Interview with Rosalie Van Waeyenberge
by That Nikki You know
Rosalie Van Waeyenberge is an artist based in Belgium who co-creates drawings with her daughter. Their work is a playful and cross-generational exchange that invites the viewer into their familial world. However delightful their collaborations are, they have been criticized on the validity of their art. Some believe children should be excluded from the art world, and in fact their first exhibition was cancelled once it was discovered that a child was a co-creator of their art. Soon to be featured in the upcoming debut release of La Poubelle Magnifique Zine, I got a chance to connect with her recently and ask about her perspective on her work and art in general.
When I was in art classes in school, the question ‘What is art?’ was one of the first things we discussed. There were different opinions, and many examples of artists pushing the boundaries of what was considered art. You stumbled upon a boundary that exists in the art world. What do you think art is? What did you think about them cancelling your exhibition?
This is of course a very difficult question. It depends. There is one constant though, a very rational one, which is that art is a convention. And, depending on where and when you present your work, it will be considered art. Personally, I use a very inclusive rule. From the moment you consider something art and another person agrees because it connects to the same string of emotions, art emerges. I believe emotions are key, and an audience of course (even if it is only one person). You can rationalize your preferences afterwards but that’s marketing.
Art for me is a kind of Cassandra, portraying the hidden movement of an evolving world. Art is wandering beyond planets or dimensions. It is a frequency where our senses are touched on deep subconscious levels and therefore art is therapeutic. For me working together with my daughter is healing and fun. I like to run away from the seriousness in art and life and creating this bond and language with Galatea is liberating. Yes, maybe I stumbled upon a border, but I didn’t realize there was a boundary only until the exhibit wasn’t going to happen.
So, suddenly, there was this confrontation which was very confusing. Because you don’t really know whether this is a real rejection of the quality of your work or whether you are exploring some beyond. So, my first reaction was to share the drawings on Instagram because I wanted to understand whether my appreciation of the drawings was personal or whether others responded in the same way. The reactions were so positive and they all talked about happiness, fun and, what I liked a lot, hope.
So, while I was disappointed by the fear driven conventional thinking applied by the gallerist and artist, I was at the same time triggered as I couldn’t imagine that there was no place in art for works with this kind of liveliness and connection.
We exclude children from many aspects of adult life. Oftentimes, children are completely ignored or belittled and we accept it because there seems to be a deeply embedded idea that children are not yet full humans deserving of the same level of respect as adults. How do you see the division between children and adults? Do you have anything to say to people who don’t think children can be a part of the fine art world?
Yes, throughout art history you always had children at the two sides of the spectrum, child prodigies with exceptional talent from a young age which were staged as in a circus and then “les petits mains” which basically is child labour for example for the incredible tapestry from our region. For me the collaboration with Galatea is a good exercise in balancing my motherly power, although I must say, nowadays when we’re busy I’m not aware of this and I focus more on the interaction, the narrative or dialogue that grows between us.
I do think children should have a more prominent place in museums and galleries, not just in workshops. Maybe not as a general rule but there should be at least dedicated projects of collaboration or interaction. And, they should be able to participate in designer competitions for architecture or urbanism, and art of course, because the view of a child always broadens perspectives.
Age and time are treated very conservatively in the current art scene. First of all, most art competitions are restricted to a certain age, only until 35 or starting from 16 or 18 or 24 years old. Sometimes these limits are defensible but mostly, they’re just random. I find this a bit offensive, does this mean before or after a certain age no intriguing and new ideas can emerge? When tomorrow, we will age beyond 130 years old, do we want to ignore the experiences and perceptions of 50% or even 75% of our lives? Today you see a lot of collaborations and interdisciplinary exchanges, so the next step is not only horizontal but also vertical exchange, in time and between generations.
We should also think about this in terms of how we want to evolve as a society? We talk about thinking about our planet or about living consciously and then we ignore the vast potential available. Even worse, we talk about the importance of the next generation, be it as parents, grandparents or planetary activists, but we do not include this next generation in our communication and conceptualization of this world. So, that’s kind of the narrative I’m working on and struggling with today.
It can be hard to define yourself as an artist, yet that definition is constantly demanded of you. If your daughter hadn’t been a part of your work, what questions would you be exploring through your art? How would you see your work as a solo artist?
I love colors and I am a master in sculpting. I loved stone carving. Quite some time ago I had a serious accident and since then I’m not able to bend my left wrist, also my thumb is missing a tendon so I can’t hold my hammer any longer, I loved to work on large and monumental scale but that became impossible. So I started wandering. I probably got lost a few times until I started painting. I passed some time in film production and I loved the way it uses our living environment as a stage. I started to see myself more as an ensceneur who staged people in a canvas with colors to provoke a certain feeling. The accident added more burdens. Some genetic trait was triggered, an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto which caused me to have high and lows in life and painting. I once painted our old iconic Flandriens bikers because they represented struggle and because I live close to Geraardsbergen a legendary place for biking with tough climbs and uncomfortable descents.
Nowadays I make ceramics. It’s the perfect marriage between colors, painting and sculpture. I am a material freak. I make my own paint, my brushes, my ink,...my sketchbooks, clay. A lot of people give me materials because they know I’m going to reuse it. When I paint I use canvases made by a great, local company which still uses old techniques and locally sourced materials. Sometimes I even recuperate canvases as long as they match my quality criteria. The clay I use is mostly recuperation from regional art academies and I only fire my sculptures on low temperatures. I like to recuperate old imagery and transport the sensation emerging from these images into a more contemporary setting. It can feel very classic with a twist. When people see my clay sculptures they immediately see a reference with the drawings. My resources are things which have existed or have been used already and I interconnect them over time and into the future. You could say that the drawings are also a kind of recuperation because I use someone else’s drawing as a starting point. I always start from appropriation, I apply it to both my materials and my esthetics, and nowadays, Galatea and my collaboration, you could see it also as a form of appropriation.
Do you think she will want to follow in your footsteps and pursue a career in the arts?
I don’t know. She is interested in everything and changes her mind often. What I mean is, it doesn’t matter. But I think when she will look back on her childhood, the drawings will help her in her creative process and I am sure she will continue drawing.
What is the process like when you create something together? Do you draw at the same time, or take turns? Does one of you always start?
There is paper or a sketchbook on the drawing table, sometimes she starts or sometimes it is me, sometimes we sit together at the drawing table. The only rule we have is, we ask permission if we can draw on each other's drawing. One time Galatea made a drawing for her cousin and I didn’t know she wanted a drawing by herself only and every time she sees this drawing in our collection she still reacts grumpy.
How has creating art with your daughter shaped your relationship? Does it offer more opportunity for intimacy? Do you feel you’ve gotten to know her better than if you didn’t collaborate?
Well, I’m so happy that we are invited to Gordes in the South of France for two weeks of art residency. And in September we have the exhibit in Belgium in Ninove. So we will be able to explore making big drawings and we’ll see how it will be with just the two of us. I never went on holiday for such a period with her alone. It is special for me because she is growing up and her ideas and drawings are evolving fast, but did it strengthen my bond? I think we have a strong family bond which would also be there without drawing. But drawing is definitely a way to connect and it offers indeed intimacy but also contemplation and calmness. I remember sitting in an airport with a delay and Galatea was laying for hours on the floor with her big sketchbook -she was four- and a man was completely emotional and nostalgic. He said he was happy to see one child without an electronic device and being creative.
If you'd like to check out their art, you can follow Rosalie on instagram.