Finding the Right Space
ORBIT installation. Photo by Takahashi Kenji. Courtesy of Tokyo Arts and Space.
Jue YangAt the moment of speaking, you are looking for a space for your installation project. You have invested time and resources for a test show in your studio last November. How is it going with the search for space?
Tess MartinThe work is not finished. I would like to display it in a venue so that I can develop it further to suit the space. I contacted Tent, Het Wilde Weten and a place in Scheveningen. They did not reply. I went to the Hague to visit 1646 and thought their space would really work. But when I emailed them, they said they don't take artist proposals. Then there is A Tale of a Tub, which I am not sure is the right fit. There is also Showroom Mama, but they only do group shows. I guess another option could be Worm, with which I have a long relationship.
JYWhy is finding an exhibition space so difficult?
TMI was hoping to do things the way you're "supposed to" this time and I haven’t got anywhere so far. It could be that I haven't found the right place or that I haven't talked to the right people who work in the right place. It could also be that I am just not so used to working with this kind of solo exhibition setup. Traditionally, I make short films, and it’s easier to find spaces and galleries for them. Actually, when it comes to short films, it's usually curators who approach me about including my work in a group show. For me, it's also easier with the mechanisms of film festivals or the internet.
JYHow does not being able to find a space affect the development of your project?
TMRight now I am kind of a shrug emoji. I know that eventually I will also be making a short film version of this project. But my original idea was to do the installation first and properly exhibit it first, and make a short film version afterwards. I'm going to be bummed if I have to do the short film version because I can't find a way to display the installation.
JYIn terms of showing your film work, you sound confident about how things will go. Do you have enough channels where you can show your work?
TMYes. For the type of short films I've been making, there are the experimental film festivals, the experimental animation festivals, the animation festivals and the short film festivals. Then there are galleries that like to show experimental animation and galleries that might want to show my work in their thematic group show. There is also the whole world of internet distribution, like the websites Shorts of the Week and Vimeo. Obviously the internet has its own hierarchy and ways of getting a film to float up to the top of the giant pile of short films. Regardless, getting work out is quite straightforward. You just submit them. Of course, submitting to festivals is in and of itself work. That is another conversation.
JYTo you, is there a conflict between showing on the internet and being represented by a gallery?
TMI've never seriously considered going after gallery representation. I don’t see my work as limited editions of video art. Video art, yes, but not limited editions. I am a little bit apprehensive about the fine art attitude where you have to go to the gallery to see a work. Then you can't find it anywhere else until some rich collector gets one of two copies. That feels exclusionary. I guess it's how the whole art world works, but it’s not something I want to do. If I found a gallerist that was on the same page as me, and still wanted to represent me, I would be all for it. For me, I am more concerned with having the work seen by as many people as possible.
ORBIT. Theater Rotterdam, 2019. Courtesy of artist.
JYAt the moment, is your work mainly funded by public funding?
TMYes. That is one of the reasons why I moved to the Netherlands. Of course it takes work to apply for the public funds and you are not guaranteed to receive them. But If I'm successful in 75% of the grants that I apply for every year, I'm set for the whole year and I don't have to worry about selling the artwork or having a part-time job. I had part-time jobs for years before I got good at getting grants. Some people might look at what I get every year and say it’s not a lot of money, but it’s fine to me. I have a simple lifestyle. I don't have children. So all my money goes towards production.
The thing with public funding is that you don't know how much money you're going to make each year. To live from it, you have to be prepared to have some savings and you have to accept a certain amount of insecurity. But even though this system is insecure, I am thankful for it. I lived in Seattle for five years before moving here. By US-American standards, Seattle has a lot of public funding. But the pots of money are way smaller compared to Dutch standards. Even if you get every single possible grant every year in Seattle — from city, county, state funds — you are still looking at only €8,000 average a year.
JYWe've talked about this divide between Mondriaanfonds, Stimuleringfonds and Filmfonds. How are you navigating?
TMI apply to Stimuleringfonds and Filmfonds. For the Filmfonds, I do it with a producer, which is one of the requirements for most of their grants. I learned to not apply to the Mondriaanfonds again, because they have told me that my work does not fit their categories. Things might be changing there, but the changes have not affected me so far.
ORBIT. Plein Bioscoop Rotterdam, 2019. Courtesy of Artist.
JYI also want to talk about your involvement with Atelier Unie Rotterdam. It’s an initiative that lobbies the city to pay attention to the shortage and conditions of artist studio space. Did the initiative come from personal experience?
TMIt started when I was still in my last studio, which was an anti-kraak school building in Crooswijk. Me and my friend Sander van Wettum, who is a photographer, noticed someone coming to take photos of the building. We realized that the building was for sale. We were stressed about where we would move to. Around the same time, we had a lot of friends who were also getting kicked out of their anti-kraak buildings. We got together with Sandro Setola, whose artist collective had been kicked out of a building where they were for 30 years, and with Piet de Jonge, who had just put on the first Groot Rotterdamse Atelier Weekend (GRAW).
The four of us did a city-wide survey so that we would have the data to lobby the city. We got around 500 respondents and the results were shocking, like the amount of artists who are desperately in need of a space. Rotterdam risks becoming a city that is no longer good for artists. We have been able to talk to the city and right now we are planning an exhibition as part of Art Rotterdam in May, and a big consultation meeting in June or July. We want to gather the players and the regular people together: people from the city, especially the Real Estate Department, SKAR and CBK. We want to bring all the results of our efforts to them and get them to see that people really care about the issue. In the meantime, we're doing community meetings as a way to get people in touch with each other so that they can compare stories and situations.