Interview by Jenny Wilson from the publication Mmm, Mohr Mohr Mohr, accompanying the exhibition As Art As Can Be in De Vishal Haarlem 2014.
JW: Your work in this exhibition is in a sense about looking at looking. You employ an almost scientific method of gathering visual information in order to analyse and reflect on our visual perception. At the same time the images you choose to analyse, such as a walk through the woods, instantly refer – within an arts context – to the traditional landscape genre. Could you expand on this relation?
You’re absolutely right about the scientific part of the project. For good measure, I would like to point out, that I don’t consider the work to be actual science. However, in order to pose questions like ‘what do we see’ and ‘does it make sense to speak of a reality detached from our experience of it’ and try to expand them beyond a simplistic subjective framing, I wanted to use the idiom of science – in a sense to make the works less about my personal artistic experience and more about the wider philosophical implications of my findings. I discovered while working on the project, that since it was predominantly about looking at looking (or looking at seeing), the imagery itself (i.e. the representations: a tree, a mast, a park etc.) became less important while trying to describe the process of looking/seeing moved more to the foreground. In most cases this simply worked best with outdoor footage. Also, the imagery couldn’t be too specific yet it had to be somewhat recognizable – almost archetypal. So a forest, or a park often provided the best combination of contrast, recognizability and mystique. The latter, mystique, is, as you seem to have guessed, of course an integral part of the overarching subject of the project as well. While ‘the sleep of reason produces monsters’, I think it’s also fair to say that too much reason (science) also produces its own monsters (by simply banning the notion of subjective/individual experience to a non-real realm – what is real is what we all agree upon, otherwise it’s merely (artistic) fantasy or hallucination). The title of a series of works, A Tree in the Forest, refers to the age-old conundrum of “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The references to landscape are thus meant more as references to the ‘potentially untamed’ in ourselves (and our cities), rather than the cultivated or controlled landscape.
JW: It is clear that cultural history (science, philosophy, art ) is an important frame of reference in your work and thinking, and that you explore these ideas using 21st century technology. Could you expand a little on ‘mystique’ as part of the overarching subject of the project? And would you say the computerised technology you employ has influenced the ‘mystique’ side to your art?
Re-reading my answer, I’m not sure ‘mystique’ was the best choice of words to describe what I meant. To me a work of art is first and foremost a look into someone else’s view of the world (or rather, someone else’s world). We may live mostly in a shared world, but individually we inhabit different worlds governed by our own past experiences, physical and mental capabilities etc. This makes it impossible to ever really share another person’s world and, in a sort of reciprocal logic we can never really know whether the other exists as more than a figment of our own mind (solipsism). Art is the exception to this as it acts like a bridge, offering a short glimpse into the world of the other, thus reaffirming the other and simultaneously oneself. Saccadic Sightings was a quite literal translation of this idea, i.e. attempting to literally see through someone else’s eyes, by visualizing the ‘raw input’. It could never really work, of course, but it might convey my thinking – and longing – behind the attempt. As such, it was also a hopelessly romantic gesture. I think the ‘mystique’ lies in the (romantic) longing and in the attempt to reveal something principally ‘unrevealable’, something from the depths of who we are.
As to whether computer technology has influenced my work, yes, certainly! I was originally trained as a painter (BA and MA) and even strove to learn the classical techniques. However, halfway through my study at FMI (at the painting department), I traded the paintbrush in for the computer. The degree and ease to which you can alter photographic information is thrilling, and opens up for ways to play with notions of authenticity, documentation, reality, experience, truth, vision, memory on both theoretical and visual levels. In my work, I often try to construct images which are clearly manipulated, but still retain a feel of being ‘authentic’ or ‘believable’ (or, as in Saccadic Sightings ‘scientific’). Here too, I think my goal is to bend the scientific pixel to portray my romantic view of the world, and through the ‘objectivity’ of the pixel allow others an entrance, a bridge, into my world.
JW: What made you or the curators, Willemijn Faber and Rob Bouwman, choose these works for the exhibition?
Rob chose the works on the grounds of what he thought would best fit his concept and the space. I generally agreed with his choice.
JW: You graduated from MFA Painting in 2001, how has your artistic practice developed since? Were you faced with crossroads or any key turning points?
Yes, plenty of choices, obstacles and crossroads since my graduation. To put it (very) briefly, I think the most important development in my practice has been a growing understanding of the position of art (and myself as an artist) within the art world and society in general.
JW: How do you see your future as an artist?
Same as always: just keep working, see where the work, my curiosity and questions lead me. I don’t really have a plan or a path that I wish or try to follow.
JW: And what do you think are essential components in helping you to achieve your aims?
Curiosity, drive, urgency, passion, reflection, critique, external/internal obstacles to overcome, and a decent computer, camera and studio.