Renée van Trier | Studio Encounter
Renée van Trier, ‘SOMETHING OF WHAT WE’VE LOST’
ARSENIC, Centre d’art scénique contemporain, Lausanne, Switzerland. 2020. Image by Pierre Vogel
by Cristina Rota
In December 2022, I had the opportunity to have a wonderful experience in the North Brabant region thanks to an invitation from SEA Foundation in Tilburg. On that occasion, I had the chance to visit spaces dedicated to contemporary art and meet local artists in their studios. In particular, I got the opportunity to meet three amazing female artists in their ateliers: Reggie Voigtlander, Cecile Verwaaijen, and Renée van Trier.
In this web post, I focus on the work of Renée van Trier, although it is not easy to write about an artist I have only met in person for a short time, especially when the artist has a whole world to tell with her presence in the studio alone.
Welcome into my world
A pink glace slice of cake with a radiant smile. Such is the pure look of Renée welcoming me to her studio. As we began to talk about her work, a strange world of funny and silly characters referring to cynicism and grotesque aspects of our society opened up. A desire to confront and face the harsh and sad reality that lurks behind a keyboard in our daily lives became apparent. After this first encounter, I wondered how to write about Renée van Triers’ performance practice, having not attended any of her performances myself. Of course, the experiential quality of a performance cannot be replicated. But I do think it is sometimes possible to imagine through documentation or props or follow an obsessive investigation of an artist’s imagination and find the appropriate words for it.
Invitation to connect
Beyond the current fashions and tastes of so-called mass culture, Renée’s works offer us her interpretations of the cultural climate of our time. She uses a vast flow of characters, props and a melting pot of sounds, words and images. Society is constantly changing due to global economic and political events and the relentless development of technology that is part of our lives. These changes are absorbed and reflected by the artist’s imagination, which places identities, distortions, repetition and resistance as elements central to her practice, allowing our obsessions and vulnerabilities to be revealed through performative acts and gestures. The artist’s works invite the viewer to traverse a mystery, to live with the artist in a suspended space-time in a multi-sensory stream of consciousness.
I had a “weird trip” through Renée’s social media references. In some of her stories parents or adults could be seen exhibiting their children on social media by offering little innocent creatures as if they were meat grinders, little girls pretending to be models, children dancing on command, no longer for their family, for their friends or at the end-of-year party, but for the unfathomable gazes of unknown users. What’s behind all this? Renée absorbs these social media references and brings to the stage what she reflects from them. Can the childhood of an innocent child, filmed in funny videos by condescending adults, hide a future criminal, a murderer, or a rapist? What remains of those images? What remains of that individual’s identity growing up and coming of age? Do they remain victims of their child-type image on social media?
These are some of the many questions that occurred to me while watching some videos of Renée’s performances and stalking her social networks. The key question, however, is how will this found footage affect the next generation. The answer, of course, is not simple and probably impossible to predict.
Connection and individualism
In some of her works, such as “Something of what we’ve lost” or “All can be softer,” she feeds that machine of desire that is activated by images, relationships and consumption, reflecting, among other things, on the contemporary loneliness, loss of identity and feelings of frustration that engulfs our society. As Mark Fisher reports, crisis and the political system have deprived us of perspectives, absorbing our imagination and filling it with its ideology until we no longer know how to imagine a future that is not infused and polluted by the ideology of capitalism. Instead of cooperation, society teaches us to compete, and thus the individual in the first person becomes guilty of poverty and loneliness. Fisher argues that depression is a psychological reaction to the lack of prospects and the feeling of living in a meaningless world. According to him, this is not only an individual problem but also a social and political problem related to the inability to provide a sense of purpose and outlook for most of the population. The spread of social network and digital technologies can contribute to depression because they allow us to always feel connected but at the same time leave us lonely and isolated. They give us the illusion of having social relationships and encourage us to live in an “eternal present syndrome.”
What is van Trier trying to tell us about digital society with her work? What is the role of the artist in this?
In his book “Non-things: Upheaval in the Lifeworld,” philosopher and cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han argues that the modern era is characterized by a shift from materiality to a culture of immateriality, in which technology and digital networks mediate our experiences. He suggests this shift has led to a new form of alienation and disconnection. The constant flow of information and stimuli constantly fragments and disrupts our sense of self. The role of art and culture in this context can be a means of resistance and critique against the dominant culture of immateriality.
By repeating the phrase “I’ve got a hole in my molar to fill up, please fill up my hole molar” in her performance “Something of what we’ve lost,” the artist shows that everyone has a hole, a sense of emptiness that needs to be filled, looking to reinforce the stimulating capacity that perhaps only art and a real community can fill. Repetitions, body parts and obsessions throughout the work of Renée van Trier are turned into a kind of resistance that leads to catharsis, the magical purification ritual to cleanse the body and mind of our visible or invisible contamination.
Renée van Trier (1983) is a transdisciplinary artist, based in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Her practice can be defined as “a mirror of our time” and spans from music to performances, scenographies, choreographies, videos, paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Renée van Trier gained her master’s degree in Fine Arts from the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam and has exhibited internationally at Centre Pompidou in Paris (FR) and Arsenic Theater in Lausanne (CH)
Coming up, Renée van Trier will exhibit her work at De Pont Museum in Tilburg (NL). Her exhibition HUMBLE – At birth, you are a promise, but at the same time also the most possible risk, runs from 13 May 2023 – 3 September 2023
Website: Renée van Trier
By Cristina Rota, programme coordinator at the Blank residency, Bergamo
Han, B. (2022). Non-things: Upheaval in the Lifeworld. John Wiley & Sons.
Fisher, M. (2017, May 7). Why mental health is a political issue. The Guardian.