Jessica van Deursen:
Building Community through Crowdfunding


Modern Medicine for Poorous Measures (2020).
Photograph. Courtesy of Artist.
Jue Yang
You said that you realized your work can be comforting for others. Can you give me an example?
Jessica van Deursen
The most clear example is the work I did in 2018 at Art Rotterdam. Two years before that, I got kicked out of my job because I was too old and too expensive. I was panicking and I had to pay the rent, so I applied to be a subject for paid medical research. That was a moral low for me. A few months after that, I got the young talent grant from the Mondriaan Foundation, which gave me a spot to show at Art Rotterdam. I got into a conflict with myself. I asked myself, “am I going to participate in the art fair and pretend that life has been fantastic all along?”

So for the art fair, I rebuilt a hospital room in the space and had myself hooked to IV. I could not leave the “hospital bed” for 10 hours a day. Visitors could come sit next to me, and I would share this story of mine and explain why my work was there. Then people started telling me their stories about what they went through during the economic crisis.

I had a lot of crying men. I had a woman telling me she wanted a divorce and she had never told anyone before. I started writing down all the things I saw and heard. I used my bed sheet to document them. That was such an eye opener. I realized that so many people never had a chance to share their vulnerability. It showed me how powerful art can be, how it can give people the opportunity to be curious and open up.
JY
You crowdfunded your most recent art project. What led you to crowdfunding?
JvD
I did crowdfunding as an alternative way to raise money. I applied for the R&D grant from CBK Rotterdam. They turned down my application because they didn't see it as an art project. To me, that project is a performance. I play with the codes of presenting myself online as a lifestyle blogger. But beneath all this is my research about the ecological transition which we all have to go through. The project was very important to me, and I wanted to do it regardless of the funding rejection.

JY

How did you manage your crowdfunding efforts? Did you know what to do and how to do it?
JvD
I realized that blogging and making interactive performances both had something to do with building community. Because I was turned down by the funding, I actually had a chance to ask the community – my existing followers and blog followers – to help me out. Once I started, I became an entrepreneur. For example, the producers of the textile I used for the project wanted to donate their textile. It helped out everyone in the end, and turned out to be a great way of connecting people.
JY
Through this project, do you feel you have become an entrepreneur or professional blogger?
JvD
Am I an artist, entrepreneur or performer? There is no line for me anymore. I just look for what works. What matters is that people get inspired and take action. I want to get my message out. For the art project, I find the search for the communication strategy as interesting as the research on sustainability. As a blogger, I know if I put up a photo with my face, more people will look at it. You might think it’s superficial, but what I post is not about me. I use my face and my body because I am a performance artist. If my knowledge as a blogger helps to get my research across, why not let it help my art?

CorporAte (2020), 1 hour long performance.
Photo by Ernst van Deursen. Courtesy of Artist.

JY

What were your challenges during this crowdfunding process?

JvD

It was a lot of work! I got €4,750 funded. If you calculate how many hours I put into it, you could say that I earned €10 an hour. But that's okay. For me there's nothing more important than the work I do now. I have had so many silly jobs in my life. The worst feeling you can have is to be doing something you don't care about and just waiting for the moment to leave and work in your studio. That kind of waiting is such a waste of time. I now work every night until 01:00 or 02:00 to get everything done. Even though I work a lot, I know this is the exact thing I should do.
JY
You recently found an office and you are upscaling your projects. What are some of your challenges now?
JvD
I'm doing many things and learning to be an entrepreneur at the same time. It's all new and I didn't have any business background. I work with some interns already. Right now I'm on the verge of deciding whether to pay someone to do work for me or work late to get everything done myself. I'm happy that I finally get the opportunity to do what I think is important on a larger scale. I want to work fully as an artist and not be dependent on side jobs anymore. That's my aim for the next two years.
JY
So to you, it is necessary that your art pays some bills.
JvD
Not in the beginning. For a long time, I didn't want my art to bring in any money. I didn't want to profit from making pretty things just because they will sell. I knew that my work was still in the process, and I needed to figure out what it was really about before I produced meaningless stuff. I spent a lot of time looking into different topics and trying out different methods. Those have boiled down into what I'm doing right now. I'm happy I didn't just try to make money from art when I was not ready.

Symbiose necklace. Two people's hair, ruby and glass, silver thread.
30x60cm. Courtesy of Artist.
JY
What does being autonomous mean to you? Having the space that you want?
JvD
It means that I have the possibility to make the art the way I think is right. I am happy that I have my space online to put out everything I want to. There is no funding or institution that decides what I can or cannot do. I don’t need to follow all these unwritten rules in the art world. Of course, if the art world decides a year from now that what I do is super hip, and if they want to support me, that's cool. But I don't want to be dependent on that.
JY
How does being a mom or motherhood affect your work?
JvD
My daughter enriches my art practice! It is an amazing experience to see what the body is capable of through childbearing. In my performance, I was already working with stamina and focus. But to experience the many mechanisms in the body, that’s something else. I see what I share with my daughter as important as what I do with my art. I really want her to be able to be herself, to find out who she is. I try to give her as many opportunities and input as I can, without pushing her in any direction. The experience with my daughter has led me to talk even more about the body and about nature. The themes of overcoming pain through challenges have become prominent for me.