you know that 300 hours of dance video are uploaded to YouTube every minute? Flashmobs, gangnam style or the moonwalk, over the years several typical dance styles have been gimmicks on the internet. Anouk Kruithof dived deep into these fascinating collections of movements. Dancing is one of the things that humans share across cultures, geographies and time – we love to dance, and whenever we do it, the best thing is that we don’t need to understand why. Dancing is meaningful without further explanation; we just do it. It provides an opportunity to learn about diversity and identity, about how they are produced and reproduced within culture, gender and history. The act of dancing expresses joy, pain, love, desire, sadness, energy, possibility and freedom. It is a tool for transformation into altered states, for escaping the now, or on the contrary, a tool for tuning in and connecting to people, for finding intimacy and care.”
Are there any other artworks you consider a breakthrough for the sector?
“A breakthrough for the sector” is a big thing/promise so I don’t know if we have provided this. I would rather say that we (think) we succeeded to make an online art show that totally makes sense. We used the possibilities and benefits of technology and of an online platform to present an art show. But the final decision if we succeeded in this is up to the audience, the artists, the press.
What lessons are you learning from the 2021 edition that you will carry forward into 2022? Did everything work or were there glitches? It’s a new format for all of us.
We have not done a proper evaluation yet, because we are in the middle of the festival. One thing we have concluded is that it was a good decision to sell tickets (€10) for joining the festival and not to make it a free festival. Of course we have less visitors than free festivals but we already know that the STRP visitors stay way longer in the show than the ‘passers-by’ of free festival. The quality of the visit is way more important than the quantity. Of course there were some glitches in some of the works at first but nothing that could not be fixed easily. The STRP Scenario editions are live. We have built this little studio in a shopping centre and we can’t control everything. Like yesterday there was a flood because of heavy rainfall and suddenly the alarm system of the store we are using went off. But we like these spontaneous interactions, we have no ambition of being a professional tv studio.
On this subject I noticed that there is very little information on the artists projects on the website unless you buy a ticket. I understand about monetising online festivals, however is this not a bit like buying a ticket for a music concert without knowing who the group or artist is?
Our main audience focus is Generation Y and Z. These visitors are focused on images and not on words. We did some tests with focus groups and the group members told us that they did not read long texts. If a text is too long they don’t even start reading it. So we decided to have short texts and have them triggered by the images. The focus group members also told us that they can easily find additional info on the internet if they would want to.
How in the coming days are you going to re-introduce live actions in the street once Holland opens is cultural sector this weekend? For example Iman Person’s work “New Air” seems to be specifically for outdoors. How will this be achieved here?
We have a small pop-up expo space in a shopping centre downtown. A maximum of 8 people can walk in and roam through the online exhibition on a big screen. There always is a physical guide to help you and to introduce you to the works. So we are present in public space, in a modest way. Iman’s initial work for STRP was an installation consisting of video, sculptures and sound. Because we could not realise this work on location we decided to change the commission to an online work, being these two videos that she made, just 4 weeks ago.
How did the latest festival develop from last year’s theme which seems to be very influenced by Timothy Morton’s “Thank Virus For Symbiosis”?
For every edition we choose a theme, or rather maybe, a focus or a storyline. Every festival is a chapter in our long term story. Collectivity is way better to understand than “Scenarios for the Post-Anthropocene”. For 2022 the theme is “An End To Infinity”, it’s about post-growth and about living forever in a digital world.