In Studio Sessions we take you on tour along the work spaces of MAPA artists. This time we meet with Robin Pieterse, the fourth artist in MAPA’s upcoming Amsterdam show Rectangle Roots & Paved Tongues. Robin – soon graduating from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK) - meets us on Zoom. She chats to us about how embodied obsessions and colourful fascinations give shape to her internal and external landscapes.
‘I always notice what I’m feeling. It can be an inconvenience, but it’s a great resource for my art.’
Nice to meet you Robin, are you sitting at home or in your KABK studio now?
At home! It’s insanely busy at the studio. If we were standing there now, we would not hear each other over the banging and sawing noises. People are creating canvas frames and such. Even though I’m with the painting department, my peers may all do something else at times. I paint, but I also make ceramic sculptures, for example.
Do you have studio space anywhere outside the KABK at the moment?
Before I got my spot at the school and moved to The Hague, I shared my mum’s studio space. She’s a landscape painter, and currently studying to become an art teacher. It’s scary really, how much of a copy of her I am. Her studio is a small space near a barn where they keep horses. It smells like hay. During summers we had to leave our KABK studios, so then I went back to share with my mum. I’ve been discussing with fellow students about finding a place after graduation. We’d like to find something anti-kraak (a place without property guardians) which doesn’t have too many restrictions. Most of the time, those kinds of places get demolished after a while, so you’re free to modify the building, make bit of a mess. The housing market being what it is, a cheap and easy place like that can be hard to find.
Earlier, we talked to your colleague Laurence Herfs about how student complaints at the KABK lead to teachers being laid off. How did these events affect your time at the school?
I wasn’t there when it all happened. I had taken a gap year a few months into the pandemic. My dad had advised me to take it easy. He had noticed I was showing symptoms he had had right before he got a burnout. When I came back in September 2020 the atmosphere at school was strange. I had definitely been uncomfortable with the way some teachers had behaved during crit sessions. I felt like one of them was always hovering above me, watching me. I never got terrible critiques, just belittling ones. ‘Oh, this work’s so feminine. This looks “zen”.’ I cannot confirm, but would never deny the stories on social media about these teachers. I’m just happy the school got a flip. I hope it’s helped end the ‘afbrandcultuur’ (culture of verbal abuse).
You’re taught to be extremely competitive at KABK, in preparation – they say – for how nasty the real world can be. But I believe we should help each other get to a higher level, instead of tearing each other down.
You’ve had shows in the Netherlands and are now exhibiting internationally with MAPA. How’s the ‘real world’ of art treating you thus far?
I’m still quite new to it. Shows I did before were with local artists in my hometown. That was just a very warm environment, people knew each other. MAPA is very friendly too. I’m so glad to get the opportunity. I’m overwhelmed with all that’s happening for me, I’m getting so much information from all sides. But I’m really happy.
MAPA is open and honest, and they promote artists, do not exploit them. I like the model they’re using.
Your current practice explores the body as a temporal vessel. When did this interest in our mortal bodies emerge?
Long before corona, my grandmother got very sick and finally decided to be voluntarily euthanised. It got me thinking about how fragile we humans are, and how we, at the same time, want to be in control of our own lives. It was the biggest decision of my grandmother’s life, and it made me respect her strength even more. What are we?, I wondered. Is the body holding us, or are we holding a body? Do we have a soul, or is our belief in one just a trick of the mind; a clever way to maintain the species? Being inside a body is a strange experience.
Your work on show at MAPA called ‘Nervous’ seems to be a result of these questions, correct?
Yeah, with ‘Nervous’ I investigated the inside of me. When you’re nervous, your body experiences this sparkle, this shot of adrenaline. When I’m nervous, I cannot eat, whilst it makes other people start eating, gives them this chewing sensation in their body. I felt that sparkly nervous feeling a lot during the pandemic.
I went inside myself and envisioned this internal space and wondered what this world would look like as a landscape. I always notice what I’m feeling. It can be an inconvenience, but it’s a great resource for my art.
Your other works on show with MAPA, ‘Escalators’ and ‘In transit’, explore outside spaces. What inspired you to create these?
Being the sensitive person I am, I may have these temporary colour obsessions. Right now, I’m in a pink and purple phase. At the time of ‘Escalators’ I’d been obsessing over neon green. I was weaving green fibres, creating shapes that felt radio-active and created an alienesque atmosphere. Then, a friend of mine who’s at film school showed me a picture she’d taken of a metro station with a 35 mm analogue camera. It spoke to me. I’m a big fan of analogue pictures, their physicality creates more of a lasting memory. I liked the atmosphere of the escalator scenes and investigated how the green colour would work in that place.
What other things inspire you? Do you draw from memory, or mostly get inspired through other people’s works?
I get shower-thoughts, for sure! A spark of inspiration. Being in a social environment can speed up my thinking process too. ‘What if you try out pouring wax on this?’ a teacher proposed to me, and then I went and dipped my paintings in wax. I’m not sure it’s the works of others that inspire me. It’s mostly what they have to say about them that can intrigue me. That’s why I like watching ‘the making of’ of movies, I find them more interesting than the film sometimes. I love learning about how they created a certain fantasy world. I watched ‘the making of’ of Alien, and of The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson (1982). It’s a full thirty minutes during which they show how they made the plants in the background. I couldn’t stop staring at this one flower they talked about for ages.
If you could design your dream studio for after graduation, and it could be anywhere, what would it look like?
The first country that pops up in my mind is Norway. I went there a few years ago and found myself standing somewhere looking at some rocks, and finding it so beautiful I cried. The air was so clean, the water super clear. There’s a dark, cloudy sky. I felt at home.
I don’t like summer. When autumn and winter comes in I get happy. Everything dark and gloomy brightens me.
The cosiness, the warmth you have to look for. So if I could, I’d have that studio in the middle of nowhere. Near a lake, near the mountains. I’d light a candle. Might be too impractical. I’d also love to just do a residency in Scotland or Norway, to have that environmental experience.