A talk with Smi Vukovic

By Frederieke Beunk

Second-year Rijksakademie resident Smi Vukovic’s (Canada/Serbia, 1979) work underwent a notable transition during her first residency year. Where she formerly used abstract Rorschach looking imagery she now increasingly converts her work towards a more figurative idiom. She combines body transfers – direct prints of her body – on photograms and on various sorts of textiles with poems. Her work has an ambiguous appearance and doesn’t reveal itself at first sight. In an attempt to raise a corner of the veil I met Vukovic at her studio.


Smi Vukovic in her studio. Photo by Frederieke Beunk.

When I enter the room the first thing I notice is a play of sunrays on scattered plates laying on the floor. The plates are covered with dust and partially mirror the works on the wall. On one wall white sheets contain indexical signs of forearms. A red curtain hides a work from view. Textiles playfully hide part of works, revealing more clearly those sections that are visible. I look at her work and my curiosity arouses, what do these veils conceal?

Over time, your paintings have evolved from largely flat objects to works that are increasingly part of the space; physical structures.

“The former paintings I made were more of recordings of actions on a material, then cut in pieces, shuffled, stitched together and last of all stretched on a frame. I didn’t really stick so strictly to the medium of painting. You could say it was some kind of an object already. At a certain point I started to feel repulsed by what it becomes when put on a stretcher.”


Smi Vukovic, The proverbial erasure of cultural legacy I, 2014. Photo Frederieke Beunk.

Your work consistently makes use of the hand, an integral part of the body when it comes to human interactions, how did that idea start?

“Some of the visual elements I currently use are extracted from the photos I took during the Civil War in Serbia. Recently I rediscovered these images and although one of them was a completely white negative, I started scanning it and parts of an image did become visible. It turned out to be a picture of people in a procession-like order taking out furniture and documents out of the Parliament to keep it safe. There was a hand surfacing from the dark background that appeared to expand beyond the context of this picture. It could be photosensitive capture of some kind of fresco - or like a ghost. I took it out as a key, connecting to the rest of my work. The hand is a very powerful symbol and emotionally charged. It’s very human. In fact it’s the first image mankind ever made.”

In what way should we look at your body transfers? Do you consider your body as a ‘pinceau vivant’, as an instrument to apply the paint on the textile, as for example the painter Yves Klein did?

“I don’t use my body as brush. The meaning of these draperies is spiritual in suggestion. I would rather think of the textiles as shrines and perhaps make a comparison with the Veil of Veronica, a relic of a piece of cloth, which, according to legend, bears the likeness of the face not made by human hand.

The photograms are a negatively way of transferring images, such as directly transferring my body on photographic paper. I also like the reference to prehistoric bog bodies, mummified bodies that kept conserved in peat bogs for centuries and every now and then disturbingly unearth into our time raising all these questions.”

III.  In The Sun[1]

Now it’s easy for us
We got rid of the flesh

How wonderful it is
to sunbath naked

As for me,
I never got seduced by
those rags either
I’m crazy about you
naked like this

Above is one of the poems Vukovic integrated in her work. It gives a surreal and obscure impression; two human bones that find each other in afterlife and having a funny, somewhat black humoristic conversation about how glad they’re to get rid of the flesh.

What role does this poem plays in your work?

“Vasco Popa (Serbia, 1922 - 1991), a well-known World War II poet wrote it. I feel drawn to it because although it’s not directly political it’s inspired by history as well as by folk tale surrealism and local mythologies. Popa is ridiculing death while looking it straight in the eyes. A recurring topic in his poems is a transition from abstract to figurative and from abstract to words. As I was reading it, it occurred to me his words somehow perfectly consisted with my ideas and work. It’s very existential.”

Where does your interest for history originate from?

“I grew up in the heart of Balkans, sometimes even considered the “darker parts of Europe”. Every bit of the ground witnessed countless shifts of history, and nothing is as it seems. I perversely enjoy the lack of wider popularity of this region. Recently I was drawn to explore the leftovers of history by naturally following the flow of river Danube from my native Belgrade to notoriously archaic Eastern Serbia. Trying to put my earliest memories “on trial”, I revisited an archaeological site of Lepenski Vir, one of the most visually expressive Mesolithic settlements, where my mother worked as a researcher when I was a child. I walked around fireplaces and burial grounds and saw river gods carved in stone with fish-like faces and burial postures of skeletons with crossed arms and legs. This fluvial prehistoric culture made a huge impression on me.”

How does this integrate into your work?

“I built an emotional relationship with humanity’s universal questions and strong abstract imagery as a carrier for such convoluted concepts around meaning and existence. Recently, topics that inform my work include folk-tale surrealism, collective histories, and memory loss related to historical trauma.”


Smi Vukovic’ studio. Photo Frederieke Beunk.

Your work consists of many layers that overlap each other in a play of veiling and unveiling. This idea of stratification seems to expand in the different shapes and materials of the objects you use and also in a more conceptual way of hidden and revealed stories. Eventually you also added semi reflecting mirrors.

“I just started using this sort of false report mirroring like each of this objects on the floor are reflecting one of the works. In an elusive way. The black mirror on the ground evokes a distorted and dark appearance. While experimenting with a variety of materials such as Perspex to make a mirror I realized it isn’t possible to make a mirror without a transparent layer. It’s impossible to make a dark mirror.”


Smi Vukovic, Fragmentary emotional States of matter, 2014. Photo Smi Vukovic.

And the dust on the mirrors?

“After a while of experimenting the mirrors got dusty. I intentionally didn’t remove the dust, appreciating the way it distorts and veils the reflection.”


Smi Vukovic’ studio. Photo Frederieke Beunk.

You also started to use different kind of textiles in your work, for example the bronze or golden one?

“I came across some lenticular postcards from the 80’s. We all know these printed images with an illusion of depth or a movement; the image being dissembled at first and then the illusion of it being brought back as a whole, produced by a layer of many lined lenses. Everything you put before that layer is two-dimensional. I expanded this idea of three-dimension layering of textile by a final coat.”

Our conversation comes to an end. I pass my eye over Vukovic’ work in her studio again: the poems, the body transfers, and the veils. To me her work can be seen as multi-faceted polygons which don’t reveal themselves that easily.  

Interested in Smi Vukovic and her work? Please find more information on her artists’ page on the Rijksakademie website.

[1] Excerpt from Vasco Popa’s Bone to bone.

Flash from the workshops: resident Riley Harmon

By Frederieke Beunk

Rijksakademie resident Riley Harmon (US, 1987) developed some stage-props for his new video work in the chemistry workshop, advised by technical specialists Roy Taylor (media and graphics) and Arend Nijkamp (paint and resins). One of the stage-props Harmon uses, consists of a dashboard which was scrapped from an old car of staff member Pieter Lammers.

In the media workshop Harmon printed a picture of a typical American landscape with red rocks and a sheer blue sky on car wrap film. Using a paint burner and a doctor blade he applied the film on the car part, a well-known technique in the car industry. Meanwhile he had a special cake made customized with a detail of the same American landscape.

Last weekend he started shooting the first series of his new film in the Amstelpark.

Interested in what’s going to happen with the dashboard and the landscape cake? Harmon’s video will probably be on view during RijksakademieOPEN 2014 on 29 and 30 November.

Find more information on Riley Harmon’s artist page.

Photos: Frederieke Beunk

Flash from the workshops: resident Shigeo Arikawa

By Frederieke Beunk

Rijksakademie resident Shigeo Arikawa (JP, 1982) is working on his new video installation in the wood and metal workshops. The installation will consist of a video screen and two rectangular wooden boxes on top of the other. Today Arikawa is experimenting with a hidden mechanical system that makes a small metal ball move up and down between the two boxes.

The metal ball is hold up by an electro magnet. When the power supply is interrupted, the ball falls down an lands on a lifting system that hoists the ball up and then the current is switched on again. This process constantly repeats itself in a loop.

With his work Arikawa inquires into the grey areas of perception and the way images reach us through place and time. By naming and symbolizing, images often become charged in a particular way. Arikawa analyses the construction of observation and perception by using photography and video.

Photos: Frederieke Beunk

Second Rijksakademie Internal Open Studios - 23 June 2014

by Frederieke Beunk

Yesterday was the second Rijksakademie Internal Open Studios. Three times a year the Rijksakademie residents open their studios during the Internal Open Studios. On this day all residents, advisors and staff can view the work in progress in the studios. To give an impression of this day, the Rijksakademie wants to share some photos.

Through Internal Open Studios the residents get the chance to get to know each other and their work, and the staff in a casual way during their residency year.

Part 2 of 2.

Second Rijksakademie Internal Open Studios - 23 June 2014

by Frederieke Beunk

Yesterday was the second Rijksakademie Internal Open Studios. Three times a year the Rijksakademie residents open their studios during the Internal Open Studios. On this day all residents, advisors and staff can view the work in progress in the studios. To give an impression of this day, the Rijksakademie wants to share some photos.

Through Internal Open Studios the residents get the chance to get to know each other and their work, and the staff in a casual way during their residency year.

Part 1 of 2.

Flash from the workshops: resident Carlos Irijalba

By Frederieke Beunk

Rijksakademie resident Carlos Irijalba (ES, 1979) is experimenting with metal foam in the metal workshop, advised by technical specialist Stephan Kuderna. Metal foam is, according to the artist: “a material that lends itself to many purposes, however it’s commonly used as part of innovative technological developments in the car industry.”

Solid metallic foams are known for their interesting and apparent contradictory combinations of physical and mechanical properties such as high stiffness in conjunction with very low specific weight or high compression strengths combined with good energy absorption characteristics.[1] When heated to 720 degrees Celsius the metal becomes foamy and brittle.

Irijalba became interested in the material while visiting Pohltech, a construction supplier in Germany specialized in the processing of sheets.

Concerned with a social engagement Irijalba is sceptical about the enormous differences between commercial industries and the health care industry. Why do we spend so easily huge amounts of money on technological innovation of, for example, the car industry, while on the other hand there is much less will to invest in the prosthetic industry?

Find more information on Carlos Irijalba’s artist page on the Rijksakademie website.

Photos: Frederieke Beunk

[1] John Banhart, Manufacturing Routes for Metallic Foams, extract from: http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/0012/Banhart-0012.html (16 June 2014).

Masha Ru: Looking for a description of life

By Frederieke Beunk


Masha Ru in her studio. Photo by Frederieke Beunk.

With a PhD in mathematics (Eindhoven University of Technology) and a graduation with honours in photography (Photoacademy Amsterdam) you soon think of Rijksakademie resident Masha Ru (RU/NL, 1984) as a versatile jack-of-all-trades.

On the 180th day of the Tzolkin cycle of the Mayan calendar I talked with Ru about her ongoing project: the Mayan calendar, on which she started working during her first Rijksakademie residency year.


Masha Ru, Mayan Calendar, 2013-2014. Photo by Dirk Serpinski.

The Maya used a very ingenious and accurate calendar, consisting of a system of several cycles of different lengths.[1]  Partly the so-called Long Count (with days counted from a mythical creation date) was used, and partly the 260-day Tzolkin, the religious calendar. Also in use was a 365-day year, known as Haab, a nine-day cycle and a ‘Katun cycle’ of 93.600 days.

What is it that interests you about the Mayan calendar?

“It all started with my previous project “Life as a function”. Before Rijksakademie I was trying to find a function that would give a description of life and karma. Afterwards I discovered there were already existing formulas based on the knowledge of nature and astronomy, like the Mayan calendar. At the moment I try to apply and check the rules of Tzolkin based on my own experiences; at the same time I’m exploring possibilities to use these formulas in a more general way. I’m interested to research on intersection of personal material with global happenings.

The calendar is a complex system of predictions and repetitions. The repetition deals with feelings and experiences rather than with exact events. This day on the Tzolkin calendar might have something to do with the day 260 days before or 260 days after. I’m trying to follow the rules set up by the Mayan calendar and see if they are congruent with everyday life. Occasionally they prove to be true, however I also see a lot of coincidence.

It is interesting to research the degree of freedom within the stable system of the Mayan calendar. How far can I withdraw from prediction? It feels that when I study the Mayan system theoretically, I will go more and more deeply into it, but I will never reach the core. It is like trying to understand the essence of life.”

It is not possible oversee all the different parts of life together?

“Our life is a labyrinth. The calendar helps to see the labyrinth from above, to get a bit of an overview of life. But I think somehow, as humans we are not capable of getting the whole picture.”

Does this notion have something to do with a religious way of thinking?

“There certainly is an esoteric element in my work and I think the combination of the occult and science can be very fascinating. In modern science we take a lot of statements as axioms. I believe, if we open our mind and question fundamental things, then science can be much more prosperous. Modern science still doesn’t explain everything.”


Masha Ru’s diaries and Mayan calendar. Photo by Frederieke Beunk.

During last RijksakademieOPEN your Mayan calendar was also on view, but in a different composition. At that time you used personal photo material from a mobile phone. Yet, this year you’re working with information from your diaries, the oldest over 11 years old. What motivated your change of medium?

“When I presented the Mayan calendar last year, it felt quite unfinished and I even doubted if I should keep or dispose it. The audience reacted controversially towards my first version of the calendar. It is interesting that the arguments people brought up for appreciating the work were quite similar to the reasons why people didn’t like it: while it felt really private, still they couldn’t be included. It was possible to relate to the pictures, but not to gain a comprehensive view. Nevertheless I hope that my work is more than just merely private pictures. I’m blurring the boundaries between ‘me’ and ‘not me’. I attempt to use private material in order to unravel underlying structures of life.”

Interested in Masha Ru and her work? Please find more information on her artists’ page on the Rijksakademie website or on her website.

[1] J. Klokočník et al., ‘Correlation between the Mayan calendar and ours: Astronomy helps to answer why the most popular correlation (GMT) is wrong’, Astronomische Nachrichten 329 (2008) nr. 4 (April 7), pp. 426-427.

Flash from the workshops: residents Catherine Biocca, Jay Tan, and Wouter Venema

By Frederieke Beunk

Rijksakademie advisor and graphics specialist Erik Fliek introduces residents Catherine Biocca (IT, 1984), Jay Tan (GB, 1982), and Wouter Venema (NL, 1985) to photopolymer etching in the graphic workshop. Photopolymer etching is a technique with photographically produced images as intaglio - an image or design incised or engraved into a material.

The residents use transparent sheets of photographically generated images to make plates. The light sensitive photopolymer film comes on a roll and has to be opened under a yellow light. They apply a light sensitive layer on a copper/ zinc etching plate. After that, the plate is exposed to UV light in a large vacuum box and developed in tray filled with a mixture of water and washing soda. The darker area’s in the image won’t be exposed and will be washed away. After the plate is developed, an intaglio plate is created, ready to make the first proofing on the etching press.

Find more information on Catherine Biocca’s, Jay Tan’s, and Wouter Venema’s artist page on the Rijksakademie website.

Flash from the workshops: resident Gareth Nyandoro

By Frederieke Beunk

In the chemistry workshop Rijksakademie resident Gareth Nyandoro (ZW, 1982) is experimenting with colorful lifelike polyester replicas of lollypops and fruit for his new work which will consist of a large scale collage painting combined with a market-booth-like display.

With his work Nyandoro outlines a well-known and typical character in the urban everyday life: the vendor who displays his merchandise in front of him on a carpet, neatly arranged by color, form, and sort. Beneath the layer of his joyful pop art palette lies a more hidden satirical en critical message. In Harare street vending is illegal. The government clears the streets regularly. Informal traders trickle back but are forced to play hide-and-seek as police prowl the pavements on the lookout for illegal operators.

More information you can find on Gareth Nyandoro’s artist page.

Photos: Frederieke Beunk

Nickel van Duijvenboden and the acknowledgement of doubt

By Frederieke Beunk


Nickel van Duijvenboden in his studio, photo by Frederieke Beunk.

Consciousness, slowness, uncertainty and the search for existential truth. This is how the work of first-year Rijksakademie resident Nickel van Duijvenboden (NL, 1981) can be characterized. By making art in a critical and literary way, Van Duijvenboden researches the question what constitutes a work.

“To me art is a struggle; on the one hand I want to relate to the context I find myself in, on the other hand I want to revolt against it. My artistic practice follows from resisting a predictable identity. I question this identity and try to disrupt and complicate the path that is set out by society. My work is interwoven with self-criticism, I constantly ask myself existential questions. I wonder why I record everything. I consider my photographs, sound recordings and writings records; they form a precipitate of inner processes.

There have been times when I was in two minds about whether or not I could bear the anxiety of being an artist. However, by the time I applied for the Rijksakademie, I had built up some degree of certainty about a state of despair – a fundamental uncertainty regarding the status of the things I make and the media I use. This uncertainty is also the germ of my practice.”

How does this approach influence your way of working?

My writing tends to be about process. I’m interested in the integration of one’s life and work. Not only my own, but also that of others. I’ve written a number of reflections on art as well as several dialogues with other artists. My approach gravitates towards the biographical and analytical. Mostly there’s a psychological dimension. Some dialogues I’ve had were almost like counseling – for me, I mean, not for the artists.  

These last months, reading from personal notes or letters has become a more pronounced activity. When I recite my texts, I seem to stretch the moment in such a way that the audience experiences a manifestation of consciousness. One of the most valuable remarks that I got at the beginning of my residency were from several people who independently said that I create a kind of slowness, a room to think.

My work involves a lot of editing. I’ve been working on a novel since three years, it still needs a lot of work. Here at the Rijksakademie, however, I’m looking for a counterbalance to this meticulous, restrained way of working. I’m seeking a kind of spontaneity; in my photographs, for instance, I’m looking for a picture taken spontaneously, almost unconsciously, that could suddenly become a work.”

A work Van Duijvenboden considers pivotal is Sägewerk Ihrig (2012; see picture). The photo shows an alley behind a sawmill, located in a rural environment. Sawdust lies on the ground. The image comes with an excerpt from a letter (see picture). Sending this letter to the initial recipient created a condition in which the photograph could function properly; suddenly it was possible to display it as an artwork.


Nickel van Duijvenboden, Sägewerk Ihrig, Odenwald / Excerpts from a Letter to H.V. (17—27.VIII.2012), 2012, C-print on aluminium, hand-set letterpress text, photo by Nickel van Duijvenboden.


Nickel van Duijvenboden, Sägewerk Ihrig, Odenwald / Excerpts from a Letter to H.V. (17—27.VIII.2012) (detail), 2012, C-print on aluminium, hand-set letterpress text, photo by Nickel van Duijvenboden.

Within the art context, your work is often defined as ‘working with text’. How would you position yourself in relation to art and literature?

“I don’t conceive of my writing as merely a strategy or concept within a visual praxis. This sort of demotes or negates the writing itself, its subject and style, which is informed by literary traditions and conventions. Amongst a highly specialized art audience, it’s very rare to get to talk about how I introduce a character or how I write dialogue. The subordinate position of text sometimes bothers me. Nobody ever talks about authors who publish through literary publishers, as people ‘working with text’, surely? It’s like saying a painter ‘works with a brush’.

Having studied photography, I initially felt a great distance to painting. But now now I feel strongly connected to painters such as Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Agnes Martin and other abstract expressionists who gave shape to existential issues. I’m also interested in the historical high point of conceptualism. But I equally relate to certain movements in literature. Frida Vogels and J.J. Voskuil have strongly influenced me. Their work arises from daily reflections and is marked by an uncompromising observation of the self. Voskuil limits himself to perception and his work is deeply psychological. How does a person hold one’s ground?

I nevertheless find it difficult to situate myself within these contexts. In the perception of society you are a literary author if a literary agent publishes your book and it’s for sale at the bookstore. For me, it’s been a conscious decision to work with Roma, an independent publisher of art books. Recently, we published the artist’s book In Two Minds of Gwenneth Boelens. She’s my partner and also a former Rijksakademie resident (RA, 06/07). I edited and wrote the book. I don’t see my role as a contributor, rather as having taken upon myself the textual part of her practice. And it works both ways, of course.”

You once said that writing is a process of increasing awareness, and observation is the starting point. What do you mean by that?

“I write or make art because my curiosity is being roused by something I don’t yet understand. It could be trivial moments that for some reason stay in your mind forever. Through writing, I become aware of something and find out what it is.”

What are your expectations and plans for your residency at the Rijksakademie?

“Instead of overanalyzing my work, I’d like to get more into it and possibly even lose control. Right now, I too often get in the way of my own work. By placing it in a verbal framework, I might restrict it or sell it short. The photographs I make and the texts I write should get space to breathe. I think the advisors can help me with that. I’d also like to figure out which steps I can take next in reading my texts. Is it a performative act? And what’s the right way to present visual source material from my personal archive?

An actual target I’ve set for myself is to finish my novel and make exhibitions at the same time, in a way one isn’t subsidiary to the other.”

Interested in Nickel van Duijvenboden and his work? Please find more information on his artists’ page on the Rijksakademie website or on his website.

Flash from the workshops: resident Felix Burger

By Frederieke Beunk

For his new installation resident Felix Burger (DE, 1982) is developing several plaster reproductions of his head, except seventy percent smaller, in the metal and media workshops. The heads remind of old-fashioned fairground attractions. A microcontroller, an Arduino, with a computer program coordinates the movable mandibles by electromagnets. When the work is finished the heads will be set in motion simultaneously to music. 

More information you can find on Felix Burger’s artist page.

Photos: Frederieke Beunk

Flash from the workshops: resident artist Justin Gosker

By Frederieke Beunk

At the moment current resident Justin Gosker (CA/NL, 1980) is developing a new work in the metal workshop at the #Rijksakademie. Gosker creates a completely round ball, which is planned to fit perfectly between two walls in the exhibition space of De Appel for the coming exhibition ‘Father, Can’t You See I’m Burning?’.

In the workshop a construction made to size is holding the 14-kilo object. An iron wire is made warm and cuts through isolating material. Afterwards Gosker will cover it with pigment.

Interested in the final result? The exhibition is running until 15 June 2014.

First photo: Justin Gosker, second photo: Frederieke Beunk, third photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenker

Successful kick-off Pioneers Project Space

Last 3 April the kick-off of the Pioneers Project Space took place. About 60 future Pioneers and artists met during a festive event with artist presentations and performances. The aim is to connect 100 Pioneers who directly contribute to experiments, try-outs, and presentations that also are accessible to Pioneers.
Given the enthusiastic response, it promises to be a successful Pioneers Program. As a result of developing the program by both artists and Pioneers, this is more than a regular private donor program. Pioneers and artists enter directly in a relationship with each other. With this the Pioneers form the spearhead of the Circle of Friends of the Rijksakademie.
The kick-off started with a hard hat tour by artists through studios and technical workshops. Susan Gloudemans, director Trustfonds Rijksakademie and initiator, introduced the future Pioneers Project Space. Nathaniel Mellors, artist, alumnus and advisor, talked about pioneering in the technical workshops at the Rijksakademie. Susanne de Boer, advisor cooperative banking and corporate social responsibility at Rabobank, spoke about what moved her to become a member as the first Pioneer: “Artists use this space for pioneering, and Pioneers can get close to this process.” Tim Breukers, artist, talked about his work en what pioneering means to him: “Pioneering is about searching for new options and have fun while doing it.” With a ‘food-experience’, artist Masha Ru wound up the kick-off.

Photo’s by Tomek Dersu Aaron

We achieved 250 posts!

We achieved 250 posts!

Rijksakademie Internal Open Studios - 31 March 2014

by Frederieke Beunk

Three times a year the Rijksakademie residents open their studios during the Internal open studios. On this day all residents, advisors and staff can view the work in progress in the studios. To give an impression of this day, the Rijksakademie wants to share some photos.

Part 2 of 2