VENICE BIENNALE 2013
By Karlyn De Jongh, Sarah Gold & Valeria Romagnini
As published in: De Jongh, Karlyn & Sarah Gold, PERSONAL STRUCTURES: TIME SPACE EXISTENCE 2, Global Art Affairs Foundation, 2013
Rene Rietmeyer (1957, ‘s Hertogenbosch, Netherlands) is the initiator of PERSONAL STRUCTURES. His ‘Boxes’ express himself and his awareness of Time, Space and Existence in relation to his surroundings.
Sarah Gold: Since you were a young man, you have always created as much as possible your own life. Planning carefully your direction and how you live your life. You have told me that you regarded your decision to become a contemporary artist as “an intellectual challenge”. Could you describe this “challenge” and do you have the feeling that you “succeeded”?
Rene Rietmeyer: In 1994, after having been for 9 years the director of a private art academy, I still had no idea what contemporary art is about. I just did not understand it. Then, 36 years old, I finally managed to let go of managing the academy and I dedicate all my time to trying to discover what contemporary art actually is about. I expected and hoped for contemporary art to be mainly an intellectual achievement. I therefore thought that understanding this and becoming able, me myself, to create contemporary art, would be very much an intellectual challenge.
It seems however, that a large part of the people involved in the art world do not really seem to care about serious intellectual thoughts in contemporary art. It might be because we live at least the last 30 years in a society where we are all well fed and have a lot of time left over, that many people had the possibility to somehow survive while creating items they like to call “art”, without real contents. While several other ‘artists’ continued, corrupted by money, to make items they themselves do not even believe in anymore. In reality I found only very few artists who really take contemporary art as a mainly intellectual challenge. But those who do, were and are very interesting personalities. Taking some of these respected international artists as a standard to measure myself, I have to come to the conclusion that I feel as if I myself “succeeded”, but it did take me more than 12 years of intense occupation and confrontation, with artists and contemporary art, to come to this feeling.
SG: After you had ‘established’ yourself as an artist you initiated PERSONAL STRUCTURES. Knowing how much of your time, energy and money you invest in this project, could you tell why and how you came to creating this ‘open platform’?
RR: I felt that if I would continue to focus only upon my own personal career as an artist that, with my own ‘unspectacular’ art, I would never be able to reach a lot of people. It is my goal to reach as many people as possible with a message about consciously living a life, and at the same time somehow financially survive myself, while having an interesting life. Bringing many different artists together creates a certain dynamic and by doing so I will be able to reach many more people than by being alone. I might therefore myself not become very well known as an artist, but I will reach the maximum possible regarding my main goals.
Valeria Romagnini: You started the project in 2002, over time the group of artists involved has changed and has grown until now. After 11 years what do you think of the development of the project as a total at this point and what would you need to get further in your attempt to heighten your own and other people’s awareness through your project?
RR: Remembering how unknowingly I started and seeing where the project stands today I can only be pleased that somehow we came so far. Although it took me over 11 years to get this far, I still think that the project is only at its beginning. The project has now a strong base from which it can continue to grow. Now it is important to keep working on the quality of the contents, the symposia, the exhibitions and the publications, and most importantly, not to stop. Therefore I am now already supporting the people who hopefully one day will continue what I have started. The project is planned as a very long term project because I believe that the larger it grows, the longer it lasts, the larger the impact will be upon society.
Karlyn De Jongh: With PERSONAL STRUCTURES you have chosen for a standpoint of documenting different opinions and ways of expression. In the past, when you first started the project with 16 young artists, you chose artists expressing themselves in a visually similar way. However, in 2008 after experiencing Toshikatsu Endo talk extensively about Hermann Nitsch at our Tokyo symposium about Existence, you decided to open up the project and give a platform also to artists who are visually so very different. Why did you do this?
RR: In the beginning years of PERSONAL STRUCTURES I focused by the participating artists, besides the contents of their works, also on the visual homogeneity within the project. This however excluded several artists who had very interesting thoughts but “unusual” approaches by expressing them. Although I had started in 2007 to include artists in our exhibitions whose works had a different appearance, it really was only after Toshikatsu Endo’s lecture in 2008, that I re-thought my original concept and opened the project also to artists concerned with Time-Space-Existence, but now regardless the visual appearance of the art work resulting from that confrontation. Claiming that the homogeneity in the project is now not any longer in the visual appearance of the art works but, more importantly, solely in the topics they deal with.
KDJ: Recently we went to visit Michelangelo Pistoletto in Biella, Italy, and spoke about his project ‘Love Difference’. With initiating PERSONAL STRUCTURES as an artists’ platform, thereby documenting different opinions, you seem to be a living ‘model’ for someone who loves difference. What do you hope to find or hope to achieve with PERSONAL STRUCTURES?
RR: So many different humans, with so many different points of view, often believing that they are the only ones who see it right. Documenting as many as possible well fundamented visions about the subjects Time-Space and Existence, by trying to stimulate the discussion and awareness about these topics. In addition I would like to try to make more people see that beauty is in the difference and not necessarily in that what reflexes one’s own opinion.
VR: Looking at your work from your early career until your recent works, it seems as if you have created a personal inventory of your experiences. One can travel the world and perceive different atmospheres as suggested by your series. Your works are reactions upon a particular space in a particular moment in time, which could possibly also be seen as sequences of different moments following one other over time. However, having lived these moments, the perception probably will be different and these moments have become part of your memory, your consciousness, your awareness. How do you consciously perceive time?
RR: Looking back I remember the many homes in the Netherlands where you sat in the totally silent living room and you could hear the clock loudly ticking the seconds away. This feelings has not left me ever since, I feel the seconds that I am alive ticking away. It is a linear passing of time, sometimes it feels to tick faster, sometimes slower, but it does not stop, my life time keeps ticking away, in seconds, days, years. It is not a nice feeling, but that consciousness is the driving thought behind my restlessness to achieve, to experience, just as long as I am still alive. Fortunately thereby creating an accumulation of memories, consciously lived moments of time passing expressed in my works.
SG: Looking at your earlier works, your series were often much frailer, softer, more ‘human’. Now your works have become more ‘hard’; the size of your boxes is in general larger, the Box itself much more ‘perfect’ and they feel ‘stronger’. Could you explain this development, this change?
RR: Please do not mix frailer and softer, with more “human”, I am just as “human” today. But, especially in the 1990s, I was carefully searching; I am not so bold and reckless as I often see by American artists. Art-History was in the way. For over 5 years now however, having been able to have many direct confrontations and comparisons with artists that once seemed so far away, I feel very strong regarding my own work and the thoughts within. I know for myself where I stand, I know my materials, know what I want, no need for carefulness anymore and in addition, my project and my private life, living my life as a total, gives me especially in the last years great pleasure, this probably also shows.
KDJ: During our visits to artists such as Hermann Nitsch and Lee Ufan, we have often discussed the influence of their culture on their work. You stated that would Nitsch have been born in, for example, the Netherlands, he would probably not have come to his Orgien Mysterien Theater. Last year I asked you a similar question. Did your view change? To what extent are the ideas that you proclaim and the works you create a ‘logical’ consequence of the culture you are brought up in?
RR: Without any doubt cultural influences have an immense impact upon our own thoughts and actions, our works. The combination of my inherited dispositional properties with the surroundings in which I grew up had so much influence upon “what I want” that the way in which I express myself in my art works can only be seen as the “logical consequence” of all these factors. In short: “me” is how I express myself.
VR: In one interview with Sarah Gold and Karlyn De Jongh, you stated that in different cultures you communicate differently emotionally in order to communicate well, you adapt even your own personal emotional way of expression. You lived for several years in different countries, Austria, Greece, France, USA, the Netherlands, Japan and at the moment you are in Italy, since approximately 4 years. How have you adapted your own personal emotional way of expression now? And how does this reflect in your work?
RR: In comparison to living in countries such as the Netherlands and the USA I feel that my overall emotional status is less optimistic, less positive: Italy is slowly dragging me down. I try to stand up against this overall feeling, but it is in the faces all around me, and it is not just the momentary economically difficult situation in Italy, it is within them, drama and problems. They seem to have a tendency to complicate things instead of solving difficulties. Looking back upon the works I made here, this might have reflected in my work and that also therefore my latest works, in order to balance, have become all very strong in colors, very optimistic, but this is just guessing, it is at this moment difficult to say, I will probably have to look back upon my works ten years from now.
KDJ: Most of your works are made a few months after the ‘experience’ that they have as a subject. We recently visited the place where you lived in Austria during your 20s. The memories seemed to be still quite strongly present and the time you spent there was an important part of your life. Would you consider painting a work after an experience so long ago?
RR: It is only the last three years, due to my occupation with my project PERSONAL STRUCTURES, that my works are made several months after the “experience” itself. In the years before it did not seem possible to make a work later then 2-3 months after experiencing the subject. Now I can imagine very well that a longer time period could be in-between. However, my executed works express until now chronologically experienced subjects, like a linear line. At this moment, I have no intentions to change that, so picking up an experience from long ago seems today no option.
KDJ: You pained your works sometimes even almost a year after the actual happening. For me, there is a difference between a fresh memory and a memory of something that happened a long time ago: through time I tend to forget aspects of the experience. Your Napoli 2010 Boxes that you showed at the 2011 Venice Biennale, were actually painted a few weeks before the opening of the Biennale in May 2011. It seems your Napoli 2010 is influenced by how you were at the moment of painting. Why do you not ‘double date’ your works?
RR: All my works are of course also influenced by my momentary state of being on the moment of execution. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Yes, dating my works is a question which occupied me for a while until I decided that; the moment in which the main part of the thoughts about how a possible execution of a possible work could look like were made, is the moment in time that counts. However, this is not easy to establish and without measuring exactly, I continue to date my work with the date of the actual experiencing of the subject. Double dating would however be more accurate. However, I never liked to give it much effort, to sign, title, number and date my works, it are the collectors who value this, not me.
KDJ: In a few months we will travel to Australia, an encounter with this country and its people can in my opinion be a nice subject for a new series of Boxes. When you think about Australia today—without ever having been there—you probably have certain expectations of possible experiences: snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef; driving to Ayers Rock. These expectations are an experience in themselves and show ‘you today’ in relation to Australia. Why have you never made a work of something that will happen in the future?
RR: I did. It is hardly known, but in the beginning years of working on and with the concept behind my works, I experimented and made a few different series (Miami Beach Boxes from 1997 and Brooklyn 1998) shortly before I went to live in that region. However, after that I only made works directly on the location of my subject or shortly after I had been there. So, despite having seen documented information, Australia is still more or less empty in my brain. No shape, no size, no colors.
VR: In your work you express your point of view and thoughts after an experience at a certain moment in time and space, by giving shape to your emotions and feelings of it in a specific moment. The actual moment of the creation of your work is then different from the moment of the experience you refer to. You express and present your work to your public as a proof of your existence and of your awareness at that moment in time. By time passing, you become more and more aware of your life as a total and your emotions and feelings about certain experiences probably could change, you could perhaps add more reflections or change your mind upon it. In this case, have you ever thought of expressing your renewed feelings and perceptions upon the same experience that you once already described?
RR: Normally, once I made a series of a certain experience I never return later to that same experience anymore, even if I do not like the outcome of my artworks. I move on. However, I have made very few exceptions, one of them is a series I made about my encounter with Nobuyoshi Araki in Tokyo May 1999. This was a very unusual encounter and at first I had made a series of blue Boxes with yellow lines over it, but after making them I really did not think that they express my experiences well, I started a new series and was pleased with the result. My feelings and perceptions had not changed, but in my early years I was not yet so sure about the formal means in which to express myself in the way I thought that was needed.
VR: In 2012 you showed me the wall in Antibes, where Nicolas de Staël might have jumped to his death, and the place where you lived in Vallauris, next to the Picasso Museum. While spending time in the South of France you started to have more freedom and courage in the use of colors and soon after your works became more 3 dimensional, they really became your Boxes. Also for Matisse the South of France had a very important impact on his work. The brightness and the strong powerful saturated colors impressed him and he started to use blocks of color, therefore he stated, “the kilogram of green is greener than half a kilogram of green”. What does color mean to you and why do you create often such a very material surface?
RR: Yes, Matisse was right, it is not only the color itself which has an enormous impact upon how we perceive, but also the amount of color, the opaque presents of the material color can add an enormous power in expressing emotions. Whenever I have the financial means and it “fits” to the subject, I like creating an opaque surface, it is a lot of me in there.
VR: When looking at your works since the beginning of your career, while it seems that oil paint and wood are your favorite materials to work with, you have used so far a wide range of different materials: glass, wood, concrete, silicon, acrylic, glue, steel, ceramic. What are the characteristics that bring you to the choice of a certain material? Are there other materials you would like to try out and use?
RR: I am not so sure about how personal or how universal my emotional response to certain materials are but, it is obvious for me that each material has very specific qualities which I can use in order to achieve a certain perception. So has for example acrylic paint for me a more superficial, artificial character than oil paint and glass a colder feeling than corten steel. Unfortunately, I lately did not have the right circumstances to experiment with new materials, but I hope that I will once have the opportunity and subject by which I can use lead in combination with oil paint and wood.
VR: Your boxes transport your emotional relationship with different subjects and your work expresses your emotions, thoughts and feelings towards certain persons you met and places you visited in the world. If you should consider the option of creating a self-portrait of you at this moment in time, what kind of emotional and intellectual thoughts would you express? How would it look like?
RR: I have been dealing with these questions often but I never answered these questions but, OK. Today I am a wooden cubic, 40x40x40 cm, a hard edge slightly sanded, strong present size, dark blue/alizarin crimson red, thick, opaque pallet knife, honest and strait forward oil paint surface, stable deep colors and not fragile yet.
KDJ: The last few years, except for your glass-Boxes, you have always made your works with the same materials. Although the ‘subjects’ that are indicated with the titles seem so very different, your series Oman 2012, El Hierro 2011 and your 2010 Kosuth-Boxes are all ‘oil paint on wood’ and are also very close to each other in their shape and size. Am I right in thinking there is a shift of focus taking place? That in expressing your relation to a certain subject, ‘you’ are becoming more and more present in your works rather than ‘your subjects’?
RR: I do not think that it is to a great extend my own personality who shows more and more, also not in the choice of oil paint as material. One of the main reasons why I have mainly worked with oil paint in the last years is unfortunately that, since I left Miami and the Netherlands, I do not have the same two large studios anymore. Since the last 4 years I focused mainly on establishing a home for my project here in Venice, Italy. I could hardly work and my studio here is only 20 square meter. For the glass and ceramic works I used assistances, and these works were not made in my studio. But, it is how it is, my works become according who I am on that particular moment in time, with the resources and within the possibilities that I have. I continuously change, my works will fortunately change again.
KDJ: Except for your Miami Beach and Côte d’Azur series, the colors you choose for your Boxes are often quite ‘basic’. I mean that they are often either red, yellow or blue, and there seems to be not much difference between the colors—the red from your El Hierro Boxes is quite similar to that of your Shark Valley Boxes; the yellow of Prague is comparable with the yellow of Napoli. Why is that? Do all ‘formal elements’ with which you express yourself, have a similar importance to you or are there some that you favor over others?
RR: I also noticed that the last few years I often use, as you put it, “basic” colors. I think this influence upon the color choice for my series says more about me than about the subject matter of that particular series. In earlier years I have made many series with, as I call them, “in between” colors, but somehow I seem to have a tendency to what I feel as “stronger” colors, whereby in my opinion there still are large differences even between the one strong red El Hierro and the other Shark Valley. These differences do not show well in print, but very well by displaying the works next to each other. Similar to that I only once made a box with a curved side. For me, Color, Shape, Texture, Material and Size are not all equally important, color for example has unavoidably for me always a big impact, texture less, but have there own importance, I cannot neglect one of them, and it hurts when I have to admit (often years after) that I probably choose wrong.
VR: In the 2013 PERSONAL STRUCTURES exhibition during the Venice Biennale, you will present a new installation in a space shared together with the presentation of the Japanese artist Toshikatsu Endo. How do you think the two presentations will fit together within the space?
RR: I have exhibited once before, in Vienna, in a direct confrontation with a work by Endo and I had the feeling that we did not reach the wished for result. So, we are trying again. Although visually so different, I am the opinion that there are many similarities between Endo, his work, and me and my work. The work of Endo, for our joined square room, has been decided upon some time ago already. Knowing this I created a work from which I hope it will make its own strong statement, as Endo does, and that at the same time the two works together will create an excellent strong room installation. Being both about human existence, presenting both modified three dimensional wooden objects, he round, I square, he fire and copper, I red paint, he on the floor, I the wall, two mature men from such different cultural backgrounds presenting themselves and, when we are not satisfied with the result, we will separate us, the works, again.
KDJ: In the PERSONAL STRUCTURES exhibition during the 2013 Venice Biennale, you will also present a typical Venetian boat-pole, painted yellow. This installation is quite different than your ‘usual’ Box-shaped works. How does this new work fit into your concept?
RR: I previously painted on found wooden objects, in 1998 in Japan and in 1999 in Germany and besides their visual appearance there is not a big difference between them and my Boxes. I most often use Boxes which are made by my carpenter shortly before I work with them. These Venetian boat-pole’s have been made long ago. My Boxes are created solely for the purpose of me painting on them; the pole’s had a different use before that I painted on them. It is this different use at a specific location and the passage of time that added additional contents to the objects. The object was created, the object was used and abandoned, I found it and I left my touch and my thoughts, me, on and in the object.
VR: In one interview, speaking about your artistic practice, you defined that the fine-tuning in your concept, you cannot call that a development. You exist as a human being, and therefore you do change. Development is mostly seen as a linear development, like an improving, like a searching towards something, trying new things and you stated that you do not necessarily have to try new things; you express yourself as you are at this point in time. These days you are a different person from whom you were years ago and the thoughts you had at that time might have changed. How does the development of you as a person reflects in your work?
RR: Many young artists are always looking for something that has never been done before and when they find something they think that they found art. I do not have to find a new technique, a new gimmick, I just express myself while my concept basically stays the same. It is the way in which I express myself that changes. I always try to look inside myself and inside the experienced moments of my life as consciously as I can. When I am in my studio I try to express myself as consciously as I can in my artworks. Reflecting my personal development, my personal status of that specific moment in combination with the previously experienced moments being the subject matter of my artworks, is in the choice of my formal elements, such as size, color, material etc. As in my personal development there is no “linear progress” I am just always changing, always moving, seemingly existing without a clear direction. Whereby I do hope that I continuously become a better human, without knowing exactly what that might be.
SG: You are a person who wants to make ‘a difference’. I know that in your daily life, you do have a tremendous (positive) influence on the people in your immediate surroundings. Also to me, your art is a result of your desire to express yourself and consequently has an influence on the spectator. Living today, in a world which seems never to have been so ‘fast’, where there is a constant overload of information and people seem difficult to “reach”; do you think you are able to achieve this positive influence through your art?
RR: Unfortunately, I am aware that I will only be able to reach very few people, but if I would do nothing, I would reach nobody. I try to reach as many as possible people with my art, with my project, with me, even while knowing that all this might only have a limited influence upon a few people.
SG: As a person, you are all about Awareness; Awareness of our own existence, our surroundings, and our life-time. Why do you think, you developed this special heightened consciousness?
RR: Seeing so many people dying around me and at the same time knowing that there will be no life after death, forces you to take being alive very serious. Knowing that a life-time is very short makes you realize that every day alive is an important day and therefore should be an interesting beautiful day.
SG: Many wise words have been spoken and many books have been published on how to live a good and positive life. But then looking at many lives, even those of the ‘big thinkers’, most often they have not developed this capability of putting ‘theory into praxis’. How have you been able to: “Carry the consequences of your thoughts” and created the life you are living today?
RR: You have to make yourself very clear where you want to put your priorities in life, how you do value everything and then act according that. Millions of people have fantastic ideas about all what they want to achieve, however most often they act not according their own ideas, especially when they realize the prize that there is to pay as a consequence of carrying out their thoughts. If you really want it, you have to be willing to pay the price; a good idea is nothing without its execution.
VR: As a reaction to your personal experiences and as an expression of your existence as a person, your works have the name of a specific location or the name of a person and the surrounding. In 2007 you created a series of work, which you titled “Life”. What did you want to express with this work and why did you decide for this unusual title in your oeuvre? Is that mend to be a statement or an overall expression of all your accumulated experiences and feelings in your life together? To what extend does this work differs from other works of yours in regard to your statement that your work is ultimately nothing other than the proof of your existence?
RR: I choose the title “Life” because when I created the series, It was a moment in which I looked back upon the life which I had lived until then and a moment in which I looked upon me, my “now”. Not as usual a region or another person, but a more abstract statement, “Life”, yes, probably all my experiences and my momentary feelings about life combined. The subject was me, my life. Almost like a self portrait but mainly about life itself, and at the same time as all my other works, ultimately nothing other than the proof of my existence.
KDJ: In regard to this statement “Ultimately, my work is nothing other than the proof of my existence”. What exactly constitutes your existence? What makes you ‘you’?
RR: The creation of the “me” is a complex biological, social and psychological process. This obvious starts with the genes on which we have no influence, then we receive cultural influences from our surroundings and in a later stage we can add our “own” influences in ourselves, self reflex ion and carrying out the consequences of that awareness can be of great impact. All these and several other influences eventually create the “me”, but only as long as I am still alive. When I die, only my body is left over and also that will disintegrate, “me” seizes to exist.
KDJ. Last year all of us visited Botswana together. On one of these days, we went to a ‘water hole’, a place where animals come to drink, and stayed there the whole day, just sitting in the car and watching the different animals. It was very impressive for me to experience the speed of life from these animals and we discussed also about that we, humans, should, would, do better—live happier—if our speed of life would be slower. Seeing you work, I have the feeling this is not really possible for you. It seems you are more like Arnulf Rainer, who is now 83 and only slower than he used to be because of limiting physical power. Would you ever seriously consider slowing down with all the consequences that it may have for your life?
RR: What I want from life has been all my consciously lived life the same, health, intense personal relations, discovering people and the world, a positive influence on my surroundings, an interesting profession, etc. and in that order, but also somehow balanced according my personal needs. I wanted to create a project larger then myself, and in order to achieve that I had to put my artist-ego by side and work in a to high speed. In order to achieve anything significant these days, it seems that one cannot “afford” to slow down. Rainer, 83, by not slowing down, sacrificed many of the things that I value, I, 55, do not want to do the same, to live a fulfilled live according to my ideas, I will have to slow down and focus again on all important aspects of live.
SG. For you “seeing the elephants” has been since you are a young man, a metaphor for ‘living a life’. Always there has been this ‘goal’ in life. Now, you have seen the elephants, what will come next?
RR: Seeing the elephants has for me always had the symbolic meaning of go out there and discover the world. I always will remember Rauschenberg who regretted that he could not discover more because he was running out of time. I know I will eventually also run out of time, so, I have to hurry up and continue to discover many more “elephants”. “Living a life” should never stop.
KDJ: You have developed PERSONAL STRUCTURES in such a way that it can survive as long as there are people working with it. Also other projects that you created in your life have continued to exist, even though you have moved on and chose to live your life being an artist. Since we met in spring 2007, you have influenced my life and the way I think about my existence. For whatever reason it might be, we now agree on many topics and one could say there is a lot of thought from you in me. Of course, I hope that you live a very long time, but I also hope that I live longer than you. After you die, could I continue painting ‘your’ Boxes?
RR: Karlyn, you are already painting “my” Boxes, yours only look at the moment more flat, and so, I do hope that you will continue long until after I have died, no matter how the visual presence of your works may be.