Stroom Invest Interviews / artist Anna Sophie de Vries
It’s almost like a summer’s day on this Friday in April. At the most central table of the terrace in the Westbroekpark the artist is already waiting: Anna Sophie de Vries. She makes films, installations and music. At the request of the artist, we do this interview in two parts: a pleasant conversation à la Theo van Gogh and a Q&A through email.
Do you watch a lot of films?
As a child I watched many films. Sometimes three a day. When I was little, my mother used to take me to the Film Festival in Rotterdam to watch the films that were not yet sold out. Those were films in which groups of Japanese people jointly committed suicide or had sex with watermelons. At home my father had a large DVD collection with films by Kubrick, Fellini and Fassbinder. I also watched a lot of television. I observed life more through watching screens than by actually participating in it. Now I don’t watch that many films anymore.
Now you make them.
Now I make them. I sometimes go to the cinema but regularly walk out on films. This isn’t the golden age of film.
I don’t watch them. They take up too much time. It makes me feel like I’m living a parallel life. I prefer living in my own world. A friend of mine actually called Tinder, Thuisbezorgd, Netflix and Whatsapp the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
What strikes me is that TV series are always an 8 or an 8.5. The artistic directors you named would sometimes perhaps score lower than an 8, but also made that one masterpiece.
You should never think of that 8, it stands in the way of true creativity. That’s why a lot of today’s art is boring. People want to make “good art”. Artists are now designers who design art. Artists make rebuses with each other and if you can solve the rebus you can join the club. An example: artist 1 uses an Yves Klein kind of blue and artist 2 uses the same blue, but in a slightly different way. He gains the approval of anyone who sees the connection as well. Some sort of equation has been solved. But what is calculable is often boring. Many artists feel a sense of self-importance and think that they must educate the people. I like it when an artist is with the people, gives the people a voice and a sense of hope in difficult times, inspiring them to love and celebrate freedom, humor, beauty and nature. I think it’s very important that art gives you a lust for life.
What grows and flourishes in this era are long TV series and short videos on YouTube. Where does your strength lie?
As a filmmaker you create time. The actual duration of a film and how long you perceive it to last do not have much to do with each other. I worked eighteen months on my film Persephone & Demeter. The film is inspired by the Greek Eleusinian mysteries; ancient Greek rites where the initiated drink Kykeon. This drink is made from rotting grain and its effect has been compared to that of LSD. In my film I tried to recreate a similar trip. During this trip chronological time is no longer valid. Time travel can be done with the speed of thought and there is communication via telepathy, such as in a dream or during moments of total ecstasy.
Talking about that film: you first told futuristic stories. Now you are inspired by ancient Greek myths. What’s up with that?
I don’t see myths as a thing of the past. Mythology is universal and of all times. In the story of Persephone and Demeter, Persephone descends into the underworld. This is also symbolic of the darkness in the human psyche. It’s a good thing for everyone to discover their dark side, in order to get to know themselves and the world and to learn about the value of darkness. Darkness is a catalyst for action and an invitation for transformation.
That requires that you can observe that dark side without any moral judgment.
If you are afraid of your own darkness you suffer more than if you look it straight in the eye. Fear of fear is worse than feeling true fear in the moment. If you don’t ventilate your darkness, it takes root in your soul like unwanted weeds and you will continue to keep others responsible for your discomfort.
How does that work for yourself? Do you get inspiration from that?
I look at everything inside myself, also the light and darkness. I am not necessarily more attracted to one or the other. Rather, I am looking for the marriage between heaven and hell. Darkness sometimes attracts more attention because it requires more research. A state of bliss is seldom a state of contemplation. While making my last film, it was as if I, as Persephone, made a journey from light to darkness and from darkness to light again. My movies run parallel to my life. I often discover things in my films that I only later – or much later – understand.
When you say this, about good and evil, light and dark, I am reminded of the black and white lodge in Twin Peaks right away. The images you edited over each other in your films reminded me of, for example, the intro to Mulholland Drive.
His work appeals to me. I don’t think about other filmmakers when I work, though they are inside of me.
What would you do if you, like Lynch, had a budget of a few million euros?
Then I would make fantasy films. I do that now as well, but for budgetary reasons I use found footage for those parts I can’t film myself. I would have an animator make images of dragons, gods and other dimensions.
Do you do a lot yourself?
I do everything myself. Sound, camera, script and editing. I learn new things with every film.
What did you learn from your last film?
There was more room in my subconscious. I was creating those images that had been in my head for some time, without having a clue why. I used to shoot my films abroad mostly, which puts you under a time constraint. You also work with actors that you didn’t know before. I like to use my friends as actors. Their roles are a magnification of the archetype that they already embody. So it felt like my mother playing Demeter in the film, was also Demeter in real life. In real life she was also looking for me, her daughter Persephone, who enters the underworld. When I was making the film, a record label celebrated its 25-year anniversary with an underground party. It was a Roman themed party and I got the role of Persephone. My phone was broken and I was gone for 24 hours during Christmas night. Just like Demeter, my mother was worried and called all of my friends. There were more parallels between my life and my film. The difference between my personal life and the fiction I make keeps getting smaller.
Talking about music, you also do music performances yourself. How is that working out?
It’s going well. Together with Hein Verhoeven, who plays a modular synthesizer, I have a band, Lourdes. We have performed a lot, such as in Paris and Paradiso in Amsterdam. Hein has made me a modular synthesizer as well and I experiment with my solo music, under the name Avé Eva 369, with vocals, all kinds of synthesizers and a drum computer. For my next film I want to make all the sounds myself. I want the music performances to become more cinematic, and the films more musical. I look forward to perform with my music a lot this summer.
During an interview for the Invest Week in 2016 you told that you were going to Los Angeles would go to make a film. How did that end?
Los Angeles is a place where it feels like people’s hearts beat three times as fast as here. I lived there for three months and made the film One Way Ticket. I stayed in a villa full of self called freaks. They had tattoos all over their bodies and their hair was dyed all sorts of colours. Every day they would sit in an inflatable pool putting face paint on their faces. Everyone was polygamous and very hedonistic. The protagonist of my film, who also became my lover, had, like many others, this alter ego. If you painted his face, he’d become “Sean McClownery.” He’d wear a clown costume and have a different voice. I also lived in a Mongolian yurt that could not be locked and that was in the middle of a gangster neighbourhood. Halfway through the shooting of my film I broke my left wrist during roller skating. I underwent surgery in LA and had to make some creative concessions. I could’ve gotten more out of the situation I was in. Many things were stranger than fiction. When I was on the plane back to the Netherlands I thanked God that I had survived this trip. When I returned, I immediately started a two-year residency at de Ateliers in Amsterdam. I still get a lot of inspiration from the theatrical aspects of Los Angeles is. I would love to go there again to film and make both fiction and documentaries. I want to more make documentaries and put these on a platform such as YouTube.
I find YouTube an interesting platform. Perhaps creativity has already left the visual arts for some time now and is now on YouTube. People make their own unpretentious TV shows and talk directly to the people.
Just like many other artists of your generation, you do not limit yourself in your mediums. Do you ever get confused about what you do?
Creation comes in all forms. You learn technical things from YouTube and you discover your own techniques during the process. If you rotate between mediums, they will, again and again, feel like a new and an old friend at the same time.
That goes naturally, I gather?
It’s like switching between different languages. Film has everything; performance, images, language, music and rhythm. It nourishes all your senses.
What will be your next film?
I want to make a mosaic film about mother earth. It will be a modern version of the stories about earthly gods and goddesses from Hinduism and Greek mythology. I’m going to shoot the film where the myths are originated.
And what are your plans this summer?
I have bought a summer house in Amsterdam and I will film a storyline there. When I went to visit it – after having seen a tiny picture of it on the internet – the summer house turned out to be called Aphrodite. Before I bought this house, I already made temples dedicated to Aphrodite in my own house. I have the feeling that a summer of love is arriving. Aphrodite will also get a role in it my next film.
In a collaboration between Jegens & Tevens and Stroom Den Haag a series of interviews will be published with (inter)national curators, artists and critics participating in Stroom’s Invest Week 2019.
The Invest Week is an annual 4-day program for artists who were granted the PRO Invest subsidy. This subsidy supports young artists based in The Hague in the development of their artistic practice and is aimed to keep artists and graduates of the art academy in the city of The Hague. In order to give the artists an extra incentive, Stroom organizes this week that consists of a public evening of talks, a program of studio visits, presentations and a number of informal meetings. The intent is to broaden the visibility of artists from The Hague through future exhibitions, presentations and exchange programs. The Invest Week 2019 will take place from 17 to 21 June.