Recently, I met up with Lilian Kreutzberger to have a conversation about her return to the Netherlands, her new work and ideas, and some advice for emerging artists.
Cybil Scott: Soon you will be studying in the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht for a year, why did you want to leave New York and come back to the Netherlands?
Lilian Kreutzberger: There are a couple of reasons.
I graduated from my MFA program in 2013 from Parsons New School and I just now finished a bunch of residencies in NY. It feels like I used most of the knowledge and and insights I got from those two years of studying. When it comes down to combining art making with a lot reading and writing I often need external pressure of some sort; I’m not a great self-motivator in regards to that. It’s always good to challenge myself again somehow and to set the bar a bit higher by for example applying to the Jan van Eyck.
The Netherlands has a great infrastructure for arts and culture and also allows one to have a peace of mind. In New York it’s hard to have a good quality of life. Having space is super important; I lived out of a suitcase in a room about the same size in New York for the past few years. With limited living and studio space I couldn’t afford to accumulate things such as materials, books and other resources that are necessary to have around as artist. The challenge of how to give form to problems like this also promotes resourcefulness and motivation to work twice as hard. Eventually this might actually speed up your artistic development.
CS: What have you learned from the way artists work in New York?
LK: What I find great in New York is that a group of artists form your community. It seems to me there’s a lot of scouting that happens in the Netherlands right after bachelor graduation and that rarely happens in New York. This could be because there are just so many artists and Bachelor and Master programs in New York. It takes longer to make your art visible and to prove yourself as a consistent artist. Participating in residencies helps to maintain and develop your artistic development and career. Building a community with peer artists for example with bi-weekly studio critiques promotes ongoing critical dialogues and ensures helpful feedback during your process. Artists often generously share opportunities, references and resources via their arts community. I have not yet established a similar community here.
CS: If it were up to you would you prefer to work in New York?
LK: That is a hard decision to make. To increase my chances of finding a large audience via the many great platforms there, then yes. The city attracts many ambitious people who work or study on the forefront of their discipline, it’s super exciting to meet those people and hear their stories everyday. Sometimes when I fly over New York or when I see the skyline of Manhattan from my studio building roof, New York just for a moment seems to be the perfect city that only exists in movies or in a crazy dream. It’s sometimes just very unreal that this city, that is based on a grid and carries so many contradictions in it, is real. It most definitely has had a great impact on my work. Having said that, I also believe it’s good to focus on more than one thing in life. Space in New York is very expensive and everything is just a hustle; there are real limitations to freedom. I had an OK 15 sq. meter studio with a rent of $530, which is considered a good deal in NY! But I can’t make large works there. The way I think about time is also very different, the pressure to always be efficient with time sneaks into the studio, whereas I think for making work one needs to be able to allow the opposite of efficiency when needed. Personally, sacrificing quality of life when living in NY sometimes turned my ambitions into too much pressure. It’s important to always be motivated by curiosity in what you’re making and I believe I can achieve that in any place, also the Netherlands.
CS: What’s it like when you make new work? How do you go about it?
LK: There are different types of strategies on how to get new ideas, start new projects and how to come to a decision in the process of making. I wanted to build a very strong intuition using both knowledge and visuality. So on one hand, I do my homework and see a lot of art/shows and then on the other, read a lot; not with the purpose of directly using it or applying it in my work, but to build up intuitive/implicit knowledge. With this I can make better, stronger and more informed decisions in my studio while at the same time letting go and allowing freedom and playfulness.
Making work can be hard because you make something that doesn’t often have a purpose, is fictional, or is something that you yourself have not seen the likes of before. It’s very different from making a functional object for example. There is more uncertainty and everything is based on those initial decisions you made, and then that makes up a great deal of the content of the work. Sometimes it’s just about starting a project even when the idea seems like a one-liner. Often, once I am working on it I discover more layers to it, or find new things or insights. With new works it can take awhile to accept something new and to have hindsight. Once I made a small drawing and I needed like half a year or a year to accept it as not just a sketch, but as a real finished work.
For example, the frames around my newest drawings. I would have never have come up with the idea if I had had enough money to buy the frames I liked. One night I was playing around and cleaning up fifteen minutes before I left my studio, and I started playing with the order in which the frames were organized and within a minute, while just having a bit of fun with the works, I had the idea that completed them. I would have never come to that point if I would’ve bought the regular frames or followed my original expectations of the works. This is actually a great example of how important it is to exhibit work. It’s more a rule than an exception. I think a work is near finished when the thing I was curious or excited about has been figured out to about 90% completion. I don’t feel motivated until I have to hang it on a wall and declare it as a finished piece. That is when the last 10% (time and time again) proves to be just as important; this includes the small seemingly insignificant details like edges of works, frames or the hanging itself
CS: In your older work it seems like you went from a depiction of a three-dimensional space and then flattened it into paintings, and then with your wall reliefs you began depicting two dimensional forms back into three dimensional sculpture, and now in your newest work you are beginning to invade the actual space. How do you find your work is progressing?
LK: I think all the work, due to my background in painting, is always in relation to two-dimensionality on some level. Nowadays I’m very interested in the internet and the loss of materiality and speculating about what’s possible for the future in this type of world. The internet is a new space. Building, playing or altering the things that have become obsolete or of which the function has changed is something I am very interested in now.
I am very much at the beginning of thinking about this, maybe I should call it two and half dimensionality for now. Thinking as a painter when trying to make sculpture is also related to that. This contributed to the idea for the ‘ornamentation snake’: The title of the work being ‘Ich bin auch Eine Zeichnung’ (a title after a drawing by Martin Assig). The work consists of several parts that can be connected into an infinite amount of forms. It came with thinking about the internet and space and the necessity of an edge which is now often ornamented. If for example everything is made out of the same material how can you have an edge decoration? By changing the meaning and necessity of edges, the possibility opened up to play with it and reduce it to form or give it a new function; like following the lines in a space, framing a work, organizing a wall with multiple works on it or allowing it to be a sculpture by itself. While installing the show at Maurits van de Laar it took me a full day to only install that work as its possibilities/arrangements are infinite.
CS: Are you continuing to think about questions surrounding the internet in the coming year?
LK: Much of my thinking at the moment is informed in one way or another by imagining the internet as a physical space, but also looking at the actual physical space it takes up. Where are the cables? Who maintains them? Who is the owner of them? I think as an artist, we should start looking at the developments that are happening in the non-material world. It’s a big potential, but also a concern that I think will become more and more important as we try to understand the world we live in. We have the potential to participate in a dialogue and offer interesting questions.
CS: Your recent work, the plaster filled laser-cut (or wall reliefs) are a kind of poetic metaphor for humanity forced into a grid structure. It’s quite fragile and it fills a place, but it seems that over time it can break or fall out.
LK: Yes, it has to seem like it’s fragile. The plaster is a difficult material which takes quite some time to understand and get a feeling for. The battle I have with plaster is so much part of the work. The plaster becomes an index of my failure to control the material. Its me trying to have control and the plaster is like Nature; it doesn’t work the way I would like it to. As a maker I strive for a level of perfection and failing in that, is very much part of the work. The wall reliefs are built up from all the forms I made for a fictive building that I designed for a previous project called Engineering Hope. Then I completely distorted the building parts on the computer by copy-pasting and stretching them which resulted in new abstract forms.
CS: Can you tell me a little more about your ideas behind the Engineering Hope Project?
LK: In the 16th century Thomas Moore wrote the book Utopia, a place that can be understood as a diagram about how a city could look if it was organized by certain principles. With the intention to improve the working and living condition for the working and middle-class, in the late 19th century, thinkers turned to social models as tool to imagine the future urban environment. Imagine that in a certain time, factories were in the city creating an unhealthy living situation. If the human condition was negatively affected by its environment, the belief was that one could increase the quality of life through a better, more consciously designed urban environment. For example, Howard Ebenezer’s plans for Garden City. At the CIAM conferences urban planners and architects spoke about an ideally designed city in which a healthy city was the main objective. Many of the proposed plans remained ideas on paper. A wave of technical advancement, social and governance innovation took place and made it possible to build affordable housing for everyone on a massive scale. After WOII the plans became the blueprint for so many governments to deal with the pressing conditions of their destroyed country. But many of the original ideas vanished while functionality and efficiency took over and appeared in characteristics of the physical translation of that model/blueprint. Focusing on functionality, standardization and series were introduced into the concepts of building and thinking of architecture and urban design. This development continued in the 50’s and 60’s, after which it became more and more visible what this way of building and thinking actually meant.
My take on this model, which once started out with a vision of how to create a better city, was reduced to three or four primary needs over time into a very abstracted and limited understanding of our actual needs and experiences when living in an urban space. Secondary needs were perhaps excluded from the model that served as a reference for how to build. For example, many of the houses look exactly the same and have the same floor plan, regardless of your needs, identity, and background etc. When I started my understanding a long time ago with looking purely at the aesthetic quality, I started looking at the level of abstraction and simplification in the way we think about our needs in relation to housing.
For the project Engineering Hope I decided to design my own, impossible, public housing models referencing different architecture like Pruitt Igoe in St. Louis in Missouri, Bijlmer in Amsterdam, Unite d’habitation Le Corbusier in Marseille etc. The ornamentation is slowly stripped or turned into semi-functional aspects of the building.
CS: Is it any coincidence that your wall reliefs look like motherboards?
LK: To continue the previous topic here, what I found interesting in the project Engineering Hope, was the play between conceptual abstracting and visual abstracting. The panels out of which I cut the parts to build the first two out of five buildings of the original design, have almost become abstract. One can only understand the scale of the parts in relation to the other parts; it’s a system of composition that is informed by the relation to itself. This allows a very broad and open understanding of what is in front of you. Reading it as motherboard was a coincidence, but then you can play with whether you want that read or not, sometimes I do want to reference it and sometimes I don’t. When I laser cut my first relief, I saw that you could read three or four things: Hieroglyphs (they have something ancient about them or like ancient template), a city from above, or a city from up close, or as a motherboard from a computer. What they all have in common is that the scale or the material gives you context. It’s like a secret medium I can play with. Perhaps with painting I have not found a similarly effective method.