Eva Visser

Can a question be an answer?

An e-mail exchange (28.10 – 09.11.2018) between Lotte van Geijn (artist and writer) and Eva Visser (researcher and writer) in which Lotte interviewed Eva.


LvG, 30.10.18: Ok, if I summarize this I get these two questions: What is it that you do within the field of art? And what is your motivation to do so?

EV, 01.11.2018: I think the thing I do, or try to do, is to provide a stage for artists. Sometimes this was very clear, as with ‘De Vrijplaats’ [maybe best translated as ‘Refuge’], in the meaning of a place to seek asylum] in the magazine Puntkomma for which I invited artists to show their work with as little as possible intervention. With other work, such as the cover interviews I did together with Hugo [Bongers, senior editor Puntkomma], this agenda perhaps was less clear. For the series ‘Inside/Outside’ that I did, which was focussed on the impact of the Rotterdam-context on the work of foreign artists who decided to live and work here, I chose to edit out my own voice and let the artists have (all of) the stage. However I still had a big impact on every piece because in the end I directed the conversations and decided what made the cut and what not. 
I’m not sure about my motivation, I guess it has to do with wanting to be a part of something as opposed to staying on the outside and looking in. You might be able to force me to dig a little deeper here ; ) 
But also, I really like asking questions and skipping most of the small talk. It’s just really nice to hear people talk about what they’re passionate about – especially if it’s something that holds my interest as well. 

LvG, 03.11.18: It is nice how you describe what it is what you do: ‘provide a stage to artists’. This is very generous of you. It makes me wonder where thisincentive comes from. Could you explain this to me? And e.g. curating and moderating are also ways of giving a stage to artists. Is this something on which you would like to elaborate?

EV, 04.11.18: I think compared to curating and moderating my contributions are less visible, more behind the screen. With all the issues of Vrijplaats my name was never mentioned and I didn’t think that was necessary. However, I do feel different about that now – it was foolish of me to make myself invisible and then feel disregarded.
For the first issues I wrote some long reviews on exhibitions and I did some more ‘classical’ double-interviews, but funnily enough I feel that I found my voice more now I edit myself out. I’m not interested in reading my own opinion. My subjective notions about art works are just that, and I don’t think I’m able to take it to a higher, more profound plane. After all, I am a tourist in the art field and rather listen to the locals than share my opinion about the place. Writing provides me with a good reason to talk to, listen to artists. I don’t think I’m a very good listener normally because I’m rather stuck in my own head, but interviewing helps me to get over myself – if only very temporary. Ideally the interviewee gets a bit more clarity out of the process as well, but this very greatly differs by person. Some people recognize themselves instantly in the text and others want to rephrase – or even take back – their words.
I enjoy the level of freedom when working for Puntkomma – the series only exist because I thought they should. I prefer to do series because together the episodes provide a fuller picture of the subject matter, an inventory of unique points of view, contrasts and overlap – I might be looking for a sense of inter-subjectivity, a shared experience.

LvG, 07.11.18: But for how long can you call yourself ‘a tourist in the field of art’? Beautiful catchy metaphor by the way!
Do you have any idea how long you have to ‘stay’ somewhere to become a local? I was thinking about the 10.000 hour rule, mentioned in the book of writer and journalist Malcolm Galdwell but researched by psychology professor Anders Ericsson. Even though it has been refuted by many people I find it a fascinating theory. When and how, you think, you can become an expert?
And it is interesting what you mentioned about the added value of working in series. Is this inter-subjectivity something you are researching in a broader sense? 
EV, 09.11.18: Hmm, thanks : )

I don’t have the idea that I did anything for 10.000hrs, but luckily I don’t believe this theory anyway.
But the tourist-thing – to me the art field is a nice place with good scenery and relatively cheap beer (always an advantage) but I can’t feel at home because I don’t understand some of the local customs. I have observed them and tried to figure them out (by doing interviews, etc) but they remain alien. But that’s not specific for the art world to me.
The norms and habits of my fellow humans – even if they seem to be intersubjective – often bewilder me. It may be that ‘it is what it is’, but it could be countless other ways and sometimes this one; our ‘reality’ seems just as random as any other one. I think that, on average, artists don’t take the status quo as a given unlike most ‘others’ and perhaps therefore I am relatively at ease in their company?

LvG, 28.10.18: Yesterday evening we met at your brother´s opening at De Apotheek. I spoke to Arik [Visser] shortly about his textual work. He wrote a poem which was only possible to read if you were able to get through his installation of barbed wire. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of the poem. I’m trying to remember the words, but my memory is failing me. What I do remember is Arik explaining that it had to do with a twelve-hour day of living. It was nice to talk to him about it. 

LvG, 30.10.18: You sent me the poem. It was nice to read it again. Different, because now I was reading it in the private sphere of my living room. I do believe this is a self-portrait of Arik. It is also a love poem to me, for what I read within those lines: ‘toch vergeten, had je al verwacht’ [yet forgotten, was expecting you though]

EV, 01.11.18: I really like your response to Arik’s poem. Question: do you feel you got to know him somewhat by knowing this text he wrote? I’m asking because I once went to a performance of someone [Aline Keller] and afterwards felt I knew her and we have been friends since then. 

LvG, 03.11.18: Good question. Yes, I do believe I got to know Arik a little bit better by reading his poem. I only knew a few things about him before the poem: he has a partner and a son and you are his sister. The poem is beautiful in its simplicity. This is not simple at all! It partly reveals how he observes the world; which things stand out for him. And it is giving me an insight in how he looks at himself. In the poem he constantly switches between an inner and outer point of view.
EV, 11.18: Thanks so much, I’ll let him know!
LvG, 03.11.18: Which I guess is kind of related to your attitude towards your position in the art world. (I do say ‘in’ purposely.) Do you feel comfortable ‘looking from the outside in’? Would you like for this to change? 

EV, 04.11.18: Yes, it’s as comfortable as I think I can get. But it is also an easy way out of being actually involved, really committed. However, I don’t know how to change this. A possible solution is to take myself out of the art context altogether and try and find some place else to belong. But I like writing and I like many artists more than I like most other people, so maybe I should not overthink this and just keep going.

LvG, 07.11.18: Yes, keep going! People like you are mostly important and rare: smart and able to be sincerely interested in the other. Do you think it is important to be able to write, to create a certain ‘free space’; a ‘playground’? Is the downplaying a way to create this space to be able to write freely, without too much pressure and expectations?

EV, 09.11.18: Probably. But I do that with pretty much everything I do. It is to protect me from myself more than anything else. And in the end it doesn’t work because I still care. Of course, I do, otherwise I wouldn’t bother.
You’re being very nice to me and I know that it is because you’re a nice person but it also makes me uncomfortable.

LvG, 20.10.18: You told me that you are more interested in the artist than the artwork. This attracted my attention. Could you shed a little light on this? 

EV, 28.10.18: To clarify, my interest doesn’t concern the artists themselves per se, but their reasoning, decisions and emotions that feed into their work and the importance of the context in which their work comes into being (eg. an artist collective, or the city of Rotterdam). Being not from the art field myself I don’t feel qualified to talk about art works, so I question their artists instead. 
We briefly spoke about my ‘outsider’ point of view and that I’m rather tired of using that explanation myself. But I do think it was an important reason to write about artists rather than about art: I know nothin’ about art, so I’ll just ask questions. That was also one of the reasons for choosing to name a series Outside / Inside – a bit of a private joke. 

LvG, 03.11.18: Do you know what it is you find appealing of the art world? What attraction does it have on you?

EV, 05.11.18: Life is an anthropology project to me: ‘Who are these people, what do they and – most importantly – why do they do what do’?
Ideally art asks good questions (while good design might answer them) and I like to know in what circumstances these questions are prompted. How artists are influenced/ made by their context and how they in turn shape/ make it theirs.
I hold the rather romantic notion that artists are freer than others to look for and ask their questions, that they can see clearer and that their work can do the same for others. For me art (ideally) provokes both wonder and bewilderment with the human-made context we tend to see as ‘normal’ and therefore somehow as inevitable – while it is not. I enjoy aestheticism, but don’t want to be comforted, I want to be made more awake, more aware.

LvG, 07.11.18: This is absolutely a bold and beautiful paraphrase about the purpose of art and the act of making. (Thank you!)

EV, 28.10.18: How do you experience the change of perspective when interviewing artists? 

LvG, 30.10.18: Isn’t every portrait a self-portrait? I found this quote by Oscar Wilde from his book ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (1890): “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.” Maybe every interview is a self-interview… How do you feel about this?

EV, 01.11.18: Nice quote, but I’m not sure I agree. For portraits maybe, but my work isn’t a work of art. It’s less personal to me, it’s not about me. I don’t want to read about me, that’s not interesting? 

LvG, 03.11.18: Yes, I understand this suggestion is maybe a bit too drastic. Listening to someone else is also bringing me something on a personal level. How do you experience this?
And I do believe every link in the chain is equally important. I do believe you should not underestimate (or overestimate) your position and role in this. You need someone else to ask you sharp questions to be able to get to new places. And every conversation only exists because of two (or more) people. This interaction is a constant looking in and out. Everything needs an outsider’s point of view to be able to reflect on itself. Is your attitude as a writer related to the attitude of an artist? Or do you feel more related to the strategy of a journalist?

EV, 05.11.18: Yes, as mentioned I hope to provoke the people I interview to see their work and choices from a bit more distance. An outsiders’ point of view can be helpful. However, there is is only so much I can do since I miss a certain educational and practical background to ‘level’ with artists. But for this piece I will call myself a ‘writer’. How do your experience this, as someone who writes and has an art practice?

LvG, 07.11.18: Although I understand your counter questions (and appreciate them), I notice you’ve been closing your answers with a question more than once. Can a question be answer? And can an answer be a question? As you’ve mentioned you have been editing your questions/voice out of your interviews. ‘I find my voice more now I edit myself out’. Is the question as important as the answer to you?

EV, 09.11.18: You’re right – I deflect. Although I do think a question can be an answer, my questions are indeed a deflection. Also, I really care to hear about your perspective; maybe you can get more out of the process of writing than I can. I do think asking the right question is essential to make progress towards ‘the’ answer – whatever that may be.
When asked for the super-power I’d want to have I always choose invisibility. It would make me so much less uncomfortable not to have to concern myself with this awkward body I have to lug around. Hmm, maybe being a floating translucent brain would be even better (Singularity here I come!). On the other hand, since I am visible I also like to be seen, I guess.

Lotte van Geijn

Lotte van Geijn is currently a resident at the Rijksakademie. Her interviews, columns and articles are regularly published in a.o. Metropolis M and KLEI Keramiek Magazine. An overview of her texts can be found here:

Eva Visser

Eva Visser studied history and works as a researcher and teacher. Since its inception in 2012 she has been contributing to Puntkomma, a magazine about art & culture in Rotterdam: