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In Conversation | Marinda Vandenheede

October 10, 2021

 

We are thrilled to introduce Marinda Vandenheede as a new gallery artist. Belgian artist Vandenheede creates sculptural objects, works on paper, and paintings that employ natural, used, and discarded materials. Her paintings and drawings often contain a rough-edged, imperfect geometry combined with used paper and other repurposed surfaces – abstract, yet very much part of this world. Her objects border on the surreal as they repurpose recognisable worn and ageing items and worldly fragments.

Vandenheede’s practice embraces imperfection, atrophy, and stillness. It is a rejection of perfection, disconnectedness, and consumerism. “I use discarded, out-of-use things that no longer meet the exacting standards of our Western society, giving them a new life as works of art.” Layers of time and narrative potential are embedded in her materials. She invites viewers to take a moment to be still and to take a deeper look.

 

Tell us about your transition into a full-time artist?

As a child I was always very creative, I liked to draw and at 18 I graduated in graphic design. At the time computers were on the rise and graphic design was increasingly less about sketching and becoming more digital. I didn’t want a career where I would find myself sitting at a desk so searched for an alternative within graphic design and the possibility of furthering my design education. I found that the options that followed on from graphic design would eventuate at a desk, behind a computer.

So, I moved into occupational therapy, helping people with disabilities to function as normally as possible and supporting the tools and abilities to function in the current economic environment. I started working with sheltered employment companies, which is a model set up by the government to support people with disabilities in the workforce. I would support and assist the staff in many ways, including making specific tools designed to assist the employees with the manual, rapid repetitive work they were tasked with. Within the job, I picked up a lot of technical skills assembling things and that may be the link to my objects today.

After 15 years in the workplace, I decided to revive an old passion and attend the art academy, where I was introduced to conceptual art. After three years it was time to leave and it’s only then that I started to evolve as an artist -having just made the decision to become an artist.

 

Marinda Vandenheede
24 moments, 2019
teabags
200 x 300mm


Is there an influential moment/s that led to you becoming an artist?

There was a day we had in Paris, visiting the Centre Pompidou in 2015 which still resonates with me today.

We live about 2.5 hours away from Paris and it happens that, on a whim, we jump in the car in the morning and drive over. In the summer of 2015, on one such occasion, we happened to visit the Centre Pompidou without knowing anything about the artist that was featured at the time. By sheer luck, we visited an exhibition by Mona Hatoum. I was blown away by this conceptual artist who places the idea above everything else. She doesn’t stick to a single medium, it’s all about the idea. We learnt that almost none of her works are physically created by her own hands. That is done by a team of technically gifted people around her.

 

Mona Hatoum
Grater Divide, 2002
mild steel

 

Looking back, that is the day I decided to become a full-time artist and take the jump. That same day in the summer of 2015, on one of the lower floors of the Centre, we also visited the permanent collection. That’s where I first came to stand before one of Mondrian’s iconic works. What struck me most, was the imperfection of the lines and the edges of the coloured rectangles he’s famous for. The edges are ragged, not perfectly straight. That day, I realised I could let go of striving for perfection in my own artwork. The human eye sees what it wants to see and corrects those jagged lines. As if that wasn’t enough, I also saw my first Rothko that day. We stood for at least ten minutes, in awe of this work, discovering more and more layers in this ‘simple’ work.

 

There is this strong graphic form in your work, even within a lot of your sculpture, your use of mark making seems to be intentional. Is there a reason behind the shapes you are choosing/what informs the ink on the page?

As a graphic designer, I had always been interested in fonts and composition on pages, that’s where my interest in books comes from. I look at what font they are using and the spacing around the page; in between the letters; and on the line. The shapes themselves are very simple, mostly geometric forms. It’s about the contrast between the background and the foreground, I want to create a certain tension and composition. The shapes themselves are derived from a daily practice that I do.

Because of my health, I have to keep mobile and moving, I cannot remain in the same position for extended periods which makes it hard for me to concentrate as I have to interrupt myself a lot and do other things in between. Part of my therapy, or the way of coping, is Qigong which is an Eastern form of movement art related to Kung Fu, Karate and Tai Chi. They all come from the same origin and a lot of the shapes in my work are reflections of the postures- they are abstracted versions of Qigong exercises in many cases.

Marinda Vandenheede

Marinda Vandenheede
Pars Pro Toto – Civil Appeal IV, 2021
Ink on book pages from 1889
297 x 430 mm

 

 

A lot of your compositions are often set in pairs, there’s this kind of dual nature to them. How intentional is this? Even some of your sculptures tend to be made up of one or two or maybe three parts and are stripped back and paired, but very measured.

If you look closely, they’re not always mirrored, it’s not always the same left and right but many are. It’s always about the balance of the composition as a whole.  A lot of what I want to say is about balance in life and balance between nature and nurture, a tension between what is innate and what we have been taught by culture and taught by our education and that those two are equal and you need both to be a full human being in a healthy world.

 

A lot of your compositions are often set in pairs, there’s this kind of dual nature to them. How intentional is this? Even some of your sculptures tend to be made up of one or two or maybe three parts and are stripped back and paired, but very measured.

If you look closely, they’re not always mirrored, it’s not always the same left and right but many are. It’s always about the balance of the composition as a whole.  A lot of what I want to say is about balance in life and balance between nature and nurture, a tension between what is innate and what we have been taught by culture and taught by our education and that those two are equal and you need both to be a full human being in a healthy world.

 

Marinda Vandenheede

Marinda Vandenheede
The Only Way Out, Is In, 2021
wood & reclaimed cast iron locks
74 x 15 x 35 mm

The ruler is present throughout your recent works which speak to this balance and tension, are you able to see a ruler at a flea market and not take it home with you?

If I find a measuring implement in the second hand shop or something it’s usually coming home- without a certain plan or anything, but it’s usually used. It’s also a reflection on the whole COVID situation.

I don’t think you’ve had a lot of that in New Zealand because of your zero COVID strategy, but social distancing was very big here and still is. All the measures in place are being released now, but social distancing is probably the last to go and so that one and a half meters, or four feet, or two meters all around the world has been very significant. We all have developed a sort of in-built measuring instrument for one and a half meters here. When you see people coming together, they all stay at the same distance. If you’re going into the supermarket and you come too close to someone, you get a dirty look. Everybody’s very aware of that distance so a lot of the works with measuring and symmetry reflect on that as well.

 

Marinda Vandenheede
The Space Between Us, 2020
acrylic paintings on paper, supported on four reclaimed wooden rulers
1030 x 1400 x 3 mm

 

 

Could you tell us about the book pages from the Pars Pro Toto series?

The book from which most of the pages are taken for the Pars Par Toto series is a French legal dictionary that was used by students who wanted to be lawyers or judges in France. It dates from 1889. To give you some perspective that is also the year that the Eiffel tower was opened so it’s quite old, it’s 130 years old now. It used to belong to my sister, Evelyn who was two years younger than me. She passed away suddenly at 35 in 2013 from a massive heart attack. It’s a very strange feeling when you inherit stuff from your younger sister. We were walking through her house and, you know, you have to empty the place- it was going to be sold. One of the items that I kept was that book, not knowing what was in the book, but just because my sister was also someone who used to frequent the flea markets a lot so we had that similar interest in older and decaying things. There was a series of books on the coffee table and that was one of them. It was the biggest one on the bottom and we never opened it, we just used it as a beautiful item in itself, as an object. It took me years to muster up the courage. In 2020 I first opened it and saw that it was all about justice.

I have always felt that my sister’s passing was not very just, it was an unjust act of nature. It took a lot of courage to start disassembling the book, making the decision to use it as a background for my work.

 

 

 

Marinda Vandenheede
Pars Pro Toto – Absence I, 2020
Ink on book pages from 1889
297 x 430 mm

 

It’s a very personal piece and all the pages are part of the whole, that’s why the titles are Pars Pro Toto, which ties into what I believe in. Everything on this planet is connected to one another. We are part of nature, not the masters of nature, as nature has been showing us for the past two years. So, I started disassembling it and using the pages as a background. It’s a very thick volume and it’s only one volume, if we ever find volumes 2 – 13 I would have a lot of material, but we only have the one, the first volume with the words starting with A, so that’s why all the titles on the tops of the pages are judicial terms beginning with A. The terms are from Napoleonic law and that is still the basis for 90% of law in Europe today, so there’s a connection to today as well. A lot of that has survived into present day justice, certainly in Belgium.

The fact that my sister was fine one day and was not there the next was also one of the reasons that I, almost two years later said, “you know what, let’s go for it”. We decided not to become richer in euros or in money, but to make sure that I had the time to follow my passion.

 

And in terms of the shift from occupational therapy to moving into being an artist full time, how did you find that adjustment? I know that the occupational therapy informs the work but in terms of that kind of physical shift.

It was not really hard to leave occupational therapy behind. You see a lot of misery in the job. You have a lot of successes, but you also have a lot of failures. After 15 years it did wear on me, it was enough. I changed jobs a few times within the same sector, the last job was as a quality manager which removed me from the shop floor where I was doing all the creative and technical things, it meant sitting behind a desk, one step further from the people themselves that I could help. After two years of doing that, and my sister dying I decided that I needed something else.

The technical skills that I learnt there are still with me and of course the basic concept of the value of imperfection.

 

How does Spontaneity play into your practice?

It’s certainly not a process of making a lot of works and then seeing if one of them is good. Some of the process is spontaneous, yes, there is no planned outcome when I start a work, but it’s certainly not aimless. The aim of the work is clear. To create tension between the background and the foreground; the black geometric blocks and the grey text and white space. The three colours and the shapes are within that framework of the page and I then consider the four columns that are on the page. The framework is pretty rigid, but my process happens from within. It’s subconscious, it’s only when it’s on the paper that I realise that it’s a certain posture, or that it reflects a certain exercise. Sometimes I will sit at my table and at the end of the day have no results.

I have to be in a state of flow. I reach that by doing qigong exercises and going for walks in nature. We are fortunate enough to live about a kilometre from a river, so I walk by the river almost every day. That state of flow is important, it has been hard the past two years because the house has been busy. With my family working and doing their schooling from home, it has been challenging to find that peace, space and quiet to do my work.

It is a subconscious process, but that doesn’t mean that it is aimless or coincidental. It has always linked to something that I have seen; or felt; or done.

 

Marinda Vandenheede
Pars Pro Toto-Billboard I and II, Agent of Change I, 2021,
Ink on book pages from 1889,
297 x 430 mm (each)

 

 

How does that process carry through into your objects?

Very seldom does an object quickly become a work, it takes a lot of time. The pipe [from Marinda’s work titled This is Not a Pipe Dream] is one that we bought in France, from a flea market in Perpignan. The pipe has been laying out since the end of July and only last week was the clothespin- or the peg as you call it- added. The process is about combining things. It was a coincidence that the clothespin arrived on the table at the same time as the pipe and that they were close to each other. When you look at the pipe, starting from the head of the pipe, the stem is round, but if you go towards the mouth it flattens out.  If you look at the shape of a clothespin, where it pins, it’s not really round so the shape itself dictated where the pin had to go.

Once the object is there it’s a matter of reflecting. Reflecting on Rene Magritte and his pipe Ceci n’est pas une pipe. It’s also a statement about my belief in myself because a pipe dream reflects on the opium pipes at the time and the unrealistic visions that you have when you smoke opium and a lot of people have told me to forget about being an artist “you’ll never make any money and you’ll be poor..”, et cetera. This is not a pipe dream is a statement of belief in myself, as well as a reflection on Magritte and a reflection on my own practice.

Marinda Vandenheede
This is Not a Pipe Dream, 2021
clothespin & pipe
60 x 230 x 80 mm

 

You can’t force two objects together, it doesn’t work, the objects dictate what should happen. There’s a feeling, so it fits. That’s why sometimes objects are laying there for over a year and you’re thinking it won’t happen, then you see something and think, oh yes, that’s it and it fits, but it has to come from feeling. When you force the process, it doesn’t work.

 

 

Marinda Vandenheede
Pursuasion, 2020
wood and steel
85 x 100 x 135 mm

 

 

What are you reading/watching at the moment? 

I don’t read fiction or really like movies. I spend a lot of time at qigong which has really helped with my health and medical condition. COVID has helped with that because of the lockdown here in Europe there were no qigong courses and a lot of Buddhist qigong masters started giving online coaching and online training, which made it a lot more accessible. So, now you don’t only get to the tutorials on YouTube for instance, for the movements, but they also talk about the philosophy behind it and I spend a lot of time taking that in and growing in qigong. It’s poetry in motion.

 

Have you got a work that has been difficult to part with?

We talked a little bit about the book that was owned by my sister, I had to reach a threshold to start working on it and then selling it. Because the work comes from within, from my feeling and belief, they are equally difficult to part with, or equally easy, as you want to put it. Maybe the cover of that book would be the last piece that I’d want to hold onto because it reminds me of Evelyn.

The most difficult part is not selling the works but having the courage to show them. It took a long time to gather the confidence to make myself vulnerable to feedback, to critics.

Marinda Vandenheede
Pars Pro Toto-Public, 2021
Ink on book pages from 1889
297 x 430 mm

Images of the artist’s work included in this interview are courtesy of the artist.

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View works by Marinda Vandenheede here and get in touch to request a catalogue of available works.