Anouk Kruithof | Studio Encounter
Anouk Kruithof’s Anderlecht, Brussels studio
Image courtesy: Nienke Coers and SEA Foundation Tilburg 2021
by Nienke Coers
In 2014, Google revealed that the company has taken precautions to guard its trans-Pacific underwater internet cables against shark bites. While older copper cables are spared damage, their fibre optic successors, that can transmit data around 100 times faster, turn out to attract herds of sharks. This is due to the fact that the magnetic field created by the high voltage carried through the cables, resembles magnetic cells in fish. And thus, a single shark bite can cause billions of videos, messages, images, sounds, and documents to become unavailable.
If anything, the news item puts the accomplishments of mankind into perspective, defamiliarizes them. This process is also seen in the practice of Anouk Kruithof (Dordrecht, 1981). Like the sharks, the visual artist dauntlessly sinks her teeth into everyday life phenomena no matter their dimensions – investigating them, recontextualizing them, sometimes even ridiculing them.
Home at last
The sun is out for what seems to be the first time this Summer when I visit the former beer factory storage in Anderlecht, Brussels, that has for the past year and three months been Kruithof’s studio. The artist bought the 250 square meter, first floor space out of a desire to live and work somewhere more permanent. Moreover, she sought to live closer to her parents after a period of hard work and extensive traveling. Soft music is playing in the background as I enter. Sunlight comes through the open window, illuminating a colorful interior where furniture and art mix harmoniously. Kruithof’s Brussels studio has an air of calmness, coziness, and homeliness about it.
Although perhaps it just seems like that, perhaps lockdown made all private spaces feel more homely. Because even though nothing could betray it, Kruithof tells me she has been extremely busy. She has been putting the finishing touches to an artist book resulting from her scenographic solo show Trans Human Nature. This photographic exploration of the relationships between technology, ecology, and the native inhabitants of the small village of Botopasi, Surinam, tells a story of globalization and digitalization as both a polarizing and a unifying force.
At the same time, Kruithof has been working on a series of anthropomorphic sculptures made from discarded electronic devices. These will be part of her solo exhibition Perpetual Endless Flow, curated by Atto Belloli Ardessi, in FuturDome Milano. Representing the world’s issues of these days, the skins of these sculptures – consisting of thousands of images found on the internet – feature viruses, Black Lives Matter protesters, oceanic microplastic, and more. The sculptures investigate the being of human beings in an age defined by globalization, technological consumerism, and pollution.
Both in Trans Human Nature and Perpetual Endless Flow, and in several earlier works, Kruithof looks into the perception of technology and digitality as what Marshall McLuhan called ‘extensions of man’ in his seminal work Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. In line with cyborgology discourses, the artist recognizes that human-machine relationships must be analyzed not from a human point of view, but from a position of inbetweenness that blurs any inner/outer or self/other distinctions. Or as Donna Haraway stresses in her famous Cyborg Manifesto, the boundaries between technology or software and the organic or human world have become nearly invisible; culture and nature have intertwined. A bionic hand merges with an insect infested leaf in Plantivism, a photograph part of Trans Human Nature. Electronic devices become malformed human forms in Perpetual Endless Flow.
“During these times of pandemic, I spend more time in my studio and less time discovering the city like I usually do,” Kruithof tells me. Consequently, the sculptures that Kruithof has been making for Perpetual Endless Flow are incredibly crafty. They involve cutting, glueing and several experiments with photo printing techniques. And apart from having initiated two small projects that involved Anderlecht’s local communities, the physical world – Kruithof’s direct environment – has so far remained largely absent in her recent work, with the digital sphere being her main source of inspiration.
Before landing in Brussels, however, many of Kruithof’s works quite literally mirrored her geographical location. In Botopasi, where she lived from 2019 to 2021, she built her own house together with the local inhabitants. In 2018, during a residency in Oaxaca, Mexico, she made several works using the Mexican traditional papel picado technique, where elaborate designs are cut into sheets of tissue paper. In New York in 2013/14, frequent strolls around Wall Street led to multiple works that addressed themes like stress and business.
In this light, Kruithof’s Brussels studio houses only a few of her works. As if they are souvenirs of her many travels, Kruithofs other work can be found in galleries, public places, and storage boxes all over the world. From Paris to Botopasi, and from Milano to San Francisco.
Je est un autre
Born into a Dordrecht based family that spent their summers trekking around Europe, to Kruithof, traveling feels like a natural thing to do. She has even lived nomadically for a while – working on a USB stick, maintaining her relationships with loved ones via video chat. This allowed her to truly immerse herself in different cultures, to talk to and to learn from people from all layers of society, to experiment, and to let go of or at least challenge western belief systems. As a result, Kruithof possesses the incredible talent to grasp in her work the enormity and abundance of this world and its many cultures in this age of over-information. As Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio puts it: “to be mobile is to explore the plurality of self, the presence of others in themselves – remembering the famous expression “Je est un autre”, by the French poet Rimbaud – to stimulate the value of diversity and difference, as well as to recognize and to question models, obstacles, limitations, contradictions and inner paradoxes of mobility.”
Kruithof’s cosmopolitanism moreover influences the research practice that is at the basis of all of her works – whether they are inspired by the digital, the geographical, or the personal. To Kruithof, knowledge is not only to be found in scholarly publications. Locals, nature, unfamiliar cities, spirituality, news items, and the internet are just as useful a source to her as western institutional bodies of knowledge. This method proves very productive, as is demonstrated, for example, by the lack of information available on Botopasi and its history in western libraries – even though it was under Dutch rule during the colonial period – as opposed to the abundance of both written and oral information available within the local Botopasi community.
Likewise, the legitimacy of written sources is questioned by Kruithof in her work Enclosed Content Chatting Away in the Colour Invisibility (2009-ongoing). This installation comprises a slowly collapsing polychromatic wall consisting of approximately 3500 discarded books that are rhythmically arranged to look somewhat like pixels. It examines in a highly poetic manner the physical and conceptual value, and more specifically the (in)stability, of books in the digital age. Again, a phenomenon is taken out of its context, studied and challenged through critical observation from both up close and far away.
Time for rest
After her show in FuturDome finishes, Kruithof will be traveling in South America for four months to cross off what is currently on the top of her to-do-list: rest. A workaholic at heart, however, in one way or another, new works by Kruithof are probably on the way.
Visual artist Anouk Kruithof (1981) lives and works between Brussels and Botopasi. Her interdisciplinary practice encompasses photography, sculpture, installation, artist-books, text, performance, video, animation, websites and interventions in the public domain.
Website Anouk Kruithof.
Anouk Kruithof: Perpetual Endless Flow is on show at FuturDome Milano, 15 September 2015 – 27 November 2021.
Enclosed Content Chatting Away in the Colour Invisibility is on show at Voorlinden.
The artist-book Trans Human Nature is out now.
Bashiron Mendolicchio, Herman. “Art and Mobility. An Introduction.” InterArtive special issue #55 “Art + Mobility” (September 2013). https://artmobility.interartive.org/art-and-mobility-editorial.
Gibbs, Samuel. “Google reinforces undersea cables after shark bites.” The Guardian, 14 august 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/14/google-undersea-fibre-optic-cables-shark-attacks.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. London: Abacus, 1973 (1964). 253.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In: Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The
Reinvention of Nature, edited by Donna Haraway, 149-181. New York; Routledge, 1991. 153.
Zylinska, Joanna. The Cyborg Experiments: The Extensions of the Body in the Media Age. London/New York: Continuum. 3.