OHNO COOPERATION – The Tragedy of the Applause

pieter van bogaert


How beautiful ugly can be (and vice versa)

On The Tragedy of the Applause – Strombeek by OHNO COOPERATION

(for bksm-cahier ‘The Good, the Bad, the Ugly’ – 2010)

(liever nederlands? klik hier)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, that’s the name of the series of exhibitions on beauty held by bkSM. This an odd title, to say the least. The word beauty doesn’t even occur. Its opposite does: the ugly is there, alongside the good and the bad. What are we supposed to think about that? What significance should we impute to it? A few of the answers are provided by the OHNO COOPERATION in its contribution to this series: The Tragedy of the Applause – Strombeek.


In classical European philosophy it was for a long time accepted that the good and the round amount to the same thing. The well formed, the ring-shaped, the recurring-in-itself, these were the basis of its ontology. This conception of the good appears to recur in this exhibition (first circular movement).

The well formed is very important here. At the point where the lines to the vanishing point, the end and turning point of this exhibition, meet, hangs a picture by the Canadian photographer Jeff Wall. It shows two youths. Smooth bodies in a perfect photo in what is, moreover, a well-chosen place: on the wall of the round space that brings this exhibition to a close and makes it start all over again (another circular movement).

The design of this exhibition is well thought out. OHNO COOPERATION has built its own exhibition space in the existing exhibition area in the Cultural Centre. A room with an entrance and an exit, which together form a circuit (a circular movement). In this space the curators have assembled several works which each in their own way depict an aspect of popular music – the symbol of the refined arts, with its recurring beat (circular movement) and its eternal youth. The regenerative nature of pop music is reflected in the two generations of artists (Nicolas Field, b. 1975, and Maarten Seghers, b. 1982 on the one hand, Rombout Willems, b. 1953 and Jan Lauwers, b. 1957 on the other hand) and curators (these same Seghers and Lauwers). This ultimate circular movement keeps this work eternally young.


Michael Jackson’s best record is not called “Good”, but “Bad”. And that’s no accident. Good cannot exist without bad. They are condemned to each other. This tension is essential. That’s the way it is in pop music and the same applies to this exhibition, where Bad means Good.

bkSM in fact took the title for this series of exhibitions from a classic ‘spaghetti western’. Not a real western, but a fake one. So not a good one, but from the outset a bad one. A film, which, in its falseness, its badness, overtakes the true western. Everything is to excess. The picture is wider, the colours are stronger, the heroes harder and the music more insistent. Ennio Morricone’s harmonicas cut to the quick, his guitars sweep the viewer along through the most harrowing situations.

Jan Lauwers and Maarten Seghers have a film too: The OHNO Cooperation Conversation On The O.H.N.O.P.O.P.I.C.O.N.O. Ontology. You can watch it on their website. It looks like a western too, and the actors wear something that looks like spaghetti on their heads. And here too everything is at the same time worse and more real than in a genuine western. One cowboy is too old, the other too young. The first talks like a demented philosopher, the other like a clucking chicken. And the guitars sound completely washed out.

Jan Lauwers’ contribution to this exhibition, Last Guitar Monster, balances between these two films; between the bad and the really bad western. The saddle, the guitar, the circular movement (yet another), the little protected chap: they capture the essence of Sergio Leone’s film and the one by the OHNO COOPERATION in a single image. Petrified cinema.


The Tragedy of the Applause – Strombeek presents a very materialistic approach, which makes it quasi anti-aesthetic because it very nearly desublimates. Images, music, opinions and ideas are skilfully taken apart. Unravelled, as it is called here. Deconstructed, as we call it elsewhere.

Loudspeakers are removed from an iPod (Nicolas Field, Think Thrice). Microphones form a circuit with guitar amplifiers (Rombout Willems, receive-send-receive). Unstable plugs make for brief bouts of interference (Maarten Seghers, Fountain (Late-Pornographic-Balance)). A sculpture lies in the corner (Seghers again) – as if it’s been forgotten; like a plinth for a vanished work of art. Feedback starts as soon as visitors enter the room (Rombout Willems again, but also Jan Lauwers and Nicolas Field).

Of course it’s this visitor, this supplier of applause, this Ugly Bitch, that it’s all about. This is the factor the artists have no control over, the aspect that it’s impossible for the curators to programme in advance. Here, it is the viewer who decides whether it’s good or bad. Or ugly. Because it’s the visitor who causes the interference in movements and sound – the hissing and crackling which in less artistic surroundings we would plainly call ugly.


Quite appropriately, I visit this exhibition after seeing This door is too small (for a bear), an utterly insane production by Needcompany – the OHNO COOPERATION’s mother organisation. My applause has already been given: for slapstick presented as high art, an idiotic mess as tragic beauty. I willingly allow myself to be led round by Maarten Seghers: who only a while ago was onstage in This door… and is now in the gallery with The Tragedy… First an actor and now a curator and artist.

This last point is actually completely wrong – BAD! – in the context of the visual arts, where it is an unwritten rule that a curator never presents himself as an artist. But who is bothered about that anymore? Not me, blinded by his art, nor him, blinded by my applause. We walk round together like (bad?) Oedipuses, like (fake?) patricides or – in the words of a former pop idol – like (sexy?) motherfuckers, with eyes on stalks. Just to say how cruel beauty can be, so close to human things.