Interview InTransit exhibition 2006

Suzanne de Graaf: “Is there an artist with whom you feel connected?”

I don’t think it’s relevant to feel connected to another artist. I do think it’s important to enhance my knowledge about artists, who in my view are exploring their art in an interesting way. I investigate artists as Marina Abramovic, Joseph Beuys or Hamish Fulton. Abramovic has an unique way of expressing her ideas about universal issues and the essence of life through her being and body. Beuys fascinates me because of his metaphysical approach; he mystified materials and events; engaging it all in a social and political context. Fulton is exemplary, he simply walks, covering the surface of the earth, materializing the archaic desire for discovery. But note: without the ‘roman’- originated concept of conquering. Thus focusing on the lack of respect from western civilization for the earth. The common aspect of these three artists is their redefining of ‘being-an-artist’, their actual physical participation in the process; I call it a modern form of shamanism. There are also artists who I respect for their skills and craftsmanship. The Newar painter Aniko for instance, who lived in 13th century Nepal and worked in the Tibetan region. Or 15th century Botticelli – he could have been a student of Aniko by the way. The aesthetic quality of the huge Aniko murals in the temples of the Himalayan region is unprecedented. They express a beauty in which one can feel the love for the subject and the profession. In fact, that’s what I consider most important in experiencing art: beauty. I can enjoy a work of Matisse, Bossch or Bacon just as much as an unidentified cave-painting in the remote mountains of Ngari.

SdG: “Why did you make these body-prints on the leather aprons?”

I wanted to express the physical connection which I experience every time I travel through the Himalayan region. The connection with the landscape, the earth; I experience this landscape as an organic entity, I believe one has to have experience it oneself, actual be there, to really understand this. The landscape is overpowering, the scale, the emptiness. Since many years I have been focused on this aspect: the emptiness, being part of it, the tangibility of the mountains. The original inhabitants of the mountains, the Tibetans, perform a wonderful ritual to express this close relation with the earth: they kneel down and stretch themselves flat on the ground, they stand up, bring their hands above their head, then place these in front of their throat, consequently their heart. They then take a couple of steps forward and repeat the whole ritual until the pilgrimage-route has been covered completely. It might take years for some, depending on their aim. To protect themselves from the rough soil, they wear yak-leather aprons. I consider these a kind of second skin, making contact with the earth. So it felt quite logical to print my body on my self-designed aprons; it translated this notion of tangibility. It also coincides with the Tibetan belief in Rangjungs: There is a common belief that one can leave a physical imprint, dent-like, on stones or rocks, inflicted by mental and spiritual activity. For instance from a foot, hand or other body part. This believe is presumed to be originated from the Bon-religion. The Bon were prominently present in Tibet before Buddhism was introduced by Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. But in the 11th century they were chased from Mount Kailash: Fantastic legends are still being told about epic fights between Milarepa and the Bonpo Naro Bonchung. Around Mount Kailash – considered holy in Hinduism, Bon and Buddhism – one can find all sorts of imprints on stones and rockface, apparently evidence of the spiritual and physical struggle that took place between these two religious leaders.

SdG: “What is it what affects you about Tibet?”

Tibet was my second home for a long time. More than 9 months I dwelt there; not so long in a life-time, but enough to become totally addicted to the place. Personally, many aspects of the region interest me, but professionally, it’s the landscape which intrigues me most. The huge distances, the complete void, and the ever-expanding horizon evokes a tremendous feeling of freedom, and therefore of relativity. Besides, the colors, the shades, the shapes, are all stunningly beautiful; it’s a visual feast to travel through these mountains. Additionally I am interested in the cultural and social history of the region. Not that I’m political, spiritual or ideological involved, like many visitors and tourists who still believe in the Shangri-La or in the well-kept myth of peace-loving Tibetans. I have encountered all kinds of Tibetans: educated high placed dignitaries, lamas, businesswomen, nuns and monks or fake spy-monks, nomads, thieves, teachers, students, beggars, artists, archaeologists, truck-drivers, farmers and bandits. But overall I feel a deep respect for the Tibetan people who are unfortunately trapped in an impossible situation to preserve their culture.