Streetwise and all her life a cultural glutton. For twelve years, Caró van der Pluijm was project coordinator, developer and advisor at Visual Arts & Public Space (BKOR), a program of CBK Rotterdam. This enthusiastic lady has been using this experience within the organization since 2018 for Art Office and the Activities City scheme. 'You gradually create antennas that are needed to gauge the city.'
In conversation with Caró van der Pluijm
Text: Annemiek van Grondel
The fact that Caró van der Pluijm (1970) is at home within the versatile CBK Rotterdam is clear from the way she expresses herself during the interview: cheerful, playful and spontaneous, but also clear and thoughtful. The very personal essay in letter form, set in 2070 and which she wrote in 2020 for her future great-granddaughter, illustrates Van der Pluijm's attitude to life and what her values are. Battle for Space is a long, loving and somewhat playful plea for human values and more momentum in art. In it she expresses her hope for a more conscious way of living in relation to each other and the earth and warns against the dead end of the selfish market thinking that characterizes economic liberalism.
Involvement in social issues and love for art that makes a difference are typical of this driver. With her essay, addressed to the grandchild of her now 22-year-old daughter Fabe, she hopes to pass on this inspired commitment to her posterity and also to offer others insights and meaning. "In my essay, I mention several fictitious activist groups, such as the Common Ground Collective, that may one day be founded," she says. 'But also yesterday and now, innovation is taking place in many ways in the city, such as through Concrete Blossom and Friendly Stalking. After writing my essay, there are at least three new ones in Rotterdam grassrootsmovements, including the now collaborating JUNCTION and Cultural Workers Unite.'
Involvement in social issues and love for art that makes the difference
Van der Pluijm has a good sense of the zeitgeist. In Rotterdam she identifies a tendency of artists and creatives who are focused on: community building and social criticism woven into their work. For example, she mentions visual artist Pendar Nabipour, whose social design concept Project Open Source Governance aims to organize society in an inclusive, equitable way by designing open source systems that can challenge and even replace existing governments, as well as Larisa David, who makes all kinds of productions to research how power relations develop and expand. 'Something like this has little resonance in these times of neoliberalism, especially and strangely enough after the economic crisis,' she says. 'Artists are expected to operate as entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship in the arts only works differently from the market, is personal and therefore requires a different involvement. Contradiction is certainly important in a period of covid-19 and Black Lives Matter and everything that triggers, such as a call for more inclusion and diversity.'
Art and culture were her educators. Van der Pluijm did not experience the parental home, a single-parent family with two daughters that lived in the deprived neighborhood 110-Morgen, as particularly pleasant. She found comfort and pleasure in 'everything', including the visits to her beloved grandmother at Katendrecht.
She comes from a non-ideological, non-religious but somewhat humanistic family. Her father was in the market with fruit and vegetables. “He had a good sense of quality. With his stall he was the vegetable jeweler on the market', she says. 'I find that eye for quality in myself. I often came to see him during his work and was always looking for the flea market next door. I have been involved with healthy, organic food for a long time, a way of life that I share with my “inspiration mother”. This art therapist and good acquaintance used to treat me for frequent headaches. She had an eye for both art and the weaker people in society. I often move differently than others. Unconventional, and sometimes a bit capricious. Watching and observing have always played a major role for me. I was looking for my way out early and was a music lover and movie freak at a young age. Later on, theater and the visual arts were added.'
Watching and observing have always played a major role for me
As a teenager, Van der Pluijm visited the multimedia festival Celluloid Rock in LantarenVenster and Teatro Fantastico and lay in a sleeping bag in front of the ticket sales point for Prince, her then idol. Music was important to her and the love for visual arts is in her genes. Her grandparents ran a traditional art dealership and her grandfather fought for the position of artists after the war. 'My grandfather was a bohemian', she says. 'After my grandmother's divorce, he crisscrossed Europe as a painter. That vagabondage attracted me. Around my twenties I got a friend who studied interior architecture but wanted to become an architect. We borrowed the car from his parents and traveled through Europe on vacations. We visited museums and architectural highlights: Yves Klein in Cologne, the Biennale in Venice… Along the way we stopped for good buildings. I kept going to museums, and I also continued to visit the Biennale.'
After her HAVO final exams, the focus on the future was not yet particularly focused. During that period she describes herself as 'bon vivant': 'I am not necessarily creative myself, but I like to play.' Those playful pursuits at that time consisted of wanderings through the United States and the Netherlands. During her studies in social art therapy at the Hogeschool Leiden, she had various jobs in the hospitality industry and in the audiovisual sector, such as a DJ and assistant location manager at a film production. She also occasionally worked as a cook for film and television and worked for a long time as a pedagogical employee, including at the Salvation Army.
In 2006 Van der Pluijm started working in the Visual Arts & Public Space (BKOR) team of CBK Rotterdam. Here she worked intensively for twelve years as a project coordinator, developer and consultant. 'A lot of projects were developed there from A to Z at the time. I gave advice to parties in the city, supervised projects and looked for financial support from the city,' she says. She acted as a mediator in various initiatives together with various parties, including housing cooperatives and community workers. For the success of these processes, it attaches importance to creating support and testing. In recent years, Van der Pluijm has contributed to BKOR's de-collection policy for the municipality.
Gradually you create antennas that are needed to gauge the city
The CBK Rotterdam routine is still briefly working on a number of BKOR projects, but since 2018 has mainly been a coordinator at Art Office, and is particularly committed to the Activities City programme. In this she advocates initiatives that have an interface with visual art, artists and the public in Rotterdam. Van der Pluijm: 'Thanks to BKOR I have built up a large network. I know the city and its inhabitants well. Gradually you create antennas that are needed to gauge the city. What is going on, what kind of issues are there? I usually do that by feel. I read some here and there. I use my experience, intuition and knowledge for Art Office and the Activities City scheme, for advice to third parties and to assess applications.'
The right qualities for her position are fingerspitzengefühl and social involvement. 'That is important for Activities City, because the scheme is used flexibly', she says. 'We don't want to set the scheme in stone too much. Who is responding to it, and why? An important condition is the role of the Rotterdam artist in the city, with the occasional artist from outside. To do this, you also test what is going on in every nook and cranny of our urban culture.'
As an avid film, music, theater and visual arts lover, Van der Pluijm keeps her knowledge of the cultural life of Rotterdam up to date, and with pleasure. 'I am the business card of Activities City', she explains. 'Part of my job is to go to events and exhibitions. A lot happens in the corridors. I can invite people, such as young artists, to lower the threshold, but sometimes I also go on working visits to studios. Stimulating dynamics and quality in the city is important in my work. There is also a lot of communication and action on the Art Office website.'
The Cape artistically on the shovel
The Slavery Monument originated from one of the initiatives from the city. During the concept phase, Van der Pluijm was involved in various interest groups in Rotterdam that advocated this, such as the Surinamese community. A project like this is preceded by a great deal of research involving various interest groups and, of course, into the right location. When such a project is realized, there is great satisfaction.
She talks enthusiastically about an extensive art series on Katendrecht, one of the last major projects for which she was jointly responsible. Ten wall paintings, contained in ornamental frames, have been realized here, which have a relationship with the peninsula. 'And that relationship is not exactly with the red light district', emphasizes Van der Pluijm. 'For the Capetians this is a pain point. This so-called nostalgia of sailors and a vibrant nightlife has grown from the XNUMXs to the early XNUMXs into a filthy mess with pimps, drugs, crime and dealers. The residents of the area were extremely inconvenienced. That's why we decided to go back to the artistic nostalgia of yesteryear. Because in Katendrecht many artists and poets lived and had a drink, such as Louis van Roode, Cornelis Bastiaan Vaandrager and Daan van Golden. The final piece of the series, Bamboo and Rock by the Chinese artist Li de Cai, could not be restored. Katendrecht used to have many Chinese residents. One of the most important Chinese restaurants was in Javastraat, run by aunt Sien, a Chinese from Rotterdam. We therefore asked the internationally renowned Chinese artist Evelyn Taocheng Wang, who lives in Rotterdam, to create a new work of art, the capstone, in the 19th-century frame of Li de Cai's earlier work of art. Her work often has a double bottom. Taocheng Wang plays with both sides of the coin: positive and negative. If you look closely, is in her in Tulip or Honey a hidden critical note in the form of a stubborn, cartoonish, big-eyed stress bee. This refers to present-day Katendrecht, where many people work hard “hurry-hurt” to pay their high mortgage and create apparent harmony. I think it is an extremely delicate work of art.'
In addition, Van der Pluijm mentions two other special murals in the Zwarte Paardenstraat to which she contributed as project coordinator: El Trotamundos by Chilean artist Jorge Kata Núñez, a galloping horse that symbolizes solidarity, freedom and global citizenship, and the colorful work of Anuli Croon in response.
Make way for art
Van der Pluijm is also proud of Say My Name Rotterdam, a continuation on Say my name by American audiovisual artist/director Nirit Peled and producer Dave Hemmingway, in collaboration with Mamaness. In 2010, twelve enormous portraits of young women from various backgrounds were displayed throughout Rotterdam, some twelve meters high, seven meters wide, made of adhesive foil on all possible surfaces. And also on the corresponding website www.saymyname.org the Rotterdam public became acquainted with several powerful Rotterdam women. From ambitious business women to a teenage mother who fights for her child.
Finding free space and inviting curiosity and expression is important at a time when many people and communities feel unseen
'Empowerment. Everyone belongs,' says Van der Pluijm. She admires Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikun, the current curator of Park Sonsbeek in Arnhem, which organizes multi-year exhibitions instead of one summer. She also mentions a quote from Zippora Elders, curator and director of Kunstfort bij Vijfhuizen, illustrative of the art sector. Elsewhere argues for a cultural shift in thinking about art and believes that art does not have to constantly legitimize itself in the sense of what it means or yields, but rather expresses its “flowing” value. "Finding free space and inviting curiosity and expression is important at a time when many people and communities feel unseen," she writes in The Green Amsterdammer from February of this year. 'By creating space for that, you automatically get a more collective form of living together in society and that is what we will need in the future: hopeful images and stories for a time of reconstruction.'
Food as a binding agent
Van der Pluijm's people-oriented nature led to training alongside her job: the Leadership in Culture Low Countries (LinC LL) program at Utrecht University. 'I want to do even more for society through my work', she explains. Her fingerspitzengefühl and social involvement come in handy here. 'I am good at one-on-one contact and I feel involved with the artists, their commitment and work,' she says.
a safe haven creating in a beautiful environment where people can really meet each other
In addition, Van der Pluijm is involved in gardening and cooking. 'I have a predilection for nature, the basis of our lives and health,' she says. 'That fact in combination with art would be ideal. For example, I want to create a manifesto at the intersection of health and art and make people of all backgrounds and origins feel at home and safe: a safe haven creating a beautiful environment where people can really meet each other. With good food as a binding agent! Striking a battle between those two elements and thereby stimulating the conversation is my ultimate dream.'