Anne Hoogewoning (coordinator) and Beja Tjeerdsma (administrator)
‘This is a house for production, not a place for mere contemplation’
Interview by Friso Wijnen.
The corona crisis has cut across the programming of the Van Doesburghuis over the past year in 2020. Residents either left early or saw their intended stay cancelled. What is the current state of the artist house and what are the plans when the virus no longer dominates our daily lives? Coordinator Anne Hoogewoning and administrator Beja Tjeerdsma explain.
How quiet was the past year in the Van Doesburghuis?
Anne: ‘Very quiet, too quiet. The house demands to be lived in, it is a house for production, a place of creation, not just for contemplation. Theo and Nelly van Doesburg themselves used the studio house as a place to meet others and create together. More and more residents are giving it that interpretation. Cellist Katharina Gross was the last temporary resident. She performed a few small concerts and performances, but was forced to leave last September. After that there were plans for new residents, but the travel restrictions due to corona threw a spanner in the works’.
Beja: ‘The house was empty for months. I collected the mail and ran the taps every two weeks. Residents stayed away, but fortunately since January we can again receive small groups of visitors. The interest is enormous. Especially now, people need to explore new horizons, and the gratitude is great.’
Since when have you been involved with the Van Doesburghuis?
Anne: ‘In 2006 I was involved in the residency of the Van Doesburghuis from the (then) Fund for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture. When I left this fund, I was asked to remain as the foundation’s secretary. I had become fond of the special location in Meudon and the ideas of Theo and Nelly van Doesburg fascinated me more and more. For several years now the five Dutch State Cultural Funds have been working together around the Van Doesburghuis. This fits perfectly with the multidisciplinary artists that Theo and Nelly themselves were. The significance and charisma of the studio house has clearly increased, as has the concern for its architectural maintenance.’
Beja: ‘In 2010 I started working at the former Institut Néerlandais in Paris and was asked to take care of some of the practical matters surrounding the Van Doesburghuis. The first time I went there, there were problems with the internet. I got into conversation with then resident/composer Hans Koolmees. After this meeting I got acquainted with other residents and gradually got to know the artist house and Theo and Nelly’s ideas better. I became attached to the place.’
What event in the Van Doesburghuis made most impression on you?
Anne: ‘I found the 2019 crime scene of visual artist Antonis Pittas from Amsterdam exciting and inspiring. Antonis recounted a fictional crime and managed to give a totally unique interpretation to the house. His temporary installation will have a sequel at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht. Another moment that comes to mind was a concert by pianist John Snijders, who played Jakob van Domselaer’s 1913-1916 work ‘Proeven van Stijlkunst’. The event took place at during the residency of visual artist Steven Aalders. It was as if I was at a concert of Theo and Nelly, very touching.
Beja: ‘(laughs) I first see an image of a grand piano floating through the air. During his residency, the writer and composer Elmer Schönberger insisted on having his own grand piano nearby. This piano indeed came through the window of the atelier by a crane! I also remember an artist who called at eleven o’clock in the evening because there was a trail of ants through the house and another resident who fell down the stairs with a tray full of desserts immediately worried about the concrete floor instead of his aching knee. Was cultural heritage damaged here?’
What’s on the agenda for the coming months now that easing of restrictions seems to be slowly approaching?
Anne: ‘Film screenwriter Helena van der Meulen and cellist Katharina Gross are each returning to the house for a few weeks to complete their prematurely aborted stay last year. After the summer we welcome architecture historian Herman van Bergeijk and cultural historian Sjoerd van Faassen. Soon they will publish a publication on the correspondence between Theo van Doesburg and Cornelis van Eesteren. And during their residency in Meudon they want to make a start with a monograph on Van Doesburg’s ideas about architecture. Prior to their stay, we welcome writer Matthijs van Boxsel who wrote, among other things, The Encyclopedia of Stupidity. I look forward to seeing life in the house again.’
Beja: ‘The book on Van Doesburg’s vision of architecture comes at an excellent time. French architecture schools are showing increasing interest in the Van Doesburg House, and several academies in Paris and Nancy are organizing various projects around Van Doesburg this year. Over the past month I have received several groups of students and teachers at the house.’
Can Van Doesburghuis’ legacy become better known in France?
Anne: ‘Yes, absolutely. In and around Paris there are so many fascinating places for artists with an interest in residencies. Cultural life is constantly developing here. We as a foundation can further develop French partnerships and connect to new initiatives that increase the visibility of our residency program and the visiting artists. As an artist-residency we play a modest role, but it is a unique place and is also seen as such by French enthusiasts and connoisseurs. There is still more to come.
Beja: ‘With the Dutch embassy in France we are currently realizing a number of walking routes with local cultural institutions, such as Fondation Arp and the museum of Meudon. There will also be a large cultural center (Hangar Y) on the outskirts of Meudon. Who knows, that might become another interesting partner. There are plenty of opportunities for the Van Doesburghuis. I’m happy to commit to that.’