Episode 37 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Life as a Nomad

Allard Van Hoorn interview continued…

Carey: And the process you just described, the sound was coming from a number of sources. You’re going around with the handheld recorder but was it also the marbles you were recording with the other sounds that were coming in, as well as what you hear coming from the balloons?

Van Hoorn: Normally, it’s only the simple tool that we use to generate the sound. So when I say make the building into a marble game, it’s the balloons that represent the marbles. And it’s the big balloons that roll down and bounce off the walls that I record.

So it’s the feet moving of the dancers, their bodies against the architecture, and then the balloons against the architecture, and that’s the only sound input. There’s no other external input. It has to be a one-on-one. Let’s say it’s a homeomorphic description that’s to be a direct translation of that input, that energy, the shape the building has to be. So the idea of translating the exact shape into a new shape that is without loss of that shape. So what I try to do is to keep intact the original situation and by slightly intervening in it and creating something new out of it but not changing it.

Carey: It sounds wonderful. I feel like I hear lately sociologists and other people talk about how our world has become more isolated. Not necessarily because of social media or computers, though I suppose that contributes, but we don’t really function as small communities that are singing together, dancing together, eating together, sharing everything together, right? We’re in our homes, apartments, studios living this kind of solitary life to some extent.

I think of your project, the one that you were just talking about, and how it comes back to an audience and DJs are re-sampling and re-mixing. It strikes me as beyond the project itself. There’s a social element here that could be redeeming. I don’t know what the feeling is of an audience but it sounds to me like it’s almost as though everybody’s singing or making sounds together or feels that way.

Van Hoorn: I think it’s definitely part of it, because the idea of re-thinking public spaces, places where we spend so great a percentage of our times, and these are specifically the places that I want to reinitiate as agoras, as places of gathering, as places of re-thinking our relationships to public space through having these joint experiences. The music that comes out is pretty subversive. So the building is kind of alive and submerges the people into the soundscapes that I produce. That music is, in a sense, to bind the people together and eventually in all the places where I execute these works there is this. There is a sense of community specifically because the collaborations are local.

So it’s the local people getting an opportunity to work with their direct public space, in which they live daily, and create this kind of a new relationship; to re-think their relationship to public space.

Carey: Let’s move back a little bit maybe to the roots of you having this kind of perspective, this nomadic sense. How did you get involved in art as a child? Where did you grow up?

Van Hoorn: I grew up in a fairly regular environment. Isolated, and far from art. I did several things throughout my life. I have studied mining engineering and until the age of thirty-three I did not know a single creative person. Everybody I grew up around me in those times were doctors, lawyers, business people, and academics. Until I was thirty-three years old, I was not in contact with anybody who was a dancer, musician, artist, even a graphic designer or performer, nothing.

So when I finally decided to find my personal relationship to the world, I decided it had to come through investigating my daily environment and doing something with that. So all my work ended up being about how we relate to a public space. And everything I do comes from that kind of new born sense of learning because I had to start from the scratch and learn in every project that I do. So every project is different, every action is different and therefore I decided to travel the world to be able to understand different cultures and see different places, in the end traveling to over fifty countries over the last years and doing projects in many, many countries.

It became my tool of investigation and my tool of learning about these concepts of belonging and becoming as an individual. About finding your place and rooting yourself not necessarily in one place, but in many different places at the same time, through maybe a more rhizomatic network of relationships that you create not only with the people, but through this longer ongoing investigation like the Urban Songlines. Actually creating this interrelated network of spaces that becomes music and then carrying it around in your little backpack kind of all the information that is gathered through all these spaces.

So eventually, I let go of myself. Since nine years ago, all my personal belongings fit into hand luggage, which has enabled me to move around very swiftly and easily. For nine years I’ve been traveling with only hand luggage and I became nomadic. Just going from place to place, making works there and working with wonderful people, beautiful collaborations and great institutions and ways of surviving through just relating to the world in different places.

Carey: And so how do you survive as a nomad? I mean, I’m kind of interested in how you actually get and manage these museum projects. You’re traveling around the world. In the very beginning, in your mid-thirties, how did you begin to have a relationship to the art world and support yourself with that?

Van Hoorn: In the beginning you have to walk up to places and you say, “Hmm, new gallery, or new museum, I’m an artist maybe we should talk,” and you make stuff on your own and eventually these things come together. I’m still a Dutch citizen so I pay my taxes in Holland and there is, as we know, some really good support from the Mondriaan Fund, and eventually museums that commission your work provide networks. There’s a lot of residencies that I’ve done through the years and I’ve been teaching and lecturing in many, many places, from the Architectural Association and the Royal College in London, to the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, and several other institutions as a guest tutor. Eventually you publish, you write and you sell some works, some profits come out of these performances although they are scarce. Keep in mind that I have a very light and easy way of living. I don’t have to maintain and replace a lot of stuff, so I can live financially quite nimble as well.

Carey: In closing, it sounds kind of wonderful and also ideal to be nomadic in this way. I don’t know anyone really that is as nomadic as you’re talking about. There are plenty of artists who are doing a lot of residencies but most of the time is spent in their studio, or who are home-based in whatever country they’re residing in. Upon reflecting on the last nine, ten years, how does it feel to be a nomad? What is that like in terms of just traveling or being in the world? Is there anything you miss?

Van Hoorn: Well, the thing that you would naturally miss most is your books because books are always fantastic sources of inspiration and in a way you become mental collaborators between beautiful artists and thinkers. What I learned to do is to find many online publications and I even buy books on Amazon and then sell them, give them away to friends and ask the author to send me the PDF. So I tell them, “Listen, I bought your real book, I’m giving it away to a friend. Could you please send me the PDF so I can take it with me in my little laptop?” And so I gathered a great many books digitally.

Otherwise you adapt fairly easily—I find people are super flexible and adapt into any kind of situation. At the beginning it was more tough than now. Sometimes you find yourself being kind of isolated in a place, but by now I have friends in any place and everywhere I go. There’s a huge network of artists as well as interesting people to meet up with, to talk to, and people who are willing to take you in. They understand the idea of sharing. I think the economy in our community is changing a little bit towards that dynamic. I feel very rooted. Any place I go, I can very, very quickly adapt. I have only the same clothes, four of the same shirts and two of the same pants and a pair of flip-flops and all the rest is equipment. As you will see through my performances, I’m wearing the same clothes through the years but I have four of the same shirts. So I tend to wash them in between but otherwise there’s not a lot that I miss. I became fully adapted to this idea of continuously traveling, sometimes flying to another country up to fifty times a year. What happens in the end is you become rooted in all these places and you adopt this strategy.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.


Episode 36 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Allard Van Hoorn

Allard Van Hoorn interview

This last interview is with an artist named Allard Van Hoorn, and is a fascinating look into how one artist began in his thirties, found an unusual medium, and has been a nomad ever since. I have interviewed hundreds of artists now from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas, and the most interesting ones have found something that continues to drive them, something like a quest. I think this next interview is one of my favorites because it contains what seems to me to be the quintessential quest of an artist.

The Interview

Carey: I’m talking with Allard van Hoorn. He’s an artist that is nomadic, traveling all over the world for site specific work that he produces. At the moment we’re talking to him from Italy. Allard, thank you so much for being with us today. Let’s talk about where you are now. I know you’re in Italy at a residency. Can you tell me a little bit about the residency and what it is that you’re pursuing there?

Van Hoorn: Yes, this is an open module of the UNIDEE, University of Ideas at the Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto. It’s a huge old textile factory that was set up by Michael Angelo Pistoletto to exchange ideas and to generate agents for social change through arts. We’re doing a workshop here based on architectural principles of the sixties and current movements that work towards changing perspectives on how we relate to our cities and to public space.

Carey: So that’s kind of a fascinating idea for a residency. It is an artist-created institution or residency and it’s obviously a nonprofit. I suppose it’s funded by the government, but perhaps you could say a little bit more about exactly what happens. Is there a workshop? Do you have a studio? Are you working there? If so, on what and for how long?

Van Hoorn: Yes, there are different modules. We are working in a workshop environment with artists, architects, theorists, thinkers. We are generating conversation that leads to possible new directions for structures of education, exchange of ideas, peer groups that allow for our contemporary way of communicating, open travel, and the idea of producing our work with different groups in different places in a more mobile sense than maybe a generation before was able to do.

So here, I’m currently working on the twenty-eighth iteration of my project called Urban Songlines. This is a project that I’ve been doing since 2009. It’s a project in which I translate public spaces and architecture into music by generating sound, site specifically, and then translating that into music. The idea came from the aboriginals that relate to their public space, which is nature, through singing that topography, singing the physical shape of their land, mapping it spiritually, embodying it and managing the relationship with that as well as with the animals that live together in that environment.

My objective for Urban Songlines is to translate public spaces into sound in order to listen to architecture instead of looking at it or inhabiting it. And finally to talk about these ideas of co-ownership and appropriation of public space through collaborating with musicians, dancers, skateboarders, roller derby girls, and technology in the audience in order, in the end, to make our architecture and our public space ours, the cities audible instead of visible.

Carey: So let’s talk about one project that you’ve done. I know that there’s been several with Songlines, but perhaps you could talk about how one was done. Like the factory where you used the fuse box as a method to generate sound. It could be that one or another one. Where you explain a little bit about how the whole event comes together and how the sounds are generated. Perhaps what it even sounds like.

Van Hoorn: When I arrive at a space, when I’m invited to work somewhere, I go into the space trying to find either historical references, future references, or current dynamics that are embedded within this shape and within the idea of the space.

For example, if you look at the Rosenthal Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, this is a space designed by Zaha Hadid. It looks like a gray concrete slab that goes up through a glass square lobby of the museum slowly until that hits the back side, the back wall of the building. And there, it goes up under a ninety degree angle all the way as a spine, as a huge slab of concrete sidewalk, then going all the way up to the roof.

The space is intersected by huge black hanging staircases that were too big to be made within the architectural curriculum. So these were eventually made by a roller coaster company and they hang in that space as a huge X. And what I felt with that space was the idea of playing with verticality versus horizontality. That sidewalk going up straight into the air all the way up to the roof of the building, to me it felt like a game that was playing with ideas of gravity to make it less sober, to talk about what a building could be, I made it into a huge marble game in which I invited local young dance groups to work with eight-foot helium weather balloons that I filled with air. So they were able to run those down the staircases, bounce them off of the wall and used that lobby and the staircases as a huge marble game in order to give it that dynamic.

Then I ran around while they executed choreography of a marble game as a dance piece with eight-foot white weather balloons. I ran around and I recorded the sounds of the physical description of the topography of the building. So literally, the shape of the building being described by the balloons, and with a handheld I recorded myself running around them, trying to keep up with them. Then I sit down in a break, import that into a computer and a laptop and then I create live music of that sound that they generated.

So the speaking voice they generated off of the architecture, off the building, I translate it into music. This becomes the singing voice of the building and after that they re-improvised because I played that music live in front of a live audience and they improvised again to that music completing the dialogue of the dancers with the building. Then the resulting music is eventually pressed to vinyl records that I give it away to DJs for free. The DJs, through the technique of sampling, kind of redistribute that public space, that building in this case to a wider and wider audience.

As I said before, discussing this idea of co-ownership and appropriation of public space by a wider audience that does not necessarily have to be there at the performance. And that’s kind of the complete way, the cycle for Urban Songline to happen. I’ve created twenty-seven so far in places as varied as landing strips, bridges, warehouses, squares, and all around the world. Basically, anywhere or everywhere.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.