in the Category: art

Seeing what other artists made on the same subjects, helps me understand myself more

From Klee to Tuymans, a chronological overview of (post-)modernist art is on sight at KMSKB in Brussels, complemented by the recent acquisitions of the museum. We walked through the exhibition with Brussels based artist Nina-Joy Thielemans and in the meantime spoke about her artistic practice and energies.

Interview by Sofie Renap
Photos shot in Brussels by Miguel Soll 

Hi Nina-Joy, what’s cooking?

A lot of things (laughter). I stress myself out because of the work I am doing right now. I want to research and think things through. At the same time, I also want to find a way to just live next to that, which is actually going pretty well but it is a difficult balance. Sometimes working can really make you happy when you are not, or the other way around.

Researching is a way to substantiate a work as much as it is a way to look at things objectively

What are you working on at this moment?

Right now I am working on multiple projects in various ways: little models of spaces and experiences, a big sculpture and performances with Hotub collective, which I’m part of.
But mainly, I’m doing research on the different layers of an installation and sculpture by dissecting them to see how they are experienced separately or as a whole. For me, researching is a way to substantiate a work as much as it is a way to look at things objectively. It is challenging to find the right materials and make the right choices, especially in big sculptures where shaping and choices of materials are always very intense. Research is not something which is very close to my heart because it is theoretical; nonetheless, it provides different angles of perceiving throughout the materialization process. Most of the time I’m associating visuals with emotions or experiences. These associations then generate a materialization process and not the other way around - it’s not the concepts that create the works.

With your recent research on materials, can you relate to the exhibition? One of the storylines is the evolution of the use of materials throughout the twentieth century. 

It is interesting to perceive the evolution of the human mind on matter through history and  use it to understand where we are now. In the exhibition, I just sensed a little lack of care  in the presentation of the sculptures. The focus on matter or use of materials is most of  the time only an aspect of what a work is about. For example, I felt like Marcel  Broodthaers - even though he is labelled as a Pop Art artist - would have been more in  place amidst Magritte, Kosuth and other works referring to language because of his play  with the word ‘moule’ (mussel and a sculpture mould). It seems like he is just placed in  the popart section because of the (red) color of his artwork. 

So you like the freedom of association more than a linear storyline of art history? 

For me, a linear, informative, modernist way of looking is as interesting as it is hollow. For  it to be interesting, this way of looking at art history generates a need for clear linear  curation, curating in a purely informative sense. I think curators have such a big impact on  the way things are seen because they are structuring and combining information. They  actually have to go as deep as the artist does because they are connecting loose dots of  information contained within the works. This truly knowing of a work or its creator takes a  lot of time. So for visitors, the intention of the curator should be transparent and clear so  they are able to sense and experience the relations and connections between the  artworks. 

Visitors should be able to sense and experience the relations and connections between artworks

Experiences - do they relate to what you call energies? When we were walking through the exhibition, you mentioned these energies several times. Is this important in art or in your own work? 

There are different approaches to making and looking at work. You have works changing perception, focussing on aesthetics, challenging form or shape,… I just want to experience the information within the artwork. At a certain moment, I was exploring Buddhism and energies. In a work of art, these energies can function like magic. It’s an indescribable feeling, which I also felt in the work of Hartung in the exhibition. It is something that I find extremely interesting. You cannot explain it but it has an impact on you. I liked Hartung's painting a lot, because of the colours and because it feels alive. I find it very important to fight for this aliveness; your experience as a human being. For example, I like the way that whilst creating a performance or play, people sit together, reading the same things, think, feel and speak about it to be able to embody it in the end. Combining things, weaving them together, becoming energies, loaded with information, being the information, these are all things that just sound or feel so beautiful to me.

During the guided tour, you mentioned an artist which you would add to the exhibition. Who was that?

Hilma Af Klint. She made the first abstract paintings and showed them a few times in an exhibition. Rudolf Steiner visited her in her atelier to tell her that she couldn’t paint on canvas and should just paint on paper because she’s a woman. Then he took pictures of her work, showed it to Kandinsky and he started getting into abstract painting. No thank you or referencing happened. Even though she did have a show at the Guggenheim a while ago, she should be more presented in art-history.

So you find inspiration in other disciplines and their combination. Do you find inspiration in visual arts?

Sure, In visual arts I see possibilities, different ways of combining information, feeling the combinations and what they refer to. Seeing what other artists made on the same subjects, helps me understand myself more. I recently heard in a talk that you cannot grasp the impact a certain work has on you, on how you perceive things. In the exhibition, I really liked the connection between Saussure and the the work of Magritte. I like playing these referring games, discovering all the sides. And oh man, I loved the work which was part of a side exposition in the museum, the painting from Frank Stella, ‘Lettre sur les aveugles I’. The combination of colours in this painting really generates the feeling of when I’m working on something intensely, this fire... Such an amazing painting. 

The combination of colours in this painting really generates the feeling of when I’m working on something intensely, this fire...

Do you want your work to have such an impact on your public too? 

I hope that my work can generate a dialogue with the person perceiving it, that it is stuffed or empty enough to make way for connection. I cannot or want to force any type of perceiving. What people see is up to them. When I show work, it means I worked on it intensely and believe that there is actually something interesting happening within. I just hope it shows off, otherwise, I need to up my game and rework the thing. 

The lockdown influenced your work, as you mentioned earlier. How? 

Workwise, it mainly had an effect on time and size. I don’t really feel like that’s such a problem. I have time to do other stuff, plus I have more time for research. I guess, whatever happens in regards to work, it always has something positive because you change your view.
In my personal life, I also feel like I have more time for stuff I like. If you cannot go everywhere with everybody, you feel more connected with the people you do meet because you choose to be together. When people invite you, it is warmer, it opens other ways of connecting and seeing things differently. 

Do you have any dreams of where you would like to go or be? 

I want to do more stuff with and for people. I think people, in general, would have so much fun having the same experiences of people acting in different art practices. For example with our performance group, we once wore all red clothing and painted our faces white, clown-like, and waved at people on the street. We didn’t really want to get anything from it or mean anything with it, we just wanted to experience it, try it. It was insane! It is nice to blend these lines. Things like Christmas and other festivities mostly come from the base of sharing love and warmth. After a while, that love gets lost in translation. I want to go back to love and sharing. Without rules, bending the rules, no leaders, trying everything, feeling everything.

Be Modern
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels
Free for members until 21 February
No reservation required




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