Our first item of clothing is our skin. The body we are in. We cannot choose a color or a shape. Your skin, your body, your first suit already contains so much information and carries so much history with it and that affects your identity even before you have put on any piece of clothing.
(Work in progress: The inner, an inside-out costume consisting of organs made of textile)
Then follow the next layers with which you can influence that identity somewhat. As a person you always carry a context with you. If we could see that context as a piece of clothing, an extension of our body and we were able to wear it, what woud it look like? What would I wear?
When I travel I think about what makes me a stranger when I’m somewhere else, why the rules are suddenly different for me or don’t apply.
It can bring freedom. But sometimes it is too tight a framework.
For example, if you’ve been living somewhere for three months and people are still shouting “Welcome to my country!” then you suddenly feel a little less welcome, and you wonder when you are aloowed to become one of them.
While I visited Ethiopia in 2019 I started to wonder how I could wear my own context. Like a piece of clothing. Maybe I could make sure that people no longer had a reference and no starting point to compare me with anything.
How will they then approach that stranger?
I made a package or costume out of banana leaf and bamboo and grass that could completely cover me so that nothing of my own self was visible.
I walked down the street in it.
At first it felt safe inside the suit. Nobody saw me. Nobody knew what or who I was. I didn’t have to smile or to answer to anyone. But at some point I started to feel a little lonely. People made a lot of contact with me, but it wasn’t really me. I couldn’t see them and they couldn’t see me, at least not ‘really’. They made contact with my outside. I noticed that I wanted to reveal myself in order to make real contact and that I also wanted to own some parts of my supposed identity.
But I also noticed, because I became disconnected from people, that I didn’t actually show anything of myself. It wasn’t me who did the performance, it wasn’t me who was on ‘the stage’. It was the audience who responded to me, who did the real performance. They began to reveal themselves through my concealment.
Some people made a cross to ward of evil, others thought the suit was very beautiful and wanted to touch it. Some people thought it was a forgotten Ethiopian tradition. Some people were happy about it and others commented on how much bread you could have made from all that banana leaf.
The costume revealed the fear, pleasure, curiosity, practicality, misunderstanding, and sense of beauty in the people themselves.
Perhaps when people recognize little to refer to, they directly create their own individual context for something.
That says more about themselves than about the others.
Since then I have made more costumes (three of which are currently on display at Musuem Villa Mondriaan). The costumes are more than just a shell, they are an exploration of possible identities.
Which part is coincidence, which part is allocated and which part is a personal achievement?
Identities reside in a symbolic time and space in an imaginary geography. They are fictional, so to speak. Made up by a group, by an entire society or a political idea.
“Wearing” a stranger is a truly transformative activity. Although you are being watched yourself, you are secretly spying on your audience.
As an artist you are mostly preoccupied with stuff all the time. If you take artistry very physically, you actually see things moving around all the time. It’s a lot of dragging.
The third costume I’m making for the ‘Ferengi’ exhibition has everything to do with all that stuff that just keeps sticking to me. Some things for years. Some even belonged to a grandmother or grandfather… Really almost everyone has too much stuff.
In the book ‘Are we human?’ about design, it says that the one thing that distinguishes humans from animals is that they design and produce an infinite stream of things. With all that design, they finally also redesign their own behaviour and that makes humans the only species who, with all the necessary design that has been devised for their facilitated survival, ultimately also makes that same survival less and less likely. In other words, humans design their own demise and look at it with a strange mixture of pride and horror.
“Oh dear!” I thought, “how do I relate to this as an artist? I am a nest polluter! Maybe worse than many others!” I am pre-eminently busy putting my thoughts on the world in a physical form. Thoughts sprout from my mind made of wood, and rope and plastic and stuff and paint, objects of considerable size!
These things in their specific composition have indeed been spirited with an idea and a meaning, put into them by me and by the public, but once the work of art has done its job, I cannot deny that a lot of material is left meaningless.
The value of the material can suddenly be lost when the artwork is finished.
That is why I thought that for that third costume I could only recycle previous artworks and possibly use things that I already possessed and that had accidentally stuck to me while traveling or elsewhere.
It wanted it to become a kind of collected ‘thought cloud’ that shows how thoughts and ideas become a form of material.
Slightly round or convex. A Rolliebollie.
In my head that became the working title of the collection sphere.
In Namibia they call the dung beetle a rolliebollie. Nice word.
I wondered if there was any other similarity between the beetle’s dung ball and my work, other than the round shape and the fact that I felt like I was dragging around a lot of shit. Why does a dung beetle actually collect dung? I looked up a few things about the dung beetle. The beetle eats the dung, but also appears to be an important player in the field of diversity. Besides moving about 100 kilos of soil per year, a beetle also spreads a lot of seeds.
Perhaps you could say that an artist, and even more so a traveling artist, does the same for culture, providing diversity?
In addition, the Egyptians worshipped the scarab beetle as a sacred creature because the Egyptians believed that the beetle recreated itself over and over again. The beetle does indeed lay an egg in a rolliebollie from which a new beetle emerges. The dung beetle was therefore given the initials XPR in the hieroglyphs, where the X stands for origination, the P for creating and the R for transforming.
I may not eat things, but as an artist I do need them as ‘food’ for ideas.
I transform stuff, I could say…
Seen in this way, I actually think the above text on the bag is a compliment.
Yippee! I am a dung beetle!
Half a year after we have returned from our foreign productions and adventures, it is still adapting to Dutch life. When you live a life on the road you are always an exception and there are far fewer rules for a traveler than for someone who is permanently located somewhere. So much is suddenly possible when everyone knows that you will be gone soon! Back in the Netherlands, the system, to which even the art world is subject, suddenly becomes very clear. There is an extraordinary number of rules in the Netherlands. For example, dogs are not allowed to walk for themselves. How strange it seems, if you have been in 8 countries for a year where the dogs move freely between people, to see them walking on lines. Most rules are all meant to protect us and take care of us. We have many rights. If something goes wrong, a new rule will be added immediately. People get sleepy, but also grumpy, and complaining. After all, what can we bring in for ourselves in this neatly arranged life? What can we do our very best for? Everyone seems to be looking for meaning. What do we do all this for? Art seems to be able play a role in this whole, but what is that role? In a plea for the autonomy of the arts, Jeroen Boomgaard (Open 2006) says that art in society has the role of our conscience, of reflection and of the representation of things that seem to be forgotten in a world focused mainly on functionality and efficiency. But there is also a pitfall. The government is also aware of this. She knows that art can be used in that way. And therefore asks that the arts be used more and more efficiently. For the use of something. Artists can receive subsidies for solving problems related to loneliness, for example, or for innovative ideas that we can then apply in a very practical way. But with that, art loses its autonomy. Autonomous arts no longer exist at art academies as a study direction. Stripping the autonomy away from art also takes away the power that art has. It is made dependent and can therefore also be held liable for an alleged failure. Useful art can no longer function as a conscience. In a society that seems to have sacrificed most of its values for unimpeded economic market progress, the autonomy of the arts could offer an alternative. (Open 2006)
After having made several visits to the Dutch embassies in the various countries that we visited, it becomes even clearer how much the Netherlands is focused on the market economy, a dominant pivot that is never under discussion itself. The arts must be useful to society! That is the trend. If it does not yield a lot of money or an extraordinary status, then Dutch art abroad is not a cost for the government. In Africa, the Dutch embassies are always in the smallest building, preferably shared with Europe or something, because on that continent, there is nothing (more) for them to get. You can get a subsidy to set up a lucrative beer factory, but there is no money for arts and culture. Why would you invest in someone else’s society if you don’t get anything in return? Well … I don’t know the answer, but the French, the Belgians, the Norwegians and the Swedish do it.
Arriving here in the Netherlands again, it appears that an investigation has been demanded by the national government concerning work regulation on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Hans Borstlap, head of the investigative committee, concludes that there are too many self-employed people in the Netherlands who could actually be employed by large companies. I remember a while ago that Jet Bussemaker declared, as the then sitting Minister of Education and Culture, that artists should receive ‘normal’ wages just like everyone else. Yeah!!! called all the artists. Not realizing that what was actually said was this: “There is less subsidy for the arts and the arts need to be used even more usefull for the public good, because we want to pay for usefulness, and not for art itself.” Does this art system still work?
Anyway, now the work regulation committee of Hans Borstlap has proposed that all self-employed persons should be employed, unless … This means that all artists and dancers and theater makers and all kinds of other makers are obliged to demonstrate that they are unable or unwilling to work for companies or that there is no one who can or will hire them.
I thought to myself that I actually don’t mind being employed. Certainly if I can continue to do the great work that I already do. Then I would like to do that in service. So whom should I join? The government also clearly wants something from me (I am bombarded with letters from various government institutions, you too?), so maybe I should just apply for a job at the nation? I actually do exactly what they want from me, but now I usually do it for next to no money, so I don’t mind doing the same work and get normal payment for a change.
Below you can read my application letter in full:
Ministry of Education, Culture and Science February 12, 2020 Attn. Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister P.O. Box 16375 2500 BJ The Hague
Regarding: Open Application Attachments: CV and portfolio
Dear Mrs. Engelshoven,
I would like to apply for a permanent job as an artist in the service of the state. The reason for this is the presentation of the final report of the ‘Regulation of Work’ committee.
I am very motivated to continue my activities and professional practice as a professional artist. In recent years I have done this with great pleasure and success. With my work I inspire people, and I make an appropriate contribution to a healthy reflection on society and our national community. The reactions to my work confirm me in this, and I experience that many share this view with me.
But getting fair compensation for my work as an artist is increasingly an arduous process, which is also very distracting from what I am good at and what I enjoy doing, namely making art. It is increasingly becoming apparent that government funds made available for making art are already exhausted when quartermasters, culture brokers, policy advisers and other organizational elements have finished their work. The actual production of art, and the supply of the consequent value to society, is severely limited by this.
In the statements I read about the final report of the committee ‘Regulation of Work’, I see an opportunity to improve this in a pragmatic way. Since the results of my work mainly provide added value for Dutch society, I would like to apply to you as a performing artist. This seems to me to be the most obvious employer-employee relationship for permanent employment as an artist. Since there are no vacancies in this area, I would like to work with you on this in a creative and innovative way. Hence this open application.
My proposal is that I report directly to you, whereby frequency and content can be determined in mutual consultation. As a return service for a fixed fee, which as a starting point may not have to be more than the statutory minimum wage (undeniably many times less than the usual hiring rates for external personnel from the government), I will be able to continue my activities as an artist and continue to contribute positively to depolarization, inspiration, reflectivity, etc.
For an overview of my recent work, I would like to refer you to my website, www.makefactory.nl
My application is also in line with a previous appeal by Mrs. Jet Bussemaker, formerly Minister of Education, Culture and Science, who argued that artists should receive reasonable compensation for their work.
I would like to be invited by you to explain this orally, and to discuss the possibilities and form of a possible employment contract with you.
Thanks for your comment, Kind regards,
Well… what will be the answer to that? To be continued!
………….Art, what is it?
Is it an alternative? A surprise? A political choice? Disturbance?
In the Netherlands, so much context is created for art, that you already know what you can expect. The stage, the frame, the gallery, the museum, and the hierarchy between them, even streetart has become a standard presentation mode.
Tell me when was the last time you where captured, touched or overwhelmed by an art work without knowing how and when or where it came to you?
Without having to reflect on it, or think it through. Without being influenced by others first, but in a way that Martin Heideggerdiscribes as: “…in this way that the art work immediately revealed itself in all its splendour and severity” ?
How can art still be all those things as we like to experience it at best: surprising, disturbing, setting us aside, the alternative for the step-by-step-plan that our life is supposed to be. Our regular life in which we all created our own hierachy of priorities that we believe in. Even the arts have become a subject to its own discourse on which they depend. Is art supposed to be autonomous? How? Can it be a private entity that moves independently…………..?
This text is a small part of the research proposal:
How can we use art and art education as an alternative for the leading views on what society needs, repectively as an alternative for education that is based on measurability and control.
The research involves two major case studies.
Case one is called ‘The making of’ and it involves a module about art and free space in which students of 14 to 15 years old, try to follow their own creative process comparable to one that an artist experiences during the making of an artwork: receiving as little instructions as possible.
The second case is the project ‘Art parasite’. Makefactory is developing this together with artist Gigja Reynisdottir. In this case we will research how much or how little context an artwork needs to be understood, and how we can get around the ruling system and still be understood as art. In this case we are designing a mobile artwork that moves around everywhere like an autonomous entity, outside the context. We will travel to all the ‘must-see’ art biënnales uninvitedly and consult the public.