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.

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