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Art at heart of abandoned space

He is an expert at converting car parks, factory areas and abandoned spaces into art studios — before they are lost forever to the wrecking ball or dynamite.

Manuel Klappe, an art historian and curator from Amsterdam, gets artists to work on large-scale shows at venues that were to be demolished, at least in most cases.

Klappe, who is in the city for a six-week residency programme, talked about his art experience and audience reaction during a presentation at Studio21 on Saturday.

For him, the ideal places for exhibiting art are large abandoned areas.

The proof was a visual presentation of some interesting shows he has conducted at factory spaces and car parks. “Exhibitions should not be talked about. They should be seen and appreciated,” he said as he took his audience on a wonderful visual journey.

Slides reveal a factory space of 150m being converted into an art museum, complete with tall installations of fantastic woodwork, solid granite, fibreglass and rubber. The factory originally made chicken slaughter machines and now is converted into an event hall, Klappe said. He had organised the exhibition just before the factory was converted.

At the end of all the hard work by 60 artists, the abandoned space looked entirely different from the mess it was. “Here you needed to choose what to look out for. If the audience got lost in the huge hall, they needed to remember a few sculptures to find their way back. I wanted this kind of audience association with art,” said Klappe, explaining how working in huge spaces with so many artists require a lot more work and bonding.

He hunts for the ideal space and invites artists of his choice to showcase their work. It may also require them to live at the exhibition venue.

Klappe also shared visuals of his yet another successful exhibition, Present Forever, which he had organised in 2012 in an abandoned four-storey garage.

Ironically, there is no trace of the artwork now as the place has been demolished since.

From installations to woodwork to etchings and paintings, the audience were treated to a visual delight on every floor. “At the end of the exhibition some dismantled their installations, some took away their creations to their studio while others let their creativity get destroyed with the demolition of the place that followed. I choose the artists and I depend on them. I guide the people who want to do their own thing,” Klappe said.

He explained how he tried to keep the budget of the exhibitions low and earned revenue through the sale of tickets. “It is always the neighbours who drop in to see the exhibition first and later spread the word around. I have got all kinds of reaction from happy ones to really angry ones for displaying art at such godforsaken spaces,” laughed the curator as the audience flooded him with questions. His only handicap: “I find it hard to make good shows with videos,” admits the curator.