Artist's portrait Madelon Hooykaas


View of wind by Madelon Hooykaas is a recent addition to the Rotterdam sculpture collection. A robust stainless steel sculpture leans like a figurehead over the water of the Zevenhuizerplas in Nesselande.
The work was created by the internationally acclaimed artist and filmmaker Madelon Hooykaas (1942). As one of the pioneers in the field of video art, working closely with the Scottish artist Elsa Stansfield (1945-2004) for a long time, she has developed an extensive oeuvre. The work, in which past and present, water and light are recurring themes, is included in collections of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Britain in London, among others. Hooykaas talked to Marjolein Geraedts about her artistry and the artwork View of wind. The interview gives an impression of a passionate artist who is still active today.

This art project in Nesselande has a long history. Can you tell us something about that?
Elsa Stansfield and I started this project in 2002, when Nesselande was still a polder. From the Middle Ages this was a swampy peat area that has been cultivated by humans over the centuries. Peat extraction and peat extraction created large ponds surrounded by polders. When we were commissioned to create a work of art for this place in the context of the percentage scheme, the construction of Nesselande had only just started - hardly anyone lived there yet. Precisely because this area was still such an empty place, we thought it was important that an artist be present at an early stage. After an extensive period of research, we came up with the proposal to make a sculpture on the water, where an artist can also work at the same time. At that time, no one dared to develop our proposal; of course an organization also had to be set up for this.
Elsa and I have often worked as artists-in-residence, in Banff, in San Francisco, in Iceland, all over the world. That was always very inspiring, for ourselves, but also for the environment. It was the local residents you came into contact with and to whom you presented your work.

Madelon Hooykaas, 'View of wind', 2023

The final design is a weather vane. How did you come up with the design for this artwork?
I thought it was very important to create a work of art that is site-specific, designed especially for Nesselande. Elsa and I have been doing that since the 5,5s; we made environments and installations that related to the geographical, cultural or social place - whether in nature or in an art institution. With this new work of art we wanted to refer to the fact that the Nesselande district is XNUMX meters below sea level. This makes it one of the lowest places in the Netherlands. We would like future residents to become aware of this. That is why the blue light ring indicates the New Amsterdam Level. Even though the water goes up and down, the NAP remains the same. Twenty years later it has become a kind of prophetic message; Nowadays many more people are concerned with the climate - although as a society we should have been much more aware of it at the time. I'm very happy that the work finally happened.

Not only the sea level, but also the wind plays a major role in this place.
During my visits to Nesselande I noticed that there were always many windsurfers on the Zevenhuizerplas. Because the wind direction is of course essential for them, I wanted to make a work that makes the wind visible. Then I developed the idea of ​​the weather vane. Thanks to the yellow-green phosphorescent paint, the weather vane glows at night.
In the past, Elsa and I have worked a lot with wind. So we have in 1984 Compass created a wind installation at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, for the first major exhibition of video art in Europe: The Luminous Image. On the roof of the Stedelijk Museum we have placed a weather vane with a camera that is connected to four screens, each located in a corner of the museum hall - referring to the four directions of a compass. Each monitor shows existing images and sounds from nature, but are abruptly pushed away as soon as the wind vane on top of the roof starts rotating.

Here on the table is a copy of a print by Wassily Kandinsky. Has this work inspired you?
As a young girl in Rotterdam I was fascinated by it Lyrical (1911), a painting of a horse with rider that hung in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Later I studied Kandinsky's work; he is still one of my favorite artists. I saw this print by Kandinsky in the Center Pompidou in Metz, and I immediately loved it. The Morse characters and the mystery they radiate were inspiring. Art and spirituality were very important to him, the invisible. These are themes that I am also very concerned with.

Wassily Kandinsky, print, Center Pompidou collection

I see View of wind in that place as a beacon, marking past and present. Did you mean it that way?
Yes, you can definitely see it that way. But I also think it is important that people give their own interpretation to the work of art. So many developments have taken place in this place over the past twenty years. When we started the project there were only meadows, no beach and so on. Slowly but surely we saw how such an area takes shape. The existing lake was doubled in size especially for this construction project, which was very exciting to see. And of course there were houses, shops, a metro, etc. This place in Nesselande has now grown into a top location with a beautiful view.

Yet the work is also about something invisible, namely the wind. This means that the work of art is not so much the object itself, but the wind – as soon as you feel or hear that wind. Can you tell us something about that layering?
The wind is of course something invisible, so I try to make it visible. This double layer is also in the foundation of the artwork, which is connected to the water and refers to the NAP that is fixed. But on that solid base, the weather vane is always moving. This constant change is also reflected in our sculpture Shelter (1995), a kind of 'dish antenna' on the dune near Wijk aan Zee. If you sit in the shell, you will hear different sounds of the sea, the surf, the beach, the wind, people, birds and boats - and the silence.

Stansfield/Hooykaas, 'Abri', 1993, Wijk aan Zee

Photography and video have now been transformed from an artistic art form into tools that are accessible to everyone. Every day we are inundated by thousands of (digital) images. As a pioneer of video art, how do you view this development?
Due to the digitalization of media, everyone nowadays takes photos and videos, and everyone seems to be able to write. Artists are currently working in many different media and doing all kinds of things on the side: they do performances and make exhibitions. Perhaps this is also necessary in these times to keep our heads above water financially. What strikes me is that a lot of work is about a single theme, while I find the combination of form and subject fascinating: how is a work of art made? In Stansfield/Hooykaas' practice, video is very sculptural. Many of our works are environments, because many different things come together. As a result, there isn't one point of view towards the screen, you can walk through it and experience the work in different ways through sound, video, sculpture and photography.

How was your pioneering work received in the early days of video art?
Working with video was not accepted at all in the Netherlands. Reviews often expressed the expectation that video art would blow over within a year. Fortunately, Elsa and I have also been able to work a lot outside the Netherlands. It was difficult in those early days because the medium had no history. It was very exciting to try new things. But after our exhibition in London's Whitechapel Gallery in 1976 with three videos and photography, the De Appel art center in Amsterdam also became interested. This is how it works in the Netherlands: you first have to be picked up abroad before you are appreciated here. Nowadays there is virtually no exhibition that does not contain video, and galleries have also adopted video in the form of limited editions - video art now has a much more commercial character than in the early days.

In recent years, there have been some striking developments in the art world, particularly the rise of women and the formation of artist collectives. For example, the main exhibition of the most recent Venice Biennale consisted only of women, and at Documenta the power of the art collective was central.
When Elsa and I started making work together, collaborations were virtually non-existent. Nowadays everyone works together, everyone is in one artist collective. In our time no one understood what that meant. We were always asked: 'what do you do and what does the other person do?' For that reason it was also difficult to apply for a subsidy, while nowadays cooperation seems to be a condition for qualifying for a subsidy.
Later, during the feminist wave, Stansfield/Hooykaas's work was very popular for exhibitions because it was good for subsidy applications. We were not always happy with that, because our work does not have a feminist character in terms of content. Our work was not directly about the person behind the artist, which is much more of a trend these days. Nowadays art is not so much about the work itself, but about the person, who makes it and about the background of the artist. There has been a major shift from universal to individual. What strikes me is that nowadays the type of art that can be seen in exhibitions is often directed from above, and active policy is drawn up. I prefer a more organic method.

Stansfield/Hooykaas, 'Compass', 1984, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Are there any young artists from the current generation that you follow?
There are always young artists doing interesting things. They have new ideas and a fresh perspective, all of which still has to crystallize. When I give workshops at art schools, I advise young artists to look back at early video art. They often say that you can never do anything new that way. To that I say that it is not about whether something is new, but about your interpretation. I have very specific ideas about this: a work of art only exists when it is in the world. By this I mean to say that it is extremely important to me that the work gets out into the world. I am not an artist who makes ten paintings and works on them in her studio every day. I do a lot of research and have a lot of ideas that I will develop at some point.

Stansfield/Hooykaas has created dozens of works over the years, mostly in video, a medium that is very vulnerable these days. In what ways can the public view your oeuvre?
Elsa and I are both not the type of artists who keep track of exactly which works we made in a book. After her death in 2004, I felt very responsible for the work and asked people from the art world for advice, after which the idea arose to inventory the work. An intern from the UvA master's program Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image assisted me for a year and a half with the inventory of the works that Elsa and I created until 2004.
I also got the book in 2010 Revealing the Invisible and established a foundation in 2012 with the idea of ​​having a number of key works go to museums or collectors so that the work can continue to be seen. For example, the Tate Gallery purchased one of our works in 2018; it took no less than five years to achieve that. The Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht and Muhka in Antwerp also have our work in their collections. However, there are still many works of art that need to be technically updated, because they were created with the first computers at the time. Finally, there are plans for exhibitions with MIMA in Middlesbrough and Kettle's Yard in Cambridge. There is a lot of interest in my work in Great Britain at the moment.

Madelon Hooykaas and Louis Andriessen, 'Everything is round', 2019-2020, Centraal Museum, Utrecht

What are you currently working on?
A new book is out in September The Artist as Explorer, arrived at Japanese Sam Books. In my previous publication, Revealing the Invisible, ten authors from science, art and spirituality wrote about the work of Stansfield/Hooykaas. For the new publication I asked some authors to write about specifically my own work. That idea felt good, because I wanted to highlight the period prior to my collaboration with Elsa a little more. I then lived in Paris, Brussels, London and New York, and worked mainly with photography. Yet the book also pays attention to my current work, so that there is a good balance between the past and the present.

What does the title refer to? The Artist as Explorer?
The idea of ​​the artist as discoverer suits me very much, I conduct research at different levels. For example, in September 2022 I was artist-in-residence at Maison Dora Maar in Provence. I did all kinds of projects there: I make recordings, do research and I speak to all kinds of people. Then I let it rest a bit, after which everything comes together. Only at that moment does the work of art enter the world.

Publication date: 30 / 11 / 2023