Crystal Z. Campbell is in the second year of her residency. Her main project which she showed at the RijksakademieOPEN is focused on HeLa cells which she managed - in cooperation with a scientist - to grow on a diamond. The project has many aspects and many layers and the most ambitious part is yet to come. I asked her about her work in her studio.
What are HeLa cells?
HeLa cells are cancer cells from an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks. The cells were taken in 1951 without her consent and her family didn’t know her cells were being used for scientific research until almost twenty years later. HeLa cells are often called immortal. I consider the HeLa cell line to be cosmic fingerprints––they contributed to faulty scientific claims, treatments for tuberculosis, were injected into prisoners and even sent to outer space.
How did you come into contact with the HeLa cells?
I stumbled across the HeLa story while reading an article on bioethics a few years ago. An advisor here, Tijs Goldschmidt, introduced me to someone at the University of Leiden lab and they connected me to the scientist who worked with HeLa cells.
So you didn’t buy them?
No, live HeLa cells would need to be taken care of and kept alive… you have to cultivate them, feed them. For other works in the show, I did buy vintage bacteria samples from 1940’s from a medical collector and samples of skin and fingertips. The skin and fingertip samples arrived in an unmarked envelope without a return address. I found it strange how these samples become part of the commercial market and wondered who they belong to, and what the ethical limits of this biological material are.
A while ago I visited Jason Gomez in his studio. (You can read about it here.) Back then he was completely submerged in his artistic process. Of course I wondered where he had surfaced. Was he still reflecting on the plaster casts he found in the Rijksakademie’s storage?
When we last spoke we touched upon many different topics and today we almost immediately continue in the same manner. “When you asked me a few months ago how I wanted to present my work during the open studios I was thinking about incorporating movement. I remember considering possible kinetic elements. The movement did find its way in the work, but in a very different manner. Now it’s more part of it. The material is slowly but surely moving – molding, deteriorating, even more obviously shrinking and becoming more opaque. So it moves.”
Felix Burger re-enacts and simultaneously deconstructs German myths in a play of references to Beuys, Wagner and Ludwig II. In two adjoining studios he presents a combination of video, photography and objects used in performances. One studio contains a video installation, photographs, a map and several artefacts. In the other, there is a large model of a crash site, surrounded by small photographs. Each studio has a distinct atmosphere, the first is dark and mad, the other is a calm look back. Still, both studios are intrinsically tied together, as Burger explains.
“There are two rooms, but in a way it’s one room. It’s a work about three German men, Joseph Beuys, Richard Wagner and Ludwig II, and the myths surrounding them. All three are famous in Germany, but Ludwig II is probably less known in the Netherlands. He was a famous king in Bavaria in the 19th century. Ludwig II wasn’t interested in governing, he just wanted to build dream castles. He was like the David Bowie of the 19th century, he is also called the Swan King. He was gay, I think, but he didn’t live it and he was very depressed.”
“I tried to combine these three persons in my work in different ways. I built a fetish puppet of Richard Wagner and used it in a Parsifal staging. I masqueraded myself as the Swan King. I also re-enacted the fake story of the plane crash of Joseph Beuys and combined it with a story of a plane crash in the Andes where survivors ate others in order to stay alive. I’m not a fan of Beuys his work but I like that he has created a myth about his persona. I also don’t like Wagner, in a way, but I like this idea of Gesamtkunstwerk and Überwältigungsstrategie, this overdone, kitschy approach. I think an important aspect of my work is that I deal with these big scenarios in a very dilettantish way.”
Marcel van den Berg presents several works that indicate his evolution during his Rijksakademie residency. At the start, he commenced with mainly figurative work which he energetically put onto the canvas. Mainly basing the images on photographs and avidly using art historical references in his titles. His energetic mode of working, now increasingly transforms itself into works that show the action and movement of the painting process itself, by moving away from figuration into abstract depictions. Overtime Van den Berg sought ‘a different manner to incorporate text into his pictures’, by showing scattered sentences here and there, now - during this presentation – having found the right manner to do so: indicated by an entire Sun Ra lyric into a twofold painting, on paper. Next to his painting practice, Marcel van den Berg also started to make sculptures and objects, which provides him ‘new ways to give form to his intentions’. His residency focused on the search of new ways of visual expression, having painting as his main occupation, however not being solely binded to this one certain medium. He is now also using different materials and mediums as a complementary practice to his painterly base. Being halfway his residency, the evolution shows he made significant steps, with a promising perspective for the next year.
Listen to the Shadows of Tomorrow by Madvillainy over here (Marcel van den Berg suggested the Flying Lotus remix).
Text VV, images CJ
Attention is a form of labor, it is a material thing, it is a scarce resource - Manuel de Landa
On Sunday at 13:45 Katja Novitskova is going to give a talk on Attention Economies and Evolution of Forms, which focuses on the overlap between art, technology and nature. Before this takes place I interviewed her about her work – and attention economies, the evolution of forms, the overlap between art, technology and nature.
What is the your main interest in your work?
I really like the materiality of things, that the real world is tangible and I’m interested in the whole evolution behind it, the propagation and collapse of cultures. Culture nowadays has gone online and it has a very quick evolution time. My talk Sunday will be also mainly about this, the science of evolution and then connected to the online culture.
Culture is shifting more and more online.
What is also important is attractiveness. These images online survive because they are attractive. Then they are liked, shared and reproduced. That is how they stay alive. Notice that there are a lot of animal images online because we, humans are drawn to it. They were present throughout art history, and now they return online. They are somehow timeless. I can take these images out, make an installation and then make a photo of that installation and put it back online again, back into the circulation.
I see, and what about the arrows?
Well, what I like is to visualize what is online in real life. This arrow is a very abstract image. It is the arrow of economical growth, and it is nice to make it tangible. I research whether the growth is really growth or just imbalance. Species like to expand, and then become cannibalistic.
So I take out the arrow, this very abstract thing, make it real and physical, a creature in itself.
What do the handheld objects represent?
They are weapons, a silicone patty with razors in it. The rasors are made of printed circuit boards. This also talks about the materiality of the image, because although you see a jpg online, it is physically stored somewhere. Actually a lot of work went into the whole structure: someone had to mine it, someone put it all together.
There is this an excerpt from a song by Rihanna playing in the background - why is that song important for you?
Because she also sings about survival and evolution, she is also attractive and popular and I find that this snippet comments well on the whole piece, and it somehow also fits that it’s a female voice. I thought it would be good to isolate the phrase and insert it here.
The talk of Katja Novitskova on Attention Economies and Evolution of Forms takes place on Sunday at 13:45 in the Rabo room.
Text and images by KP
Dan Walwin (1986, GB) presents a continuous loop HD video. The camera moves close to the ground. People are lying on the ground, their bodies gasp for breath, materials are waving, sounds come and go. The spectators are the observators of the observations of the camera. Are we witnessing a disaster, are we investigating an odd phenomenon?
ZE: ‘It is crowded today. When I entered the studio and watched the video I experienced some kind of peacefulness, which is strange because the images of human bodies gasping for breath are also quite disturbing. What do you think of this work in the context op the RijksakademieOPEN?’
DW: ‘In the context of the exhibition, well, I suppose that was how I was approaching it. Because the place where the film is set, the set with all the materials, is a kind of self-contained environment. So it makes sense to show it in also a quite self-contained environment that has its own conditions for viewing it.’
It is very crowded again in the halls where I would like to poll the opinion of visitors, and ask Ruben Pater about his impressions.
KP: Do you come here often?
RP: Well, actually it is my first time.
KP: What did you like best from what you saw?
RP: Well, I haven’t been here long, but there is a lot to see. I didn’t know there were so many residents. But some of them I have already seen at other places, like Manifesta, the quality of the art here is really high.
KP: Do you have expectations about the Rijksakademie Open?
RP: Not really, but I like to be surprised.
Image & text KP
The works of Ran Zhang (1981, CN/NL) invite the viewer to touch. It is so intriguing what it could be made of: it could be metal or ceramics, something chemical… but actually it’s paper and pigments. Very fragile and delicate.
KP: You use a variety of techniques and media.
RZ: Yes, this year I published a book and then I made analogue foto’s, basically three types of different media. Everything is based on paper mixed with pigment. I wanted to have contentwise and formwise this in-betweenness, in between recognition and non-recognition, you don’t really know how it’s made.
KP: How do people react to not recognising?
RZ: People tend to touch it, they really really wonder how it’s made, they are really curious.
Min Oh (1975, KR/NL) presents a video doubled with a 12-minutes performance in the manege. In the video we see a young woman performing some sort of ritual with several wooden objects. She moves over and around them. On the occassion of the RijksakademieOPEN this is doubled by a performance with the same actress. She loosely follows the routine that she performed for the video. The performer, the Belgian Lisa Vereertbrugghen, is in her last year of ‘Choreography and Performance’ at the School voor Nieuwe Dansontwikkeling.
ZE: ‘You perform this piece quite frequently during the RijksakademieOPEN. It looks exhausting! How do you experience the weekend?’
LV: ‘I think it’s interesting to see how it changes. Every performance is completely different, partly depending on my exhaustion. But also the public reacts differently every time. For example one time a man was really bored but the door was closed and he was the whole time emphasizing the fact that he wanted to leave. However usually the public is quiet.’
Then I turned to Min Oh.
ZE: ‘For me there were elements of neuroticism in your performance and video, but that is perhaps my personal experience. Where does your fascination with control and power come from?’
MO: ‘It is always present in my entire life. When I was young I became aware of the fact that I couldn’t control situations. I was always wondering how I could change that.
When I asked the twenty-four-year-old Fanny Durocher which artworks she valued remarkable she came up with Thomas Raat (amongst others). He placed a series of large-scale MDF panels against the walls. They are oil painted with striking colours and sharp shapes.
ZE: ‘What do you like about this work?’
FD: ‘The rest of the art is quite conceptual. This is also focussing on the materiality. I understand that in these times artists often want to move away from the material because they connect it to consumerism. But for me this is equally interesting. I really like this one, I think it’s a head in an abstract form – within it there is a labyrinth. Maybe it symbolizes that the human mind is a labyrinth? Because of the style and forms I also connect it to graphic design. It reminded me of classic modernist design and I like that. It has that association but it is not the same I think. It is very different. Also when you read the book it says a lot about philosophy and the sublime. Of course the works speak for themselves but I think the philosophy attaches another layer. It has much more depth in it. However it is very dense so I didn’t understand everything…’
Actually the work is based on book covers from paperback books about the bigger questions in life, from the late 1940s until early 1970s. You can read more about it in the book by Thomas Raat that’s available at the book shop and is published by Onomatopee. A book launch with Thomas Raat and Freek Lomme from Onomatopee takes place at 14.00 in the Rabo Room today.
Images AK, text ZE
Somewhere all the way upstairs you find the exhibition space of Pawel Kruk. I took the small ladder towards his space, a challenge that immediately connects you to the people that did the same to get there. You see each other struggling and conversation arises. That’s how I met Sarah. She tells me that she is one of the founders of an exhibition space in Cairo called Beirut. The work of Pawel is something she is really enthusiastic about, because it takes some effort to see it. “This exhibition space is hidden, but some of the works exhibited in it are too. Everything reads like a diary, his personal life seems encrypted in it. He also makes references to his other work, so you have to dig deep to understand everything – it’s not so accessible. For me, the details are really intriuging.”
Image & text by FS
Marc Oosting’s work feels pretty monumental, one room is filled with classical looking white vitrines, another showcases a solid granite block on which a captcha is printed, and the biggest eye catcher could very well be a big plaster wall in which a selection of names from Rijksakademie residents is written.
"You could see it all as archives, in one room a collection of names, in the other a collection of words, and both are registrations of an experience."
Irina Popova (1986, RU) uses an alternative form of storytelling. Materials in her multiple narratives consist of photos, sand, stones and text. Is she in the process of burying the secrets of the past – her past, her mother country Russia’s past – or is she excavating them? I catched Lara Schoorl, a twenty-two-year-old art history student, wandering through Popova’s secret pasts.
ZE: ‘Do you have personal affiliations with Russia?’
LS: ‘Not really, but I don’t think that matters. This work is open to multiple interpretations, you can read your own story in it.’
ZE: ‘Do you feel like you’re close to her personal space?’
LS: ‘After reading the texts I do. But first I didn’t know whether these photos are personal or not. But given that this is about secrets you come quite close. Because of the sand and the stones it first felt quite lugubrious, especially the buried doll heads and teddy bear. It feels like someone is extremely dependent of control, the secrets and memories are simultaneously buried and kept. It’s almost obsessive.’