Interview artist in residence Kaleb de Groot

Kaleb de Groot standing in front of the sculpture ‘Mono-Winged Angel’ of Kathrin Schlegel at the burial ground for the nameless at Brievengat

An introduction

Kaleb de Groot was the artist in residence for the period of May 8th till August 26th 2015.
He regards contention as a modus operandi, or a mode of being that can lead to new types of relationships, forms of poetry, and innovative ways of constructing the world around us.
This practice has brought him to several corners of the world: Zambia, Ethiopia, China, Indonesia and this time Curaçao.
In the period of 1983 to 1986, de Groot lived on Curacao.
After going back to the Netherlands he moved back, two years later, to this region, but this time to the neighbouring island dof Aruba, where he lived for two years.

Liber

‘Liber’ photo courtesy of the artist

What was your first art work that always stuck with you? Your very first art work that helped define your decision to be an artist.
[he laughs]
-I need to think about that one. But the first thing that comes to mind is this huge devil figure that I constructed from a red trash chute, more than 2 meters high, with pvc tubes as the horns, maybe it was even higher. Initially I just wanted to make the object as a self standing sculpture. But actually the better execution was the self-portrait of me with the piece. I was dressed completely in blue, by chance, and hugging the piece. It was a good contrast, next to this red figure who wasn’t really a scary devil at all.
But before that I already had this conviction to be an artist. This was partly because of a family friend that made paintings that I felt were interesting at that time. When I got back from Aruba and moved to the Netherlands I started to draw. Probably because in Aruba I did this animation workshop from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy at Atelier ’89. It was the first year of this place in the year 1989 (hence the name). So I was already drawing a lot there. It became my way of expressing myself, my way to talk. Talk about my frustrations, world problems, my first loves, anything that occupied my mind as a 17-year old.

Why are you an artist and not for example a construction worker?
-That’s a tough one. [long pause] I used to be very outspoken about this, but recently, this last month actually, this firm conviction is chipping away. My entire reason for me to be here is to reflect and think about this exact thing. This has brought up so much in my mind that I entered a state of extreme doubt. It makes you analyse everything that has to do with the creative process and your role in society as an artist. Especially because I am at the IBB, which is also a social project, and on Curacao, where I grew up.

Are you undergoing this as something positive, to put yourself under the microscope like this? This shift, or this awareness, is it a good thing for you?

-Well, at this point I am in the middle of it, so I can’t answer that right now. I know how to survive in the creative process. I know how to survive with jobs like your example of a construction worker. And to work like that is not so far off from my practice as an artist. My work has to do with labour. As here in Curaçao I have several jobs in construction that enables me to think. It gives me time to think and reflect about what I do as an artist. I have always learned that if you are busy you are doing well. I think my being busy turned into acting busy

Two weeks or so ago I came to the conclusion that I have no vision anymore. And still, born out of some daily routine, I keep creating. But with this lack of belief it makes it really easy to just chuck everything in the garbage bin at the end of the day. When I just got here people asked me: so what are you going to do? My answer was: It’s my intention to make as few works as possible. Not knowing at that stage that one month later I would not feel any urge to make anything at all. It was time to think things through.

detritus dripping

‘Detritus Dripping’ photo courtesy of the artist

When you are commissioned for an exhibition, for example you need to make a series of something, you are already so focused on the end goal that you make fast decisions, rash decisions. But the creative proces should have enough time to be dubious. I was thinking this yesterday:

I teach my students at the Royal Academy in the Hague not to overthink something, because you can kill it. You need to allow your image to develop itself. This also has to do with how your routine is or how you apply your non-routine. How far do you work from intuition for example.

But you are limited to the timeframe of your residency of 4 months here.
-In a certain sense yes, I was asked to make a permanent sculpture for the IBB Sculpture Garden which I connected with giving a workshop.  And there is also another project that I want to realise. So I know that these things need to happen before I leave. I test myself, these works are alien to me.

You might even stay longer, even after your residency, to complete this other project?
-For sure I don’t want this project to be final, to stop. I had it before that I have a project, I work on it and finish it and continue with another project. That is actually a schizophrenic way of working. So you must see a red line connecting the works. Instead of having to re-invent yourself each time. It’s very tiresome and superficial.

But now you start seeing this red line?
-Yes, I start seeing the line, it’s pinkish right now.
Is it also that you have different disciplines and that these disciplines all end up showing this red line?
-Yes, with the right intention and devotion i can show you a documentary one day and a performance the other, both produced by me. Then there is this one thing that was very important to investigate these couple of months;

It is that I had the thought, being in the Netherlands, that I have this certain style. This felt very awkward and non Western.  I think it developed here because I’ve lived here before. A simple example is this: In the Netherlands I came up with this pink self mixed paint, that I used a lot in my work to give colour to my work. It was a color that I developed in my studio. When people would see these works they would find this colour abject. I never thought so. And it turned out to be a very conventional colour here in Curaçao, a customary color that you would happily use to paint your house with.

To get grip on your personal semantics can also undermine the artistic process. But a healthy amount of self-mastery is essential.

I’m reanimating objects here. But don’t think recycling in terms of green or eco.

Awkward pink

Awkward pink (photo courtesy of the artist)

boca san pedro

at Boca San Pedro (photo courtesy of the artist)

PicantoPalmtree

PicantoPalmtree (photo courtesy of the artist)

Your material research really is fascinating. How does this start with you
-Well, some objects I could never have in the Netherlands. For example the piece of palm tree. That is a rare object to find in the Netherlands. So out of greediness I get all these objects in my working studio. Also these parts of some old sketches of Sindey (an IBB alumni) have that exact color of pink I use in the Netherlands. The works I made in the Netherlands I painted with that pink and also have a similar shape. It almost seemed as someone was making my work here while I was at home. So I asked Sindey if I can use her sketches to continue with my own work. But I also got materials that I already use in the Netherlands, so not to get the idea that I need to start from scratch.
Are the materials you already use back in Holland a sort of starting point?

Yes, but it’s not like here everything is strange or new for me either. I’m not new here, you can put on the anthem on the radio at 12am and I can immediately sing it by heart.Thanks to the very patriotic act of flag raising at my former elementary school here on the island (Johan van Walbeek school). So in the beginning I was having these flashbacks which resulted in being in two places at the same time.

I work with these materials in the Netherlands and I want to continue with them. I don’t want to suddenly invent the new Curaçao version of Kaleb de Groot.
The form that prevails in the Netherlands, how does that function here? Here I am of course a makamba* and in Holland I am of course Dutch, although I feel I’m part Antillean too, which nobody can see of course.
Unless they know you.
-Yes, but even so they don’t know what that means. Luckily all my friends and my wife and kids are a mixed up bunch. I do surround myself with entities of krioyo**.

Chromangoes

Chromangoes – photo by Kaleb de Groot

He is also working on a project of the Japan NV building at the Schottegatweg Noord that got burned.

De Groot: – Either it caught fire or was intentionally set on fire. But the owners of Japan NV are in a lawsuit with the bank. It is not even certain that it will be covered. But that is such a juridical slippery slope, that’s not the direction I want to go with this project. That’s not the light I want to put on this building because it will then be about loss or rogue actions. If you want to start a conversation about that, you put the threshold too high for discussion. So the entire object, the entire building I want to consider as a work, as a sculpture. It’s a huge readymade installation. That entire object would be the biggest sculpture on the island. But I prefer not to talk too much about the spectacle of such a statement. It’s more about how people see this, the beauty of it and what artistically happens here.
I need to consider carefully how the media brings it. I will take a series of pictures of the building and will have to write a very smart and good text to go with it. I don’t have a title yet but the Lijian family has been informed I am working on this concept. Another thing that is an element of this project I want to do is about the notion of size. Think about it, I heard that the family Maal owns almost 1/8 of the island.

the island

‘The Island’ (photo courtesy of the artist)

Size and volume are very classic themes in thinking about sculpture. But also relative to social status and the economy these topics are very interesting to discuss.

About Curaçao
– I have learned here on Curaçao that people often say: “Everything is possible here.” But if I look at what the kids here at IBB go through I see that little is possible. No money, and all sorts of complications. However as an IBB student you are realising your dream and you are 3 steps ahead, comparing with somebody who thinks: not possible. So I think that this turnaround point in thinking is a psychological aspect that interests me. How people interact with each other.

kalebdegroot1

Kaleb de Groot (photo by Avantia Damberg)

Do you keep people alert with your art?
Yes, so it’s not about aggression. I think humor in this case might be the best tool. If I make a funny joke about the ISLA, who makes everything ‘green’ (read: natural) by the emissions it releases on the island, people will laugh about it, but it will stick. Parody works. Chin Behilia has for example a political overtone, in music it happens too. In the tambú it happens, but then it’s just in that corner where it is expected. Carnaval is something where you can lit the government on fire for a couple of days, but people are too afraid to lose their jobs. It’s not about picking a fight, there should be a dynamic where you can have a debate and can confront each other with mistakes. It can be part of the peoples pride here that they should not be messed with. I understand the vulnerability of the situation. But debate is in this case the engine.
And my last question: What irritates you most in your own working process?
It’s my perseverance. Or to be precise: the lack thereof.

If not busy with art Kaleb’s most preferred way of spending time is fishing, bbq-ing, swimming and spending quality time with his family.

* Name for a Dutch person developed during Dutch colonial rule. Its usage often runs the whole gamut from positive to negative.

** Creole.