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Identity Factory Southeast -
Towards a flexible cultural leisure infrastructure

Esitelmä Jyväskylässä 8.4.1999


Gerard Rooijakkers

The identity Factory Southeast (IDentiteitsfabriek Zuid-Oost: IDZO) includes a cultural infrastructure, making optimal use of objects and facilities already present in the Kempenland region (Southern Netherlands). Not the providers, but the visitors/customers are the central figures in this. They adapt the chain of providers from modules to a custom-made, personalized consumer package of products.


In the Southeastern part of the Dutch providence North-Brabant there are, as elsewhere in the Netherlands, many museums varying from presentations of private collectors to significant communal institutions. The small and medium-sized museums, private as well as public, do have in long-term perspective serious difficulties in maintaining the continuity of their exploitations. They are so involved in surviving that they apt to forget the visitor. These museums are in fact very supply-oriented: 'come and look at our nice belongings'. In addition, many of the exhibits reflect the 'in memoriam' of a culture, generally a safe and distant past. But when you consider a museum as a workshop of memory, the objects should be instrumentalized 'pro memoria' and not as aesthetic mummies in the museal fetish of the vitrine. 1

In order to find a solution to these conditions, we decided not to eloborate on indivisual institutions, but to assemble the 'museum-street' as a cooperative but diversified out. With grants of the provincial authorities we asked LA-group, Amsterdam consultants in Leisure and Arts, to investigate the options for structural collaboration between museums, inspired by the French concept of the écomusée.

Furthermore it was our intention to break up the classical sector-oriented supply of culture. We wanted to make outlasting alliances with museums and institutions in the field of archeology, monuments and nature. A cultural tourist is not interested in the organizational structure indeed, nut in what he can experience during his visit and how to have easy access.


One of the features of the reasearch performed by LA-group was that althought museums are interested in cooperation, they in general are not able to take the lead in this new demand-oriented approach to chain many other partners.2 As a result, the initiators of the projects decided to modify their plans: the 'ecomuseum' became an 'identity-factory' and additional partners were found in commercial life, education and contemporary art. This ultimately resulted in a projects that started in 1999 with grants of the provincial authorities of North-Brabant and the Dutch ministry of culture with European subventions still in process.

The headquarters of the Identity Factory Southeast (IDZO) is for time being lodged in museum 't Oude Slot in Veldhoven, one of the paramount partners.3 In time the Central Laboratory, as we call it, shall be moved to Eindhoven, the main city in the region with circa 200.000 inhabitants. The Kempenland-area, in the South alongside the border with Belgium, comprises twelve municipalities. In kilometers the North-South distance is circa 45 and the East-West limits are about 60 km. It is however not our intention to make sharp borders; why bothering the tourist with such institutional district-distinctions when he is f.e. residing in the periphery? The area-limits should therefore be smooth and with many 'fingers' intertwining other districts. One of the features of this region is the sophisticated infrastructure varying from thoroughtfares to bicycle-roads and foot-paths which is of crucial importance in making compact cultural leisure arrangements.


Creating the product in the process of consumption

Picture this: a family (for example two adults with three children) wants to spend a (part of the) day in the region Kempenland. At a large number of places (railway stations, tourist information offices, hotels and restaurantsm banks, museums) a terminal can be consulted which is connected, throught an intranet structure, to a 'central laboratory' from which the IDZO is directed. In a computer one fills in how long one would like to stay (e.g. 4 hours), what the type of transport is (by foot, on bike, public transport or by car) and in which thematic arrangements one is interested (e.g. 'outsiders', 'corporeality', 'heroes and idols' etc.). Apart from that the children want to get a breath of fresh air in a playground, the family also would like to do something sporty (indoor skiing or outdoor horse riding) or, just to mention a random example, wants to visit an antiquarian book shop, boutique or gallery.

Meanwhile they also want to srink a cup of coffee somewhere and afterwards they want to have dinner in a specific style or thematic atmosphere (and then e.g. spend the night somewhere so that an amusement park can be visited the next day). A printer provides a general map of the region with the description of the arrangement of his or her choice, adjusted to the time and place. This map also mentions the events of the day (e.g. theatrical and literary events on specific sites, demontrations, narrators, ritualsm performances). On the back there is a room for advertising and offers from the commercial partners. The visitor pays his or her PIN-code (Personal Identity Number) and gets a once-only access to the sites of the Identity Factory. With the help of a 'credit card' (with the logo of the main partner) one can go everywhere then; in shops, cafes and restaurants a reduction is given. On the other hand a part of these expenses finds its way back to the 'central laboratory' in order to help exploiting the infrastructure.

Besides the advanteges for the consumer, it is in this way possible to get a real insight into the tourist-recreational pattern of spending (e.g. the specific preference of arrangements). With this system the cultural tourist leisure product is not created until the moment of consumption, which means an optimal flexibility. Should the visitor, after several sites, still make the decision for a different thematic arrangement, he or she can make a new configuration for this from every random place. What we supply is in fact not a product, but an infrastructure fo modules that can be configurated in all directions.


The real-time consumer behavior, to be honest with that, is largely unknown in the cultural leisure business. Institutions normally count visits instead of visitors, and with the classical method of guest-inquiries only information is collected of those who already found the way to the cultural institutions. But still we don't know anything about their actual behavior ( what do they say and what are they doing in practise). What kind of activities museum-visits are f.e. combined? Are people visiting also (antiquarian) bookshops, or do they prefer walking in nature? Or is it combined with city tour, a cinema or theater-play with subswuent dining? Are parents going to McDonalds afterwards to reward their children for joining cultural activities, or are the kids taking the lead in cultural visits to ahich they are introduced in school? It will be clear that all these activities alse have to be interpreted in commercial terms. What is an average family willing to spend on one single day? We should also capitalise the cultural leisure assets of a region more precisely; investments in museums, monuments and achaeological sites could be legitimized also more in terms of commercial tourist exploitation. But the languahe of culture and commercial life is quite different indeed, and partners of both fields are frequently miscommunicating and judge each other as threatening.


It is clear that the cultural tourist market has a wide audience with an enermous potentional which will grow exponental in the years to come. It is of crucial importance however to take the customer as starting point instead of institurions and sectors. What is the visitor looking for? He or she wants highly flexible product which can be personalized to own standards and needs. Furthermore a high quality level has to be quaranteed: leisure time is quality time. Repeated visits are significant in this field and one bad experience can be fatal. That visitors enjoy fictional theme parks like Eurodisney - or to mention some Brabant examples like the Efteling or Land van Ooit - is obvious, but let us not forget that at the same time they are also intrigued by authenticity. The cultural tourist is looking for authentic experience, undergoing the historic sensation of a specific genuine time and space. Authenticity is of course a mental construction of man that is projected on reality, but it is nevertheless one of the major trumps of cultural tourism indeed.

It is our challenge to give with sound concepts coherence to the various assets in a given region and to provide it with perceptive meanings. These assets with added (market) value are made accessible in the Identity Factory Southeast by way of a virtual interface applying new technologies in guiding people through the region (f.e. with infrared and GPS-systems to track sites and narratives) without neglecting on the other hand the traditional guide and personal performer of 'living history'.


The cultural biography if the region

This intrface is an essential part of the IDZO, but in fact it is just a technical aid to articulate the central mission of the prohjects, that is to give shape, with the help of many partners, to the cultural biography of the region. In other words: what actually happened to mankind in Kempenland? The life-cycles of individuals, human beings of flesh and blood, condensate - seen from a long-term perspective - into accumulated histories of families, neighborhoods, communities and regions. Consistent focus is the relation of man with his aurrounding world. Traces of man in the landscape by way of settlements, reclamations, roads and other (infra)structures are the kesys to present the various lifestyles that may differ according to time, place and social or cultural groups. The material culture of domestic utensils, implements, buildings and works of art are tangible witnesses of these lives which are meaningful only in their ecological and cultural contexts.

This is what we mean by our concept of 'cultural biography'. Sctrictly put, we don't know anything of what was or is going on in the minds of people. We can only trace and interpret their mental worlds by examining human behavior in past and present cultural practice. The cultural biography of the Kempenland-region therefore is the grand narrative of how inhabitants shaped theor lives abd wolrd into meaningful entities in course of time . It is in fact a specific regional drop in which the ocean of universal human history is reflected.


The different partners of the Identity Factory Southeast are elaborating on this grand narrative by presenting thematic issues without disturbing overlap. Working with new insights in anthropology and cultural history attractive and at the same time reliable presentations are made by not only (re)producing standard images of identity, but ny relativating and deconstructing them as well in providing rousing reflections. This 'redo-deco method' (reconstruction-deconstruction) implicates not one and only sacrosanct version of a narrative, but a multitude of 'true' stories told from different shifted viewpoints. The presentations focus on the cultural shaping of daily life by way of past and present artifacts, folk stories, songs, rituals and gestures. They are markes by a paradoxal combination of commitment (evocational empathy) and distance (analytic reflection) stirring the 'fragmented curiosity of the visitor. The customer is not bored with educational pedagogic discourses but is confronted in a frisky, tangible way that is focusing on sensorial experience in order to provide him with clues to appropriate the cultural traces and objects in the Kempenland-region.

The region is not only defined in a physical, material or geographical sense, but it is - in other words - at a same time an imaginary world: the landscape as a mindscape. Kempenland is in fact a mental category intrumentalized by peolple to give meaning to the world in wwhich they live. Exactly these specific perceptions makes up identities and we have to keep in minf that a person or a region is not monolithic but embodies a entire stratification of identities. These layers of meaning provide unique, and hitherto almost unused, opportunities to 'play' with identities, roots and rituals. To be more concrete: in a physica l sense there is for example no difference between the sandy soils of Drenthe or Brabant, but the cultural meaning attached to it is essentially different. Taking the tangible traces of us and our predecessors as a starting point in the world we now know as Kempenland, the Identity Factory Southeast presents exciting viewpoints and reflections than can be used as keys to experience the mental categories of humankind. Our narratives are not always reducing safe stories, as in most cultural leisure arrangements, but reflect the complex and often paradoxal conditions of life, spotted within the IDZO in meaningful, exiting frames.


Narrative techniques breaking out

In order to communicate these rather intricated stories we make use of three main narrative techniques. Firstly we systematically use a shifted perspective. This means that we gladly present for example the regional standard clishes of the copper-peddlar, the small peasant , smuggler. exuberant shooting-guidsman and hospitable regional gastronome from Kempenland, but that we at the same time also offer other viewpoints ('steps aside') to go back to the roots of these stereotypes and to indicate their representativeness and significance, how they were used by several groups as ideological icons and how they were exploited. In this way it is possible, as it were, to 'frolic' with the stratification of meaningful identities within a certain region.

The second narrative technique consists of the fragmentary curiosiy. By this we mean the educational method not to unfold a story from beginning to end in a pedantic, encyclopedic school way, but to appeal to the human tendency to zap. According to their interests and needs the visitors should be able to place very different things in a frisky way into a framework (i.e. the cultural biography of Kempenland), at which more and more is implemented during the visit. In this way there is a lot to be discovered and actually experienced (i.e. self-steeres experiences and not pre-cooked instant-emotions) for every group of visitors (the 'homo zappens' from intellectuals to children, from foreign migrants to natives.)


The third and last arrative technique concerns the deliberate use of metaphors. This implies that the themes being a starting point for self-adjustable arrangements are not plain, but give room for all kinds of associations, details and cross-connections. The person who chooses the theme 'outsiders' is not only offered places and events with regard to antisocial people, criminals and eccentric persons, but he or she also finds him- or herself for example in an institution for mentally handicapped persons (in which e.g. a studio for 'outsider-art' is domiciled) or is pointed in the natural landscape to the current tendency to eliminate all sorts of exotic objects in flora and fauna. By means of these narrative techniques very miscellaneous items, which in fact are always available but which are hardly ever seen in significant connection between each other, are surprisingly linked.

Breaking out of many hermetic sectors is deliberately pursued in this. That way museums, until now independently working, archeological site, monuments and landscapes are combined with each other into mindscapes and so culture is not reduced and detached to a 'musealized' product. Therefore, while choosing a name, we did not decide for the concept of '(eco)museum' but for metaphor '(identity) factory': in fact every cultural institution puts a well-defined, dominant meaning on objects by its way of selecting and presenting. Seen that way, cultural institutions can be considered 'factories' in which authorized meanings - without much discussion or reflection - are contantly produced. In itself there is nothing wrong about that, but within the IDZO the visitors are offered - according to their needs - a multitude of different viewpoints or 'keys' in order to fathopm out the stratifications and paradoxes of society in present and past times. In other words: within the IDZO reality is not reduced but on the contrary enlarged and intensified.


Cultural heritage and contemporary art combined

Furthermore it is essential that we do not only present cultural heritage (a mental construction prejected on reality) but that we also combine this with contemporay art by way of installations, exhibits and berformances. A regular partner in this is the Institute for Affordable Madness (Instituut voor Betaalbare Waanzin: IBW) in Eindhoven, subsidized by the Modriaan foundation, which, except from individual artists and theater makers (Anne van Delft, Wilma Marijnissen) who occasionally participate, repeatedly makes artistic comments (viewpoints) on matter which are important for the cultural biography of the region (e.g. the rettreat of the Philips- company or the swine fever; things about which there's nothing to experience e.g. in any museum even when it concerns matters experienced as traumatic by many inhabitants). This approach also offers many opportunities to actualize all the time.

Besides professional contemporary art activities a virtual arts laboratory is created under the name of @kunststad.nl in which visitors (also from outside through the internet) can experiment with all sorts of artistic basic principles (authentic sites in Kempenland as desired can for instance be 'wrapped' by analogy with Christo; by means of digitized museum collections personal collages or exhibitions can be made by the visitor). @kunststad.nl provides many educational possibilities to realize interaction with art from a range of standpoints. In the process of increasingly stressing the aesthetics musums usually give the wrong impression to be a locus veritatis. What many museums did not (want to) realize in this process of aesthetics is that they need an audience looking for esteem and information. Apart from that many museums for contemporary art are true believers of tehir own constructions. 'Beauty' is only one possible story - and attractive indeed - of a whole range of narratives. By their institutional power the aesthetic narrative is authorized to be one and only dominant design of their reality. But in those museums still images are collected which could provide smart reflections on what 'culture' might be, understood as an universal signifying practise of man - in fact a main point of representation in every cultural institution.


In our project the art-works housed in the museums are used practically; they are not sacrosanct idols but prosaic artifacts that challenge people with all kinds of viewpoints. In @kunststad.nl inspiring activities are provided virtually. Apart from that we are steadily linking relevant hard-ware presentations in the Kempenland-region itself. Everybody can participate in this process by simply plugging in on the internet, but the public intended firstly are school-students on various levels. @kunststad.nl as a metaphorical city has its own infrastructure with different squares and buildings. The virtual visitors arrive in the station where they find an overview of what is going on, f.e. in the tourist-board office in the main hall. In the museum interactive projects are realized connected with artists and their work. Guiding lines in these educational projects are always the concepts hidden behind the art-works. The visitor discovers modules of 'individuals' like 'Boltanski and the recipes', 'Richard Long and strolling', 'Lataster and poetry', ' Rainer and my own self-portrait', 'Dumas and the journals', 'Bacon and coincidence', 'Armando and the struggle', 'Van Warmerdam/Viola' and continuity' adn, to give just one other example, 'Picasso and the languages'. Main point is to stimulate a sensibility towards the narratives which are behind the objects. It is not our intention to let the artwork 'speak', but to bring the artifacts into discussion. These activities consequently can result in an art-work of the visitor that can play a role in several spots in the city, like the interactive gallery, the parl or the cinema.


In the factory of this virtual city projects are developed dealing with art in quite a different way. It is not the final product, but the events in the course of the manufacturing-process that intriques us here. So were not applying the traditional art-historian approach, f.e. working with components of imagery and style but we are fascinated by artistic actions and transformations of reality. This implicates projects like 'deleting with Baselitz', 'adding with Guido Geelen', 'repeating with Andy Warhol', 'enlarge with Oldenburg', 'wrapping with Christo', 'accumulate with ...', 'inverse with...', 'reduce with...' and so on. An other item in @kunststad.nl, to conclude, is for example the Whispering Gallery, where chains of art-works are made. From a given starting-point - a painting, poem or piece of music - visitors can contribute with their associative reaction, which has to be shaped however in another art-discipline. The chain only becomes visible when own attachment is added; before that only the last item will be visible.


Participation of inhabitants is crusial

It is clear that the cultural biography of the region is firstly and especially a human story which can not be presented without the people from the region itself. Participation of the inhabitants themselves is therefore of crusial importance: they must primarily be able to identify themselves with the modules of the IDZO (therefore an ego-documents program is part of the project). Only secondary, yet important, tourists 'from outside' are of importance, because for them goes that a region with a sound basis for cultural activities, at which one has affinity with and take pride in the 'own' civilization in all its shapes and forms (fine and vulgar, rural and urbanm Brabantine and metropolitan, honorable and criminal, common and deviant, orthodox and heretical, global and local, historic and current) goes beyond the smooth image of clishes with safe stories, up to a place of genuine experience. After all the consumer wants a flexible high quality product which can optimally be personilized. Clear connections between the different assets shaped by the concept of the regional cultural biography offer an essential excess value to the tourist leisure stay. In this way a region like Kempenland can be positiones on the cultural market with many commercial and imaginative opportunities.

1) G. Rooijakkers, 'In memoriam of pro memorie? Het Franse ecomuseum-concept en de Noordbrabantse werkplaatsen van het geheugen: een voorstel voor regionale museale samenwerkingsverbanden', Jaarverslag Raad voor Welzijn, Onderwijs en Cultuur Noord-Brabant 1995 ('s-Hertogenbosch 1996) 3-9

2) S. Goedhart, R. Van Steen & K. Swart, De spin en het web. Scenario's woor museale samenwerkingsbanden in de regio Zuidoost-Brabant (Amsterdam: LA-group, 1998).

3) Identity Factory Southeast (IDZO), Hemelrijken 6, NL-5502 HM Veldhoven (+31-40-2533160), www.idzo.nl. The projects is coordinated by Win Langenhoff for management & marketing (wim_langenhof@hotmail.com), Pieter Mols for art & education (pmols@iaehv.nl) and Gerald Rooijakkers for cultural heritage (rooijakkers-vandeweijer@wxs.nl).

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