Interview with Edgar Hermans: Heritage as a bridge to the contemporary
The inclusion of historical and heritage sections in this edition of Manifesta has surprised and confused many - after all, Manifesta is the European Biennial of Contemporary Art. In the following interview Edgar Hermans, the M9 Cultural Heritage Coordinator, takes the time to explain the distinct advantages gained from the inclusion of cultural heritage in an exhibition of contemporary art. According to Hermans, “there is much cultural and social heritage that may even be more important than the material heritage left by the [mining] industry.”
Read further to hear Hermans speak of his first impressions of the inclusion of heritage in M9, the relation of the chosen objects to the past, their specific context and role in everyday use, and the potential of heritage objects to function as a bridge from local communities towards the often confusing and foreign shores of contemporary art.
What did you think when you heard that a heritage section was to become part of Manifesta 9, the European biennial of contemporary art?
Hermans: Like everybody, I was surprised, because Manifesta is a biennial for contemporary art, but the unique concept of curator Cuauhtémoc Medina, giving a prominent role to heritage and historical art in this exhibition of contemporary art, clearly makes sense. I think that after visiting the biennial, many people will wonder why this has not been done before.
Are the heritage objects in the show all related to the past?
Hermans: Yes indeed! And not just to the past, but more specifically to the history of the coalmining industry. Here, heritage should be seen as much more than just objects originating from the mines. There is much cultural and social heritage that may be even more important than the material heritage left by the industry.
What is, in this specific context, the role of all those different objects for everyday use?
Hermans: The seventeen small exhibitions of the heritage section give an impression of the enormous impact this short but intense industrial period had. They show that there were many cultural and social changes that in our time people are not even aware of. I hope they will also inspire the visitors and the local people involved in the preservation of heritage to look at "their" heritage with different eyes.
Could you give a concrete example?
Hermans: Look, for instance, at the Turkish prayer mats. Nowadays we all eat kebab and pizza, but many of us have forgotten that without the coalmining industry, there would have been no Turkish, Italian or Greek communities in Limburg. Much of what is now generally accepted and thought of as our cultural and social heritage, was in fact introduced by the migrant communities.
Do you think that for the local people, the heritage objects can play the role of a bridge to contemporary art?
Hermans: That is what we hope, and not only as far as the local people are concerned. Besides, the same applies to the historical works of art. Contemporary art is often conceptual, philosophical or even very much reserved. It requires that the viewer should not only have the imagination, but often also the knowledge to understand the works. The heritage and historical art sections of Manifesta 9 will certainly inspire many people who have no experience with contemporary art to make an effort and to discover how exciting and enriching art can be. Our education department is sure to make an important contribution towards realizing this objective.