Alive and Present, April 12-May 31, 2014 Connersmith, Washington DC
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Artist talk, solo exhibition Connersmith Washington DC 2014
As you will have noticed, my still lifes are inspired by 16th and 17th century Dutch still lifes of painters, like Balthasar van der Ast and Ambrosius Bosschaert. Their paintings can also be seen here in the National Gallery of Art. They made hyper realistic compositions of flowers, fruits and insects that are deeply rooted in our cultural history. My Dead Frog is a clear tribute to one of the finest pieces of this tradition, painted on copper by Ambrosius Bosschaert' more than 400 years ago. It is a small picture of a pitiful dead frog surrounded by indifferent flies.
But I will not further dwell on this magnificent source of inspiration. I will elaborate on my intention to put multiple layers in my work, and how there are different ways to look at my work. Layers are essential to me, in any work of art. A good multilayered image raises questions and provides no answers. It leaves room for multiple interpretations. And those interpretations might change over time or in a different context. The key is that layers create an open communication between the artist and the viewer. That's why art can make a difference.
The desired communication approaches an associative part of our consciousness, but it takes time to get there. The first stage of our attention is usually focused on technical things, like whom, when, where and how. The second stage is about taking in beauty, form, colors and esthetics. In the third stage our associative part of brain kicks in. It is looking for a story or a meaning to rationalize the impression or feeling we get from the image. But the story or meaning is not always there, or at least known to the viewer. But than why is that impression or feeling still there? It is exactly that moment I’'m interested in.
As children we didn't need art for that. Our toys did the trick already. Even the moon was enough. Remember when you were looking at the moon? You started to see a face, and through that face even the moon's mood. I want people to look at my work like they were looking at the moon when they were young. Although I hope that many people still look at the moon like the way they did when they were young. I do.
In any event, reaching this third stage of associative interpretation is what I’'m aiming for. If the esthetic imagery is not followed by a feeling in the underbelly of the viewer, I did not reach my goal. And that's why I hope you will feel empathy, anger, tenderness, joy, curiosity, suspicion or lust when you see my work without knowing exactly why. My objects are never plain beautiful, innocent or harmless. Their beauty may hide assertiveness or perversion. A terrifying appearance of an insect can hide doubt or insecurity. I can’t make the story behind each individual matter you see in my work. Your mind is uncontrollable. You are doing that yourself. But yes, I can tell you they are alive and present.
Agniet Snoep 1968
In 1994 Agniet Snoep graduated from the Rietveld Academie with an installation that was subsequently exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in a group show called Couplet IV, curated by Rudi Fuchs, with artists like Jan Fabre. As a result she received a government grant to further develop her artistic skills using video, computers and photography.
A number of years later she started her current body of work, developing a series with beetles, inspired on the story "Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka, where a man (Gregor Samsa) suddenly wakes up as a beetle. In Agniet's work beetles adopt a human form in mounted photographs of scenes or film-stills, as fragments of surreptitious interaction.
More recently, further building on this body of work, she made a video installation with disproportionately large and iridescent beetles who breath, sigh, growl with a loudly beating heart. Agniet also made a number of triptychs with man-sized beetles, standing as guards, eye-to-eye with the spectator.
In 2010 she found inspiration in a small painting by the Dutch 17th century painter Ambrosius Bosschaert, a distant ancestor of her, showing a dead frog surrounded by flies. The painting, now in the collection of Fondation Custodia (Frits Lugt) in Paris, is wonderfully interpreted and described in the 1930s by the famous Dutch writer F. Bordewijk who saw the painting at an exhibition in the gallery of the well-known Jewish art dealer J. Goudstikker in Amsterdam. The small painting of Bosschaert and Bordewijk's story inspired Agniet to make a series of still lifes featuring beetles, flowers, shells and other objects often found in 17th century still life painting, in a non-traditional stage setting. By means of associative combinations Agniet composes new images that put lifeless elements in a new relationship towards each other.
People referring to her work as animistic made her more aware of a link between her way of looking at things and animism. In 2012 in that line of thought Agniet took a series of detailed pictures of African fethish statutes from a private collection in France and blew life into them in a video installation. According to Agniet, the perception of the animist can best be understood by focussing on the details of the various elements of the fetish statutes that, in the past, have been used in the rituals to compose them. Agniet's razor-sharp registration of all the details and the added sound and movement transform the image of the fetish statute into her own interpretation, focussing on the meaning and force that is attributed by many people to these objects.
Works and lives in Amsterdam.
Exhibitions and press
Summer in the city
july 4-14 2014
Solo 'Alive and Present'
Connersmith april 12-may 31, 2014
Permanent exhibition Re-Animism
Le château d'eau Strasbourg
Cover catalogue Voodoo museum
(E)merge art fair Washington DC
Art Scope Basel
preview Re-Animism and Still Life
15 december 2012-31 januari 2013
Tribal Design Amsterdam
November 22 -25 2012
(E)merge art fair Washington DC
October 4 - 7 2012
Art Platform-Los Angeles
September 28 - 30 2012
Art Scope Basel
June 12-17 2012
Los Angeles Art Show
January 18-22. 2012
Palm Springs Arts Festival
February 17-20 2012
(E)merge art fair Washington DC
September 22-25 2011
Houston Fine Art Fair
September 16-18 2011
NYPH, New York Photo Festival
May 11-15 2011
Arti et Amicitiae, Rokin 112, Amsterdam
Salon 'Going up'
September 3-18 2011
De Aanschouw, Rotterdam
october 2010- february 2011
Arti et amicitiae
Washington Post mei 2014
Dutch Culture USA mei 2014
Nova Fine Art februari
Stills from a movie
By Ella Reitsma,
Art historian, publicist, journalist
Translated by Marleen van der Laar
The images of Agniet Snoep have the appearance of film stills. Mysterious, intriguing, enticing. You feel like you have seen these scenes elsewhere or as if you yourself have experienced the emotions they evoke.
After looking more closely you realize something else is going on. The so-called recognizable world Snoep is evoking in her works of art, shining on the outside, meticulous even in the smallest details, with alluring colours, is discomfiting. The vague reflection of animals and objects which are not very much related to one another, the darkness surrounding them, the alienating proportions, are disclosing a sense of doom that cannot be mentioned.
Her 'expressive scenes' consist of video-installations and sets of pictures, really stills, that at first sight, seem unconnected to each other. They were produced during various, closed-off, periods, that sometimes went on for months or even a number of years. All the same they constitute a strong entity.
There is a pertinent red thread running through all of her work. In the early spatial video-installations she made at the close of her education at the Rietveld Academy (1989-1993), the same fascination with the isolated detail can already be noted. In her first video-movies she worked in this way with the facial expressions of people, as in The fading of a smile or in Archive of moods. In the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, she recorded the smiles of a hundred visitors unknown to her. She asked them to let their smile fade away. This was what she was after: that smile freezing little by little. What is it a face, no longer complying with social conventions, is expressing? Whatever remains of the moods that a face can express, like satisfaction, sadness or rage, when they are cut up in a disorderly fashion?
Snoep offered her audience in these installations, which were backed up by her own music and sounds, the opportunity to determine speed and sequence for themselves. Also in her more recent still lifes of insects, shells and 'ínaccessible' flowers -the lilly, the calla, an unreal dahlia - she is looking for a world behind the social and seemingly comfortable exterior of things.
When reproducing a human face the onlooker always is projecting his or her own feelings. In the long run this stood in her way of making her own world visible.
Agniet discovered the insect and especially the beetle.
As a young woman she already was fascinated by Franz Kafka's short story The Metamorphosis. In this story the principal character, Gregor Samsa, a salesman, slowly changes into a giant beetle, with a rigid shell on his backside, and soft and vulnerable belly and paws. How is a thinking person going to move and live
on in this way? Powerlessness, incomprehension and disgust are waiting for him. That was the subject matter of Kafka's story. Later this would be a source of inspiration for her work.
After finishing her education at the Rietveld Academy Agniet received a starters grant from the Trust of the Arts and Architecture and she went and lived in New York for a year. Once there she developed a great skill in the use of software which offered her new possibilities in the making of video's and pictures.
One day, on a market in the middle of New York, she discovered some rings with beetles cast in resin. Frozen live. And so the beetle became her main character and all kinds of ideas fell into place.
The 'advantage' of this animal, of which there are thousands of species, is the fact that not many people feel the need to identify themselves with it. Even if they are sometimes stunningly beautiful, you cannot help experiencing them as a little scary and disturbing.
Agniet started to study the beetle, take photographs of it, animate it and enlarge it enormously. The insect was placed in human situations: as victim of a motor accident , as a holiday-maker on a camping-site, as a super-animal, that is flying towards you in a tunnel at high speed.
Proportions are being manipulated, exposures alienated, colours intensified.
And now she has produced a series of still lifes, apparently variations on 17th-century Dutch paintings.
Agniet was brought up on old art. Her father, Dolf Meyerman, was an illustrator and art-critic of the NRC newspaper and later on director of the Historical Museum of Rotterdam. Her mother is a distant descendant of Ambrosius Bosschaert, a Dutch painter of still lifes in the early 17th-century and a famous character in her family. This painter and other contemporaries, who specialized in the still life taught her to look at things in a different way again.
Snoep is not inspired by 17th-century assorted bouquets of flowers in a vase, but rather by the isolated details in such still lifes, a piece of fruit, a picked flower on a white damask tablecloth, a lemon with its yellow-white peel curled around it, and insects, often enlarged, resting on a petal or lost on the tablecloth.
Agniet made a wonderful series.
These exquisite still lifes make one curious about her next series of stills, that have that faint memory of the pictures of David Lynch.
In 2005, I set about to take photographs of stuffed insects. By placing them as human beings in recognizable situations, the insects suddenly seemed alive and spirited. They had undergone a metamorphosis.
After that, I started a series of still-lifes loosely based on the work of a distant 17th century ancestor. I photographed animals preserved in formalin, stuffed animals, as well as shells, fruit, flowers and other dead but organic material. By means of associative combinations I composed a new image that put the lifeless elements in a new relationship towards each other. "You are almost like an animist", somebody told me, which, for the first time, made me aware of a link between my way of looking at things and animism.
For instance, according to animists, animals, plants, stones or other objects can be become spirited. In this way they become "living beings". These objects contain the souls of dead people, ghosts or gods. In this way they can give support in times of distress and they have to be put in a favourable mood by making sacrifices to them.
The objects in which these gods manifest themselves play a crucial role in animism They are a part of complex rituals and taboo-rules are connected to the objects. They can serve as a medium for the communication between humans and priests and the gods. The objects give answers to their questions, which are being interpreted by the priests.
Inspired by these factors I took a series of pictures of African fethish statutes from a private collection in France. The perception of the animist can best be seen in the details of the various elements that, in the past, have been used in the rituals to compose them.
Looking from my own cultural background, I am not able to interpret the fetish in the same way an animist does. What I am doing is creating a new image, intensified by the razor-sharp registration of all details. I transform the image of the fetish into my own by movement and sound to focus attention on the meaning and force that is attributed by many people to these objects.
Catalog Voodoo Museum
Around the year 1635 my ancestor Ambrosius Bosschaert II painted a small still life just 7 by 8 inches. It shows a dead frog lying on a stone plinth, surrounded by four flies. The writer F. Bordewijk described the painting in his collection of eulogies 'The last honor' (1935) after seeing the exhibition 'The Still Life' organized in 1933 by J. Goudstikker in Amsterdam. I recognized, in the perfectly painted flies and the description of F. Bordewijk, my own inspiration for the use of insects in my work. This was the reason to give insects meaning in the tradition of Dutch still lifes.
(own edit and translation of quotes from The last honor, On Bosschaerts dead frog, F. Bordewijk, 1935)
The word still life must be Dutch in origin. It is beautiful in its modesty and love. It purifies life from the silence. It contemplates the small with affectionate eyes.
From a private collection there was a deep and mysterious, a creepy and gruesome small canvas. It was nothing but a dead frog. In its agony it had rolled on its back. The tiny corpse was displayed with a subtle intimacy. But exceptional and oppressive was the presence of four major meat-flies. Primarily what you see is the dead frog, and only then its exterminators. The macabre impression of the present is immediately intensified by the sinister of what is coming. So it doesn't show the excess of the horrible, but leaves room for the imagination of the viewer.
The masterly part of the painting is the position of the insects. They are not turned towards the body, but rather turned away, seemingly accidental. Why so close and yet so incredibly indifferent. The painter has revealed the abyss between the world of insects and those of other living animals.
A dead frog can still affect us with compassion, but an abyss separates us from the world of insects that cannot be bridged here by our reason. There, on the other side, obscure laws prevail, elusive, a logic that appear as madness to us. And that world fills us with fear. They don't avoid us, the insects, they have fear nor courage, they impose themselves with impudent automatism. They are the danger that we must combat, the power we can never overcome, the enemy to whom we ultimately all fall victim. They are the individually always undefined assassins. The most sophisticated man can not match their cruelty, they can assume hideous forms, under our microscopes they grow into nightmares.
But, their body can point to finesses and they can be carriers of deep and gleaming colours surpassed by nothing.
On that small canvas the genius gave us the utmost love and the deepest dismay. Go to Still lifes
In 1997 I lived in New York for a year. On one of my strolls through the city I came across a jewelry stand, a shaky table on a street corner. There I saw rings made of resin with beetles set into the resin, all kinds of types and sizes. I bought a couple. The beetle as a jewel, an object of desire.
Some years later I began to use the beetle for the first time as a main character for scenes or film-stills, a fragment of surreptitious interaction. On two legs, erect and with their large external variety my beetles adopt a human form. The interpretation of human emotions in the beetle (desire, hope, fear) and the context in which the beetle acts, makes perception recognisable and shows a hint of a secret.
Considered from a distance, if set up in a box, insects can look enchanting, with deep and gleaming colours. But zoom in and they frequently have a fearful, sinister look like strange aliens from a horrorfilm. You can turn a stone in a tranquil looking garden and be surprised by the panicky swarm of vermin. In the famous scene from the film 'Blue velvet' of David Lynch the camera dives suddenly into the grass for a couple of seconds and registers the world of darkness under the idyll. My beetles have evolved, crawled out of the grass and make an attempt to take part in the idyll.
The reverse of this transformation takes place in the story 'Die Verwandlung' of Franz Kafka: there a man becomes a beetle. The family members cannot endure this metamorphosis and lock him up in his chamber. From this imprisonment his view on life is reduced to the chamber where he is forced to hide his now monstrous appearance from the outside world (back under the ground) and he becomes dependent on the degree to which his family takes pity on him. Absurd and full of humour, but also sensitive and understandable.
The titles of my photo-work are the scientific names of the beetles and other insects. It is estimated that there are approximately 10 trillion living insects. Almost 95% of all described species on earth are insects. They have been divided in 32 orders or groups. Beetles (Coleoptera) represent the largest order among the insects with 40%. They belong to the 'Holometabola', the insects with a complete metamorphism (egg, larva, pupa, adult). More than 350.000 types of beetles have been described. One of four animals in the world is a beetle.
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My work "Farmville" is the result of two recent experiences. First, during the course of 2013, much to my surprise, I became increasingly unhappy with what Facebook did to my life. Despite its implicit promise it didn't satisfy my craving for friendship. The happy people partying, holidaying and liking each other made me often feel even more isolated. It felt like being on a playground, observing others from the sideline. Excluded from those I felt related to, falling prey to those I didn't know. Playing Facebook's surreal Farmville amplified that feeling because I even started to feel awkward when I didn't do my chores on the communal farm while at the same time realizing that I was locked in a virtual reality, disconnected from real life. I forced myself to go cold turkey and suspended my Facebook account and stopped the ridiculous farming. It was a great relief.
The second experience occurred in the same period during a family road trip along the US Westcoast. We stumbled across the fog-clad Pierce Point Ranch in the National Seashore Park, north of San Francisco. The deserted ranch, isolated from the urban world and where milk farming and butter production once thrived, had ceased operations in 1973. The atmosphere around its empty stalls and sheds was eerie but serene. The dense fog muffled all sounds and I felt the isolation its owners must have felt. I felt an urgency to take a number of shots and rushed to take as many pictures as possible while my family was waiting for me to finish. It was only in my studio back home that I realized why I was so anxious to get these pictures. They coincided with my inner feelings. To my surprise, Facebook had inspired me artistically.
Go to Farmville
About Dead Frog
Under the moon