KetelFactory, openminded and dynamic

In the brief period of its existence (since 2009) Schiedam's KetelFactory has acquired a remarkable status. This is a place where uncommon consideration is given to art. Here the spotlights focus on the artist's entire approach rather than on individual works; on movement, encounter and especially depth rather than on a static exhibition.

It all started with a gesture made by Carel Nolet, owner of the family-run distillery established in 1691 and known for products such as Ketel1 vodka. He wanted to give something back to Schiedam, feeling a commitment to the community. The building—which once housed a dairy business in the nineteenth century and then became part of an expanding Nolet complex in the twentieth—was made available by Nolet. He asked his cousin, the glass artist Winnie Teschmacher, to conceive a plan for a meaningful new use of this building. Whatever the plan would be, it had to benefit Schiedam. "I accepted the offer and began to think about the conditions under which I myself wish to show my work as an artist, and particularly about the way in which I prefer not to do so, having become wiser through experience. This is how it developed: the KetelFactory's formula of being an unusual place for visual art." Nolet provides the building; Winnie Teschmacher is responsible for the content and organization. An effective means of giving shape to contemporary patronage.

KetelFactory's space is relatively small, certainly in terms of the aims of its program. The grey, stone floor measures about 120 square meters; there are three fairly large walls and three smaller ones. Not exactly the kind of space needed for lavish displays of paintings and sculpture. Its staggered layout has a coercive and quirky character; in it the artist has to do something other than install a conventional survey of work. But what presents itself as a limitation soon becomes an opportunity to provide depth, to shed different light on the artist's specific mentality. No great amount of wall space is required for a portrayal of the context in which an artist creates his work.

Teschmacher, now director of the KetelFactory, has developed a formula mainly aimed at bringing about liveliness. She opts to show the outlooks of individual artists, leaving room for unexpected twists, in direct contact with a limited but highly involved audience. And, not insignificantly, with autonomy. Nolet provides the budget and has, almost on principle, decided to make the operation independent of government grants. Teschmacher determines the program. She invites an artist, who then selects a colleague with whom to exhibit; sometimes she might invite the two artists herself, should she wish to see a juxtaposition of their two types of work. "The idea, in any case, is that they are familiar with each other's work, that they visit each other's studios, enter into a dialogue and thereby conquer this space together. If possible, the artists produce site-specific work, as did Madelon Hooykaas with her video projection onto a wall drawing. Often that might not be an option if the artist has a time-consuming way of working, as in the case of Jan Andriesse, who installed an existing work.

In the KetelFactory's philosophy, it is important that visitors become acquainted with matters relevant to the artist and his work, preferably matters expressed by the artist himself. An effective form that serves this purpose is the video portrait produced by Kim Zeegers. Here the artist tells about his fascinations and sources of inspiration that play a significant role in his work. The portraits are clear and incisive. Shot against a background of several works, they show the artist talking about what intrigues him or her and thus give the viewer a glimpse into his inner world. As these portraits are placed on the website (, a digital catalogue will gradually take shape.

Every year there are five presentations, each lasting about eight weeks. A recent exhibition of work by Jan Andriesse and Winnie Teschmacher, in her capacity as glass artist, drew roughly 1500 visitors. Because of the limited size of the space, only some of them can be present at the in-depth moment, referred to—in keeping with the spirit of this place—as The Distillation. "For that day I ask the artists to elaborate on one of their fascinations, and then we see what speakers can be invited in connection with this. In the work of Karin van Pinxteren, for instance, the universe plays an important role. In that context we invited a professor of astronomy, a theologian and a writer to engage in a dialogue with each other and the artist, in the presence of an audience of no more than forty-five people. We always conclude these gatherings with a meal. Though it may be a discussion or a debate, it can also involve a lecture, a film or a concert. The Ives Ensemble, for instance, performed Morton Feldman's composition For Philip Guston in the midst of paintings by Steven Aalders and Ton van Os, both of whom drew inspiration from this composer of minimal music." The Distillation is about art and spirituality, about observation and thought. Allowing visitors to look at art in a different way: that's perhaps the mission which distinguishes the KetelFactory from so many other art institutions.

What to call the KetelFactory? A gallery, an exhibition facility, a museum? An artists' initiative, a platform for visual art? Winnie Teschmacher: "We're a bit of everything, actually. But not a museum, since we have no collection. We deliberately refrain from acquiring work in order to maintain as much room to maneuver as possible. At the close of the presentation, the artists take their work back to the studio, except of course when drawings or paintings have been done on the wall. That's when we do whitewashing. Our budget goes toward everythingthat serves the artist's aims in relation to the audience.

And to prevent the eight-week period from vanishing into oblivion, the process ends with a small publication. A pocket-sized catalogue. Beautifully made by graphic designer Berry van Gerwen, illustrated with photographs of the artists and their work, and provided with lucid essays, these books are collector's items in themselves. They are the apotheosis of an initiative which represents much more than an exhibition. A presentation at the KetelFactory is a work-in-progress, involving all the openness and liveliness intrinsic to art.

Frits de Coninck (translation Beth O’Brien)

Publicated in Museumtijdschrift, nr 7, november 2011

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