Issue #021 Published: 17-12-2018 // Written by: Ayse Tosun

A Unique Haven for the Unfinished: Café Chercher

It’s a Tuesday night, you are sitting in a small, circular building in the heart of the Amsterdam, with a dozen strangers seated around you. As you look around and try to gauge the atmosphere, you notice the smell of homemade soup. It makes you feel strangely welcome. Then suddenly the crowd shifts. The host briefly introduces herself and announces the first contribution of the evening. And here she is: a girl around your age standing in front of a projection screen preparing to present.

The stage is all hers, but it’s not going as straightforwardly as one would hope. On the contrary, she is struggling to get the image from her laptop to show on the projection screen. The crowd sits still. No one is interfering to help, and you feel a tingling, strangely familiar anxiety build up inside you. The kind of anxiety anyone who has ever had to present anything knows all too well. 

“Should I do something? She is clearly having trouble.” But as your thoughts race, you too end up paralyzed by this collective inaction. After several minutes of rigorous trial and error, she has her desktop image projected onto the screen. However, her laptop is aggressively refusing to comply with her demands, breaking down with a slew of error messages, leaving her without the visual representation of whatever it was she intended to share. She is on her own now.

Then, with trembling hands, she starts to recite a text from a crumpled piece of paper she has in her hands. The text starts out somewhat poetic, delving into the relationship between man and technology, and how it can breed “indifference and inaction”... 

That is when you realize that all the thoughts and silent reactions you had within the space of the last five minutes were in fact part of a meticulously laid out, unnerving plan. As she finishes reading, she introduces herself.

Her name is Sara Lott, she is a master’s student at the University of Amsterdam, and this is all part of her performance.
Then you realise this is all part of the experience, at Café Chercher.

The motto: Dare to Share

Café Chercher is a monthly gathering for “unfinished” research projects, offering a platform for practitioners, students, PhD researchers, professors and artists, from institutional and non-institutional backgrounds. Each gathering features several contributions, which appear in a myriad of forms, thematically existing between the realms of art and science. 
Founded in 2014 by Dutch artist Emily Huurdeman and her then co-student Edgar M. Caramaño, Café Chercher began as a community experiment to bring different people from different disciplines and (non-)institutes together, in order to create an alternative, unique haven for the “unfinished”. Now led by Huurdeman and fellow artist Dalida Georgiou-Achmet, it is gearing up for a new season, at the Vox-Pop building of the University of Amsterdam, but Huurdeman states that the platform could also turn full “nomadic”.

Attendees witness interesting theoretical and practical crossovers, such as artists who do research, researchers who are involved in the arts, and everyone and -thing else inbetween. Gathering every last Tuesday of the month, participants and attendees are encouraged to share their questions, doubts, hypotheses, try-outs, and prototypes.

The importance of open endings...

If you are a student, researcher, artist, or simply someone who appreciates new ideas, then you are undoubtedly familiar with the dictum that  the “end result” is all important. No matter if it’s art, research, artistic research, or simply an idea on Kickstarter, we are eager to see the conclusion, and only then consider the before and after, and the working prototypes. However, much of the value we ascribe to the end product results from the space in between, the searching, the trial and error, the doubts, and the questions. This is where the magic happens. 

Instead of the black-boxed, finished result, which creates a line of defense when subjected to new audiences, Café Chercher chooses to honour the process of searching for answers. Huurdeman also suggests that the “friction” that arises from these colliding worlds of art, science, and institutional and non-institutional practices, make for a “plug and play” format, where new discussions emerge and fresh perspectives are offered. Insecurities are out in the open and hypotheses are tested. Despite using an institutional space, their aim is to reach out to a broader public, expanding their community and creating breathing space for experimentation int he meantime. 

Aside from being unexpectedly surprised, dealing with the unfinished in a neutral zone has plenty to offer, because looking beyond the black-boxes (out-thinking the box, really) is often overlooked – and if the goal is to discover and ideate something new, perhaps one needs to look no further. 

For more information on Café Chercher: www.cafechercher.org