241 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

Echo + Seashell consists of artists Henna Hyvärinen and Susan Kooi Together they write and perform songs about their problematic art- and love life, based upon what is going on at the moment. The music is produced by and in collaboration with different musicians, resulting in variations in both style and genre.

The lyrics form the core, the “baby soul” of Echo + Seashell. Their collaboration consists out of live performances, videos and exhibitions. After having received many rejections on both a personal and a professional level, they recently produced a musical on the theme of rejection. For this project they held an open call, inviting people to send in an instrumental song. Striving for 0% rejection, they used all the 18 songs that were sent. For some they wrote lyrics, for others they made videos or found another platform. The musical consists of four parts: In the Game but Losing It, Hard and Soft, Project Runaway and Coldplay.

Play
Stone Shelter
Play
Stone Shelter remix (2014)

Music by echo+seashell and Islaja
Remix by Molly Waters

Play

I tried diligently to keep a straight face as I looked at the plate of sausages and strawberries in front of me. One of the sausages had cracked open, causing its dubious contents to ooze out right onto the fresh strawberry underneath it. The whole sad scene was covered in a filthy grey blanket of thick smoke and I wish I had dared to take a picture then and there for memory’s sake. The smoke was coming from the cigarette weged between the scrawny fingers of the woman next to me. She topped it off by harshly coughing all over the sausages, then said in all sincerity: ‘Why don’t you take a sausage, girl?’ ‘No thanks,’ I said, meanwhile heavily reconsidering my recent career decision.

Until recently, I had worked in an office where I enjoyed the company of my co-workers immensely and had thought optimistically that at each working place, there were top-notch people, in whom I would always be able to find inspiration for better days. I would continue working at this new place and keep my newly found gems with care. I would furthermore elaborate on these opportunities in texts, projects and future plans to-be-determined. Aside from indulging in this endearing optimism, I subjected myself to an experiment. How far could I go in selling my soul when it came to side jobs while managing to regularly do artistically legitimate things? When would I be an artist working in a hotel on the side, and at what point was I working in that same hotel with merely an artistically inclined hobby? Where is the balance and how far could I go?

Meanwhile, I was well underway indeed, and I felt the black void eyeing me. ‘Oh dear”, I thought, while rethinking my motives to work in this hotel. The cigarette had by then gone out, and the sausages and strawberries had been eagerly devoured by my company at the table. I scrutinised them one by one and considered their potential as part of my next project (or perhaps Sunday art session). The lady next to me was a fine specimen at any rate, and likewise the other ladies at the table wouldn’t be out of place in my collection of remarkable colleagues.

Rita, for one, had tobacco-coloured hair, ditto trousers, and chewed her sandwich in silence; Belinda entrusted me with hotel secrets, such as that it is endlessly preferable to not clean the rooms of cyclists or the Chinese; Denise told me proudly that she had left her junkie past behind her and had worked a solid thirty years for the hotel. She smiled baring her few remaining teeth and I smiled back. I was glad for her, but I’m always slightly creeped out when people at very unpleasant working places tell me that they’ve been working there for a very long time. I break out in sweat as I see my life flash before me, seeing the my future self as that person who, after art school, has begun ‘temporary’ employment, only to get stuck in it forever. People at an academy reunion will say something along the lines of: ‘Have you heard the news on Gerda? Been working in a hotel for thirty years.’ ‘The Volkshotel?’ ‘No, just some hotel. One of those along the highway whose name nobody really knows.’ ‘Oh.’

The roar of the radiators next to the room where we have our break saved me from the nightmare. My colleagues had stood up to get back to work and I considered for a moment to run off and never come back. I would like to emphasise, though, that I have no problem whatsoever with cleaning and similar jobs, as long as I manage to get some satisfaction from it. I have cleaned the houses of elderly people with great love, I have worked serving breakfast in hospitals, I’ve delivered mail for an entire summer (in my rain suit) and I have been personally responsible for planting roughly a thousand little plants in excruciatingly small pots on an assembly line. After this series of quite specific trades, I could go all out in my year long period as a teacher at an art centre, I worked in a fantastic shop (which has unfortunately closed), and, via the office, finally reached the hotel. The plan was to work there just enough to be able to pay my rent, and to otherwise get a good look at all the colourful visitors and their rooms in the name of art, and to then profit from it. As you will have surmised by now, my disappointment was considerable.

It was a characterless hotel where my job description consisted of getting the rooms to look as clean as possible. Until recently, I had enjoyed being in hotels, but those days were behind me for good. I pulled hair that belonged to strangers from shower drains and was instructed to dry toilets with towels (really) as well as to clean used cups by rinsing them with cold water before putting them back on the shelf (really). Not only was my Theory of Employment of before severely threatened, but I also began to worry about my karma as I carried out orders that turned the hotel into one big death trap of bacteria, diseases and other disgusting pests. Therefore, I decided to throw in the (filthy) towel and to look for a different side job. The risk seemed just too big to stay and find out where I would end up then.

From the one strange working environment I rolled straight into the other, where I planned truck routes throughout the whole country from a kind of control centre. As far as art school graduates go, I am pretty good at focussing, coordinating and organising things so it seemed no harder to do the same thing applied to truck drivers. I worked hard and eventually bit myself in the butt by planning everything so efficiently that I had finished the job three weeks before the intended date. But maybe that was for the best, since my colleagues knew that I was employed on a temporary basis and decided for the sake of convenience to act as if I had already left. It was a strange experience that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody.

Meanwhile, my projects grew like cabbage and I was asked for the most splendid things. I participated in a documentary on creativity, founded a meeting place that drew a lot of visitors, interviewed artists and was told by everyone that I was doing so well for myself. It was true that during my free days I worked passionately on my projects and saw them grow, but it was still bothering me that I could not earn a living with what I did best. In this way, I dug for both dream jobs within the cultural sphere as sad job offers within the other one.

Hooked on the employment version of Russian roulette, I kept on playing. Was it going to be another miserable side job or would it be something else? The gods proved benevolent in my favour, for instead of the next grey work spot, I was granted the chance to tag along with the editors of the magazine Kunstbeeld. Not only did I discover that my heroes behind Kunstbeeld were very sociable, but also that there is paid work in this world that challenges your talents. I immersed myself in it completely; I emailed back and forth with artists and their assistants, interviewed Marlene Dumas while I was quivering like a leaf, and travelled the entire country in the name of art. I wrote my reports passionately, took in every possible experience and prepared for what would come next.

I hoped with all my heart and soul that I could do something in which I could work with both my brains and my pen, where I could coordinate and work together with people that make me happy, and so that, like the cherry on the cake, I could earn the roof above my head. After being rejected by email at least every day, all of a sudden there was the message on Saturday night that said: ‘What line of work are in you nowadays? Are you good at organising?’ I looked at my screen and up again, thinking for a second that the universe was surely playing a cruel game with me. ‘I am very good at organising.’ I replied. After many messages back and forth and one conversation, I have suddenly been equipped with a real job with all kinds of things I like and am good at; I work for two very nice people, who even invited me along to Cape Town to do even more wonderful things.

Trying to comprehend this turn of the plot, I think back to last year. The office, the trucks, Kunstbeeld and even the sausages and strawberries on a plate in that hotel. I remember the smoke blowing over them and realise I have escaped a certain destiny. A smile curls slowly upwards on my face. For now.

André Thijssen, Aksacoka, Turkey
André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2011
André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2012
André Thijssen, Aksacoka, Turkey

Is there any feeling, besides happiness, that surpasses the experience of adventure? Yes, the pleasant surprise of the new. This can happen even when well into old age and pockmarked by years bygone, if you remain open to the experience of receiving these novel encounters.

André Thijssen, Aksacoka, Turkey

As a maker of images, with the camera as my tool, I’ve done the necessary travelling in search of adventure. Awakening in a strange bed, in a new location, and entering a new world after breakfast, full of anticipation, is always pleasantly charged.

André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2011

One can avoid an expensive plane ticket by veering from your usual routine. Preferentially by walking, so that you’ll be able to catch details that may seem unimportant

André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2011

I find it an extraordinary sensation to glimpse an intriguing mystery in the corner of your eye that makes you slow your pace.

When the two dimensional reproduction of such a mystery still conjures that same enjoyable feeling of the inscrutable in both yourself and in others, one could say that you have a successful work before you.

André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2012

The images in my archive are not always of equal obscurity; some are of a more anecdotal nature. These photos are more about situations, sometimes puzzling as to why someone would leave a situation a certain way.

André Thijssen, Aksacoka, Turkey, 2011
For editorial commissions I often delve into this part of my archive first. An image placed next to text demands a different approach: an autonomous image applied associatively results in a more exciting interaction that a servile illustration spelling all out. Editorial images don’t always need to clarify but can, as I prefer, to evoke discussion.

Approaching the subject from an unexpected angle can result in new, surprising meaning.

André Thijssen, Rincon de la Victoria, Spain 2013

http://theotherpicture.com

http://fringephenomena.com

http://nl.blurb.com/books/4531276-fringe-phenomena-3

André Thijssen, Sania, Hainan, China 2007
André Thijssen, Haarlem, Netherlands 2012
André Thijssen, Haarlem, Netherlands 2012

When I was asked to find a subject for my thesis, I panicked almost immediately. I felt that my subject would need to relate to my work and connect to my artistic research. It also had to inspire new work, be original, innovative, and relevant. All in all, it had to be perfect.

During each and every one of my assessments and work presentations at the KABK, I’ve been told that I need to learn to let go. To dare to let go. Dare to fail. On the first day of each academic year, the head tutor Johan van Oord proclaims the necessity of failure for the student’s artistic development. In his opening speech, he refers to the academy as ‘the temple of failure,’ where one is expected to produce a multitude of ‘bad’ works rather than ‘good’ works, a place where failure is valuable. Failure is the only way in which the student can learn, improve his artistic practice and develop himself. But is this really the case?

I decided to dedicate my thesis to a study of failure within the artistic process and its influence on artistic development. I named it Fail to Learn.
But what does it mean to fail? I turned to the most practical tool first: the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary listed a number of definitions that I applied to a work of art as well as to the artistic process. In a nutshell, it seemed that what doesn’t succeed, fails, and what doesn’t fail, succeeds. The context in which the word is used is of utmost importance. An influential figure in the ‘art world’, a gallery owner, or art critic might refer to an artist as ‘failed’. But does this really mean that the artwork and the artist have failed? Or is it the artist who determines whether or not his work has failed? There’s one thing I’m sure of: we can’t control failure. Failure is dependent on coincidence and purposely failing is impossible. Maybe this is the source of my frustration when I’m summoned to take a risk, to dare to fail. Being a perfectionist, I tried to learn by doing my best to fail. In the end, I fail to learn.

I also looked at the psychological factors that influence failure within the artistic practice. For example, my greatest enemy: fear of failure. In Creativiteit onder druk, Maria Hopman writes that fear of failure is a fear that exists exclusively in our own experience. Her research uncovered that people who see themselves as fearing failure are equally tense as those who don’t consider their anxiety to be fear of failure. It seems that fear of failure is a phenomenon inherent only in the way that someone experiences or defines their fear. Still, fear of failure can have a stifling impact on the artistic practice. Hopman claims that taking responsibility and maintaining an active attitude are the only effective weapons against the blockade that fear of failure can produce. Additionally, Klaus Ottman describes the importance of assuming a certain attitude when dealing with failure. He calls it the ‘genius decision’, which boils down to the artist’s attempt at making the impossible possible. Art’s possible significance lies within this relationship between failure and striving for success.

Thinking back to Johan van Oord’s statement, I kept wondering how one could truly learn through failing. I realized I was looking for a practical use of failure within the artistic learning process. To study this further, I looked at the psychologist B.F. Skinner’s research into behavioural therapy. I attempted to apply his ideas on ‘operant conditioning’ on ‘art-making’ behaviour. According to Skinner, all behaviour (like art-making, for example) can be conditioned (taught) by giving the promise of a positive reward, which encourages and possibly even improves behaviour. But when behaviour is met with a negative response, like when your teachers disapprove of your work, this behaviour will be avoided in the future. In this sense, the ‘use’ of failure lies in its ability to teach someone to cease certain behaviour in order to avoid failure. Most important, according to Skinner, is that failure related to ensuing negative consequences, leads to a change in the artist’s behaviour and a modification of his artistic strategy. This can be seen as a positive influence that learning through failure can exert on the artistic development.

However much sense this principle might make, it’s obviously not that simple within the every day practice of art education. Here, the art student is expected to conduct fundamental research for his work on a ‘theoretical’ and ‘artistic’ basis. This sounds very broad, and it is. It’s difficult to discern whether a student has failed or succeeded to live up to these expectations. In any case, it’s essential for a student to learn how to deal with consequences such as negative feedback, because criticism from tutors and students is the most influential and important frame of reference available to the student. As long as the student remains open to the learning process inherent in criticism and feedback, the artistic crisis and failure can be overcome.

I spoke to Johan van Oord about the academy as ‘the temple of failure’ and asked him about the photo he used to illustrate this: Leap into the Void by Yves Klein. According to van Oord, this is a good example of a work resulting from failure. During the making of the photo, Klein had to fall in order to fly within the photo. Falling to fly. Failing to succeed. Failure and triumph are of equal importance within artistic development, said van Oord, upon which he concluded by saying that it would perhaps be better to refer to the academy as ‘the temple of failure and triumph’ instead.
  1. M. Hopman, Creativiteit onder druk, omgaan met faalangst en kritiek in kunst en kunstonderwijs. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1999
  2. K. Ottman, The Genius Decision: The Extraordinary and the Postmodern Condition, Putnam, CT; Spring Publications, 2004
  3. J. van der Tas, De muze als professie, Onderwijsvernieuwing aan de Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten. Raamsdonksveer: Drukkerij Dombosch [z.j]
Shopping the stars

Shopping the stars, along the M8, Glasgow 1996

Shopping the stars

Shopping the stars, along the M8, Glasgow 1996

The exaggerated kind of art

The way it’s supposed to be art

The I’m a child of the sun art

The God is with us art

The I work with animals art

The I work with textile art

The I work with energy art

The I do something with people art

The I love you art

The that’s the way it is and leave it be

The and again type of art

The don’t cross the line art

The that the way it was art

The absurd-making art

The I see so many beautiful things art

The that’s the way it actually is art

The this is what you get when you do that art

The I found this and did something with it art

The I see what you don’t see art

The what is it really like art

The that’s the way it is and it will stay art

The watch me torture myself art

The what on earth is that about art

The back to school art

The my subject is giraffe and I will explore that art

The bigger the better art

The as long as it’s far away art
The look at me go! Art

The watch your navel art

The look how horny I am art

The I don’t care about anything art

The whole milk art

The I do that too art

The I could do that too art

The I really want to be real art

The look at all I’ve read art

The it looks almost real art

The laughs and entertainment art

The don’t mess with this art

The look what I made art

The feel with me art

The it’s not what you think art

The thick wood sawed with planks art

The that’s just me art

The romance of the sketchpad art

The greasy glitzy art

The statement art

The showing that that’s the way it is art

The if you do this you get that art

The back to basics are

The look how honest I am art

The I’m still working on it art

The I read this and made that art

The long live confusion art

The I do it for you art

The little means, big result art

The that’s the way I work art

The pleasantly worked together art

The just do whatever art

The show where it comes from art

The bring it on art

The let yourself go art

The conversation in between art

The I thought it should be like that, I did it, and now it’s good art

The oh-how-awful art

The there’s already so much art

The out of context art

The if you put this next to that art

The now something new happens art

The how did you come up with that art

The you’re allowed to see the strings art

The done by computer art

The it’s still functional art

The I’m making a point art

The I make you think art

The let’s make a meal art

The I do something with space art

The I find space very important art

The I think, actually, everything is important art

The, well, I could do that too art