Have you met... Thomas Kuijpers

© Fieke van Berkom

An image of a collection of pre- 9/11 Twin Towers memorabilia stretches over the B-Side of our March + April issue. "When the Twins were still beautiful (2013 – ongoing)" is the name of the depicted artwork which is currently waiting to be discovered in many galleries across Berlin. And it belongs to Thomas Kuijpers, a young Dutch artist who we had the chance to meet at the Art Rotterdam fair earlier this year. Read on and find out why we think you should meet him too. 


What is your artistic practice all about?

Within my work I generally investigate how image and text are used to create a narrative around a true event. I usually start with collecting a lot of material around the topic of interest, which forms the basis of the work, and not rarely becomes part of the work itself. From this basis, anything can happen. The outcome of this research period is the starting point for works responding to the researched event. Within this approach the form is always subject to the concept of this response. Sometimes it ends as a novel, other times a movie, a wearable, installation or a drawing. Many times the rearranged research material itself is capable to question the way it portrays the subject.


Tell us more about your work "When the Twins were still beautiful (2013 - ongoing)", and why did you start collecting objects related to the Twin Towers and the 9/11.

"When the Twins were still beautiful (2013 - ongoing)" is a collection of pre 9/11 memorabilia, showing the towers as a symbol of strength, prosperity, welfare, newyorkness, and so on. It all started a few years ago when I was in a thrift shop stumbling upon a painting by an unknown artist depicting this iconic image of the Twin Towers. The description only said ‘painted before 2001’. When I looked at it for the first time, the replaying image of the collapsing towers was put on hold for a moment, and replaced by a glimpse of how the World Trade Center must have been experienced before the disaster. Fascinated by this thought, I decided to buy the painting. I wanted to find a way to communicate this thought, to see if it is possible to put the mightiest media-event of this century on hold - even if it’s for a few seconds, and try to recreate the image as it must have been experienced before. I think the curator of Foam, where the collection was displayed in January, called it ‘as a modern-day Don Quixote’, which I think is pretty accurate. I understand the madness of trying to achieve a goal like this, but on the other hand it is a very serious statement, in which I not only try offer a nostalgic look back at the Twin Towers when still standing, but at the world that to me has changed for good that day.

Which current / recent media phenomena particularly fascinate you?
When researching the creation of narratives around true events, mostly I focus on recent happenings. The daily frontpage stories. The stories that are presented to us as a follow-up story every day. The current follow-up story is the story of jihadists, the middle-east, terrorism, refugees, and all those interconnected storylines (of which I think they all have their roots in the happenings of 9/11 by the way). I’m closely following these stories and the way they are presented in text and image. The works of the past few years have a strong connection with these thematics. When the focus of the news media will shift to a different topic, so will my work. But unfortunately, I think this is a story we’re going to be reading about and listening to for a while longer.


Where do you find materials for the Twin Towers collection?
Well, most of the stuff is 2nd hand (obviously), and I’ve become an expert in scanning trough flea markets and thrift shops for the two towers. A lot of stuff comes from there. A lot of people know I’m collecting these Twin-towers depictions for a while now, so it also happens every now and then that people just stop by to hand over some stuff. But most of it I’ve been buying on eBay, and it’s Dutch equivalent Marktplaats. I keep getting surprised by all those things people apparently have once bought to improve the atmosphere of their living room. Every time I go to pick something up, or have email contact with someone who sells me something, I ask them why they have it, and if they’d ever been there. The answers are quite diverse, from people saying ‘the colors matched the interior so this is why I bought the painting at the time’ from people who have actually been there and bought something as a souvenir. Part of the collection is a photo album I’m creating, of people who had their picture taken when they once stood on top of one of the towers. When people have visited the twin towers, they always have a picture of themselves on the top. When someone is selling me something, I always ask them if they have one of those pictures of themselves. Next to that I also found a lot of pictures online, of people on the top of the towers. The album contains over 300 pictures now. If someone reads this, and you have a picture of yourself on the top, please send it over if you would like it to be part of the album :)


Do you also cultivate the habit of collecting outside your art practice?
I try not to, haha! But some people say my house looks like a museum of curiosities. I think if I didn’t find this outlet in my arts, it could be a lot worse.


How do you decide when the collection - the artwork - is finished? Is it actually indefinite work-in-progress?

When is an artwork finished? Well… that kind of depends. If I’m making a book with a collection it’s finished when the book is printed. But in this case.. well the final work is the collection itself. So I guess it’s doomed to be a work in progress haha!
Maybe the focus will shift, and collecting for this particular collection will be less intense over the years, but I think I will always be buying and accepting new items for this collection. Can’t imagine seeing this great Twin-towers snow globe in a thrift shop and NOT buying it.


What are you currently working on?
Usually I simultaneously work on about 5 projects, so i’ll just pick one. I’m finishing up a project that I’ve been working on for a few years now, called "Gesture". In this work I analyzed one hundred political handshakes with the results of academic research on hidden communicative signals enclosed in these gestures, also directly reflecting on the functioning of these images within the medium of photojournalism. I collected hundreds of press photographs of world leaders meeting each other, and stripped them completely from their context. The only thing that remains is a line-drawing of the handshake. I sent these anonymized drawings to professional body language analysts, who told me what they could read from these gestures. It’s a string of 100 drawings, connecting all the world leaders. It goes from Ahmadinejad to Putin, from Putin to Obama, from Obama to Chavez, and so on.

Abbas-Sharon, from the series Gesture, 2014 © Thomas Kuijpers and LhGWR


You've recently shown your installation at Art Rotterdam. Where can we see your work next?
"When the Twins were still beautiful" will be part of Krakow Photomonth festival in May / June this year. Simultaneously, I will have my first solo exhibition with the gallery I’m working with, LhGWR in the Hague, where you can see an overview of other works (and some new works too!). You can look at my website for more data (thomk.nl/irl). Thanks!

Picture on top: © Fieke van Berkom

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