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This interdisciplinary performance artist, writer, and part of theatre collective Zina, a Female Economy, creates a poetic alternative.
What do you do in your professional life?
[…] It is precisely such a word as ‘professionalism’ that confuses me. Because on the one hand, I think: I’m not working professionally at all; but on the other hand, I would say I’m very professional… It places my life in a framework of hierarchy or a structure that I do not feel at home in. Do you understand what I mean?
Do you mean that you don’t separate your work from the rest of your life?
Oh, that’s what you were asking! To answer your first question, I am an artist, and no, I don’t separate work and life. A word like professionalism confuses me. My work is very personal, hyper-personal, I would say. Therefore, it’s hard to disconnect from it. Also, that isn’t something I aspire to. A question that creates a division between certain elements of life is upsetting to me. I see life as a whole, and I try to engage with life through art. And I do that on a what you call professional level (laughs).
On your website, you describe yourself as a Mother. That feels very loaded to me.
I describe myself within a context, and the full sentence says; You tend to ask me what I am. In reference to, career, religion, politics, sexuality, gender. My answer: I am a Mother. It could be interpreted as loaded, but for me, it isn’t at all. […] I wanted to put the feminine movement above all these terms. For me, these terms are, perhaps I am taking a big step now, linked to an ‘earnings model’. By that, I mean capitalism or the system, but I think those are ugly words. There is a systematic hierarchy in which we value, categorize, exclude things, etc. That’s the same with such a word as professionalism, it tries to create a separation. We as human beings relate to each other in such a system through competition instead of proximity. For me, it’s hard to move in that, though I am part of society, so I have to relate to it in a way. As an artist, I try to play with that, to alter certain narratives and create a different kind of beauty and inspiration. And I try to work within an idea of caring and give shape to that idea. And the one who really operates with care as the main focus is the Mother.
You are working on your project Lullabies for Adults (tentative title).
How did you get that idea?
I was thinking: When lullabies are no longer sung, the adversity of growing up commences; the world can no longer be saved (laughs). When you get off your caretaker’s lap and you start going to school, you’ll get thrown into this system of earning. Care is no longer the main concern. From then on relationships seem not to be approached by proximity, but are rather reduced to distance and competition. Care as something ‘feminine’ is regarded as unproductive since it’s not self-enriching. The same goes for sleep. Sleep is not seen as something that’s part of the rhythm of the day, but instead as something you have to get over with as quickly as possible so you can go back to being productive again. I think the world would be a much prettier place if people took more naps!
These thoughts started for me with a one-sentence poem: ‘lullabies for adults’. A conversation between Anouk Hoogendoorn and I arose naturally and thus we decided to start this project. We are attracted to the same qualities in the concept of the lullaby. She posed the question: “When does it happen that the eyes open in the morning?” Still wondering about this, we talk about lullabies; research how they move between caretaker and child; what their musical aspects are; and how the gesture preludes a shift from a mode of being awake to falling asleep. Around these questions and propositions, we invited different makers from all over the world to think with us: C.Leaff (Ireland), MADMOIZELL (France), Renee von Trier (Netherlands), Chris Moore (USA), Matisse Apsimon-Megens, and Benjamin Muñoz (Canada). Everyone makes a lullaby or moves with the concept as they want. We are making an online platform where we present these interpretations, texts, and images as an inventory. Imagine a night of insomnia; you go to the platform, and you’re being sung to sleep by all those voices and images!
When I first met you, I wasn’t sure what pronouns to use for you. So I used they / them.
Gender has been a topic in my life since childhood. When I was little, people thought I was a girl, and I still get that today. Many people get confused by my ‘gender presentation’. But I really don’t know. Maybe I am transgender. I don’t know what to call me. I am okay with everything. […] With that being said, I have to say I am speaking from a very personal point of view. And that this isn’t a standard. I don’t know what pronounce you should use for me, but a lot of people are very clear about that.
I always try to not write he/she/they anywhere, like in the biography [on my website].
I don’t want to define that. Because I don’t know. Because I find that uninteresting. I enjoy it when people end up confused when meeting me. Because it affects something in the other person, and I hope it reflects on their personal [gender] norms. It doesn’t affect me anymore in a negative way, because it’s not about me. But as a child, it could be hard. Back then, they would approach me as ‘she’ or ‘girl’. It confused me. I thought, But I’m not a girl, am I? Other moments can be super painful. When your parents take you to a birthday party and when grown-ups do not know how to approach you, (is that a girl or a boy?), they ignore you. It caused a kind of unrest and shock in the other person, and they would act like, Well I’m not going to touch that, I’m just going to ignore it. Then it doesn’t exist and I don’t have to do anything with it. As a kid, it paralyzes you. Now, I use this in my work, and it became something that I’m in charge of. And it’s not that I only want to make a statement about gender politics, but it’s about dismantling a structure that allows that to exists. For me, it’s all about tilting, ‘What is actually real and what is not real?‘ or ‘What is normal, what is not normal?‘, play around with that and set things in motion. Not using he/she/they in my bio or not clearly stating a pronoun is the same as a project like Lullabies for Adults: A twist that makes you understand, oh something is happening there. This also happens with the sentence of ‘I am a Mother’. When I close my eyes, and I get in touch with my inner being, I never would ask myself ‘What am I?‘. But because I’m born within a structure where I competitively relate to you, I have to make a choice. And I’m no longer going to do that for you to understand me. My work is, in a sense, dealing with this feminine perspective of care, or the matriarchal perspective versus the patriarchal perspective, to use those words for a moment. […] As an artist, I am investigating and developing something, finding language, letting something drift through my fingers and feeling it, experiencing it. To create a poetic alternative which I present back into the world to allow people to experience it and alter their way of understanding life. Maybe that’s an overstatement, but it’s a wish to influence the becoming of us human beings. As we all do, we all influence what we as human beings are and become. A lot of people move convulsively through life, and I wish for them that they could dance.
It reminds me […] I read the interview of [Stedelijk director] Rein Wolfs in the Volkskrant of 7-01-2021. Rein Wolfs said: “The Netherlands was early engaged with diversity, but it did not follow through.” And his explanation of how to deal with that and how to follow through with a more diverse policy sounded to me as a reflection of the same structure that made our policies around art so poor. Trying to solve a problem that originated within the structure you’re trying now to solve, is a dog biting its own tail. The structure I am referring to is this structure of an ‘earnings model’. “We want to show more work by makers of colour and from other countries of origin,” Wolfs said. The director now applies a quota: between 2021 and 2024, at least half of the purchase budget will go to art by artists of colour and artists from outside Western Europe and North America.
Why did nobody asked the question; damn, we have seen the art world through the white hetero normative perspective for hundreds of years – what we know is maybe 5% of what is happening within artistic development in the world and the rest of the 95% got ignored. You don’t see that as art, you don’t consider that as professional (just to use that word again), you don’t consider it good. But who decides that? Instead of saying that at least half of your purchase budget will go to art by artists of colour, tell us how you’re going to change the perspective from where you buy art. Tell us about your guidelines in purchasing new work. How will they make the museum or even the Netherlands as a whole more diverse, and what does that mean? Tell us what you define as good art to buy a work. Tell us how the museum will help us redefine what art is – what ‘good’ art is. Making at least half of the purchase budget go to artists of colour is part of it. But that is not it. This perspective has to be tilted to start moving towards a more diverse and inclusive museum and world. I think we, as a new generation of makers, have a naturally more open and diverse view on art, art institutes, and other aspects within the creative field and even life itself. The generation of Rein Wolfs should incorporate that new generation within their decision making.
You studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, what did you think of it?
I am not sure about that yet. I think what an academy should try to be is a free space in which you have several people who guide young talent or raw talent through that free space. But of course, it is a school that has to relate to a bureaucratic system of ‘Will you pass or not?‘ and the guides, or teachers as they are called, all look at art in their own way, etc., etc. After the graduation ceremony Gijs Müller, the coordinator of the Image and Language department [where I graduated from], and I were smoking a cigarette when he asked me: What did you miss at the Academy?
And for me, that was a performative aspect – as a discipline which can be taught, but also as a way of teaching or as I like to say, guiding. Then he posed the question: Do you want to teach next year? When I was in that bubble of that academy, I didn’t have a distance to find the vocabulary to describe what was wrong or what I thought could be different. But by stepping out of that and entering it differently, as a guest guide, I started researching that. And I still am. How does an academy work? With its board and management, teachers who all want something. But what is the common goal? Phew, I don’t know. An art academy in itself wants to pry itself away from such a bureaucratic school system, but it cannot. But by trying, something does happen. Therefore everything seems possible. It questions itself, and the possibility to question itself creates space. An academy is also a place where art happens, instead of just being shown. There is a continuous conversation about what art is, what it could be, what it can become. In that sense, an art school is more interesting than a museum.
[…] Last year I said to the students: We have the whole city at our disposal, so let’s just take it. So you’re not dependent on a gallery or another kind of art institute. Of course, that has been done for hundreds of years by street artists, but I think it still has an unexplored potential and I wanted to research that. The conscious choice as an artist to present your work in the public space, outside the white space, a museum, a gallery, or other art institutions. I am now working with that idea for a presentation at FactorIJ later this year titled ‘I’m an Artist, Don’t Call the Police’. In the [first] lockdown, I did a few public performances. In the city, you have the Green Curls, the urinals for men. I started cleaning them as a performance.
How were those public performances?
I think it could be beautiful. […] I wanted to focus on the performativity of our daily routines, in this case, on the movement of cleaning something. It also touches on this idea of taking care. I did some try-outs, and now I’m composing a piece to accompany the performance. When it’s a bit warmer, I’ll start cleaning the urinals again.
It activated me to think more about ‘What is art?’, ‘How does the art world work?’, ‘What do we attach importance to?’, and how I want to be part of it?
Photography by Roman Ermolaev
Written by Nilsu Göçer
Catoo Kemperman graduated from the VAV department at Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 2017. Her last fine-art exhibition was a dialogue between two generations of artists, mother Milian van Stokkum and daughter Catoo. They each created a series of works building on weekly communications and reactions to the other’s work. “It was really nice to recognize certain things but also to see certain differences: What do you react to? What do you actually see?” Her transition into fashion has been going on for a long time. She has always sewed her own clothes and sometimes on request too. This interest organically resulted in her lingerie brand catoo_____ (with the dashes).
“I am very happy to be working on catoo_____ and I hope it will grow. I have been making lingerie since March and have started to take that more seriously. I’ve had two photoshoots and started to sell a bit too. I’ve always been leaning towards fashion, but I didn’t want to link it to my art practice: I wanted to learn new techniques, explore things I hadn’t done yet. Now it’s like: I really want to do that all the time, so why not take it seriously?”
So, there was that realization that fashion is what you would like to do the most.
“Yes, but I prefer to see it grow to a combination of my art practice and fashion. I would like that it is not only about making clothes – but that it also remains a bit more diffuse. I am working now on a 3D model in C4D, a program I use to make videos. The model wears the lingerie and moves around on screen.”
What place does catoo_____ occupy in your life?
“It has taken a central departure point since March. I have been focussing a lot on my job as Maakplaats coach. It is a job at the OBA (Amsterdam Public Library) to teach children in an after-school program all kinds of new techniques. We work with the laser cutter, the 3d printer, electronics, etc. – it’s very much focused on the creative process. But that was so new to me that it consumed all my energy. I wasn’t doing a lot for myself outside of it. Now it is possible to combine the two again. I enjoy working with something that is also needed. You need to work with people, people want to wear it, so you after you make it, it will get a next life. I missed that a bit in my free work.”
Did catoo_____ start during the lockdown?
“Yes, during the lockdown. How did that happen? I think it is the result of my search for a way to engage fashion in my practice and partly too because of the lockdown. I think in a way the amount of time we were forced to stay at home has been quite productive. Normally, I can get very distracted, doing many things at the same time. So, it was more like: You will continue with what you have made and concentrate all your energy on it. It was actually a moment for me to do what has been in my head for some time.”
How did catoo_____ start?
“If you look at it as making clothes, I think that it actually started a very long time ago. I had been thinking about how I could turn making clothes into something that I could reproduce. Sometimes I find that if it is visible from the outside, it becomes a style or a statement. Underwear is more intimate. It’s under your clothes, so it’s much more accessible for everyone. Say, women of all ages, professions, styles, religion; Whether you like to wear something eccentric or more modest, covered or more naked. Nobody sees what is underneath. As a women’s garment for women, it avoids some obstacles. I had been making lingerie before but used the wrong materials. Last March, I came across a shop in Nieuw-West that is focused specifically on underwear. Well, I guess since then it just started to grow in a continuous manner. I am expanding it because I like to do something that I can involve people in and I hope that I can collaborate more too.”
Does it only exist on Instagram for now?
“Yes, for now at least. But a website is on the way!”
What is your ideal situation?
“The ideal situation is actually contradictory, so it cannot be feasible anyway. I would like catoo_____ to have an intimate atmosphere but definitely grow to a proper selling brand. It should be a very inclusive brand, all sizes, and ages. And perhaps at some point, it will extend to outerwear too, loungewear etcetera. And should it really grow, I would like catoo to create employment for other women. I know (there are) plenty of women in Amsterdam that can sew very well but do this for home-purposes only. It would be ideal if the production stays local.”
Have you thought about doing trunk shows? (A trunk show allows people to preview and/or purchase a designer’s latest collection, which can be held anywhere from a retail location to a hotel room).
“Yes, that sounds like a lot of fun. I think it will also fit very well, and has an intimate and private atmosphere. That is important to me. That the women will be comfortable, and an event like this can be a moment to share womanhood. I also received feedback from women to whom I showed the pictures: ‘I want to hold it. I will not order now because I would rather see and touch it first.’ To be honest, I am like that myself. So, in that respect, it is also better to have an event in a physical form. This is unfortunately not possible now, due to COVID-19. But definitely something for the future.”
The prizes are not included in the Instagram posts.
“I actually have to change that. They are €100, – each. (laughs) Yeah, this is the marketing side, which is not my strongest point. I wasn’t so interested in it either, but I know now that it’s quite necessary. I’m still learning what people want to know and need to see quickly. So yes, that should actually be there.”
The pictures of catoo_____ are really cool: The absence of the male gaze in the photography and the diversity of the models.
“Thanks. For this shoot, I worked together with Lana Prins. She is a photographer, she graduated from Willem de Kooning. The female body and sexuality are her area of research, and lingerie fits that. I wanted to create portraits, like the first six pictures (on the bottom of the page). Raw but delicate. How do you portray a woman? I find that very important. I had a shoot last week with Elizaveta Federmesser. She also graduated from the Rietveld (VAV, 2018). She made 3D-scans of the models wearing the new collection. The same model will appear several times in the image. It actually started with the woman portrayed in baroque paintings. The woman is naked everywhere: here naked on a bench and then there naked on a bench again. Sexy and very sensual, but so much for the man, and not for herself. We have taken inspiration from those poses, but the idea is that you are inside with the model and not the outsider, painter, or photographer. So, it is a change of perspective. It’s naked and sensual, but it’s not supposed to be for someone else – it’s for you. That is very important for catoo_____.”
Did you make your outfit yourself? (She is wearing a long dress with a mock neck and bishop sleeves, and flared pants – both made from jersey fabric in a grey-toned pink.)
“Yes. I almost made everything in my closet. That’s what I really enjoy doing the most.”
You were also in Het Parool with your outfit.
“Oh yeah! Back then I was unsure how and if I should continue with fashion.”
It would’ve been a good opportunity to talk about catoo_____.
“Exactly! It would have been nice to put it on the market then. Also, interesting to get those questions about fashion. And that quote they took out of it: ‘Comfort is super important.’ It is so funny that if someone has to get a quote out of it, it’s that one. I sound silly, but I still agree that it’s so important. This too (points to her clothes), it’s beautiful, but it’s also really comfortable. I guess it is this combination that is essential for the studio practice of catoo_____ too.”
After graduating with a master’s degree in architecture at École Speciale d’Architecture, Natacha Mankowski (1986, FR) worked with Vito Acconci, Jean Nouvel, Anne Demians, and Dominique Perrault. In 2012, Natacha won the Tony Garnier Prize for Architecture and Urbanism awarded by the Académie Française d’Architecture. From 2014 onwards, she became a member of the Taylor Foundation. That same year she makes a U-turn into art and begins her first art residency of many.
“I was just missing creating on the day to day. With architecture, you have such a long span of time until you get something built. It’s also a very administrative work. I didn’t feel totally myself. (…) In a way, I entered painting through space. I was studying a lot of abandoned buildings, empty rooms, and I would draw that. I used architecture as a way to paint, and I still do. When I go on residencies, I visit specific spaces: quarries, dry docks, big empty structures built by humans in nature. It began with this idea of looking for unwanted architecture or resulting from the hand of man. I would paint that, and I still do. (…) I was never someone who was based somewhere. Every two-three months I would go on residencies. This is how I started my work as a painter because I never had an art education in college … So I decided I would teach myself through those residencies. I tricked the system a bit, but in a good way! I entered this residency about urbanism and public space using my architecture portfolio. Arriving there I said ‘okay I am just going to paint spaces’. I switched the whole perspective of my work but they were really open-minded with this.”
Her work shows the transition from Natacha as an architect to Natacha as an artist. Initially, her focus lies on creating an architectural space on the canvas. There is a gradual shift of focus towards the texture and the materials she uses. Now, she usually mixes sand, clay, and marble powder in the oil paint. It makes for a thick paste-like texture.
“I think it’s going more and more towards ‘sculpted painting’, if you could call it that. I’m very much interested in how you can make a mark in the painting: with your fingers, with instruments – a bit like you would play as a kid with modelling clay – very raw, very brute. (…) I am trying to use the painting not as an object but as a wall or as something you could enter into. I am not sure yet of how it’s going to look. (…) I also started to work on the idea of the frame. This [frame] is literally the same texture as the painting. I use clay, or I mix oil, wax, marble powder, or whatever I find on the ground, [dried] flowers, pigments, and then I melt them. Depending on the quantity of oil it becomes soft or hard. You can sculpt it or model it. I just put my fingers into it to stretch it and even I use my shoe. I’m trying to recreate what you find on the floor of the place I visit and take it into the painting or the frame. Basically, the frames are made from the same [material] as the paint. (…) I am trying to go beyond the limit of the canvas (…).”
During her first residency in Amsterdam (and the Netherlands), Natacha has easily integrated into the Amsterdam art scene. Last year, Florence Parot, one of the curators of Play Station Sloterdijk, reached out to Natacha. The two met during Florence’s curatorship at Centre Pompidou in Paris. With Natacha’s background in architecture, making art in the public space of station Sloterdijk fits within her practice. The result is The Square, an architectural diorama on the NS depot, which leaves the viewer wondering: what takes place inside? Since then, she has had group shows at ISO and De School, collaborated with sculptor Alexis Bondoux, and is currently working on a series on Andalucía.
“This series [Andalucía] is strange. I lost my grandmother in April this year. She was a pillar in my life. I did this series on the region where she used to live and where I started to paint when I was with her. It was a personal story that I wanted to tell. (…) Sometimes you have all these ideas of how you want to honour a person when they die. Sometimes I would see myself knowing what to say at their funeral because she was such a special person. So I envisioned this and when you can’t have this, you still want to honour this person. Then you just do it the way you do it best. You use your art to push yourself to remember this person, and how you can honour them differently. [My grandmother] lived in Andalucía. She was English, and she travelled a lot. I visited her many times. When you are alone with somebody, you develop intimacy. I was really able to paint with her and experiment. She wasn’t an artist per se, but she always was very supportive of the Arts. She had really strong opinions – even if she would change her mind – she would always be vocal about them. I think this is part of being an artist: believing and fighting for your ideas – sometimes being intense about it – but just going for it. I think I learned that from her.”
What is next for Natacha Mankowski?
“I recently went to the island of Evia in Greece. There are hot springs there. The whole floor is made of clay and you can bathe on it. Hot water comes out of the ground at 50-60 degrees. It’s extremely hot but because it’s next to the sea, the two waters mix to create this strange communion of two worlds. It really looks special. I would like to do a new series about this place.”
“I have all these ideas but I think it needs context.”
Photography by Roman Ermolaev
Written by Nilsu Göçer
Housing association De Key is developing the project Lieven in the area between the Vlaardingenlaan, the Maassluisstraat, the Overschiestraat, and the Voorburgstraat in the Delflandpleinbuurt in Amsterdam New West. This is happening in eight different parts (Lieven 1 to 8), each which consist of different types of residential areas for about 1200 starters between the ages of 18 and 27. The whole project is expected to be finished by 2021.
On 2 October 2019, phase 4 of the living project Lieven will be delivered: WOW Lieven. Following WOW Amsterdam, and in collaboration with Bureau Broedplaatsen, WOW Lieven will also become a creative hotspot where temporary housing (max. 5 years) is offered to 40 artists.
WOW Lieven will have her own creative programme with two gallery spaces where exhibitions and performances will be organised, from artists active in different creative disciplines (like music, fashion, film, theatre, dance).
On the ground floor, there will be a laundromat – adjacent to a gallery space, and a hospitality space with flex workspaces and a shared dining concept, where (local) residents can cook and eat together for an affordable price. There is a common courtyard for residents of WOW Lieven.
Also, in WOW Lieven there will be a learn-work trajectory set up, in collaboration with the ROC and with House of Hospitality, for young people distanced from the workforce. WOW Lieven has the ambition to play a positive and a unifying role in the neighbourhood.
WOW Lieven offers 40 living spaces where ready to graduate or recently graduated artists can live for a maximum of 5 years. Tenants of WOW Lieven can receive housing allowance under certain conditions.
There are 2 types of studios:
WOW Lieven is an inspiring place where different groups of people can meet each other, and where artists can work and live in a creative environment. As a tenants, you are expected to make a positive contribution to this intended atmosphere.
Are you interested in an artist residency in WOW Lieven and can you meet the requested conditions?
Send your application (CV, motivation letter, portfolio) as soon as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org
Your job is done. All you have to do now is wait for the results…
21 and 22 June | WOW Gallery
In collaboration with Irene Fortuyn, Ketter&Co and Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE), WOW presents City Circles Amsterdam during the WeMakeTheCity Festival.
City Circles is a project investigating the human factor within an urban circle with a diametre of one kilometre. City Circles inspires, activates and shows the ability and resilience of man to shape their lives in any given urban microclimate. After City Circles in Athens, Madrid and Istanbul, this year Rotterdam and Amsterdam hosted City Circles.
Over the past months, six WOW Artist in Residence and eleven students of DAE researched the Kolenkitbuurt based on the following themes: Learning, Food, Materiality, Craftsmanship, Flora/Fauna, Human Interaction, Rituals, Economy, Flow.
Friday, June 21st the new WOW Gallery opens its doors to the public specially for the City Circles Amsterdam exhibition. The results of the investigations in the Kolenkit will be shown in a variety of media.
On June 21 and 22 a variety of excursions guided by the researchers, will take you into the neighbourhood. Curious to find out the best place in the Kolenkit to sing out loud? Or are you interested in an intimate tour of the architectural highlights of the hood? Join us on Friday, June 21st at 17:00 for the opening of City Circles Amsterdam.
WOW Artist in Residence
Kristina Daurova / Arie de Fijter / Louis Hothothot / Miyuki Inoue / Tom Kemp / Monica Mays
Jade Badra / Aurelie Defez / Hao Du / Daniel Laufs / Britt Peeters / Janneke Schouten / Imke Sloos / Filips Staņislavskis / Ignacio Subias / Lola Tual / Marvin Unger