fold #02 on Commons with Willem de Haan
Willem de Haan, Camouflage 2019
Image: courtesy the artist
A man and his van
Visual artist Willem de Haan’s van is big and blue. “When you have got yourself a company car it is necessary to think about designing a logo for this important investment”. He noticed that the colour of his van is almost the same blue as that of the highway signalling mounted above highways. Since his artistic practice takes him all over Europe, the motorway is the place where the vehicle will spend most of its time. It was therefore useful to keep these parameters in mind when creating a design. By copying, and adapting the imagery of signalling and by using plotted vinyl the van, became a work of art in its own right. It is big, blue, completely integrated and even camouflaged when present in the public space.
This project is a typical work that fits in perfectly with Willem de Haan’s artistic practice. He sees images and artistic interventions as scripts for public spaces because, with the presence of an additional image, according to De Haan something changes in the daily life on the streets.
Almost all of de Haan’s work originates in the studio and starts at a specific location. The finishing touch takes place at the location for which the work was made. That can be done by developing, assembling or installing a large sculpture, alternatively, a work can become activated through a performance or interaction with the public. In other cases, documenting the work itself is the finishing touch.
During the pandemic, physical meetings were discouraged. The audiences refrained from visiting works of art. The use of public transport was discouraged and many art institutions closed their doors. The virtual distribution of imagary of works of art via photographs and video was widely used and replaced in parts the connection to people and art. Although some paintings look appealing in photographs, you always have to see them in real life.
Willem de Haan thought it a good idea that the documentation of the process and the photographs produced in these cases would also become the original artwork. This is how de Haan started increasing to see staged photography as an end product in his practice. In connection to this, in 2020, De Haan created a staged image on the beach with the main character holding a large sign of a photograph of a cloud against a blue sky. The image was republished numerous times by strangers. Sometimes in combination with a personal note next to or over the original image. There were copies on paper as well as shared edits on several social media accounts. In this way, the public created extended imagery with a new personal layer every time they shared or re-posted the work of art in the public realm.
De Haan’s contribution to fold #02: on Commons in the combined exhibition programmes of SEA Foundation and The Balcony, the artist explores different perspectives on copying and appropriating imagery as a form of collective labour. ‘Don’t you start copying me, copying is my thing’.
The idea for the new work is based on viral internet memes, in which an image gets picked up by the online community and is rapidly used as a context to express a wide variety of ideas and ideals. How does an artist connect to his or her own work, once this work is published online and as accessible to anyone, as well as to the initial creator?
Although the idea that public imagery alluding to stories and storytelling or operating like personal poems is free, one may argue that these images cease to be entities in their own right. The audience, instead, by using and re-using point at something interesting and personable, whether that something else is a story, a feeling, an idea, or simply its maker’s expression to affirm her or his presence and thus become publicly disseminated and therefore common property. Then questions arise like: who is the creator, which creator should we refer to and what creator should we be thankful for?
This text is partly copied, then reworked and translated by Riet van Gerven, taken from the website We Like Art with adaptations made by Willem de Haan.
Willem de Haan
Willem de Haan (1996) graduated BA Fine Art from ArtEZ in Arnhem, the Netherlands in 2017. His works have been exhibited at Nieuwe Vide (Haarlem), LOOP (Barcelona) and Stichting NDSM (Amsterdam), SWAB (Barcelona), Karsi Sanat (Istanbul) amongst others. He worked as an independent curator for De Player (Rotterdam) and Showroom MAMA (Rotterdam). He was artist in residence at ZK/U (Berlin), and SAM (Saint Petersburg). His work has been widely published amongst others in De Volkskrant, NRC, VICE, and MetropolisM.