Solo exhibition 2019 Vleeshal

Vleeshal Art Prize 2018

As Long As The Potatoes Grow

29.9.2019 – 15.12.2019

Vleeshal Center for Contemporary Art

Curator Julia Geerlings

Echolocations Nickel van Duijvenboden

A conversation with Pieter Slagboom
By Julia Geerlings

Julia Geerlings (JG): It is exactly one year since our first studio visit, when I chose you as the winner of the Vleeshal Kunstprijs 2018. We’ve come a long way, but now the exhibition, featuring your ten drawings, is up. How has your experience of this process, and our collaboration, been?

Pieter Slagboom (PS): Working so closely with a curator – with you – was an entirely new experience for me. It was an interesting process. There was a moment when you told me I should focus on just one subject, that I should surrender myself to the process of drawing and stop imposing restrictions on myself. There was no way for me to escape, and I liked that. I also found the drawings in this installation came further into being through our collaboration. First, we had the idea of creating a much bigger, wooden installation, and to display the drawings inside it. Then, you found the sketches for the installations to be too dominant, and we went back to basics – to the drawings. I then designed thin wooden beams from which the drawings would be suspended, and you proposed making them from steel instead.

JG: What I also found interesting was how important walking is for your practice and your thought processes. Based on this, we hit upon the idea of the labyrinth. The route that the visitors must take through the exhibition, and which leads them around the drawings. The format of the drawings plays an important part in this. Can you tell me more about it?

PS: In the past few years, my drawings have become bigger and bigger. I had actually drawn directly on the wall, in a large format, previously. But this is the first time that I created such huge drawings on prepared linen, and created so many at the same time. Working on such a large scale is very labour-intensive, but it is a crucial element in terms of perspective. I do not want viewers to look away. With regard to the arrangement, it is based on the city map of Middelburg, with its narrow streets. I wanted visitors of the exhibition to walk among my drawings, moving about from small corridors to large, open spaces. So sometimes you will find yourself in very close proximity to a drawing, while elsewhere you have more room to look at one.

JG: It is true that you cannot escape. The content of your drawings can also be very confronting, provocative one might even say. Where do these provocative images come from?

PS: I personally do not see them as provocative. I have not drawn them out of a wish to be provocative, in any case. I think that the juxtaposition of sexuality and death is something that makes people feel uncomfortable. To me these concepts are closely intertwined, in the sense that sexuality stands for reproduction, and the way in which we deal with this varies from one culture to another. In Christian, Northern European culture we have difficulty expressing ourselves when it comes to sexuality and death – there are numerous taboos around these themes. I hope that the exhibition’s visitors take the time to look closely at the drawings. There is much more to them than first meets the eye. There are many different images that can be seen within a single image.

JG: In this sense, I also found the title of the exhibition, ‘As Long As The Potatoes Grow’, to be quite revealing. I interpret it as follows: We are all part of the cycle of birth, life and death. Of course, we can pretend that we are exceptional, but in the end we are all part of nature and the product of our biological urges, from which no one can escape. Recurring rituals and symbols appear in the drawings. Can you tell me more about that?

PS: It is difficult for me to explain the drawings in detail. I am afraid that this would make them flat and one-dimensional. I would rather leave more room for interpretation, and sometimes I am not even certain why I drew something in a particular way. The way I draw a subject says something about how I feel about that subject. Turbulent scenes are drawn in a calm and precise way. One of the recurring motifs in my work, for example, is dogs that are sniffing about. I am interested in animal behaviour and the fact that they have no cultural standards imposed on them. They are free, and have no taboos. Dogs look with their noses. They perceive the world according to scent. Looking at art, therefore, should not be done through the eyes but through the belly. Other recurring symbols are feet and the soles of our feet: the naked foot touching the ground, and literally ‘grounding’. My work may evoke more questions than answers. Drawing is, however, my way of surviving and there are many personal associations, of course. In this sense, I am actually an ‘outsider’ artist, because I do not want to make safe art – I want to play around with and break through existing conventions. Similar to artists that are not by definition outsiders but are obsessively engaged with psychological construction in their work, such as Jockum Nordström, Luis Buñuel and Diane Arbus.

JG: Could you possibly define the biographical aspect of your work? Without looking for a Freudian meaning behind it?

PS: One of the things that has shaped me and influences my work is a near-death experience. When I was eight I fell into the water at a yacht harbour and I can remember consciously saying farewell to my family and my train set. Fortunately, a passer-by saved my life. It was a close call. The birth of my children has also shaped me, and the way in which I was raised. I grew up in a family, which in fact was not a family, where feminism and another approach towards love were starting points. This is something that becomes an intrinsic part of your upbringing. Still, I also see universal and social themes reflected in my work. I observe humankind in all its illogical power.

2. Bridget Donahue
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3. Vleeshal