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Incidents and Accidents

Kate Greenberg: How did you make the switch from building interventions to taking photographs?

Marjolijn Dijkman: I often make pictures during my research of a location where I’m asked to develop an intervention or site-specific project. The archive started from this practice and became more elaborate the more I traveled and the more images I made. I never made a decision to stop making projects on site, but instead I wanted to find a basis in relation to my site-specific practice that would bring it into a larger global perspective.

Greenberg: I am particularly interested your Gestures series, can you talk how it came about? I am also curious about the verbs used on the right side of the web page? Is this format subject to change?

Dijkman: After a few years of working as an artist, traveling more and more to develop projects at sites outside of the Netherlands, I collected a massive amount of images. I tried to find a way to organize them and instead of an organization based on the geographic locations where I took the images I knew there had to be a different way to organize the images that would ultimately make more sense to me. For two years I have been working on the development of the archive and after some time I discovered that almost all the images I made reveal some kind of human gesture in the landscape. I started to organize the images according to these gestures, and mix all the images from around over the world together. I started with only 7 categories and now after 5 years I have about 122 categories. The format is not subject to change, but the categories are. The images can become part of multiple folders and the interpretation can change.

Greenberg: For this project I am interested in creating a dialog between artists who are making versus taking photographs; where do you think this work fits in?

Dijkman: The photographs serve as a registration of an event. For me, it compares to a photographer who makes pictures of a sculpture in a museum or in a gallery. The archive consists of situations I encountered, and in my other works I mostly try to intervene in daily reality. Often times my projects are proposals for a specific locations, but most often they fail to exist due to political situations or larger organizations often prohibits them to be fully realized.

Greenberg: I consider your images more straightforward, documents, although as a viewer I can feel that there was some sort of human intervention, just not made by the artist. Can you talk about what interested you in this?

Dijkman: I’m interested in a kind of human expression that occurs when people are busy and nobody notices. For instance, instead of being in contact and talking to people, sometimes you can find out more about them by just walking around inside their home and see how they organize their space. The details you find, the way they organize their life is quite telling about who they are. I think by taking pictures worldwide of the surroundings you can figure out how people are, how we as mankind seem to behave worldwide, and how we organize our surroundings. This is the kind of documentary approach I’m interested in. It is not a straightforward documentary approach since the things I notice are of course totally subjective.

Greenberg: What is it about the interactions between humans and their surroundings that you find so interesting? Why?

Dijkman: I think we shape the landscape and the landscape shapes us through making us behave in a certain way. I’m interested in this circle, I’m trying to understand what is happening and then I’m trying to develop situations to reflect this process as a kind of mirror for the ones involved.

Greenberg: You are a global traveler, are you doing this purely for the archive or do you just love to travel?

Dijkman: I mostly travel for my work; I hardly go on holidays abroad, although I do have to admit that I live between three countries…

Greenberg: How much does globalization factor into this project or your interests?

Dijkman: Globalization is a big factor in this project because it tries to rethink existing cartography and mapping systems that were developed in the process of exploration and early globalization. The Dutch explorers from the East India Company for instance started the first multinational corporation but also contributed to cartography. Instead of mapping borders and geographic differences, I try to find similarities in the way we organize the world around us. Whether a gesture is made in a simple and improvised way or in an industrially produced expensive way, the gesture or what it tries to express is similar. I think many of the images and gestures I research are the product of globalization.

Greenberg: Most of the photographs included in the Gestures series are taken in urban settings, yet remain fairly anonymous, can you talk about this? Why do you keep the locations unknown?

Dijkman: Since I don’t want to make an archive based on geographical information but on a different form of organization I decided to never mention where the images are taken.

Greenberg: Do you ever consider yourself a flâneur? A Nomad?

Dijkman: I do sometimes feel like a nomad, like the many people who travel a lot. The photographic archive is only one part of my practice so in the hours I’m walking around, I feel like a flâneur, wandering around the city streets, which I actually like the best. But there is also a need to make projects more connected to one place, one site or one subject in order not to feel so distant towards my surroundings. Photography is a great medium to capture the moment and collect a situation without ‘touching’ it, but ultimately there is still a machine between you and the world.

Greenberg: Why do you only focus on objects and situations that occur outside?

Dijkman: I don’t actually, there are also many images taken inside, but you are right most of the images are taken outside. I guess coming back to the idea of the world as a living room, most often it is easier to walk around outside, since you need permission to go inside, so probably I feel more comfortable on the street. I always take a camera with me when I’m traveling and end up taking photographs along the way. Sometimes I think of the archive as a shadow of my life, in a way you can see where I have been and what I have encountered.

Greenberg: What is your interest in everyday objects that are often the subject matter of your photographs?

Dijkman: I only take a picture when I’m touched by something I encounter, often it is the way it is placed in space, or organized, adapted, protected. The gesture makes the everyday object ‘theatrical’ so it in turn becomes a performer. For me these situations are special.

Greenberg: Do you ever interact or arrange the objects you come across?

Dijkman: When I develop a project yes, then I will work with street displays like in Georgia, or poster rip offs like the project in Regensburg or with real estate billboards like the project I made in Dubai. But when I take photographs for the archive, I never intervene.

Greenberg: How much does chance factor into these photographs? Do you consider any of these images an accident?

Dijkman: The images or the situation?

Greenberg: Are you interested in the ephemeral nature of the objects?

Dijkman: Yes, I like the way photography can capture a particular moment, I think it is very special in a world that is constantly changing and influenced by so many people. The ephemeral nature of the objects is something I love in general; it is opposing a more monumental approach in art, to take position for a long time on one spot.

Greenberg: Do you consider yourself a witness to these objects and situations you encounter?

Dijkman: In a way yes, but I also feel like a director when the images become part of the archive. The relation to the other images and the words or gestures influences the viewer’s perception, so in a way I become an accomplice.

Greenberg: I often find humor in your images, is that intentional?

Dijkman: Intentionally no, but I’m often amused as well by the situations I encounter.

Greenberg: Does Richard Wentworth influence you? Who else influences you and why?

Dijkman: After many people told me to look at Richard’s work, so I decided to approach him to get to know his way of working and thinking. I invited him for a workshop with 8 other artists who were also interested in his practice. The workshop was really successful and a lot of fun. It was important to me to recognize a certain way of looking; dealing with sculpture and daily life is like recognizing somebody as your own family member. I’m very fascinated by his way of talking, writing, and the way he combines photography with three dimensional works and installations. Instead of influencing me, I think we share a common interest for human gesture and the attempt to survive.

Greenberg: And finally, how do you want the viewer to react to seeing this work? After seeing the website? Do you think the viewers’ interaction with reality will change after viewing your work?

Dijkman:  First of all there is nothing I want from the viewer directly, I think perception of work is very subjective and the work can be read in many different ways. But something I heard from many people who really enjoyed the work, or even got annoyed by it, is the way the archive changed their way of experiencing their surroundings. I heard that viewers started to recognize gestures on the street when they walked around and they could point out different categories in which the work belonged. I guess my project tries to find a different approach towards understanding our surroundings, without making it the new norm. I want it to stay as ephemeral and playfully subjective as it is right now.

June 2010, Interview as part of the exhibition Incidents and Accidents curated by Kate Greenberg, Visual Arts Gallery, New York, US