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Since you call yourself an observer of humankind, what are your recent observations?
In short, my work explores the paradox between how people represent themselves and who they really are – not just on an individual level, but also on a higher scale. How important do we feel as humankind and how important are we really? Currently, my interests revolve more and more around the theme of extreme branding. My name, ‘Kristof Van Heeschvelde’, as a brand and the brand as a product. For my performance DIT IS MIJN NAAM (2015) and the installation ZIEHIER MIJN NAAM (2015), I wrote my name on a card and sprayed it on a wall. And now I’m developing an AR app that lets you place a hologram of my name into your surroundings. It’s all about the façade versus the reality. Over the years the brand has become more important than the product itself. Back in the days you bought a pair of jeans, now you’re buying a pair of Levi’s. You can spot the same dynamics in the art world as well. Some time ago I read an article about the greatness of the paintings of comic actor Jim Carrey. Without being too judgmental, if you’re a little critical you know that what he paints is not of a standard quality.
Over the years the brand has become more important than the product itself
You mean, a famous artist isn’t necessarily a good artist?
Correct, although it is possible. But in my opinion, people become less sharp when faced with a famous artist. Additionally, for the rather small fishes in the art world it’s very hard to criticise the grand names. It’s not acceptable to visit a gallery and shout out that the room is filled with crap. When you do that, you immediately get pigeonholed as the frustrated, critical artist. A reputation that will eventually overshadow your work.
Isn’t it a pity that there’s almost no room any more for criticism between artists?
Of course. I became an artist because of the freedom artists are supposed to get. Sadly, the truth is far from that. Because you’re part of an economic system, you get judged on your sales numbers. When you sell out your show, you’re a good artist. Ridiculous, but this commercial mindset has become deeply rooted in the art world. It’s less and less about the content of the works.
What about you? Are you managing your artistic career?
There was a time when I really put effort into creating a steady network. To the point that I realised, ‘What the heck am I doing? Do I want to become a famous artist or a good artist?’ Sure, it’s important to network, but you should never neglect your art practice. You have to stay focused at making good work. Networking is so hollow. People go to an expo to literally show their faces. I don’t want to do this any more. Hence, I only visit an exhibition because I’m interested in the art.
Do you use social media to promote yourself as an artist?
I use Facebook and Instagram. But I deliberately don’t have an artist page on Facebook. I can’t detach myself from being an artist. An art page is merely about promoting the name of the artist. I do want to scatter my name around the world, but only under the guise of extreme branding.
With my extreme branding projects I kind of criticise the current wave of branding yourself through social media
What’s your opinion about social media?
With my extreme branding projects I kind of criticise the current wave of branding yourself through social media. A year ago, I also made a series of smaller paintings based on private pictures that friends had put on Facebook. It’s striking what people find important enough to put on the internet. By painting my friends’ photos I created new stories because there’s a bigger distance between me and the people in the pictures, and a painting gets a different value than a picture on social media.
How do you want to be remembered?
As a human artist.