PEER Paper issue 3 was launched in the beginning of October 2016 and contains, among others, my contribution on the theme of Notes: extracts from the “Conversations” I’ve had during this summer with Annemarie Vink, Pavél van Houten, Marc Robbemond, Linda Koene and Alexandra Nicolau, part of the Open Atelier project organized by PEER Paper Platform residency, with Kala Newman.
The booklet comes with a cover image by Annabelle Binnerts.
Conversations - June 2016
These situations never happened, at least not with us all at one table. Over the course of two weeks at Peer I recorded a series of public conversations with art professionals where we spoke on the topic of “setting up” -- a situation, a show, a publication, a career.
Our words merge into a single conversation throughout this booklet; browse them at will, from beginning-to-end or from any moment you like.
Annemarie Vink is a painter, 18th of June.
Pavel van Houten is a data artist, 19th of June.
Marc Robbemond is a poet, 22nd of June.
Linda Koene is a curator, 25th of June.
Alexandra Nicolau does artistic research, 26th of June.
I am Alina Lupu. I was born in 1985 in Romania and I’m an artist with an interest in studying social structures and allowing these to reveal themselves. I have a background in Psychology and Photography and I’ve recently completed a Bachelor in Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.
"But what do you want to record actually? What is it you want to record?
Just the conversation. I’m working on… do you know this text from Heinrich von Kleist? It’s on the gradual construction of thoughts through speech. It’s, uh, funny, he is just talking about how it shapes, how conversation is always the…
How you shape ideas through conversation.
It’s always more easy. You just need somebody else and you don’t even need the other person to respond to what you are saying, you just need a body as a surface to project whatever is inside. Basically it puts you in a state of emergency where you have to make your knowledge actual."
Mai Loan Gaudez - extract from "The subject is always you facing me”, 2016
Bulk of text:
Coffee, glasses of water, a pair of dice on a table in a cafe on Oudezijds Achterburgwal 133.
I wait through Indistinct and fast Dutch. I listen, but not much else, trying to piece together the signs of what I’ve learned in more than 3 years of being casually exposed to the language, but never fully immersed in it for longer periods of time. When the moment comes, a breath, a hint that the exchange is done, I enter the conversation.
26th of June
Alexandra Nicolau: I had a very intense social week combined with a lot of work, social as in openings, blah blah, more talks, Utrecht, Hilversum, Amsterdam later on.
Alina Lupu: What was opening?
AN: HKU opened, the game and interaction design, the fine arts department opened, the master of fine arts of Utrecht opened, the film academy… Ron Mandos and today there is a summer show in the North, quite a crowd of people.
AL: Do you go to the shows because you know people?
AN: Because I’m curious and I just like to say hello to people, people that I’ve worked with. Sometimes I know the artist, so I feel like I want to support them by being there, some of the people I just go to see the work of.
AL: You finished your studies already, a year ago?
AN: Yes. I did.
AL: And the opening of the masters program you did was last week as well.
AL: But you skipped that one. How come?
AN: Because somehow it just didn’t fit my… schedule is not accurate, I could have adjusted my schedule, but I just chose to go to Utrecht. I felt that it’s more important for me to go there. But I was planning to go today because they had a research presentation of their master thesis. Then I remembered of the other show in the North, so I think I’m going to skip them.
AL: This is the artistic research master at the UvA, which takes two years?
AL: And ends in a final show and a thesis.
AN: Yeah. And each year the group itself is responsible for organising and planning the show. Last year we had a big group, 11 people, and we were fortunate enough to be able to collaborate with the SMBA (Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam).
AL: Which now doesn’t exist anymore.
AN: Yes! It was a small space for 11 people, but we could manage to work together very well because some of us took care of the curatorial and practical issues.
AL: Did your teachers take any part in putting this together?
AN: No, but they were intermediaries in getting the space, which was important. They provided us with all of their guest lists, VIP lists and so on. This time, this year, there were only 3 students and they have…
AL: How come so little?
AN: Partly because people stopped during the program, I don’t know the reasons they had. I know a student which had practical or visa reasons from the beginning, he couldn’t get the funding he needed because of that. But the rest were fine and as it happens two of those 3 students I know because they were quite involved when I was still a student. But somehow our practices and our research does not match.
The artistic research master brings together artists with very different practices such as performance, video, poetry, classical music, dancing, painting. It’s very broad. Their main target are students in art, from music to visual arts, but they accepted during my studies students who had a theoretical background only and those students felt they wanted to be a part of a more creative group and they chose initially for an arts studies master, a twin master of my master. In the end they wanted to have a visual output and they thought artists are interesting people, so they joined us in our group.
I also know a girl who is studying now philosophy and she writes poetry and she really wanted to do artistic research which is why she got accepted.
AL: So, it doesn’t have to be visual based.
AL: But how do they deal with such a diverse group of artists? Do you get a space together? How does it happen?
AN: We get studio spaces which everyone is free to share and use in whatever manner they feel like it. During the first year we have a lot of classical university classes and we are mixed with art history students as well as cultural analysis students and then we have to work in groups, have to make assignments, have to write essays and papers. That’s the first year. The second year you are free to practice. You don’t get a lot of guidance for your practice, because it’s still an institution which depends on funding from the University of Amsterdam, so resources are quite limited in inviting artists, for example, to give workshops.
AL: But they are the ones that initiate this. You can’t just say out of your own initiative that you would like to have a certain artist.
AN: No, you cannot do that, unless it goes through the proper channels or it’s a one-time thing. My study coordinator believes that artists should be paid for those talks and they should be part of a system and while this is not possible he considers that it’s unfair in a way to just ask artists for favours.
At the beginning I had a bit of a problem with that. Because if you ask two or three people for a favour to have a talk once in a month… but then I realised that he’s right. You can’t just do it only once and you can’t just ask artist to share their practice for free. The practical reasons I understand, but it would be nice to have more than what the practicalities allow.
AL: They have a certain budget, no?
AN: Yeah, but I think that we weren’t pushy enough. We just took what was given to us, we had a really nice shared space together with Sandberg and Rietveld students, which made it more vivid, allowing us to check what others were doing. It made it possible, but as study construction that wasn’t really part of it.
AL: You get the space, you get a bit of guidance, you maybe get invited artists and you get to do a final show.
AL: And you ended up doing this masters after you’ve finished what exactly?
AN: I finished fine art education at the Utrecht school of Fine Arts where I was mainly focusing on painting and print techniques, I worked a lot with silkscreening, woodcut and linocut. I had a really intense way of working and together with the people who coordinated the workshop we had a nice collaborative atmosphere, but I graduated with a series of paintings and a thesis.
I trained for this profession since I was 10 years old. In Romania you could go to a pre-high school education within the arts. My father thought it was a good idea to do that. That meant to prepare for a drawing and painting exam.
This background also made me, every 3 or 4 years doubt my choices completely, because it felt like I knew what I was doing but somehow I wasn’t reaching a certain destination. The last education that I had showed me it was not so much about the destination, but of giving myself the chance to just look.
AL: Do you think as an artist there is a destination?
AN: That’s the thing, I don’t know.
AL: You just have the feeling that something is not yet reached.
AN: Yes. Why is that or how I’m not sure. I think that as an artist and as a human being I learned a lot by leaving my country and moving someplace else. On the other hand I still have to find my way.
AL: After how many years in the Netherlands.
AN: 9 almost.
AL: Do you think there is a way or a path or is what you’re doing right now and the way you’re doing it, all there is?
AN: I think the idea of a destination has to do with the way that I grew up and my previous education.
AL: What was the end result there?
AN: No matter what the subject was there you just had to have a good result compared to the others. You just had to be the first in line, have the higher grades.
AL: But this is a system of education. How about a system of being a professional artist? How do you think you can grade what you are trying to do?
AN: I don’t think you can ever grade. I had a very hard time when, during my education, people decided to grade me. I thought that was completely inappropriate. They explained to me their practical reasons why they had to do it.
AL: You mean in Romania?
AN: No, in the Netherlands there is also a grading system which only appeared in the second half of our last year of teaching, both in the master courses as well as in the bachelor ones.
In the master courses you’d get a grade and in the art academy you would get a grade at the end of your studies.
AL: A grade as in 1-10?
AL: What was your final grade?
AN: My final grade was 8.
AL: And how did it fare out in relation to others?
AN: I think 8 and 1/2 was the highest. They thought 9 was exceptional and 10 didn’t exist apparently, though it existed on paper.
AL: What could you even do to warrant being graded 10? I find it a bit funny. I haven’t gotten grades in the past 10 years. The system we have is a three tier system, there used to be a 4th tier, but that was eliminated. There is no system of excellency anymore, not on paper, not anywhere. You either pass, you are a doubt (where you get another chance) or you fail. It’s quite straightforward. It seems to be though at times quite opaque. The passing grades of my classmates are not known to the rest, unless separate discussions take place.
We’re not being compared one to the other, there is no scale to really compare one to another. Even if we were to use the same system, what would you grade one against another with? It’s a personal development process which cannot be valued against another person’s development.
AN: I believe these comparisons distracted me a lot in different places, different educations, different countries. Even now I have the tendency to compare myself.
AL: That can be valid in certain precise sciences, but in the art I cannot see the point. Unless it’s a matter of craftsmanship, where you have to follow technical steps in making, but the concept behind the making cannot really be graded. It’s a matter of me in relation to myself. Where I was before and where I am now.
25th of June.
AL: Are you an artist yourself?
Linda Koene: I studied art management.
AL: Art management? The two don’t immediately connect.
LK: That’s what we are doing now, art management. We’re giving the artist space to make or show work and we’re asking associations to support them.
AL: That’s the part we don’t actually learn as artists.
LK: That’s why they created the study. The art manager can connect the artists to other people that can support him or her.
AL: I, though, never knew your profession existed, so how do I connect to you then as an artist? How do you find your artists?
LK: We find them at graduation shows, a lot of artists send us mail when we have openings.
AL: The Academy where I study and academies in general tend to be cloisters. You go there, you study, at the end you set into the world and something happens to you. Mostly you become a professional in the field and somebody picks you up or you cluelessly wonder what you can do on your own. There are of course people meant to help with the next steps, but we have no idea how to get to them.
LK: You have a group of gallerists who can connect with you, they are also art managers, but they most likely come to you after a graduation show.
AL: It’s a moment when many things can happen, but until then you don’t really know about them, which is why for me it’s interesting to meet someone that does this, not particularly for my own interest, because the way I learned to make, or what I learned to do is not that easily placeable in a circuit, but there are also my fellow students which don’t get any training on what to do next.
LK: That’s true, you are really educated to be an artist and then suddenly out there and you have to understand what you want to do with your art.
AL: I think that’s an important thing that needs to be bridged earlier for everyone’s good.
LK: What I found interesting was that on our Academy we were studying the management skills, but we also had classes in art history and theory along with students which were studying fine arts, but we were never connected to each other through a project. It would be interesting to make a start of that right then.
18th of June.
AL: There’s a monastery sort of feeling. You are there for a certain period of time and only at the end, when you exit, do you show what you did.
Annemarie Vink: That’s when you’re perfect.
AL: You do see the difference. That makes me and all my other colleagues a bit unprepared for the world. You get one moment and that’s it. You don’t get this chance to know how to interact with a public or to see how people look at your work, you just get one chance.
AV: It’s a bit old fashioned. It would be nice to let everyone in and let everyone react on your work and this would give you the chance to grow.
AL: My teachers are pretty sure they want to have this closed structure.
AV: They really choose for this?
AV: On the one side you do need a time when you can be like in a monastery, but I think it’s very interesting to let people in and allow yourself to be very vulnerable.
AL: Maybe there is not enough time at this moment. An education is now three years and three years is not that much time to be vulnerable, to have failures, to present yourself to the world. You have cases like in Germany or Austria, I believe, where you used to have the option of taking 10 years to finish your bachelor.
AV: It was almost like a residency.
AL: Yes. But it’s no longer working like that. Now, you enter a system and you navigate it and you have to then be out of it really fast. You’re not prepared for what’s afterwards, but you go with it. Was this different from when you finished an academy?
AV: I’m thinking about it. I assumed that this monastery system would have been different nowadays. I thought that you would be prepared much more for the world. I assume it’s also based on the direction that you take.
AL: In my case the direction is Fine Arts - painting, sculpture, photography, performance. Applied design comes with a difference.
AV: You are not educated though in how to talk to a gallerist… how to…
AL: You never meet a gallerist until the very last weeks.
AL: You meet your teachers. They are artists as well, but you don’t really interact with the commercial side of things until the very end. At the Graduation show you get artists and gallerists coming, curators and so on.
AV: That’s strange. I thought by now it would be different. In my time it was even more a monastery and it had nothing to do with earning money or making a living. In one way it can be nice. You would only see shows, visit galleries, make your own thing, talk with teachers. Maybe it’s not very different from now. But I had a very difficult time. It was nice, but it was also difficult, because there weren’t a lot of inspiring teachers for example. There were inspiring students. And I was very young. I was 18 or 19. I was insecure. I liked drawing and painting but that’s all. And to feel that you’re becoming an artist at that age is very strange.
AL: I, for one, started studying art at 27. At 27 you already figure out that you want something else, you decide on a direction and you take less of a no for an answer, because you understand there is little time. I think though that it’s also nice to come from a different sort of background and to manage to blend the two, otherwise it can be tricky at such a young age to figure things out. It is tricky to say “I want to do this, I want to become an artist” when you’re 18 years old. But how did you solve this for yourself in the end? So, you graduated and then… at 23 or 4 maybe?
AV: And then things were better. Later on I chose free graphics - silkscreen, etchings, artisanal and technical art. I was fond of japanese woodprint. This was better suited for me that painting. On the other hand I missed a chance. I only started painting and nothing else in 2005.
AL: You took quite some time.
AV: My idea at the time was also making cheap work that is possible to buy for a lot of people, it had a social aspect to it.I like being anonymous now. But being an artist, being the painter, I think it’s less of an issue for me now.
AL: Maybe that never changes, depending just on the person.
AV: When being a painter you talk about higher prices, you talk about less people being reached by your work.
22nd of June.
Marc Robbemond: I’ve published in magazines and I’ve always looked for different ways to bring my poems to others. For example, once, at a party in Paradiso I printed three poems and I hung them in the place. This gets them into a completely different context than the poetry book sections in a book shop. People reading the poems there would never go to that small shelf in a bookstore to read them. Many might not like the poems, but at least they are exposed to them. This book (he shows me what he made during his residency) is also easier. It’s a pamphlet, it travels light, it’s cheap and I like the idea that people will buy it maybe for the image on one side of it. They will read it, or maybe they won’t, but it’s more accessible than buying a book, for example. You can sell it at different spots that are not bookshops. This concept of publishing has been successful. If I were to publish a book it might not reach people outside of a poetry circle. I also made stickers with poems and put them everywhere: at a traffic light, in toilets. I will never know if people read it.
AL: But is that important?
MR: It’s important that it’s out there. People can more easily find it.
Value - Selling
18th of June.
AV: Selling is ridiculous.
AL: I think about selling and I think about how to make a living as an artist, I think about what I have invested into my education, but I didn’t really have a plan on how to get that back. I gave my money, more than I considered earning it back from the arts. It’s for a good cause, for sure, but even so, I do wonder what’s next.
AV: Money and making art are two totally different things.
AL: It’s dangerous to say, but it’s really conflicting, don’t you think? I have a lot of colleagues who say “I have a lot of old stuff. It’s nice to make an open studio day. It’s old stuff that does not interest me anymore. I can just sell it for a few euros. It’s better than throwing it away, right?”. I consider that to be painful. I mean, everything is free to be considered, but I think when you… but I’m Calvinistic, so we talked about this before.
AL: From a religious standpoint.
AV: It’s simply not good when people say that.
AL: The thing you make still has the value you attribute to it. Just because someone did not want to buy it, it won’t become meaningless. I still invest - money, effort, thinking time - all of these things are invested in a production that cannot really be sold because it’s a moment that will be accessible to others. Simply because I can’t sell it that doesn’t mean that it carries less of an importance or that I lost my money creating it. It was driven by a desire.
AV: But when there is someone coming and would like to have just a part of it, let’s say, for 10 euros... Or when it’s old work you did a long time ago, how can you act? I think what you sell needs to be good and evaluated as such.
AL: Sometimes an old thing might even gain value by talking about someone’s beginnings.
AV: It’s better to set it aside.
19th of June.
Pavel van Houten: One example is for the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. They asked me to make a work for an exhibition. They were renovating all of his well known pieces and the exhibition was about the renovation. They renovated in the museum, so the visitors could see how the renovation took place. You could see how renovations were done throughout the centuries and in the end what I made was a project about the cracks in the paint. I monitored paintings before and after to see which cracks had disappeared.
AL: But they kept some?
PH: Yeah, it’s a very complicated story, but in short some cracks are bad and some cracks are good.
AL: If you can say so!
We fall into realising the comedy of the situation.
PH: Some go so deep that you don’t see the painting anymore. Some cracks are very superficial.
AN: I did restoration. So, it has to be visible when you restored a painting. It has to still be obvious that the painting is not new.
PH: In America they do restore it like it’s new. It’s a different approach than the Dutch approach. I also did a bit of research about that. I made a map of all the different cracks. The painting is really big, it’s 3m by 1,5m and I made a map of these dimensions and I coded all the cracks. There were 12.000 in total. I’ve gathered the codes in books and you could make a link between the cracks and the maps which were displayed. The books also had an ode to decay as well. On the other side of the room I displayed a map of all of the cracks in the room itself.
AL: That is very site specific.
PH: For me it had to do with the ritual of how we create value. Cracks on a paintings are restored with very much care, while cracks in the wall of a museum are swiftly covered. But now the cracks are displayed in a museum. So they can become in a way more important than the painting. They create a beautiful structure which mimics nature, it looked almost like a landscape. In fact many people thought it was one. A Google map rendition with geographical coordinates.
AL: And that was purchased by the museum?
PH: Yes, it was purchased for zero Euros.
AL: Talking about value.
19th of June.
PH: … that’s the Bijdrage Jong Talent. 2 years.
Kala Newman: And then there’s just development support.
PH: But that’s more for research, or a project, or residency.
KN: They also have one where you can just work for two years.
PH: Praktijk Bijdrage. If I would go to Italy for two years to study ceramics I could apply for something like that.
AL: But how do you apply for something like that? Is it a matter of having done it in the past: “Please support me for what I want to do in the future?”.
PH: No, you have to be a bit more specific. This is what I did in the past, this is where I am now, this is where I want to be in four years.
PH: And these type of projects will help me to get there, this is the direction I want to go in, these are the topics I want to research.
AL: So you have to already know.
PH: But it can be quite open as well. In the evaluation it has to be clear why you took the steps you took, but you don’t have to do exactly the things you said you would do, unlike when you apply for a particular project, where every change is subjected to approval. In certain cases you also have to follow goals - how many press articles you have to have, how many people you should reach, all these things which come in black and white and you need to autograph underneath. In my case it’s quite nice that I can (with this new funding) do things for myself, but with the idea to produce something for someone else. The research is an interest I have without a specific outcome.
AL: But your work always requires other people needing it.
PH: My work has to work in some kind of interaction.
25th of June.
AL: For the projects you’re making you apply for funding with the projects of your artists?
LK: It’s a combination. Sometimes you use proposals, sometimes we just use the CV’s and portfolios of what people already made and we write down what we think we’d like to show and why we think it would fit the program. The process differs from project to project. But the artists can also apply for funding themselves, especially if they are good at it. When they need help we can assist. There are different questions and different criteria for each funding.
The funding we provide for the artists is mostly materials and sometimes a small fee. There are cases when we can’t offer this, so we could only afford to pay for some travel expenses.
AL: And they had to produce the work themselves.
AL: Many artists do this, but in the long term it’s not really a sustainable practice. The model of being an artist is a bit fragile at times.
KN: You also have residencies which ask artists to pay to be there.
AL: Overall you have to learn to navigate a system which wants work from you, is not willing to always offer you the means to make it, and you also have to support yourself.
There is no artist’s salary, there is no space. My issue is knowing that I can’t apply for any funding for the first year after graduating, I have to keep it afloat, understanding what I want to do next, but also live, eat, in Amsterdam which is the most welcoming city in terms of its living costs.
LK: You have to figure out whether you’re going to work next to it. If you’re going to serve coffee in a bar, is this something you can combine with your artistic practice?
AL: But does that make it any less your profession? I was talking to Kala, for example, and she said that you need to be fully invested in her profession in order to call herself an artist.
KN: That’s for me a personal decision. I can’t be a part-time artist. I can only be an artist if I am a full-time one.
LK: For everyone that’s different. Another artist told me that he works a couple of weeks or months to make money and then he just focuses on making his projects.
AL: Many artists I know are wonderful baristas, cooks etc.I have an example from the ‘70s, the name of a work by Ben Kinmont, “Sometimes a nicer sculpture is being able to provide a living for your family”.
KN: I’m not saying you can switch it off. I’m just saying that I’m not doing it at the moment.
AL: You can’t punch out at the end of the day.
KN: I wouldn’t count on funding, to be honest. Probably because there’s going to be less and less funding. There needs to be a different way of making it happen. I recommend people to think around funding.
AL: The way I’ve been doing it is working full-time and several times part-time in order to support myself in being and studying to be an artist. But I don’t think it’s manageable in the end because I cannot just do five things daily.
KN: But you can make money out of art.
AL: Selling works?
LK: Or doing projects for companies or having a project that you can visit festivals with.
KN: A museum can even ask you to do something.
AL: From what I’ve heard if a museum asks you to make a project the earnings of that are at best a few hundred euros for which you have to be grateful.
LK: I think it’s a good thing that funding can help you develop your work as an artist and stay for a while focused on your career and work on creating your art. And the other projects are there for the daily groundwork. You can say you can do a few years of this from funding and after you have more possibilities to connect and make.
AL: Maybe there could be a grace period for funding.
KN: Many people collapse without funding.
AL: Or move to other fields. Not everyone who studies in this field can become an artist.
Numbers, dice, chance
19th of June.
Pavel looks closely at the table that ties together the space between us.
PH: Is the dice part of the conversation?
He takes between his fingers a single dice, lying on the table, unnoticed until now.
AL: Kala found it the other day, on the table after you left your data tours.
KN: I thought maybe it had something to do with the tours, but it might just be a tourist that left it behind.
He throws the dice three times on the table’s surface. It spins and falls on random numbers.
PH: I should have done something with dice in the tour.
AL: It would have fit perfectly. But you are still doing the tours?
PH: For now it’s done. I might do it again. But I’m not sure.
AL: If the funding comes.
We laugh, but we know.
The dice falls.
In the tours Pavel held there were more numbered options. You started with 1 and could lead up to 9. Each number defined a type. You could be assigned one of these after you’ve completed a series of number-based questions. Each of the numbers was marked on one of the pillars in the cafe, from top to bottom. Based on the number you got and the intensity of your belonging to it, you would be assigned dots. Green dots stood for belonging. Red, for rejection of a number. They came in small and large dot size. 9 was by far the reddest.
KN: I know nine very well.
PH: I know nine very well. Six, four.
KN: And two is about finding your counterpart?
PH: You are always looking for harmony, someone else to fulfil you. Number one is that you have a very explosive temperament.
KN: Which one is the builder?
PH: four is the builder.
I threw the single die we had between us and, with no hesitation, it landed on 1..
PH: Explosive. Nice! Five is restless, yet always very sincere and just. But cannot stay in one place. Six loves his family and always has a shoulder to cry on. And nine was: you always want to fulfil the tasks you’ve started and you didn’t want to do two things at the same time because you would have to split your energy.
KN: I think a lot of people would love to be nine.
PH: No, I have the idea that people really want to do a lot of things and don’t want to be pinned down on one person or a thing to do. They want to have a family and a nice job and fun and sports and… they don’t want to have one job where they do every day the same thing. They want to have many options so they can be vibrant and dynamic.
KN: I thought it’s more like: if I wanted to bake a pie I would just do this. Then I would read a book or write. Rather than doing half jobs, just doing one thing with full commitment.
PH: But people are afraid to just do one thing because then they might be missing out. If I just took one day to cook a pie, think of all the things I could have done instead!
KN: It might just take you only half an hour if you take the time to just do that one thing. It’s more time efficient.
PH: It’s true but I don’t think that’s how people react.
AL: So that’s why it’s very red up there.
Each of the numbers was marked on one of the pillars in the cafe, from top to bottom. Based on the number you got and the intensity of your belonging to it, you would be assigned dots. Green dots stood for belonging. Red, for rejection of a number. They came in small and large dot size. 9 was by far the reddest.
KN: Many people thought it’s actually very negative, but in reality, if you can do that it’s very healthy I think.
PH: My father is one of the big green dots in 9.
AL: And which one are you?
PH: I was 6. Family, harmony, taking care of the ones you love.
KN: The fun thing is that it’s so random. That’s my interpretation of the science behind it.
PH: Yes, it is quite random.
How many are left in the business?
18th of June.
AL: I wonder (...) how many of the people you were studying with continued doing what they studied for?
AV: Not so many. It’s difficult to say that. Lots of them don’t work anymore in the arts because they went into other directions.
AL: Is what they do at least related to the field?
AV: With a few, yes. Lots of them build websites. A friend of mine works for an accounting office for artists.
AL: I think that’s nice in a way, because you still speak a similar language, you know the field.
AV: A lot of my former colleagues are though a bit frustrated that they didn’t continue directly in the field.
AL: But do you think every person that went to an art academy should continue to do what they did during their studies?
AV: No, absolutely not! But it’s possible that after 15 years, for example, after you’ve taken a break - I’ve had two children in the meantime, they are older now - that you can have a lot more time for your work. I was at all times busy doing things, teaching, but on a much less intensive way, but now I’m back.
AL: The rhythm you have in an academy is artificial.
AV: There are artists who can support this outside of an Academy structure.
AL: Yes, but I don’t think on their own. They have studios, they have assistants, they have networks, gallerists. It’s not a one-man-show. The academy is a training for what is possible on a higher level, but it’s not truly realistic.
AV: There is the question of actual living, of working to make a living. But your outlook on life doesn’t change.
19th of June.
AL: I’m wondering how many people give up. You wait a year, two… and then…
PH: The first year after Sandberg I didn’t do anything, I just worked as a Photoshopper in a photo studio, then I had the Graduation show and I got a lot of press for the show. I thought that was the moment that it was happening. But then nothing did happen. The first funding I got was when I set up an exhibition space in a church in Amsterdam.
AL: Which you initiated and took care of.
PH: I got funding from that but it wasn’t for my own work. It was for three artists I invited to make a work. But that worked out really well. It was from the AfK. Then it slowly got better. But first I mostly did projects with other people or I curated exhibitions. I set up a church with other people.
AL: You set up a church? What do you mean by that?
PH: There is a reverend. He’s a young guy, like me, and every second Sunday we made interactive evenings with people around religious themes. The guy leading it wanted to combine art with Christianity. His theory was that “Christians always talk to other Christians” and this is like a loop in which nothing changes, so he wanted other people talking about Christianity so that things would change.
AL: Like artists that talk with artists.
PH: Yes. Kind of like that. Which is interesting because you can go really deep, but it’s kind of a loop. And it was really interesting, really fun. We did everything ourselves. We were a group of seven people. We thought of performances to do, lectures we wrote ourselves, really fun and experimental and successful evenings. I did that for a year without being paid anything. Zero. And then slowly I started to get assignments from that.
AL: But isn’t there any clash between religion and art?
PH: No, why would there be any clash? Religion and art have been together for centuries.
AL: I’m thinking there are a lot of atheist artists. Religion and art don’t really go hand in hand.
PH: The art world is quite suspicious of religion. Also in the Rietveld, where I graduated with a book about Mary. At the Sandberg I graduated with a video work about Judas and all the teachers were really scared that I might be friends with the Pope, or something like this. But I wasn’t talking with the Pope, I was talking with Judas. It’s a book that is 2.000 years old. I’m reading that and I’m making work about that. I don’t associate myself with the church but it was difficult. They were very scared that the work would be very dogmatic and try to convert people to become christians.
KN: That’s one of the biggest fears for atheists and maybe for artists.
PH: The events I made I curated along with Rita and Kim, it was a big art route in Amsterdam West, it was called the “Path of suffering: the 14 stations of the cross”. It was beautiful. We looked for 14 locations in public space where people were suffering and we invited artists to do something there. For example, Merel Noolander interviewed people on that street about people that died. A woman for example had an abortion. There was a man who lost his wife. With the interviews she made collages so you could see them as you walked by. You could see these in the windows. This started a lot of talks about normally not-spoken-about things.
At first when we asked people to be a part of it they were very suspicious about it saying that this deals with religion and they didn’t know how to relate to it and they were wondering if they were being used to push the Christian agenda.
When they were finished with it though a lot of religious stations interviewed the artists and asked them if they turned into Christians. I think all the artists that were there were actually atheists.
AL: “So, did it work?”
PH: It was almost as if when you work on a religious theme you become religious.
AN: But you are a Christian, right?
PH: No, absolutely not.
KN: It’s also a matter of a culture in history.
PH: I think the Bible is just such an interesting book. I think Christianity is interesting in showing how in small things you can bring to mind the big things. I’m also fascinated by rituals in general. How something insignificant can become important, like wine in a glass becoming the blood of Christ.
The dice falls again.
26th of June.
AL: Where are you now?
AN: Where am I now?
AL: What do you do now?
AN: Good question. It feels like I’m doing a lot, but I think mainly I am looking at what people are doing around me with art. I’m trying to understand how artistic institutions like schools function. How do they teach? I worked for galleries and for artistic institutions. I stopped, but I’m still interested in the mechanisms behind these. I worked in organising artistic projects which also made me wonder how they function and at the end of the day how does an artwork comes to the public and how is it shaped? I see how things work from one country to the next, in different cities.
AL: Do you do this as an artist or do you think you are in stand-by as an artist?
AN: I’m not sure. It could be a stand-by position as an artist, but recently, for example I was asked to write a review about an art-fair and I realised I could only do that from an artist’s position, from the perspective of someone who creates a work. How do I look at display and interactions between artists, galleries, handlers etc? I don’t think it’s a stand-by position… but I swing. From sometimes a quite critical position to… maybe a more affect-based point of view.
I don’t have an issue with not labelling myself as an artist. You feel sometimes that people that are not making anymore, they are no longer are artists anymore, but I don’t think that’s my case. I also think that if making would be such an important drive in myself I would make it happen. The fact that I don’t do that right now tells me that I’m shifting to the position of more of an observer.
AL: What about the fact that it’s been your drive for such a long time?
AN: I think it was a drive given to me by others, not so much coming from myself. It was given to me by my family, specially by my father. Afterwards it was shaped by my friends and their common interests. We shared these and a certain lifestyle and I think only when I was about 26 did I become truly aware that this can be a choice. If I would go and study art again it would be finally my choice.
AL: That’s a matter of studying art, but what about, let’s say you get a studio tomorrow, would that motivate you to make again?
AN: I recently turned down a space thinking that I feel obliged to say yes because it’s free, knowing how difficult it is to get a space, but then I thought about it and I realised I can’t say yes just based on a moral issue. I didn’t feel like making something at that point.
AL: It’s a decision taken?
AN: Yes. I think I stepped away from making. Even though I was conscious of my artistic education I didn’t yet find in myself the freedom of the myth of having to make.
22nd of June.
MR: At a quarter to 8 we open. I mostly don’t take care of the shifts then. I am an evening person. Well, sometimes I do and then you have to wake at a quarter to 7.
AL: But at least you live close by.
MR: Yes, I do, so that is not so much a problem, but it is so early! And you build up the whole store. The good thing is that you can also finish early so you can go out. In the winter it can be tough though. Half of the store is placed outside.
AL: What do you do otherwise? You write?
MR: Yes, but my main job is at the Athenaeum, the book and magazine shop on the Spui, the thing I like to do the most.
AL: Not writing?
AL: That’s interesting when everyone is trying to mask their actual job and only say what they enjoy doing.
MR: It never makes me happy… writing. I always did it, for a long time now, but it’s not something that I always enjoyed. It’s been quite a struggle.
We pause for a second while the thought sinks between us.
MR: I feel better while working, but if I finish a poem it’s clearly satisfying, it gives a kick. From the first to the last sentence I really have a feeling the words are in the right place, the tempo is OK, I like what happens to the language, I like how the sentences interfere and interact with each other. Sometimes you just write it in ten minutes and sometimes it takes a very long process, sometimes three months. Some poems take three months and they are still not good. It takes looking at them one year later… in the end there can be poems that never really reach a final state, or haven’t yet.
I listen to other poets and I think the same. They have finished poems, you can call them that, but they don’t have this certain electricity in them.
I would say my expectations of my own poems are really high, which is something easy to run away from. Sometimes you have to dig quite deep and go into the world of the poem. It’s not always very enjoyable.
I reach to the windowsill behind us, where Marc’s publications stand. He made two during the residency, pamphlets, gathering poems which are older as well as new attempts.
AL: Can I ask you to open it?
MR: I wrote this circa 2003. I usually don’t read this is in English, but I can do it this time.
There is the washing up
It snows. I put snow on my table
and arrange the snow.
I have an empty room.
I have everything in my cupboards.
My room is full of cupboards.
I drink three glasses of water
I look out of the window,
it stopped snowing.
There is the washing up
It snows. I put snow on my table
and arrange the snow
The ceiling is empty.
There are no lamps hanging.
All lamps are on the floor.
It stopped snowing.
I look out the window
I drink a glass of water,
There is the washing up.
It snows. I put snow on my table
And arrange the snow.
MR: There is repetition, but things change. The situation is the same, but it constantly stops and starts snowing. If you would just describe what is happening there would be maybe three sentences.
AL: Things that stay constant and slight things that change within those things that stay constant.
I haven’t seen your notes, but I can imagine you catch a lot.
MR: Yes, a lot of things that are happening around me, things that people say, the snippets that you hear on the street when you pass them and the people pass you. With some sentences you really can think, what is the story before and after that sentence? It’s also nice when people make mistakes and they all of a sudden use a word which becomes electric through misuse.
AL: In your case then, you have to be exposed to people in what you do, you have to be in the open.
MR: And interfere with society, sure.
AL: You need your moments of going back and looking at what happens, but there’s this very romantic idea of the artist which simply goes into their studio and shuts down the world, but the world can bring you so much if you just take down the walls which lead to it. It’s a tricky balance.
22nd of June.
MR: It can take two years to make a pamphlet. I could force it.
AL: But it’s not about making and making and making.
MR: But then it’s true that when you push it you’re more likely… it’s like exercise. You’re more fit if you do it every week, let’s say. There’s so much connected to how you feel language, the sound of language, together with the topics you write about. The more you put words in or take them out the better fit the system is.
AL: There’s no time when you are not surrounded by words though.
MR: And I always make notes.
AL: You’re exercising it, but it doesn’t mean it ends up in a poem automatically.
19th of June.
AL: Did you think of what to do next?
PH: The next project is more about worth.
AL: The value of things?
PH: Because of the data tours I’ve been asked to do a research about water quality in Amsterdam. I was asked by a woman from Deltaris. It’s a bit company that does research about water quality, coastlines etc. She mentioned that water quality changes per location in Amsterdam and per time of day and per day. It changes constantly. That’s why the government can’t really check the water quality. You can’t give general qualifications about water in the city.
KN: People that make coffee also know a lot about water. They always check the hardness of the water, they filter it. I’ve noticed my machines are getting more calc in the city center than there was before in De Pijp.
PH: As a kid I had to do a test. We were all asked to bring a glass of water from home. Everybody lived in a different location and every location has it’s own type of water. This was in a city in the south, in Breda.
This project I’m now making will also have to do with data.
KN: But fluctuating data.
PH: For other people it’s just data, but for me it’s a story.
KN: You’d make a good accountant.
PH: Yes, I love accounting! This morning I was doing that as well.
AL: How many people can say that?
PH: I think it’s fun. I have my receipts, I have my lists.
KN: It also takes you back in time in a way.
AL: Religion and accountancy.
PH: If I wouldn’t have gotten into the Sandberg, then I would have started econometry. It’s only the data side of statistics. Calculating, if a person buys a beer, a beer being 2,50, how much value that has for society. This is called a multiplier effect. If I spend 2,50 on a beer, the owner of a bar earns as well. Once the economy goes bad the government pumps money into it to allow it to multiply and create more value than it was put in. It would have been fun to have studied this.
AL: But studying never really ends.
PH: I recently took up Spanish and it was fun to sit behind a desk and have your homework done, correct your homework and be done. In principle there is a box of information and all you have to do is take things out of that box. This is really refreshing in contrast to the Rietveld where everything has to come out of you.
KN: It’s reassuring.
PH: It’s comfortable. Now I know what the word for plate is, I have that information and I store it. I don’t think if I would be really involved in econometry though I wouldn’t want to also put some things into the box. With Spanish it’s a different matter.
KN: Why Spanish?
PH: Because I was in Spain at that time. I wanted to work in a gallery there. But it was a very boring gallery, so I quit after 3 hours. I sat there and I couldn’t speak any Spanish. There were 3 people coming into the place every day on average and the gallery sold one thing every 2 or 3 months. I could sit there the whole time, but there was no point.
AL: Applied statistics.
PH: I thought instead of working in a gallery I could go to school and learn Spanish.
AL: And how is your command of Spanish now?
PH: Poor. I’m thinking of the word poor in Spanish. “Pobre”! I did a project in Spain about measuring the coastal line and the whole project I did in Spanish. The curator did not speak in English.
AL: So, it did serve a purpose.
KN: But the coastal line changed, you can’t really measure it.
AL: Because he learned Spanish?
PH: It’s called the coastline paradox. I’m really interested in how science tries to reconstruct reality and fix it. But nature is just nature. We try to put a layer on top of it. With the coastal line we try to put a layer on top of it as well. I measured it from a city that’s in the water - Cadiz. I wanted to create a number for the coastal line, because every different way of measuring has a different outline. One was 30 Km, the other one was 70 Km. It’s a worldwide problem. In Norway they remeasured their coastal line and it was 18.000 Km extra coastline. Let’s take, for example, a flower. The one between us. You can go once around it and have the length of half a meter, but if you want you can also go in all the little petals and it becomes one Km, and on a microscopical level you have another side. Nature doesn’t end. It’s not a reality in a computer. Our own reality doesn’t have a precise number. You can use the same system to compare things, but you can’t really say something about the essence of the plant. That’s what I did with the coastal line. It had a lot to do with perception. What every person I worked with thought the coastal line was.
AL: How many ways of measuring the coastline did you get?
AL: So that did have a limit.
PH: Well, actually it was six, because I also did this with high tide and low tide, where there’s also a difference. With low tide all the rocks are outside the water and this almost doubles the length of the line. When you calculate things you actually end up with very philosophical questions. We ended up with asking “where is the coastal line?”. We did workshops with kids. I asked them to measure the coastal line, but if a wave comes in and out and you can’t catch it, and that wave also has little foam bubbles that you should take into account, you end up with a very difficult questions: “when does a wave end?”. The questions are practical, but these questions can be poetry.
End of the day comes over the coffee place, it’s nearly 18:00. The recorder shuts down, coffee is finished, we get up as the tables get cleared.
Let’s come back one day.