Stroom Invest interviews / artist Sjuul Joosen
Sjuul Joosen is fascinated by mankind’s fantasy and the pioneers who challenge the laws of physics in their efforts to realize their dreams. Sjuul is currently working on a science fiction film project ‘Time Hunter’ (working title) which is based on his sculptural works in relation to shifting ideas about time travelling.
What do you do all day?
I am working on a film project for about two years now. I have some side jobs, but I try to use all of my spare time to be here in the studio.
But it is not a hobby, is it?
No, but maybe if you extend the definition of a hobby. Hobby regularly has a bad tone. I think a lot of people with hobbies have more time and money to work on their hobby than an artist has for his work. I think it is all about determination and will power.
I read in your statement that you describe yourself as a young artist. What does that mean?
I think it means that you are really open for new ways of working. I am constantly adjusting my ideas on how it should be. Maybe I can stay a young artist for a long time. Lately, I have also been longing to have some kind of back bone or a stable base. But maybe it is already there. But it always feels like I am rediscovering the wheel. That can be frustrating sometimes.
But maybe that is also part of your work and practice? It might be that the feeling of not being there yet, will always stay with you.
Yes, that is a nice way of thinking about it.
What was the initial idea for your film project?
It has changed so many times, I don’t really know anymore. I really have to think back. At first, I was playing an actor. I pretended to be an actor from a different time creating a movie about the future. In the beginning, it was more about fooling the audience in a mockumentary style movie. I wanted to make a film and bury it for a next generations to watch it, maybe about 50 years from now. So that the film would be an old artifact and a sort of archeological finding, which is also part of the movie itself. But it would be so much effort for what would be merely a joke. Then I thought there would be so many rules and hardly any freedom expressing my ideas.
You mean the concept would become so rigid, that you wouldn’t have the energy to finalize it?
Yes and it would also be economically unsustainable. I wanted to shoot it on 16 mm film, so it would need at least a year to find the money. I also realized that fooling an audience is not what the story is about. It was about something else, but I still had to find out what this was.
But it is about time and time travelling?
Sometimes you can only see things clearly when you step back. We are always interpreting the things from within. The film would be contemporary but seen from the future, at a distance.
You wanted to become an outsider, looking at the world, like David Bowie?
Yes, there are a lot of some similarities. Also with dressing up. Method acting. And changing perspective.
You use yourself as a character in the movie?
I use to do that, but not in this movie. I used to play roles. I am going to be an actor in somebody else’s movie next week. Then I hope to see how that role works from within.
What do you try to achieve with your film? I see, you are working on lots of different things.
I am mostly interested in the process. With this film I want to tell a story about an abstract mindset.
When will it be finished? Or can it also exist as an unfinished work?
I presented some parts of this project when it was not yet finished. I showed two pieces in group exhibitions. I show some form or props, but the works don’t tell the story yet. Maybe it is some kind of trailer for the film. The movie is also part of the project for me.
Are you already shooting the movie?
No, not yet. I create the props and from these objects the story grows. It is a step by step process. It is not really efficient, because I often make objects that are not going to be used at all. But the script is now almost finished and I hope to shoot it this summer on the beach with nice weather.
Do you use special effects or scale models for your film?
Yes, I made a scale model of the boat and a model of the world. I want the objects also to exist outside of the movie. I want them to literally feel the same as the movie. I also like the aesthetics of old movies and that formal display of props as if they are sculptures. I am not a film director but more of a sculptor. Others might find that foolish because film gives you the opportunity to fake everything, but I also want to have that physicality of things. I have some skills in 3D modeling software, but I decided not to use that within this project. If you can have real explosions, why fake it? I also like the trick feeling of the magician fooling and distracting the viewer with these simple objects. I want to keep that in it.
Your project is a one person enterprise, which limits you very much. So it is also a mission impossible?
Yes, it is. I have to challenge myself to the extreme, because that is when I learn the most. I use computers for digital calculation but execute the final output in an analog manner. For example when I use animation in the movie. I end up with hand-made drawings.
At first I was interested in time and analogue and digital effects. But now the story is more about perception. Sometimes it takes so much energy to think about all the steps that I make in this project that I sometimes forget what I did before. If often think: where was I?
Is there somebody you can talk to during this project?
There is somebody who helped me writing applications for grants. That was the first time I had to put the project into words. And with every big step I take, I show it to this person.
And does showing parts within exhibitions help you to get a grip on what you are doing?
That mainly helps me to motivate myself to continue and to see where it is going to. To see some sort of progress. I need some momentum during the process. I have a lot of small side projects during making the film. I made my own aluminum casting oven to create a helmet like this. I like that. That I can step out of the project and make something concrete.
There are easier ways to make props. Your props are better than you need to function within the movie.
Yes, but it is also an investment for the future. Next time it will be faster.
Why did you choose to do a long-term project at such an early stage in your career?
I did a pubic sculpture previous to this project. That took me three years to finish. I didn’t want to do large sculptures anymore, but I like to put a lot of energy into one project. With this project I can switch very rapidly from one thing to another. You can really be all over the place. I like the feeling of working on something bigger. Something that I can put all of my effort in.
Are there any people you admire for that?
I like a lot of Dutch conceptual filmmakers like Guido van der Werve, Aernout Mik, Bas Jan Ader, Joost Conijn and Ger van Elk. But also David Bowie and people in showbiz. Werner Herzog and I read a bit about Tarkovsky.
I am still finding out what part of film making I am mostly interested in. I know now that writing is not my thing. I can now see better what my weaknesses are.
Do you have a deadline for this project?
Every summer is a deadline. Last summer was one, but I didn’t make it. I want to film it on the beach. I want to use this specific location. It also inspires me. The beach is one of the few places that don’t change much within time. I also want to have vibrant colors in the movie.
Will there be a happy ending?
I am still writing the end of the script. That is the hardest part. It feels like writing some sort of conclusion. In the first draft, I had two characters who contrasted each other. I now only have one female character left, because it is easier to focus on one character. I can now make a transition within the character. I wanted it to be human, first of all.
When is your art successful?
For me it is successful, when I still can’t totally grasp it. When it has some mystery and when it is truthful.
What’s the next thing do you want to learn now?
(long silence) I want to learn more about structuring and organizing my workflow, studio, computer, planning. To optimize space, time and money and to finish this project. When I have a day off, the first thing I want to do is to reorganize my studio again. To clear my mind.
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.