Ein Mann steht in einem mit grünen Algen bewachsenen Teich und schreibt in ein Notizbuch. Um ihn herum liegen Tote Bäume.

Katrina Neiburga, Pickled Long Cucumbers, Filmstill, 2018

In a world full of conflicting interests and beliefs, how do artists root themselves? Where do they find their sense of direction? These questions underlie the exhibition Taking Root. The assumption is that the eleven artists presented here did find some roots. They have developed a focus in their practice and in their interests, and that is what gives their work depth.

For a tree, life without roots is not possible. It needs a stronghold, right underneath, in order to grow and stay firm, to endure storm and thunder. A young tree can bend, has resilience, but it can only do so because it has already grown some roots. One can assume that, similarly, human beings find some “nutrition” in the place where they grow up. Yet, it is not the only place where this happens. Artists can pick their roots, collect them on their way through life, or search for them in places where they are not yet familiar. After all, humans are mobile beings. And for humans, roots are not just a matter of physical circumstances; they can reside in thoughts, memories, and traditions.

Iona Inescu, Gommage, 2016, Courtesy of SpazioA, Pistoia; Nikos Aslanidis, The Hunter, 2016-2017, Reflection, 2014-2015, Courtesy Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art, Düsseldorf/Wien; Photo: Ivo Faber

Taking Root brings together the work of eleven artists. Some of these artists grew up close to nature; for others, the city has been their natural environment. Some of them are young artists, who in recent years have finished their master’s degrees and have just started their own studio practices. Others have been working for decades already, and have had more options to develop their roots. Together, the participants span two generations of contemporary artists. Most of them come from Europe, but in terms of landscape and cultural climate, their backgrounds are diverse. One is from the USA, which is itself a country with many roots in Europe. In these days of divisive politics, it is good to discover that  connections are still tight, even though they might move underground.

The eleven artists have been selected for this show not because their work is about roots, but rather because their work has roots. They have displayed an interest in grounding themselves in the present through finding anchor points in tradition or in their visual environment, and finding out what is valuable or inescapable for their work as artists in the early 21st century. In times when God is declared dead, terrorists have hijacked Allah, and political leaders can be clowns and fakes, the question is where to find understanding and beliefs, where to find the confidence and context from which to act? The answer goes inside. Into the imagination and reflection of the artists. In the ability to focus and stay committed to a quest or vocation.

Béatrice Dreux, Octopussy With Rainbow, 2018, Photo: Ivo Faber

The artists in this show do not usually find their artistic incentives in the daily news or politics. Their knowledge is more indirect, coming from stones, walks, landscapes, icons, paintings, children – from all possible sources. There are many situations that can guide us, often in more convincing ways than the people who call themselves guides want us to believe. The artists presented do not preach a particular belief. They make their work; that is enough of a statement. They believe in material culture, in art, and in meaningful labor – a daily discipline. You can sense in their work that they know something.

Even though art is not necessarily sacred territory, it offers stretches of land where a different world is possible – not corrupted, and not adrift. It can offer an environment where you actually want to spend time, a place that is nurturing for the mind, body, and soul. The Kunst im Tunnel offers a good shelter, with solid walls, to create some distance to the real and mental traffic around, to the hustle of city life, to the problems of our times. The generous tunnel space filled with the works of eleven contemporary artists allows a time out – and offers itself as a place to reconnect and take root.

Jurriaan Benschop

With Nikos Aslanidis, Maria Capelo, Béatrice Dreux, Eiko Gröschl, Nona Inescu, Ida Lindgren, Catherine Mulligan, Katrina Neiburga, Liesbeth Piena, Natascha Schmitten, Rubica von Streng

Curated by Jurriaan Benschop

The exhibition is funded by

Ministerium für Kultur und Wissenschaft des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen