Wunderkammer # 83
interview by Harlan Levey
published in Agenda Magazine Brussels
9 January 2014
It’s the afternoon of Christmas eve. The rain is cold and miserable as the Anspach becomes Boulevard Lemonnier. There’s no buzzer on the door, but warm colours and worn-out guitar strings are waiting upstairs where we’ll head Offshore before following a nostalgic tune back towards a palace on the mainland.
The studio of Hidde van Schie (1978) is on the first floor and must have made for a lovely apartment in a former life. He offers to make a cup of tea, and heads into the kitchen to the left. The square room on the right is neatly decorated with completed paintings, collages, and an illustration of a slightly grotesque cowboy characterisation, which is the only sort of overtly aggressive image in the room. A small desk with a computer and drawing/painting materials sits before the fireplace, and even on a day as grey and gruesome as this, the windows grace the room with warm natural light. It’s clean, calm, and quiet enough to momentarily forget the pace of the boulevard below; so clean that it could be an exhibition space. “I moved to this new studio a week ago, and haven’t had time to make much of a mess yet. I’m here most days just before 10 am and spend eight to ten hours going back and forth between different types of projects, as well as painting, writing music, and playing guitar. The phone calls, e-mails, and administrative stuff, I do from home. The studio is a creative space for me, a place to get dirty.”
In Brussels for just over a year now, this neighbourhood particularly reminds him of his home in Rotterdam. “Lots of people ask if I came here for the art scene, but I guess there are two main reasons anybody moves anywhere and work wasn’t the one that brought me here. The artistic climate was just a sweet cherry on top.” On the mantel of the fireplace sits a copy of his new 2-disc CD and accompanying catalogue of paintings and collages. On the two windowless walls are bright paintings with thick lines and contradictory colour pallets. They’re light and seem at home in the neighbourhood. It’s a work on the floor however, that begs the next question: a playful (mainly) wooden sculpture of a double-necked guitar. “When I decided I wanted to learn how to play the guitar, I was confronted with the question that a lot of kids are dealing with. Do you want to go Gibson or Fender? You know, do you want to play like Slash or Jimi Hendrix? The sculpture is like an exclamation mark after the question. It let’s you do both. You can also play it with somebody else like this…” He links our arms up like we’re going to square dance. Each of us is in front of half of the guitar and we’re facing in opposite directions. Slash. Hendrix. Ready for a duet on the same frame.
2013 was busy for the Dutch artist. 2014 promises to be more so. In January, Hidde will perform tracks from his new album at the Hotel Bloom in Brussels and in the Netherlands, solo exhibitions in Rotterdam, Roermond, and Haarlem are scheduled for later in the year. Wearing a different hat, Hidde is excited about being co-curator for the interdisciplinary ParckDesign 2014 Festival in Brussels, which has less to do with visual art than urban intervention and design. As far as music, after his releases The Mirror & The Razorblade / Dusty Diamond Eyes and We Don’t Rock, he’s now in the early phases of a new studio album called Offshore. “It’s a conceptual art project, a form of political storytelling dealing with global economy. If you read about how the global economy functions today, you can be nothing but shocked. The inequality is incredible. This album is an attempt to use poetry as a critique on that situation. As a singer-songwriter, I’m more focused on slow text and poetry. Painting is a more detached and direct process. It changes while you work on it, is less calculated and therefore the process is full of surprises. I have a different methodology to writing lyrics than I do for painting. Songwriting has become a way to relate to the world wherever I am. It’s something I’m busy with throughout each day. Painting is a temporary release.” And collage? “I guess collage is somewhere playing between the two. My own language mixing with others.”
Cutting and pasting images into collages quickly turns to a conversation about budgets and other types of cuts: an attack on arts and culture in the Netherlands that was one of the discussions that led him to begin researching for his new Offshore project. “People have a lot of questions about how artists work and if they need or merit government support. These are good, fair questions, but I think the discussion lacks perspective. To start with, if you’re baking a cake, painting a picture, trying to play a Mozart piece on your violin, writing a poem, or even building a paper plane, you’re keeping a certain type of human tradition alive. Society is changing. Consumption – intellectual and material – doesn’t have all the answers anymore. Artists, just like scientists, doctors, and architects can help to create a new understanding of the world today. It’s not that with the budget cuts all of these activities will just disappear, but it will be much harder to do them. It says something about how our society values these things. If you try to define culture just in terms of money and expected returns you are missing the point. Just like most people don’t value the quality of their life just by their salary. The money spent on art is relatively small, but with it you get a lot of cultural diversity.”
“You can see now that a lot of money is being drawn from public funds to the private sector. The crisis has lead to budget cuts on culture, but also on healthcare, police, fire departments, etc. I believe there is enough money in the world to pay for everything and that it’s very badly distributed. The income inequality is incredible. 15% of the people have 85% of all the wealth. Today, even politicians have to answer to the market. They are having a lot of trouble to control it because they are afraid of destroying the balance. In a recent interview, Donald Trump said that these are exciting times for him, because a lot of things are for sale at a very good price. That to me is very cynical. What interests me in art is that it is all about turning nothing into something. A guitar is a simple instrument but there are people that can play a song with just a guitar and their voice and do something incredible.”
While Hidde might not be making shopping lists like Trump, he had a pretty good 2013, crisis or not. In addition to successful shows, releases and future bookings last year, notably, Hidde was shortlisted for the Dutch Royal Painting Prize. “You know, I apply for this every year. This year they liked it. I don’t know why. It’s peer review, so it’s hard to say.” This honourable recognition appears less important to him than the youthful blogs that celebrated his last album, flattering him with comparisons to musicians he appreciates. “I know these things might seem small, but it is so important that there are passionate people out there who are interested in the independent releases, who write critically about them, and share their own ideas. Without them, I wouldn’t have much of an audience, but of course it’s fun to see how excited people get when the king is involved.”
Hidde came to Brussels for love, and throughout our interview his description of his artistic approach remained faithful to the possibility of remaining romantic without being naïve. The studio and chat were refreshing. We spoke for nearly two hours, and until it was time for the last photograph, he never sat down.