The exhibition and the other programme elements taking place under The Hoodie within the walls of Het Nieuwe Instituut are described as the project’s ‘off-site’ events. These are activities organised at a location other than the place where the hoodie originally manifests itself as a living social, cultural and political phenomenon. Through this active decision to switch around the concept of inside and outside, of internal and external presentations and of centre and periphery, the instituut is attempting, encouraged by partner Concrete Blossom, to express the problems involved in ‘exhibiting counter culture’.
The exhibition space as neutral white box
A museum, gallery or exhibition space is never really objective or impartial. The seeming neutrality of the white cube has been hotly debated for decades; the allegedly objective, blank exhibition space in which objects are divested of their original context and socio-cultural embeddedness and imbued with new, almost religious overtones and universal legitimacy. As soon as the creator of an exhibition brings an artwork or artefact into an institution, it is transformed from an object with an ongoing time and place-related significance of its own into a timeless, placeless item.
Who do cultural objects belong to when we isolate them in a museum?
For some visitors, such a vacuum may create the ideal setting in which to assess the value of an object; because it’s on display in a museum, it must be relevant and important. For others, the exhibition may remove such an object – which has a specific meaning in their own everyday lived experience – from the situation in which it belongs. Particularly when this involves relocation from the informal culture of the street to the established culture of an institutional setting, this can lead to a problematic experience.
In the case of the presentation of the hoodie in a museum in the big city, for example, this could cause friction as paying visitors inside the museum walls could admire this type of sweater as a design classic, while just a few metres away inhabitants of the city are confronted by various forms of violence or coercion because of the very same item of clothing.
Another potential source of friction is the notion of appropriation. The authorship of the ‘influencers’ who made the thing so mediagenic (among other things) in the first place is jeopardised the moment it becomes a subject of the supreme example of the dominant cultural form – an exhibition in a museum. Who does the hoodie belong to then? Where does the phenomenon come from? Who is in a position to talk about it, and who can afford to present it as a museum exhibit?
On-site and off-site programming
Het Nieuwe Instituut and the curator of The Hoodie realise that this project is taking them into a complicated field of forces. A decision was therefore made in close cooperation with Concrete Blossom – a design practice and cultural platform rooted in the local street culture – to remove the hoodie as little as possible from its original network, and to stress that the stories this item of clothing tells continue to develop every day in many different locations in the city. The exhibition and the other programming within the institute do attempt to break through the traditional – false – distinction between high fashion and streetwear: after all, streetwear has now become an integral part of (fashion) design and deserves to be represented in the same way, but the instituut is also aware of its limitations in this respect. For this reason, these activities explicitly make up the off-site programme within the project.
In the context of The Hoodie, on-site means those places and locations where the themes surrounding the hoodie are lived every day. Locations that can be found in Rotterdam’s various neighbourhoods: exactly in those places where grassroots initiatives by makers and consumers of culture meet, outside of the traditional infrastructure of museums, arts venues, galleries and project spaces. The on-site programme is being developed by and with Concrete Blossom as part of a longer-term cooperation.
In the off-site programmes, we also devote serious attention to the position Het Nieuwe Instituut itself occupies in the society-wide debate on decolonisation, diversity and inclusivity. Space is provided for critical (self-)reflection, dialogue and feedback on the creation of exhibition projects such as The Hoodie and the on way in which organisations such as our institute function when dealing with existing and new audience groups and partners.