Monday, 24 September 2012

Alumni of the Rijksakademie - Ikebana City

Ikebana City/ New York, 2011 © Lotte Geeven & Semâ Bekirovic

 Kim Knoppers interviewed each of the participating artists in the exhibition, Alumni of the Rijksakademie. Here, Semâ Bekirovich and Lotte Geeven talk about their project, Ikebana City.

Ikebana City started in New York. How did the project come about?

Semâ Bekirovich: Our theme was to create a visual record of the natural outgrowths of the city. Every day, we walked for dozens of miles and encountered things like plants growing against a wall covered with graffiti. They had accidentally been spattered with many colours of paint, but still continued to grow quite happily. That is Ikebana's focus: plants that find their own place in the city, in symbiosis with human beings. We gathered these plants and brought them to our atelier to create still lifes with them. Then we photographed them. After that, we made posters of the prints and hung them up in the original locations where we found the plants. By doing this, the plants once again became visible for the neighbourhood. We were interested in creating work that has more to do with street art than high art. In the end, though, our work still ended up in a museum. But we approach the museum as a workspace where we also demonstrate our working process. We want to present Ikebana City only as a performance or a process. Of course, it is always interesting to see how you do this in the context of a museum. We will see how it works.

You have done Ikebana City in New York and Lisbon and are now presenting it in Amsterdam. Do you still wander the streets without a preconceived plan?

Lotte Geeven: We let ourselves be surprised by what we see. We talk about it and then put what we find in a bag. That's how the collection grows for each neighbourhood. When we are back in the studio, we sort through what we have gathered to determine which things are interesting and which are just ordinary. During the second sorting phase, we bring out the vases and the draping cloths and compose the still lifes. The process involves a constant dialogue, and it is not completely spontaneous. There are two conditions that the project must meet. The plants must be photographed against a grey background, and then given back to the city in the form of posters. By following these simple guidelines, you create beautiful forms that also allow the residents to look at their city in a different way.

Are there differences between your individual working methods?

Semâ Bekirovich: We are polar opposites, but that actually works very  well.  Lotte is very uninhibited. I find her spontaneity to be so liberating. Being physically focused on what you are doing and losing yourself in it, and only discovering later what you have brought into being. I don't think Lotte has any fear at all.

Lotte Geeven: I am constantly moving things, doing things, and this is also a form of thinking for me. Semâ is like a cat. She can look at something for a very long time.  She quietly compiles information, and then suddenly she pounces and knows exactly what needs to be done. It is helpful to see that you can approach things calmly and from a certain distance. We think the contrasts between us are interesting, and we appreciate them in all their aspects. In our experience, these differences complement each other quite naturally. But sometimes they clash too, in a good way, which only serves to refine our work even more.

Semâ Bekirovich: We each put our own mark on the photos. Lotte has a more aesthetic perspective than I do, while I have more of an affinity for odd combinations that usually tell more of a story. In the end, only one of us pushes the button to take the photo, but we create the images together.

Can other people take part in Ikebana City?

Semâ Bekirovich: We really want to start experimenting with that now. To date, we have been the only ones who collected the plants and composed the still lifes. It would certainly be intriguing if the project could serve as a framework and allow other people to participate in the process. That is an experiment: to what extent is it going to happen, and will we actually be able to let go of the reins? Ultimately, it would be interesting to extend the project to other geographic locations and to involve more and more people, so it would involve more of a social element.

You both attended the Rijksakademie, but at different times. What role did the Rijksakademie play for you each individually?

Lotte Geeven: The budding  and most experimental ideas are nurtured at the Rijksakademie. You are given ample encouragement to properly study an idea and flesh out its possibilities. As a result, you can sometimes really exceed your own abilities. Semâ Bekirovich: The Rijksakademie is truly a catalyst. Suddenly, you are an artist, and you have been given the stamp of approval. You have to break free of this pressure, because, in the end, creating art is about daring to fail. That's why Ikebana City is so interesting, because it is so different from how we normally work.

Kim Knoppers

The exhibition, Alumni of the Rijksakademie - RE-Search, is on  from 31 August - 14 October 2012.

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