In Conversation With …Wies Roeterdink

Although the objects that you use are often fairly mundane – suitcases, boxes, door frames – there appears to be a desire to disguise or hide yourself. To what extent do you see these as self-portraits, or do you intend these photographs to function more as alter egos or as a distraction from autobiography?

 I didn’t intend the photographs to act as self portraits, but –in a way– that is what they are.  There is an element of myself in these works: my body. But, if I think about it too much, maybe I am the object. Confined and deflated. Maybe, I feel trapped, but by what? These photographs reflect parts of my life in lock-down, a distraction from autobiography, a cathartic activity to release more negative emotions, a reprieve, a moment of clear-mindedness, a focus on self. Is the body an object? If it is, then am I manipulating it as well? Pushing and pulling it to its limits. I’m interested in the process of negotiation with objects and body. Are we, the object and I, ‘performing’ together? What is my role in this? I like to think of my micro performances as dialogues between myself and the objects. Do they talk back? What are they trying to say? They tell me that I can’t stretch a suitcase, I can’t twist an inflated mattress around myself, but I can try.  And, if I can’t, we come to a compromise. Often, I’m trying to wrap myself up tightly in objects, maybe seeking some form of shelter or comfort — hiding away from the view of the camera. Something interesting happens when parts of the body are obscured from view, the image of the body distorts and becomes something else. Feet curiously poking out from under an air mattress or a head popping out of a suitcase become characters/creatures of sorts. Usually, this obscuring of form is incidental.

Your work also speaks a lot of constriction and entrapment – how, if at all, do you think your work has been affected by the pandemic and the new emphasis on restriction of the body as a safety precaution?

During the first lock-down in March, I was separated from my family and taken in by family friends. Having filled only a small suitcase with my possessions, I didn’t have access to many art materials. Having to be resourceful, I started using mundane materials and surrounding space to create my work. These performances became my creative and emotional outlet. For months, I was sleeping on an inflatable mattress. I would wake up every morning on the floor – the mattress having deflated entirely overnight. In a way, I felt that the mattress was an extension of myself — deflated creatively and emotionally. I started to empathise with it. This was the first object I chose to perform with, constricting and confining it with my body. Why does constriction interest me? Is it about control or the lack thereof? Is it about bodily constriction or some other aspect of it, like psychological or emotional impact? I’m unsure, but constriction and entrapment are themes that keep popping up in my work. Covid-19 has forced us all to adapt to our situations. Working creatively from home pushed me to experiment with new mediums, transitioning from predominantly sculpture to performance and video. It was a huge turning point for my work. I’d never really considered the body as an artistic medium. For me, it’s not so much an emphasis on restriction of the body as a safety precaution, but more a response to the emotional impact of it.

I really enjoy your works that investigate the relationship between the body and architecture. I wonder if you could speak a little about the effects of variation in architecture – whether your work is affected by different cities, spaces, or rooms – or whether you feel that you focus more on the mundane repetitions of architecture that can be found anywhere. 

I like to think of architecture as a mediator between the body and its environment – a framework dictating how the body can move. Though subtle characteristics affect the flow and the quality of movement, I’m drawn to the mundane repetitions of architecture. “Architecture could be considered as an extension of the body because it expands our capacities to operate within the environment. It could be conceptualized that architecture acts as a type of prosthesis for the body.” I use certain architectural features, like window frames or doorways to frame my body. My body folds and stretches angularly to mimic these structures, fitting into the contours of space — becoming part of the architecture. I place my body in blank indoor spaces — white walls and window frames — in my photographs, where it can’t be rooted to a specific place or time. The empty room is a blank canvas, and, in these performances, my body’s movements are the paint strokes. I often set parameters for performances, whether it’s spatial limitations or restricting which body parts can move or how they move, to explore space. I haven’t been able to explore other cities or spaces due to covid restrictions, but I imagine my approach/movements would be affected. I’ve noticed a distinct difference in how I interact with interior and exterior space. Movements indoors always seem confined and deliberate, but the lack of walls and limits outdoors makes me feel lost and overwhelmed. Paralysed and unsure what to do with my body when there are so many options.

Looking at your work makes me feel almost hyper aware of my body and it’s limitations, and thinking about how far it can be stretched, pushed or pulled. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about mindfulness and meditation and the fact that I find these practices really difficult because I find the experience of being aware of my body profoundly uncomfortable. Can you talk a little about how the process of making your works affects or changes your own relationship to your body and what the experience of making your works feels like?

When creating my work, there’s a hyper-awareness of my body — of the small contractions of the muscles as they move together, the skin folding over itself — it’s uncomfortable. I’ve never been very comfortable with my body, and have struggled with body image. These performances have forced me to re-evaluate my relationship with it. There’s a level of detachment I feel when I look at the body in the images I create, it doesn’t feel like mine despite rationally knowing that it is. After looking at photographs of my body again and again and again, something strange starts to occur; the images start to break down, becoming not a body I recognise as my own, but a series of abstract shapes and movements. Similar to how, when you read a word over and over it starts to lose meaning.

Initially, making my work was quite cathartic – like meditation, these micro performances gave me a positive outlet from the stress of isolation and Covid-19. My performances are my way of practicing mindfulness – blocking out all thought other than being intensely aware of what I’m sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgement. My movements are unplanned and intuitive, focussing on my relationship with space, body and object. It’s a really enjoyable process. I enter this blank headspace, where I try to let go of my preconceptions and innate knowledge of objects, to discover its possibilities – it’s not a mattress, just a collection of materials. It’s a really enjoyable process, playing with objects without any expectations of the outcome. My exploration of objects is playful but also clinical in its enquiry; if I use it as a springboard how far will it propel me into the air, and how does an object’s rigidity affect the way it reacts to my manipulation? I thoroughly explore the limitations of my chosen objects and space, as well as the flexibility and reach of my body. Pushing and often surprising myself by passing self-defined limits of what is possible to do with my body. Sometimes, these performances are quite physically demanding, leaving me feeling tired and relaxed like I’ve just finished a workout.

Bio:

Wies is a Dutch artist currently studying 3D Fine Art at Central Saint Martin’s in London. Her work investigates the limitations of the body, and its relationship to objects and architecture, through photography and performances. You can check out her work on her Instagram account @wies.art 

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