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TRACES OF THE PAST #35 – NEUCHATEL – 2020
We were so optimistic in the 1960s. Things could only get better. The advent of modern appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators changed the lives of women. We put a man on the moon. The future looked bright. But of course, all that changed. The rise of our living standard created a waste problem and climate change became a serious issue. Instead of hope the dominant mood today seems to be one of anxiety. Is it all downhill from here?
TRACES OF THE PAST #26 – STRASBOURG – 2020
Was it just vandalism? Or was it a clear case of anti-Semitic aggression directed at the emblem of the State of Israel, the seven-branched menorah? Is Arab hostility towards Jews anti-Semitic or just a political thing? Is it possible to discuss Israel’s human rights record without being called anti-Semitic? They say anti-Semitism is rife amongst young Muslim men. Yes, it is true that Muslim extremists have been responsible for some of the anti-Jewish attacks in Europe, but Muslim organizations firmly condemned such actions. Is violence ever a legitimate form of protest? Well, maybe in this case it was just kids having fun smashing windows….
TRACES OF THE PAST #28 – AACHEN – 2020
Thalidomide (brand name Contergan, Softenon) had been prescribed in the late 1950s and early 1960s to pregnant women to help reduce morning sickness, but tragically, it turned out to be toxic to developing fetuses. Worldwide, an estimated 24,000 babies were born with short arms, twisted hands and no thumbs. The thalidomide tragedy is probably one of the greatest pharmaceutical disasters of all time. In November 1961, the Grünenthal company withdrew the drug from the market, but thalidomide never disappeared, it is available now for treating leprosy and as an anticancer drug.
TRACES OF THE PAST #18 – COLMAR – 2020
I didn’t know the French liked rum so much. Negrita rum is distilled in the French islands of Réunion, Guadeloupe, and Martinique in the Caribbean. In the colonial era, rum production depended on the labor of slaves to harvest the sugar cane. Advertising this Caribbean drink with a picture of a black girl seems logical. Who doesn’t want to be served by a black servant? To this day, the logo of the Negrita brand is this black girl, but in their ads they now show a more diverse group of ethnically mixed young people, dancing in the Caribbean sun.
TRACES OF THE PAST #19 – BREMGARTEN – 2020
When did this Madonna and Child end up in the river Reuss? Was it in 1529, when Bremgarten became a Protestant city? But the city was re-Catholicised only two years later, after the Second War of Kappel. Or was it in 1712, after the Second Villmerger War, when the official religion changed back to Protestantism again? For a long time there was no individual freedom of religion in Switzerland. Everybody had to adopt the faith of their rulers (‘cuius regio, eius religio’). Dissenters who didn’t want to convert had to emigrate to a region where their faith was the state religion. Or they could hide their faith (and maybe even throw away a Madonna and Child sculpture) just to be on the safe side….
TRACES OF THE PAST #13 – KUSNACHT – 2020
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Nobel Prize Winner Thomas Mann was told that it would no longer be safe for him to live in Germany, so he fled to Switzerland. From 1933 to 1938 he lived in exile in Küsnacht. I wonder, did he write ‘Joseph in Egypt’ and ‘Lotte in Weimar’ on this old Continental typewriter I found in the garden of his villa (Schiedhaldenstrasse 33)?
TRACES OF THE PAST #29 – AMSTERDAM – 2020
Phil Ochs (1940 – 1976) was an American protest singer and a political activist. He was part of the 1960s counterculture and performed endlessly at civil rights rallies and anti-war demonstrations. He released eight albums on a major record label, but was unhappy that his work was not receiving the popular success he had hoped for. Depressed by this lack of widespread appreciation and suffering from writer’s block his drinking became more and more of a problem. He committed suicide in 1976 at the age of 35.
TRACES OF THE PAST #10 – AMSTERDAM – 2020
Gary Glitter (real name Paul Gadd), was a successful glam rocker in the 1970s, selling over 20 million records. In 1999 he was sentenced to 4 months in prison for possession of child pornography. Later, he was convicted repeatedly of child sexual abuse, cumulating in a 16 years in prison conviction in 2015 for having sex with a girl under the age of 13. Is it ever OK to listen to the music of this convicted pedophile? Can we separate the artist from his art?
LIFE & DEATH #12 (THE PAINTER) – ROTTERDAM – 2018
Charles Rochussen (1814 – 1894) was a 19th-century painter from Rotterdam, who was also known as an illustrator and printmaker. As a boy he showed a talent for drawing, however, it was decided that he would pursue a career in business. He worked for a few years in an office before resolving at the age of 22 to turn to painting. His speciality was history painting. Do you ever see one of his paintings in a museum?

LIFE & DEATH #3 (THE WRITER) – AMSTERDAM – 2018
Heere Heeresma (1932 – 2011) was a Dutch writer and poet. His novel ‘Een dagje naar het strand’ was adapted for the screen twice. He propagated unpretentious and readable texts. Under different pseudonyms he also wrote erotic and pornographic books. Does anyone read his books nowadays?

LIFE & DEATH #6 (THE ACTRESS) – AMSTERDAM – 2018
Julia de Gruijter (1887-1967) was a famous actress, decorated by the king of Belgium, buried in Amsterdam and today completely forgotten. Let’s give her an audience again.

LIFE & DEATH #1 (THE POET) – ROTTERDAM – 2016
Cornelis Bastiaan Vaandrager (1935-1992) was a Dutch poet, famous in the 60’s, addicted to drugs in the 70’s, wandering the streets as a misfit in the 80’s. He died lonely at the age of 56.

LIFE & DEATH #15 (THE PAINTER) – THE HAGUE – 2018
Bernard Blommers (1845 – 1914) was a Dutch painter. He mainly painted genre works depicting fishermen and their wives. His work was critically successful during his lifetime, being sought after by English, Scottish and American collectors. Now he is all but forgotten.

LIFE & DEATH #21 (THE POET) – AMSTERDAM – 2018
Johan Werumeus Buning (1891 – 1958) was a Dutch poet and writer. He published 18 volumes of poetry. His most famous line was ‘Maar de boer, hij ploegde voort’. During World War II he joint the Reichskulturkammer (a Nazi organisation) which led to a two year publication ban after the war. Who reads his poems nowadays?

RETROSPECTIVE

How do you show temporary, site-specific art years later in a RETROSPECTIVE?

Harmen de Hoop re-created works in Rotterdam that were made anonymously and without permission in other cities.

The question is: in what way does a new location and a different context change the meaning of the work?

RETROSPECTIVE (LADIES & GENTS) – ROTTERDAM – 2017

LADIES & GENTS #1 – BERLIN – 1993
Executed 24 years later and in another city. What are the significant shifts in meaning? In Berlin, the work hinted at the post-war guilt about the division of people into groups. And it raised the question of how law-abiding the ‘Ossies’ and ‘Wessies’ were in 1993. Re-created in 2017 in Rotterdam-South, one might think it has to do with an Islamic division of men and women. Or is it symbolic that this time the women are mentioned first, and not the men? Is feminism doing well in our globalized world? Perhaps we should also take the discussion about gender-neutral toilets into consideration. Are these gender-neutral benches in public space a positive thing or will the sexual harassment of women decline if we install more gender-specific benches?
RETROSPECTIVE (HAIRDRESSER) – ROTTERDAM – 2017
HAIRDRESSER – AMSTERDAM – 1987
Once again, ‘rays of light’ were placed above the mirrors of a ladies’ hairdresser. What is the difference between Amsterdam in 1987 and Rotterdam in 2017? At Dameskapsalon Elise in Amsterdam, the clientele consisted of white women of a certain age, who had their hair done almost every week. Not because it was necessary, but because they liked the attention, the fingers running through their hair. Angel Cuts in Rotterdam is also a salon for ladies only. But the differences could not be greater: here young, colored women are taken care of by top stylists (according to their website). The aim is to be glamorous, night and day. Who needs to be ‘crowned with radiance’ most? The old ladies in Amsterdam or the young women in Rotterdam? Age or skin color, does it matter? Do we not all crave attention?

RETROSPECTIVE (GARDENING TOOLS) – ROTTERDAM – 2017

GARDENING TOOLS – ST. LAURENT – 1997
On the outskirts of Saint-Laurent-de-Neste I spotted a bulletin board used by the residents to communicate to each other. The garden tools I added seem to call for a joint maintenance of the public green areas. Did anyone respond? And did they return the tools afterwards? I do not know what the social norms and values were in 1997 in this 900-year-old village. And I also do not know whether they have changed since then.
In 2017 I added a similar set of garden tools to a billboard in front of an empty office complex in Rotterdam. Which potential user is being addressed here? The dismissed employee who is advised to take up a new hobby? Or is the focus a new employer who can offer his employees the benefit of some relaxing gardening? Or maybe these offices are no longer necessary and the city can decide to extend that small piece of greenery to a fully-fledged park after the demolition of the buildings? Options enough. Now we just have to wait and see what happens to the garden tools…
WATERING DEAD TREES – WALVIS BAY – 2001
RETROSPECTIVE (WATERING A PALM) – ROTTERDAM – 2017
Broad-leaf trees at Walvis Bay, Namibia. Planted by the white citizens. Was it a custom that they, either conciously or not, took with them from their home countries? The black citizens had no gardens; they understood that almost nothing grows on desert soil. It reminded me of something I saw in Israel. There, on similar desert-like soil, patches of grass were planted between most roads. Grass that had to be watered constantly, while at the same time the Palestinian territories were going through a water-shortage. Was making the environment look European the only way they could feel at home?
There are three palm trees on the Rijnhoutplein in Rotterdam. Who put them there? The municipality? Was it a clumsy, but well-meaning attempt to make immigrants from southern countries feel more at home? Or is it simply a result of globalization, where we copy anything from anywhere, making everything look alike? But isn’t it too wet in the Netherlands for these palm trees? What are the odds of their survival?
FOR SALE – PARAMARIBO – 2005
RETROSPECTIVE (FOR SALE) – ROTTERDAM – 2017
What is the most important thing in life? Money? In a scene I staged in Surinam, a man tried to sell a rusty, overgrown car. That was not as absurd as it seems. Everywhere in Paramaribo cars much like this one were put up for sale. Probably as a valuable source of spare parts. But when does something stop being a sellable commodity? Do we give up too easily in Holland? I try to make some money myself by selling a house in Rotterdam in the Wielewaal neighbourhood. Built in 1949 to reduce the housing shortage after the Second World War and meant to last for just 25 years, now the residents and the housing association argue about preservation or demolition. In the meantime I put a house (I do not own) up for sale. I have to make a living too, don’t I? Any takers?
RESTORING – DEN HAAG – 2007
RETROSPECTIVE (RESTORING) – ROTTERDAM – 2018
Should art be useful? Are we tired of beautiful paintings and do we think that artists should contribute more directly to a better world? Does holding up a mirror to society no longer suffice? Is decisive action needed? If you see a worn out pedestrian crossing, is the right course of action to take up a brush? Should we fight not only material, but also societal deterioration? It is said that graffiti, economic instability and social discontent are intricately connected, and that keeping the environment clean and removing graffiti will prevent further decay. But isn’t that merely treating the symptoms, while the underlying causes are not adressed? Whose side is the artist on anyway?