Jeanine van Berkel, photo: Marwan Magroun

Behind the scenes: I fall in between


Jeanine van Berkel is responsible for the social media of CBK Rotterdam and is working on a podcast series and the video platform to be launched in 2021. In addition, this versatile twenty-something publicist has run out Mister Motley and graphic artist, in highly personal work. 'I'm busy making memories concrete. '

In conversation with Jeanine van Berkel

Text: Annemiek van Grondel

'I was born on a piece of land in the middle of the ocean. Part sand, part rock… shells, their shape in constant movement. Dazzling water, in shades from transparent to deep blue. '

Soft Histories (2020) are tales of an origin partly hidden in shadows, of speculations, memories, assumptions and dreams. An introduction to the sparkling, inquisitive mind of Jeanine van Berkel (1995). Curaçao is her place of birth, but she grew up in the west of Noord-Brabant, in Oudenbosch, famous among good Catholics for the nineteenth-century Basilica of St. Agatha and Barbara. A 'white, petty bourgeois' village. 'My skin has faded, ”she says skin.

In in between, one of the other audio clips on SoundCloud, accompanied by clinks and shuffles of homemade objects, it sounds in English: 'What does going home mean? This is my home now. The home where I'll never be white enough, they said. I feel like a stranger in this country, in this life. ” In another excerpt: "I feel like I'm falling in the middle."

They are fragments of her life cast in poetic language, in unfeigned, raw, sometimes painfully honest terms, often referring to the lives that are intertwined with hers. Such as that of her mother, with whom she has a close relationship and moved to the Netherlands in 1999.

Sensitive string

Now, more than twenty years later, she looks back on the first years of her life in personal stories. She examines her memories and the feelings they evoke and processes them into sound clips, in order to eventually share that feeling with others. For example, her fellow students at the Sandberg Institute and other spectators witnessed live artistic performances in a room of the Eye Film Museum, in which they saw a selection of the Soft Histories voices and imagines. Such as the tension in the realization of the immense difference between her native soil and the village of Oudenbosch, in distance, climate, inhabitants and their culture. Or the tension between her Dutch surname, that of her mother, and her appearance. 'When you attend a completely white primary school and are the only one with colored skin, that raises questions,' she explains.

When I was thirteen I returned with my mother. I had a different understanding of the island than I do now, a complicated relationship with my native soil.

Tension sometimes also arises from something that is unknown to herself, such as the first house she lived in on Curaçao. Van Berkel: 'I found the address on my birth card. When I was thirteen I returned with my mother. I had a different understanding of the island than I do now, a complicated relationship with my native soil. I didn't want to get out of there, didn't want to be The Other. But the last time I visited, three years ago, the island suddenly struck a nerve. And then I very consciously visited the places where I grew up. '

In her performances she deliberately puts herself in a vulnerable position, because she finds it important to express herself and to say what needs to be said. "I often get positive responses," she says. 'I initially draw a lot from that. I am always looking for people with similar experiences. Landmarks. It's not a constant feeling, but it keeps me busy regularly. '

The big city

During pre-university education in Oudenbosch, Van Berkel decided to follow the preliminary training of ArtEZ in Arnhem. 'I initially focused on fashion design, but graphic design in particular came to the fore in the things I made,' she says. 'That is highly regarded at that academy, thanks to a teaching team with good graphic designers.' During her ArtEZ training she did an internship in Amsterdam, at exhibition space W139. Van Berkel: 'I was impressed by the city and the people there. Still, I moved to Rotterdam, where I was able to get an apartment in Delfshaven. I didn't want to stick around in Arnhem. I feel good in Rotterdam. However, I don't know if I want to live here forever. Maybe I will go back to Curaçao one day, to experience what it is like to live there for a long time. '

Although she now feels comfortable in the port city, the move was initially a daring step that made her doubt its correctness. Van Berkel noticed that looking for a job was not an easy task with her graphic design diploma. 'It was a difficult and lonely period,' she says. 'I eventually got a side job at Hutspot, an artistic shop that unfortunately no longer exists. But I didn't want to linger in a shop job for too long. '

CBK Rotterdam offered the solution: she was given the opportunity to do an internship there at the beginning of 2019. It concerned a communication function: one day a week for the public space and Art Office and another for TENT. 'I often came to TENT to view exhibitions and one day saw that vacancy,' says Van Berkel, who immediately took the plunge and applied for it. 'They were looking for someone to set up a social media platform. The intention was to dig through the CBK archive to uncover this in an exciting way. It was very educational, so I got to know more and more about art and the city. ' In July of that year, her diligence was rewarded: she joined CBK Rotterdam as a social media manager.

Immersed in art

TENT, or the exhibitions department of CBK Rotterdam, is a committed platform for contemporary art. It realizes exhibitions, productions, educational projects, performances and other events with makers, both from Rotterdam and abroad. The dynamic art and culture of Rotterdam is central to this, focused on its interdisciplinary, international character and the interaction with important developments in society. Just before the turn of the century predecessor Villa Alckmaer, from 1994 onwards the exhibition location of CBK Rotterdam on the Westersingel, moved to the Witte de Withstraat, after which the new space was christened TENT on exactly 9-9-1999.

There are many special exhibitions to see. One of these that touched Van Berkel personally was The whole world is turning by Ada M. Petterson, a non-binary artist from Barbados. 'They made two or three video installations with bright sunlight and sea,' she says enthusiastically. 'Old and new stories are mixed in a new poetic form. I saw the works and immediately felt recognition. '

I like it when you are really completely immersed in art. I also try to show that in my designs.

She names Utopian Redux by Carly Rose Bedford another impressive work: 'For this the space was transformed into a warm, soft oasis with pink sand, pink cushions and also pink, rippling water. I love it when you are really completely immersed in art. I also try to show that in my designs. You can clearly see how you design a space, in which installations and performances are given a place. I want people to feel comfortable in the space. That they can lie or sit near, on or in installations. '

Graphic artist

Since she has been working at CBK Rotterdam, her own art has not necessarily been put on the back burner. On the contrary, the employer even encourages her to go on artistic research. Van Berkel: 'In 2019, the same year that I did an internship at TENT, I was able to get a place at the Sandberg Institute. That was always the school I secretly wanted to go to. The institute is highbrow: the selection is strict. But I tried it anyway and it worked! I didn't really want to go to the design department, because it was the theory and deeper research that appealed to me. I am now working on my graduation project. '

Art and graphic design have changed in recent years, especially graphic design, she notes. This is the result of the emergence of templates. Van Berkel: 'At ArtEZ a distinction has already been made between more form-oriented typography and design research. The latter is more in the direction of free art. For example, you could build an entire project around a single word of your choice, in a free assignment and with a free choice of materials. '

Van Berkel does not see himself as an artist, but rather as a graphic designer. Perhaps graphic artist is a more apt name. Her coral-like clay objects are 'living' artifacts that refer to her personal experiences. 'I'm working on making memories concrete,' she nods.

'I also draw a lot from daily life, as a kind of exercise to organize my own life.'

She also writes for pieces mister motley, which are quite outspoken, as in the article published in January Failed activism should not be an art. In it, she poses critical questions to white artists who, according to her, are missing the point because of their provocative, committed work at the expense of others. The piece was praised in social media comments, but also criticized. 'Sometimes I get negative reactions online under such a piece that I don't respond to,' she says firmly. 'But if people send me a personal message, I like to talk to them.'

Rotterdam dreams

Diversity in the workplace is an important topic for Van Berkel, who emphasizes that functions must reflect the colorful society. For example, too few people of color work in institutions, even in progressive art institutions. She shows that it can be done differently in the new podcast series from CBK Rotterdam, entitled The Dreamed City, which started in October 2020. In it, Van Berkel interviews Rotterdam artists about their favorite work in Rotterdam and the extent to which it relates to their own art. She also puts them to the test about their dreams and desires for the city. These artists have received an award from the R&D scheme, the research and development funding from CBK Rotterdam. Or for the smaller project subsidy scheme PPR.

'I started working on the podcast series in the summer, together with Xandra Nibbeling,' she says. 'It is planned that this will be published six times a year. I get to decide who to talk to, and I love that. I think it is important to invite artists of color and from the LGBTIQ + community and let them have their say as much as possible. Because their voice needs to be heard more. ' For the first episode she spoke with Sandim Mendes, visual artist with a Cape Verde background.

I think it is important to invite artists of color and from the LGBTIQ + community and let them have their say as much as possible

The podcast is not the only innovation at CBK Rotterdam that Van Berkel is working on. She is currently finishing a video platform in a team, which will be launched after the summer. In it, the activities of the artists in the city are shown in moving images. 'We want to capture as much art as possible in Rotterdam,' she says. 'Social media are fun, but this is of a more in-depth nature, because it is creative and journalistic at the same time. The artists are selected in consultation with my colleagues, but they give me a lot of creative freedom. We don't know yet who will be the face of the platform; we might choose multiple presenters. Now we are still immersed in preparations to investigate all aspects of a video platform. Which formats work and which don't? YouTube is booming. It is important for CBK Rotterdam to keep innovating. '

She regrets that too few young people know what CBK Rotterdam stands for. One of her tasks is to make this more public. 'Most of the art you see in the city is provided or supported by CBK Rotterdam, but most people do not know this or take it for granted,' says Van Berkel. 'That is why it is important to be able to show those works of art via videos. In this way art comes to life more, not only among young people but also among other generations. I fervently hope that art will be more disseminated and that people who see a video of a work of art become curious and look for it in the city. '

Publication date: 13 / 05 / 2021