Venturing into a fantastical world
Natasja Mabesoone’s work is built around the ephemeral yet elaborate pressing and printing techniques and the playful exploration of imagery and storytelling. We meet on a sunny day in Brussels to explore the scenographic exhibition of Sophie Whettnall joined by the organic paintings of Etel Adnan and the rays of light coming through the various perforated forms. Looking at the landscape (and touching it), we discuss WAT (working apart together) and the approach to creativity which allows the ideas to calmly circulate, embedded into the daily ecology.
Interview by Weronika Zalewska
Photos by Tiny Geeroms, shot at
CENTRALE for contemporary art in Brussels
Can you introduce us to your work?
My work consists of layered etchings and drawings, often shown in a handmade frame. In the soft ground etchings, known by their French name ‘vernis mou’, various objects, like flowers, fabrics, and embossed paper are pressed into a soft varnish before placing the zinc or copper plate into a mordant. This fundamental layer then concedes additional imagery, such as drawings, monoprints or more etchings, to waft on top of, through, or underneath, this background.
I always tend to say that my pictorial vocabulary derives from bus trips, wordplay, sudokus, old cartoons…
I always tend to say that my pictorial vocabulary derives from bus trips, wordplay, sudokus, old cartoons… I’m interested in fragmented ways of dealing with things, using various inspirations.
Through the various inspirations, your images create their own fragmented worlds and poetic stories. What are the driving forces behind your process?
In each of my work you have different protagonist. It’s always difficult to speak of inspiration- for me it’s a natural thing that you live: you read things, you see things, you like them or you don’t, but they continuously affect you. I write a lot of things down. It’s important for me to have a certain idea, a starting point. You have this content-based element but you also move on to work within your medium.
And what is your creative rhythm? Do you work regularly or more with the flow of ideas?
When I finish certain series it always takes me a while to find back the steady rhythm. I go on developing ideas, trying things out, and sometimes get blocked by that. I want to do everything, read new things and know them by heart immediately, make drawings that satisfy me, while I know ‘bad’ work is as important in your process. It’s always a pity when people want to have everything done at once; we sometimes expect too much of ourselves. If you’d just take time and, let’s say, read only one text throughout the day and understand it consciously, I think you’d be very happy. Letting things sink in, one at the time.
I know ‘bad’ work is as important in your process
You’re currently having a residence at Wiels together with 8 other artists. How does this experience influence you?
It’s been a very exciting experience so far. We have three mentors- Willem Oorebeek, Sylvie Eyberg and Simon Thompson. They either come by to our studios individually, or we do it as a group. Other times we just hang out together and watch films, such as Day is Done by Mike Kelley or Peter Roehr’s Film Montagen. Then we end the day at Bar à Nelson. Every day we’re in our own studio, then we meet for lunch or go see an exhibition in the evening. We all work within a collective rhythm so it’s very inspiring to be there. Anna (Škodenko) referred to us as her art family and I feel the same way.
Talking about the changing environment, we’ve just strolled around the organic works of of Sophie Whettnall and Etel Adnan. What are your reflections on the exhibition?
Sophie Whettnall’s work somehow makes me a think of modern impressionism in the way she wants to bring light into the exhibition space by perforating the objects. The viewer gets to participate and is given a chance (or maybe even a responsibility?) to have an eye for its subtle change of state… In relation to this, the abstract landscape paintings of Etel Adnan seem to act upon our sensibility to colours, forms and light. I’d like to think of the exhibition as a sensory experience.
Do you have your favorite work, or something that stands out for you in this exhibition?
The tension between masculine and feminine referred to in the exhibition really radiates in Sophie’s ‘Shadow Boxing’ video, shown in the outdoor wall of CENTRALE. It’s quite a strong image and you feel uncomfortable as a viewer as you can truly feel the tension between the model/artist and the boxer.
You’re not completely sure how it will come out; but this element feels very close to life
And, roaming around Centrale, did you trace some similarities to your work?
Perhaps the way Sophie takes time working with material – perforating wood or metal by hand, paying attention to the texture. I also work with layers and various compounds, and because of the techniques used, I always have a delay. This gives a level of unpredictability – you’re not completely sure how it will come out. But this element feels very close to life and crucial to the work itself.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I am working on a new series called Bernice Bobs Her Hair. The title is taken from a Fitzgerald story- a story is about Bernice who, through her niece, learns how to flirt and announces that she is going to bob her hair and that the boys will get to watch. The act of having her hair cut transforms her character into a real flapper, a liberated woman. Her indirect passive aggression turns into a direct aggressive aggression by cutting of the braid of Marjorie, which brings her to a new perception of femininity and womanhood. I want to play with the deconstruction of the sentence and the different associations that emerge. They bring out new combinations and challenge the layered medium of etching, its reproduction and repetition in an interesting way.
I’m also planning to make a publication or a book with one of the residents, Bruno Delgado Ramo and, together with the group residents of Wiels, we will have a group show at the end of June which will later on travel to Bucharest.