Shining a light and what is not allowed to be

My mother bore seven children in seven years and I was number seven. My mother could not take it physically, and when her mother also passed away, she had a mental collaps. There was no room for me, but that was understandable. But the feeling that I actually was allowed to be sits deep and is drives me. In my art I want to focus attention on things that are not allowed to be. Attention for dark regions, denial, things that are ignored or are taboo. I want to shine a light on them. The dead, Jewish victims, the elderly (new project Hidden Legacy) and recently, even children with their silent grief (rituals in the classroom). Existential stories come to the surface through the rituals I develop, and they take form. It is a very valuable instrument which I have become devoted to.

I create a mythical reality in which people can search for meaning so they can go on or get a grip on things. A ritual is a guided symbolic intervention with which social, spiritual  or psychological goals can be reached. Rituals can help us with all difficulties  which we don’t know how to handle, how to react to, or cannot explain. Rituals make real and meaningful meetings possible and have a healing effect. Participants can actively relate to the ritual work of art.  Their stories and emotions have a place in these symbolic interventions. A ritual is a total package of place, sound, gesture, language and form. Clearly one works with other art disciplines and cultural forms. I always make cross connections with theater, poetry, choreography, song, cultural heritage, museums and amateur art. The poetic strength of art gives rituals the power of imagination and a contemporary character.

In 1995 I graduated from HKU University of Arts Utrecht in autonomous design. During my studies, I spent two periods abroad, in1993 in Brittany, France and in 1994 in Wroclaw, Poland. During that time landscapes and places played an important role for me.

My artistic practice has stood in the center of society since 1996. It has to do with what is known as “community art”. At that time, I had not heard of the term, but I was already doing it. It was already clear to me that I wanted to give meaning to sensitive processes in society. One of my first projects was “Was goed is goed” (1998), which contributed to the “reconstruction” of the neighborhood in the Vrolikstraat where I used to live, after the murder of a Turkish girl by a mentally disturbed man.

From 1996 till 2008, I developed and carried out six art projects dealing with the razing of neighborhoods and changes in the landscape. Everything I discovered in previous projects came together in project “Sloophamer Schatkamer” (Zaandam 2003-2006). Saying farewell was the common denominator. The projects were innovative and received much financial support and publicity. I was at the forefront of community art.

Since 2005 to today, the commemoration projects “Allerzielen Alom” (All Souls’ Day Everywhere) and “Names and Numbers” have become quite important. During Allerzielen Alom celebrations, cemeteries are decorated with light and fire. But most important are the rituals which I and other artists have designed to commemorate the dead. In 2008 I won the Yarden Prize for this project. The project also received much publicity and financial support. It gave a fresh impetus to the culture of death.

Names and Numbers is a memorial project to commemorate the deported Jews. The project shows that new forms of commemoration and rituals are required in this day and age. People were deeply touched.

Rituals have become my focus. I have found that the rituals are not only suitable for commemoration and dealing with situations of change and loss. They are also a very good instrument for communication tool, for telling stories, or for discussing issues which would normally be taboo. Examples are Memory Things, the Goose Board, and Dining with the Dead.

Ritual art will play an important role in the project “Undiscovered Lecacy” which will start in 2017. Furthermore I am involved with the University for Humanism, where I will be giving guest lectures for a new program for celebrants.

I have worked with so many people, artists, volunteers, all kinds of clients, and leaders in the world of community art and culture. They have inspired me, or helped keep me on track. I would like to mention a number of people specifically: Michael Hoogenhuyze who has followed my practice from the very beginning and has provided me with a theoretical framework; artist Jaap Velserboer with whom I have worked closely on many projects, as well as with Ronald Tebra as creative producer. Further, Itie Langeland, Simone de Groot, Ada Leenheer, Natasja van Eijk, Jessica Panhuysen, Lenneke van der Goot, Saar Frieling, Mechtild Prins, Wendela Kloosterman have contributed wonderfully, again and again in many projects. Arnold Weel (graphic design), Max Linsen (photography), Louise Koopman (editing) provided documentation. Through Sikko Cleveringa, I have given many guest lectures at CALXL. And then of course the members of the board of the Allerzielen Alom foundation, Sander Hartog and Lucas van Rooyen, and my permanent volunteer, assistant and husband, Bill Wei. Many thanks.