Together with Dutch model and literature graduate Valentijn de Hingh, I pay a visit to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam to view Isa Genzken: Mach Dich hübsch! The exhibition is the first retrospective of one of the most influential artists in the last forty years. We talked with Valentijn about art, gender and today’s zeitgeist.

What is your vision on identity? How would you relate this to Isa Genzken her work?

I believe identity is nothing more than a social passport. Who you are doesn’t matter, until the moment comes when you connect with others. Then all of a sudden you need to know who you are and others need to know this as well. The thing with modern art is that you have to fill in the blanks. Isa Genzken provides more than enough space for this. For that matter, she’s the benchmark for a good contemporary artist.

‘The thing with modern art is that you have to fill in the blanks. Isa Genzken provides more than enough space for this. For that matter, she’s the benchmark for a good contemporary artist.’

The exhibition has a lot of interfaces with the fashion industry concerning identity: When a photographer or stylist envisions an identity, I have to translate this to reality using impressions and movement. Isa Genzken uses objects to shape an identity….the Nefertiti statues for example. They’re all wearing different kinds of sunglasses. In your mind, this causes you to think they’re all different women, with different identities. But in fact they’re all one and the same.

Isa Genzken, “Nofretete”, 2014

Isa Genzken, “Nofretete”, 2014 - picture by Gert Jan van Rooij

People are a melting pot of many different elements. Isa uses a lot of collages, different objects; all these things that other people don’t see the value of, to make something new. I read that her work is being called ‘contemporary ruin’. We’re so used to ruins from past times, but how will the ruins from our time look? I think Isa Genzken is quite close to this with her work. A lot of concrete and Michael Jackson posters I’d imagine. By making these ruins now, putting them in a museum, you’re creating the archaeology for our time. By using objects, you’re forming an identity for a nation or even a single person.

We’re so used to ruins from past times, but how will the ruins from our time look? I think Isa Genzken is quite close to this with her work. A lot of concrete and Michael Jackson posters I’d imagine.

You work as a model in the fashion industry: what role does fashion play in creating your identity?

Fashion is an extension of what happens on the inside. When you’re transgender, people look at what’s between your legs to define what you are. But our clothes say so much more about what we want to project. I wouldn’t mind if gender would disappear completely. It’s unfair that something so objective defines so much.

Most people are so stuck in the he/she kind of story.

Most people are so stuck in the he/she kind of story. Transgenders are now somewhat accepted, but only if they finally leave the ‘grey area’. After the surgery they must be able to fit either the box labelled man or the box labelled woman. If they stay somewhere in between, in that grey area where a lot of transgenders remain, people find it too difficult. They don’t want to come up to someone saying: Hey, I can’t completely place you, how do you want me to address you? What suits you? But we do have to get past this in order to break taboos surrounding gender.

There are a lot of transgender people that either don’t have that kind of money for plastic surgery or simply don’t want it.


Take Caitlin Jenner for instance, people accept her because they think she turned out well…she’s feminine, glamorous! They can finally place her again. In contrast to her, there are a lot of transgender people that either don’t have that kind of money for plastic surgery or simply don’t want it. They stay in the grey area. When this group can also ride the wave of acceptance we will have truly accomplished something.

How would you describe today's Zeitgeist?

Today’s zeitgeist can be best described as standing at a crossroads: we have to choose between good and evil. For me, thinking in political terms, it seems like we’re going in the wrong direction. Especially our reaction to what is happening around us: people lean towards right-wing extremism.

Around me I notice two different movements. The first one includes people that have a progressive image of how the world should be. They’re trying to work on a creative response to the traditional ‘box-thinking’. The second one is a backlash to this movement. People crawling into their corners and don’t want to come out anymore. They have access to unlimited information online, everything’s possible, but they focus on safety and withdraw into themselves.

Sex is everywhere, but we only want to get married and have a traditional family. My generation is so much more prudish than my parents.

We are described as a connected generation, but I have the feeling we’re so much more on our own little islands and we won’t leave them so easily anymore. And why would we? Everyone around me is a freelancer, no one is able to build up a pension, a college degree almost never means a job anymore and then add the ageing population to the mix. The time of guaranties is over. In reaction to this people hang on to every security they have.

Installation Jacken and Hemde - picture by Gert Jan van Rooij

Installation Jacken and Hemde - picture by Gert Jan van Rooij

 

You can see the exhibition of Isa Genzken: Mach Dich hübsch! in Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam till the 6th of March 2016. For more info: http://www.stedelijk.nl/tentoonstellingen/isa-genzken
 

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