Natasja Alers: “Art is a way for me to express frustration, sadness, passion or obsession and a certain urgency”
Mick Harvey, legendary founding member of The Birthday Party, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and guitarist of PJ Harvey introduced me to Natasja Alers. We were having lunch and he said: “ I met this woman I think you would like, Natasja Alers, she organizes a great festival and is an impressive artist herself. You should check out her work”.
Micks taste is pretty impeccable so I followed his advice and checked out her sculptures and festival. As expected I was impressed.
The Grauzone Festival exists since 2013 and presents a diverse and cutting-edge program. It features young talent as well as established names rooted in or influenced by the underground music scene. It has presented musicians like Jehnny Beth of Savages, Michael Gira of Swans, Anna von Hauswolf, Cabaret Volitaire and last year they invited us (hackedepicciotto) to present our new album “Menetekel”. The festival is incredibly well organized, very professional and represents an excellent taste in music. It also always includes a mesmerizing exhibition. I could barely believe my ears when I heard that Natasja Alers and Marc Emmerik organize the whole festival themselves. The fact that Natasja had also curated the adjoining exhibition, a show in which she herself was represented with a couple of her large ceramic objects blew my mind. I know how much work organizing an event is and it usually means not having time for anything else for months. Doing three different full time occupations simultaneously was obviously not a problem for her. After arriving in Den Haag for our performance. I slowly walked through the exhibition and admired her pieces. What I like about them is that they are raw and substantial.
Natasja gives clay the heaviness and bulk it deserves. After having been pressed into small delicate ceramics for the last centuries here is an artist that understands the enormity of the material. It is the stuff our earth is made of and this vastness can be felt in her work. Her huge objects seem stubborn, immobile or threatening when you see them close up. From far away they seem like massive calm objects. They made me think of whales or the dark earthy echo’s one can hear in Mexican caves or in possibly in space.
Organizing a festival and working as a sculptor could seem like two unrelated realms but the power of Natasja’s objects mirror themselves in the musicians she invites to her festival. An unapologetic strength and breaching of restraints is the common denominator. The fact that she is a young woman who was born in 1987 in Den Haag makes it all the more wonderful. Here is somebody breaking all the rules. Festival directors are usually men and a Rodin type macho would be the cliché´ creator of her objects. But here is a slender, beautiful young girl not frightened of showing strength and expressing a power comparable to Lydia Lunchian screams. (Who has also performed at her festival). We need more women like this and I am very happy to present Natasja Alers here today.
PS: When I did this interview with her, Natasja was creating a wooden paneled floor for her apartment, with an intricate pattern and layout. She not only designed but also then placed and installed the complete floor herself sending me pics of the progress in regular intervals saying she was just having a little recreational break from her other projects!
Danielle de Picciotto: Natasja, you are a very multi talented woman – how did you start with sculpture and why?
Natasja Alers: I discovered ceramics when I was nine years old and started to take courses. It was all very uncool at secondary school and high school, but I knew I had to do something with it and that art school was the only answer for me. I didn’t know what it exactly was that I was looking for so I guess it was all very instinctive.
What materials are your favorites ?
Clay, you can push it as far as you want and get every shape you want. You can manipulate the material or keep it more natural. Everything is possible. I also really enjoy playing around with paper and existing images to create collages. I then use them as posters for shows I organize or exhibit them as artworks.
What do you look for in art in general?
Natasja: Art is a way for me to express frustration, sadness, passion or obsession and a certain urgency, whether it is with collages, sculpture, graphic design, oil paint or even dj-ing. I can’t imagine my life without creating something, whatever it is. Art for me is the only answer and it co-existists with everything I do.
What do you want to express with your sculptures? Is there a general theme?
It has to do with my inner feelings. I can’t really describe it in words so I try to explain it in my sculptures. Sometimes I feel very emotional about something and can only express my feeling with a sculpture or certain kind of shape. I also get very inspired by architectural shapes. Something simple like a rectangle shape can move me and I work with it in my sculptures. Human body parts like a nipple are another inspiration, a symbol for the female body that has been censored since the Victorian period. I used nipples (from casts from girlfriend’s nipples) to create new sculptures and made a series (still ongoing) of nipple vases, which can be used to present flowers for example.
Who inspires you in the world of art?
I always liked the work of Francis Bacon who combined architectural shapes and flesh in his intense dark portraits. Louise Bourgeois is very inspiring as an artist and in the way she saw things. Sometimes I think the way an artist lives and thinks can be more interesting than the actual work they make. A free-minded person who can break away from the conventional way of life is always inspiring.
Music plays a large role in your life, you DJ and are the organizer and curator of the Grauzone Festival. Does this have any connection to your sculptures or is it completely separate?
Natasja: Yes, it does a lot indeed. It has always been like this, since I was a kid. At the Rietveld Academy (my art school) I organized shows and events with DJ’s and bands; I also started performing as a DJ. My teachers always told me to focus on one thing, but I couldn’t, and actually I still can’t. I have to do all these things; otherwise I become too restless or even bored.
But when I started Grauzone Festival (right away after I graduated from art school in 2012) it was so time consuming, that I could hardly focus on my art anymore, only after the festival was over. It was really frustrating. I had find a balance between music and art – something I have been working on and it is getting better
Some of my collages are made for my music events, but I try ton keep my sculpture and music activities separated. On the other hand, next to the Grauzone Festival, I also organize ‘‘GRAUKUNST’’; the exhibition that is part of the festival, because I think there is a close connection between art and music. A lot of musicians express themselves in other art forms. So we are always looking for artists that work in both areas, like the art works of Alan Vega for instance.
What do you look for in music?
Music has to be honest and real, it doesn’t really matter what kind of genre. Purity is important. As an organizer / curator of an ”dark” underground festival I’m not looking for another ”post-punk” band who sounds like Joy Division or Siouxsie.
How and why did you start the Grauzone festival?
I had been organizing a lot of small shows in Amsterdam and when I finished art school I decided it would be better to present them all under one name and turn it into a festival. So I started to brainstorm with my partner in crime (the other Grauzone organizer) and contacted the Melkweg. Less than a year later in 2013 we had our first festival edition, which was immediately sold out. That was when Grauzone was born.
What are you working on momentarily?
At the moment I’m working on a new kind of sculpture (big wall pieces), a painting (for the first time in a while), a record sleeve for a quite big band and applied art pieces like sculptural flowerpots. And we’re working on the Grauzone line up for 2019 and the GRAUKUNST exhibition, which I’m really excited about, because we are getting a really special artist next year! Also the GRAUKUNST exhibition of last year will be in Berlin next year at May 18 till June 8 at Gallery Neurotitan, for which I have to thank you Danielle!
Danielle: What are your plans for the future?
I just want to continue working on my art and exhibit more places, but also bring Grauzone to a higher level. Basically just keep on doing what I’m doing, and not to be afraid to start new adventures.