Proposal for Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project 2014

Written in cooperation with Maurice Meewisse

In my work I use manual labour as a way to create narratives. I develop performances around manual work, taking the role of workman upon myself. My focus is on the process itself as well as the outcome. In this age of intangible knowledge-based work, digital production and computer-engineered perfection, I try to distill a back-to-basics approach to manual labour and to take an aesthetic view on the physicality of work. Through my work I pay homage to persistence and unfaltering determination and the mentality which underlies these traits. I look for a heroic portrayal of man willing to sacrifice himself out of a necessity or for a common good.

I have selected three exhibitions which in different ways illustrate my areas of interest and my working methods. Experience gathered in these projects will be useful in my work in Cheng Long Wetlands.

For the solo exhibition If only I were.. (2012) in Onomatopee, Eindhoven, I converted the exhibition space into a life-sized room installation, complete with a roof made out of green roofing plates to heighten the feeling of being inside a shed or a workshop.

Inside, I exhibited smaller works; samples of driftwood, a pine balk, rows of bricks made from clay collected in the Netherlands and Denmark and a bottle of freshwater extracted from a well dug on a beach. Distinctive for all the works was that they were made by samples of raw material collected in nature, some of them later processed. All of these collections required various types of manual work. This installation told a tale about a manual labourer; his work and his determination to complete the various tasks he had taken on.

If only I were.. is illustrative of my work, as manual labour is always a key point. This is also my starting point in Cheng Long, where manual work - construction - is the element that connects me with the local fishing community.

Labour as a theme becomes even more clear and distilled in my work Ramp (2013), a nine day long performance during the art festival Oerol on the Dutch island Terschelling.
For my work at Oerol I created a large-scaled construction site on the beach. The purpose of the site was seemingly to build a large monument, but in actuality the construction site itself was the monument, with a worker (myself) continuously working on it during the festival.

I built a four meter high sloping ramp of sand, getting a head start with a digging machine and later switched to manual work, working with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, eight hours a day. To access the ramp, I built a narrow walking path out of timber. The sand ramp functioned as a stage for the continuing performance with me working on making it larger by adding sand to it, and as a viewing point for visitors. People took off their shoes and laid down in the sand, children brought shovels and rolled and jumped down the sloping sides, turning it into a playground. Having visitors climbing up the ramp generated more work, as I was 'repairing' the sliding or collapsing of the sand, and as such there was an ongoing interaction between the visitors and me.

During Kunsten i Bevægelse (Art on the move) (2013), an art project started by the Danish Ministry of Culture to promote art in small communities in peripheral Denmark, I travelled between three villages and collected wood for a large communal bonfire in each village. In collaboration with local inhabitants, I gathered wood for my fires by walking around the village with a small cart onto which I tied the different kinds of donated wood. People gave me regular firewood, but also wooden pallets, tables, old chicken cages and even an outworn wooden harvester. In every village I was helped by school children, who assisted me in the gathering of wood, loading and pulling of the cart and building up the bonfire. Each of the three working periods ended with these large communal bonfires on a central location in the village, and I invited all residents to join the finishing party. By the bonfires I served home-made aquavit infused with the flavours of the local area, such as native grasses and amber.

In this project, I see manual work as the link between the Cheng Long fishing community and myself. The community is dependent on their fishing huts for many reasons, and the huts provide a base for the working lives of the fishermen.

To carry out their work, functioning huts are crucial. To me this is an interesting challenge; how can my artistic labour contribute to their physical labour and working environment? In deliberation with the fishermen, I will carry out repairs, acknowledging the importance of these huts as frames for the fishing industry in the area. As such they are an integral part of both the fishing industry and the village community.

As a starting point I will seek out a number of huts in need of repair or improvement; windows or doors that need repairs, a roof that needs fixing, a wall that needs mending etc. In close dialogue with the owners of the huts, I will get an overview of the needed repairs and together with the fishermen make a plan to meet their individual needs.

My project will consist of two parts: The dialogue and collaboration with the local fishing community resulting in the series of repairs is one side of it. Next to this project, I will build a folly - a sculptural structure which incorporates all the various repairs I have made on the fishing huts. I will build this folly together with local school children.

The productivity of a natural ecosystem depends to a great extent on its ability to conserve and recycle its nutrient resources. Inspired by the successful ecosystem in the Cheng Long fish farms, I wish to integrate recycled materials, recycling and reusing the available resources of the area. The folly will be built using only recycled and natural materials and will be placed in the village to be used as the local residents wish - as a playhouse for children, a place to have a barbecue or simply to enjoy as a sculpture.

The folly will be like a reversed blueprint, a working model completed concurrently with the building, uniting all the modifications of the huts in one work. I will make small-scale versions of the individual parts which I have repaired, and the folly will be built out of fragmented sections, each part representing a different hut. In this way, the process itself will show in the folly; after I have repaired e.g. a wall, I will build a wall on the folly. After I have fixed a roof, the folly will get a roof.

The folly will reflect the working period and will be a tribute to the fishing industry in the area. It represents diversity and unity simultaneously, as each element has a direct connection with a specific fishing hut. At the same time they are all interconnected in the hut-like structure, built by the children of the village and symbolising the overarching fellowship and sense of community in Cheng Long.