World Artists and their Story, 17 - Robin Kolleman
On a Sunny summer day in July I was visiting the studio of Robin Kolleman. It’s a big space, a former classroom. In addition she has a smaller room where she scrapes and sands. For example, on mannequins that have a first life as mannequin behind, but now get a new life as art.
“There comes off so much dust and debris, even with a mask it penetrates”, she says. Not so long ago she had one room available, a basement, not too high, causing the grit and dust lingering and some images could not even stand completely upright. She is happy that she now has this new workplace.
The look, the touch and the encroachment
Opposite us, I see anumber of sculptures. In addition on a table and in the corner sculptures made of a white flexible substance, people in various poses. Out of which idea is this work made?
Robin Kolleman: “I study the border area of the physical, social interaction. Where are the limits? There are limits how close you can get to someone. But that depends on the person.” She taps her finger against my arm. “You can get scared from the smallest touch. But also from being looked at. Sometimes a look is killing. You come into someone’s personal space. This can cause all kinds of reactions. An assertive person sends the other away, but not everyone is equally assertive. And every person has other boundaries. Most people treat it unconciously. I distinguish three types of contact: the look, the touch and the encroachment. In other words: beauty, eroticism and death.”
Do not touch
In 1995 she had an exhibition ‘Do not touch’ with a number of installations and videos. On several floors of a building were there to see: ‘a rhythm’, ‘a look’, ‘a voice’ and ‘a memory’. The latter was a dense white circle on the floor consisting of feathery flock loose white powder. The circle with a diameter of about four meters almost filled the entire room. Incident light was reflected and scattered by the white fluffy material. It was not possible to walk around it, without affecting the smooth contour. ‘A memory’ is a first keywork, she says.
‘A rhythm’ was displayed on a monitor. It was a black and white video of the dimple in a female neck between the clavicles. The dimple came up slowly through breathing. A calm rising and falling movement of the skin without sound. An hour long. The clavicles remained fixed as a horizontal line in the center of the image, while the skin slid over it in the vertical direction.
On another monitor you saw ‘a voice’. A video of an hour as well. You saw the pulling and falling movements of the abdomen of a woman, with varying degrees of vehemence, by a transparent red cross screen. Robin: “It’s a singing breath. When you are with another person you unconciously take over the breathing rhythm of the other person.”
Robin: “In this exhibition I formulated for the first time the above mentioned three concepts which are still guiding my research and development. Hence the choice for my first keywork.”
Epos 7, Renamed Ophelia
She stopped with the videos and installations. “I had to do with a deadline. That gave a lot of pressure. I wanted to get rid of that.” But the theme is still there, now in images. How did she find the theme? “Through personal experience and what I saw and heard from other people. It gradually developed after I graduated from the art academy.”
We look at the sculptures in the studio. ‘Epos 2, The death of Aphrodite’. It was in Istanbul, at a sculpture biennial in Bredelar, Germany, and in Amsterdam’s Old Church. On a stone a dancing lady with ballet shoes with a skull looking up. “An optimistic sculpture. Very elegant but also super painful, with her near-death shoes. It shows: how alive you are, you carry the death with you. Brain cells have no restoring force. From the moment you are born, you are on your way to your death.”
On the ground lies a lady in pieces, a kind of puppet. It’s ‘Epos 7, Renamed Ophelia’. The story of Ophelia is the mythical story of the impossible love. Kolleman: “Once again death and life. I was looking for a lying mannequin, which wasn’t so easy. Initially I wanted to put her in the water, in a net. But that was not quite the solution. I then cut her in pieces and chopped off the skull. All those mannequins have strong square jaw lines, which I didn’t want. Therefore I softened the face, I made it more feminine. The head I slightly raised, with a smile on it. It makes you briefly think: does she sleep?”
Epos 6, Faith, hope and love
And then a sculpture that is a second key work: ‘Epos 6, Faith, hope and love’. It is still not exhibited. You see a woman in burka, but then a translucent burka. She cannot see anything, the textile is not translucent in front of her eyes. Robin: “Someone with a burka in the West, lays bare her soul, her faith. She sees the non-sympathetic, sometimes even disapproving looks through the window of gauze. That’s why I have made the burka transparent. In Islamic countries this is not the case, the woman in burka will feel safer there.”
At the head of the lady sits a seagull smeared with tar and feathers. “I received comments that with those gull I imported the right-wing political party PVV, of Geert Wilders. Indeed, the PVV has a gull in its logo. I hesitated. The PVV claims to be the party of freedom. While it terribly mistreats freedom. But then I thought I should do it right, because it shows that we laugh at freedom.”
The burka sculpture ‘Epos 6, Faith, hope and love’, is an illustration of the development Robin Kolleman went through from focus on the individual and personal to more social issues. Kolleman: “I’m going to continue . At the same time there is a slow development from highly figurative to abstract. But social content will be increased the coming years. With themes that are permanent, that are still acute over 30 years. Violence against women for example, torture and other acts of war.”
Japanese paper clay
The abstraction is to be seen in the ‘line art’. made from Japanese paper clay. “A Japanese girl who was a while in the Netherlands used it. It is special material. It requires a lot of caution and precision.” On the table are several female figures in a line, on the wall there are some, and she puts one on the ground that doesn’t fall down. I see a ballet dancer, a pregnant woman, a woman with a hook at the neck, “‘the attitude of ISIS’, someone who is going to be beheaded.” Depending on the position of the sun outside the line works take other forms. “While making them, I find out my interpretation.”
We’d almost forgotten the gauze-work. Robin Kolleman appears to be the only one who uses this material in the Netherlands. At the moment I interviewed her there were two gauze-artworks at an exhibition in gallery Vanessa Quang in Paris at a show with the name Sin e Angulo. A globe as a massive gauze ball. “We have exhausted the earth. The earth needs protection.” And she made a man consisting of enlarged cells of gauze.
No Photo / Fragments of agony \ agitation
In 2011 she made the exhibition ‘No Photo / Fragments of agony \ agitation’, consisting of 21 body parts of gauze, including heart, skin, lung, kidney, eye, ear, brain, veins system. It was to be seen in Italy, Brescia and the Dutch Photo Museum. She shows me a bandage roll. “The works are from solid gauze, I do not start with a core. I unroll the first bandage roll from scratch. It takes a lot of force to wind the bandage. It gets my hands hurt. It works almost meditative. You can bring your mind to other things. I still work with it.” Later, she accidentally discovered the link of No Photo with Ex Voto, an object, often a body part, Catholics put near the sculpture of a saint, often at a place of pilgrimage. Through much prayer they hope that healing occurs.
A long time Robin has had an extra half job as a curator at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam. That center has a number of galleries. Than she a private foundation to organize exhibitions on site. The advantage of the curatorship was that she met many artists. She has also done a lot of cooperative projects. Amongst them 14 years with Foundation B.a.d. and with Charley Case from Brussels, who asked her to participate at the just mentioned Paris exhibition. Three years ago she decided to concentrate almost exclusively on her own work. The result is that her work is developing faster.
At the moment I interviewed her, she was busy preparing for a solo exhibition at galerie Hommes and with a work for the outdoor exhibition at the Avenue Concordia Rotterdam. We walk into the other studio space. I see a sculpture of two persons: Adam and Eve. A few weeks later it was for all to see.