Eva Hoonhout | Studio Encounter
Eva Hoonhout, Here Is To The Mess We Make,
Installation shot at Art Rotterdam, 2021
with Eva Hoonhout
by Fay van Blitterswijk
In a society where ‘yes you can’ appears to be the dominant motto, and something is expected from us continually, one often experiences a considerable pressure to achieve. Perhaps from a superior, or caused by the various images on social media of others living their most successful lives. According to philosopher and writer Byung-Chul Han, in his book The Burnout Society, the twenty-first century society has become an achievement society, where the pressure to achieve – striving to an unlimited amount of I Can’s – along with an excess of information and stimuli, is taking a toll on individuals, often giving rise to mental disorders such as depression or burnout syndrome. Therefore, especially in this day and age, taking care of oneself becomes even more important. But, what does it mean to take care of oneself in a society where there is barely time to catch ones breath?
By examining the meaning of everyday actions and rituals, and creating space for meaningful reflection, Dutch artist Eva Hoonhout (1990) underpins the importance of taking care of oneself in her recent work. During a visit to her studio – currently located at NS16 in Tilburg – Hoonhout explained that she began to place caring for herself in the vicinity of her practice, as she herself experienced a considerable pressure to achieve and therefore lost track of her boundaries. Bringing to the fore everyday practices that can enhance the process of caring for oneself is therefore central in her practice. Since it became increasingly significant to Hoonhout that her practice contributes to this process, she draws on the principle of ‘learning by doing’ – learning without necessarily intending something – because it shifts the focus on the importance of the overall process rather than the result.
Slowing down the pace
Hoonhout recently began to question what it means to take care of oneself by exploring certain actions that force her to slow down. For example, in response to the rapid production of clothing, Hoonhout decided to produce her own clothes, including drawing the patterns for them. Furthermore, instead of walking with the sole purpose of going somewhere, she allowed herself to wander whilst walking, because it can encourage one to look more closely at ones surroundings and thereby notice details that might otherwise be neglected, such as the dampness of the trees or the smell of freshly cut grass.
These two activities, have laid the foundation for her most recent work Here Is To The Mess We Make (2021), which was built on her earlier work There Will Never Be Another You – Routine One (2020). When seeing the installation at Art Rotterdam, the various shapes – vaguely resembling a labyrinth – intrigued me. Was this work trying to explain something to the viewer? In this installation, wanderings are translated into white arrows that guide the viewer in many different directions, and pattern drawings for clothing are transformed into a fleshy-red colored, casted acrylic one sculpture with hollowed-out spaces of varying shapes. Here, chaos and calmness seem to coexist. The garments made by Hoonhout also make an appearance in the installation, catching the viewer’s attention through chaotic white lines and a timetable relating to her weekly wanderings. By performing these actions, Hoonhout not only strives to develop a perspective on the subject, but actively investigates a change of action. The elements in her work individually reflect on the subject, and together they actively contemplate the question of what it means to take care of oneself.
Time for tea
Inspiration taken from Hoonhout’s personal experiences, unravels into questions of universal importance. For example, Hoonhout explained that she had caught herself in an automated and hurried act as she was hastily moving a tea bag up and down to make a cup of tea. This inspired her to reflect on the concept of time, resulting in a reevaluation of time in order to gain appreciation of it. By assembling various perspectives regarding the concept of time through the placing of certain objects in an installation, a meaningful encounter was created.
In her work If I knew time as well as you do (2019), she reflects on her own hastiness by discussing primitive concepts of time, the origin of tea, and the production technique of cars. In her installation, she integrates a blue bucket filled with water, tea bags made from wax, a crane sculpted from industrial clay, and a video showing a whirling tea leaf. What at first glance might not seem to correlate, opens up an interesting dialogue. Hoonhout uncovers how the concept of time can vary within distinctive ways of living within cultures, and even within groups of people. She reflects on the Western perspective on time, where efficiency is of great importance and seems to govern our way of living.
The origin of tea
For this installation, Hoonhout explained that she was inspired by the ancient story that describes the legend of the origin of tea. In ancient China, almost 5,000 years ago, legend has it that Emperor Shennong discovered tea. As he was taking the time to enjoy his boiled water (for purifying purposes), a tea leaf whirled into his water. Legend claims that Shennong was intrigued by the brew that had arisen and drank the liquid. He described a feeling of overall warmth in his body as a result of drinking the liquid. The story of Emperor Shennong reminded Hoonhout that we need to make time for something in order for things to happen. Or rather, as Thomas Moore described in his book The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, we must be receptive to the enchantment of everyday life in order to be inspired by it.
A waterfall of references
Sometimes the inspiration from which the artist draws is as simple as his/her/they day to day life – consciously or unconsciously. Some artists even go so far as to use something from their surroundings – such as a text, a sign or a meaning – and take it out of its original context (decontextualization) to ultimately resituate it in a completely new context in order to let a different meaning emerge (recontextualization). This was already overtly present in the practice of the American artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), who is mostly known for his boxed assemblages in which he juxtaposes found objects in an irrational and Constructivist way. He was said to ‘create poetry from the commonplace,’ because, when put together by Cornell, a key, a small bottle, a dice, and a seashell became trapped in a meaningful encounter. André Breton argued that through this process ‘an ordinary object [could be] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.’
For Hoonhout, this operation served as the starting point for her work in which she investigates the everyday through decontextualization and recontextualization. Similarly to Cornell, Hoonhout draws inspiration from what she encounters in her daily life, from having a walk to making a cup of tea. Hoonhout mentioned that she relates to Boris Groys’ contemplation of these operations, as described in his essay In the Flow. According to Groys, in the boundless information archive that is the internet, the ideal decontextualization of art is realized through the copy and paste functions – the ability to immediately use text and images in a different context – afforded by technology. In a similar matter, Hoonhout creates new dialogues by making assemblages, as it were, in which she takes various situations and objects and puts them together in a new context to initiate meaningful dialogues, or ‘a waterfall of references,’ as she so beautifully described it. Hoonhout sees potential in this operation as part of its duality, because it can create something new while still feel familiar.
For the vast majority of her work, Hoonhout does not copy and paste in an obvious way, because most objects or ideas are not pasted in their exact original state. In some of Hoonhout’s titles, however, the copy and paste operation does come directly to the fore. For example, the title Here Is To The Mess We Make was copied from lyrics from the song Audition (The Fools Who Dream), written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for the film La La Land (2016). It is a song about never giving up and having dreams that you chase forever, but not being quite there yet. It is a struggle, but also an acceptance of the underlying chaos. Hoonhout’s work relates to these lyrics as the work embraces the not-yet-knowing, because self-development is an ongoing process as you learn by doing.
Furthermore, The title If I knew time as well as you do, is a direct reference to the Mad Hatter in Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Hoonhout seems to playfully respond to the Mad Hatter, who mentioned ‘If you knew time as well as I do, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it.’ Perhaps Hoonhout felt she had something to learn from the Mad Hatter’s perspective on time, because – as we all know – the Mad Hatter always makes time for tea.
The practice of Eva Hoonhout
Graduated from Sandberg Institute and AKV St. Joost, Hoonhout currently lives and works in Tilburg, the Netherlands. She is a multidisciplinary artist, often using sculpture, and objects and actions that stem from everyday situations. In her process she considers the copy-and-paste operation as a generative process, as a possibility to question and reconsider existing ideologies and concepts that are present in our society. Throughout the process of creating an artwork, she uses decontextualization of observations and experiences in order to create meaningful connections and initiate interesting dialogues. The possible models or scenarios that can emerge from these operations interest her deeply. Through philosophical and analytical approaches she arrives at new temporal insights which she subsequently disassembles, reconstructs, and revises. As a result, the elements and subjects in her work reappear in different capacities.
Groys, Boris. In the Flow. London; New York: Verso Books, 2016.
Pioch, Nicolas, ed. ‘Cornell, Joseph.’ Webmuseum. August 4, 2002.
Evnine, Simon J. ‘Ready-Mades: Ontology and Aesthetics.’ British Journal of Aesthetics 53, nr. 4 (2013): 407-423. DOI:10.1093/aesthj/ayt033
Yu, Lu. The Classic of Tea: Origins and Rituals. Translation by Francis Ross Carpenter. New York: Ecco Press, 1995.
Moore, Thomas. The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life. New York: Harper Perennial, 1997.
Hirway, Hrishikesh. ‘Song Exploder: The Secrets of La La Land’s Pivotal Final Number.’ New York Vulture. 21 December, 2016.
Caroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Minnesota: Lerner Publishing Group, 2014.
Website Eva Hoonhout