http://www.kirstenleenaars.nl
http://kirstenleenaars.wordpress.com/

Bio

Assistant Professor, Contemporary Practices (2008). BFA, 2000, Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam; MA, 2003, Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam; MFA, 2007, University of Illinoise Chicago. Exhibitions/Festivals: Ackland Museum, Chapel Hill; MCA, Chicago; Glass Curtain Gallery, Chicago; North6018, Chicago; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago; Cultural Center, Chicago; Co-Prosperity, Chicago; Traveling Tehran Biennale, Istanbul; Berlin, NY; Contemporary Art Workshop, Chicago; LOOP Festival, Barcelona; Gallery 400, Chicago; Witte de With, Rotterdam. Publications: The Art of the Encounter; Erik Hagoort; Looking Encountering; Staging; Steve Rushton. Awards: Propeller Award; FBKVB Project Bijdrage; Start Stipendium; FBKVB; Provost Award, UIC.


Personal Statement

I am fascinated by the human species and collector of personal stories. I am interested in how these personal accounts reflect upon the larger narratives we are all part of. Through my art practice I have developed a more complete and diverse understanding of the complexity of the world we live in. I believe that is why I make art, and how my work is driven by every day encounters. My neighbors, my colleagues, my students, friends, family, strangers, every single one of them has a story to tell. And every encounter is an opportunity to connect.

I grew up with a father who is an avid amateur photographer. World Press Photo books and The Family of Men were stacked on our shelves and countless family albums were not only evidence of this passion, but also a record of his love for the ones closest to him. This is not only how my interest in documentary photography was sparked, but also how I started to look at photography as an act of love. Later on, in my own work, I started to try to articulate this relationship between seeing and love while at the same time trying to capture glimpses of a shared humanity and acknowledge the vulnerable state of being human. It was a given for me to actually work with people in my work, since human relationships and the way we relate are at the core of my work. I would say that in the way I work my interest in documentary practices is still reflected. Like a documentary maker the relationship between my subjects and me is pivotal to the creation of the work. It is a careful relationship of trust. I believe we have an inherent desire to want to connect and feel connected. To recognize that simple fact in how we foster relationships of any kind is what I mean when I speak of love, acceptance or connectedness.

I was born in the Netherlands, a small crowded country under sea level. Where human nature prevailed and men made land out of water. That sense of potentiality is ingrained in my soul. I was raised with the following paradoxical doctrine: don't stand out, acting normal is already quite crazy enough?. In addition I grew up believing in Sinterklaas, not Santa Claus. A Turkish Saint on a white horse living in Spain, making an annual trip to my home country by boat. This is how my art making started, crafting traditional Sinterklaas presents, products of tinkering, aimed at giving a beloved a gift with the appearance of something completely different, accompanied by a poem, serving as a mocking form of portraiture. All this is inextricably interwoven with my interest in the wide scope of manifestations of humanness and discovering potential. Early aspirations of becoming a spy, a detective or an anthropologist are still present in my work, but the pleasure of making trumped these ambitions and I turned out to be an artist instead.


Current Interests

In developing my practice I have found my video projects could be realized in remarkable ways when working in the spaces where people?s lives played out. My work could be described as "site-specific" or "community based", but for me it isn't about naming a movement; it is about connection. It is about fostering a space for listening, for being present, for acknowledgement, play and trust. Establishing a responsive and generative relationship to a place and the people who inhabit and give meaning to this place. I aim to create works that are the means by which we enter—through imagination and the emotions they evoke—into other forms of relationship and participation than our own. As they tell a common and enlarged story, connecting to the larger reality of which we are all part.

Key to establishing these relationships is to stay open and let the process lead my intuitions, insights, and ideas. Without a preconceived path, taking care to listen to the people who are participating and paying attention to the context, I see where the process takes me. I do define a set of parameters for each project, but am excited about where a project can go and am comfortable with the uncertainty of not knowing exactly, improvising, responding to the situation at hand. This uncertainty asks me to be present and aware at all times. I would say my work finds its origin in my love for people. This is not "love" in the merely personal sense, but rather love as a state of being. This love takes the form of a state of awareness and of acceptance.

A project always starts with a set of questions. Responding to a given situation (the death of my grandmother in Folding Within You, Without You), a community (exploring notions of happiness in the Edgewater neighborhood in Under Construction) or site, (producing a soap opera about the museum with staff and visitors at the MCA in On Our Way to Tomorrow). I start to collect personal stories in response to these questions. I see this as a collaborative form of research. These stories form the starting point for developing a script in which my participants will perform themselves. The script is further developed through drawing, sculpture and text based work. These works become than my version of a storyboard, allowing for fluidity, improvisation, and continuation of a responsive process. Rather than working with a fully prescribed script I ask my participants to perform a set of actions. Letting them make their own choices and bring their interpretation of their part to the piece. Hence creating a space for idiosyncrasies and poetry to happen. Pushing the relationship between imagination and reality, between performance and authenticity. Creating a fictional narrative familiar enough to an audience to allow for their entry and potential absorption. With imagination giving shape to the way we relate to each other and the way we relate to the world we live in.

 

Disclaimer: All work represents the views of the INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS & AUTHORS who created them, and are not those of the school or museum of the Art Institute.