It’s been a few months since we last heard from Thomas Kuijpers. As the recipient of the Grolsch Unseen Residency 2017, he's been busy carrying out research for his project In Search of Something Better in Stockholm, which explores the concept of utopia and dystopia in a Swedish context. Just a week before the results of his research go on display at Unseen Amsterdam, we caught up to find out about his time overseas.
You spent two months in Stockholm carrying out your research. Did your status as a temporary resident influence this process? How did perceptions of the people you came across and interviewed differ from general perceptions of people in the Netherlands?
First thing I tried to do was get a grip on what is currently going on in Stockholm, what are the overarching things that keep people busy? I bought different newspapers every day, and even though I couldn’t read what was written, the images gave an idea. I tried to talk to as many people as possible, but I found out quite quickly that most Stockholmers aren’t into making small talk with strangers. I don’t think that had to to do with me being a temporary resident, they just stay in their bubble, more than we are used to see in Amsterdam, for instance. Though, after talking with a variety of people I found out the problems residents in Stockholm experience are quite similar to what we see all over Europe.
In what ways do you portray these frictions and similarities in your artwork?
I tried to ‘map’ every voice I heard, no matter the political perspective or vision for the future these people shared with me, whether I agreed with them or not. I think this collection of visions gives an interesting view on how the current situation in Europe is experienced by a range of different thinkers. They express the current problems we’re facing, but also stimulate us to think about what can be beyond these problems, to reinstate the long-term vision. The most interesting parts of these conversations are collected as a dialogue in the film Desti- which will premiere at Unseen. Besides the film, a series of works that are loosely inspired by some of these quotes will be shown. For me these works depict the current problems, revolving around the film - which searches for answers.
From where does your interest in the concept of utopia and dystopia (in an urban context) arise?
Well to me this interest is mainly a political one. Growing up I saw politicians as people who tried to project their ideal future onto the voters, a future that provided perspective and a vision for better times. The current status of politics is more to be described as ‘damage control’, and it’s been quite a while since I heard a projection or vision that shows a bright future. I think this is the underlying aspect for the reason much of us experience these times as ‘dystopian’.
How did the process of developing a commissioned project differ to the development of your own self-initiated work?
It felt pretty much like a self-initiated work since I wrote the plan myself and didn’t really have anyone telling me what to do. The only different thing to me, which opposed how I usually work, was the time pressure. Usually, I take a lot more time to do a project like this. But this brought me a really nice perspective - I had to work fast, didn’t have all too much time for extended research, and had to trust my gut in a lot of moments. That is something I really brought home from this and will probably permanently change my way of working, for which I’m super grateful!
Image: Thomas Kuijpers during his residency, 2018 © Martijn Melis (Direct of Photography, CZAR)