Mels Dees & Mariëlle van den Bergh

Messages from the art world



Mels Dees, March 2022

Stipendium CODA Keramiek Triënnale 2021

If you go on a residency as an artist, it’s usually because you hope to encounter a new source of inspiration. A boost to your artistic development. You may look for specialised technical knowledge or expect to meet old friends or new, exciting people and traditions. At least something to kick you ahead artistically and to provide fresh air.
And in order to get into your residency, you write a project plan. You have to. A plan in which you try to align your personal development with the particular artistic climate you expect at your chosen destination.
Not only to convince your host, but also to establish the imagined destination in your private web of judgements and expectations.

Entrance ICS

But, quite often, then it happens. At the moment you get off the plane or out of the car, you realise that you are in for something entirely different. You were wrong all the time. This is not the place you expected or imagined and you certainly won’t be able to do here whatever you’d planned to do.
This happened to me time and again. At first, I used to panic. The idea of having spent a lot of time and money to work abroad, to get your original plans to be accepted by  people you did not know and whose language you sometimes did not even speak – it all might be wasted if you would abandon your plans and, and then… What the hell am I going to do here?

Hundreds of spent cones from my predecessors

By now I have learned that a new environment, new people, new smells and new art will invariably prompt curiosity, new ideas, and new plans. Arriving at a residency in Xiamen, China (2014), I was completely disoriented by the unexpected steam, clutter and happy noise around me. In order to avoid the heat and the crowds, I decided to get up very early in the morning, at sunrise. I would then catch a random bus at the station in front of our flat (I could not read the destination anyway) and ride it until I started to doubt if I could ever find my way back. Then I would walk home, which usually took a few hours. On the way I took pictures of anything that caught my eye, if possible I would talk to people and find out what was going on. This resulted in fascinating stories and a photographic cross-section of the Xiamen community, which made up a significant part of our final exhibition there.

One of the wood kils at ICS

But Kecskemet would be different, I thought. The ICS is a venerable (50 years!) institution that survived political changes in Hungary and stayed true to its initial goal: ceramics.  And that is why we chose to go there. Wood-firing ceramics has become virtually impossible in Holland – understandably, because of the environmental issues (smoke, microdust and pollution in an already overcrowded country). But Mariëlle and I fell in love with the process years ago: it’s one of the rare social events in an otherwise solitary profession and the results are often surprising – another word for unpredictable.
So I wrote down solid plans long before we went – even to my own sceptic ears they sounded pretty convincing:

I want to create a series of ceramic works that encompasses the interests and obsessions of (almost, but not quite, not yet) a lifetime’s work in various media, using:

  • The abstract measures, forms and volumes we use to interpret the natural world around us and shape our predictions and responses – from platonic bodies to the architecture of proteins;

  • The tactile imprints and shapes of man’s hands and other body parts, that are so important to our contact with and handling of the material world;

  • The tools we use, which are empowering and elevating us – as well as thoroughly threatening our existence and the life of our fellow creatures.

Combining these themes in ceramics will, I hope, keep the concept from becoming too formal. It might help to use imperfect, natural clay bodies, and encourage the coincidences inherent to wood-firing.

In hindsight, this is all more than a bit overambitious and pedantic. It might be pretty close to what I want to do in life, but it is not a workable programme for a two-month residency in a provincial town in Hungary. As usual, I only realised that as soon as we arrived.

Kecskemét somehow reminded me of the places I grew up in during the ’50s

… with some remarkable sculpture, though

Social life

I tried out several solutions, such as taking walks around town and writing about exhibitions we saw on our way to Hungary (see below). Other escape plans included talking, drawing, cooking meals… And then I decided I had better start by pinching the available clay. I started by creating abstract forms – the regular polyhedra – they are both straight from nature and the seeds of human thought. I had done some of them in clay before, but this time I wanted them to be much larger and more perfect – less obviously man-made. Making plaster moulds, as I did in the past, would be too messy and unwieldy for the studio in Kecskemet. But then, in a corner of the storeroom, I found some old pieces of plasterboard.

I managed to develop a technique to cut the necessary polygons precisely and connect them into spatial constructions. The board’s paper cover helped to build crisp shapes and the plaster absorbed the water from the clay, just as it does in massive plaster moulds. The result had just the right amount of irregularity to keep it from being completely dead and abstract. After doing some platonic bodies, I decided to build some old favourites, such as the rhombic dodecahedron and the polyhedron shown on Dürer’s etching Melencolia. Finally I used the remaining pieces of plasterboard to construct a random irregular form. It turned out so complicated and ‘unceramic’ that the oldest, most accomplished ceramic artist at the Kecskemet centre predicted that it could not be fired in one piece. Luckily it did…

Fresh tripe – smelly but incredibly beautiful

Another source of inspiration was found on the daily open market in town. Apart from fresh mushrooms, peppers and other vegetables, there was a stall selling beef tripe: the skin of cow stomachs. The flexible tissue had an intricate regular pattern – both very regular and naturally flowing. Its smell was a bit less appealing, but I took one to the studio. The tripe was too soft and damp to use as a direct mould, so I cast a plaster mould from it. One problem was that the tripe contained so much water that the plaster refused to dry, and another was that all (female) artists working in the studios near my experiment complained about the smell. I had to move the entire installation to our own courtyard and finish the work there.

The mould

We fired the final results (after bisqueing and glazing) – the first batch in one of the wood kilns at the centre and a second batch in a soda kiln. As usual they were almost 24-hour events, hard work with friends bringing food and drink. The first firing was relatively quick and successful and produced some excellent stuff, but the soda kiln gave us quite a few problems. As part of the kiln flue had collapsed and obstructed the air flow, we could not get the temperature up after the soda injection, and part of the ceramics were reduced so heavily that the surface turned into a matte black. I decided to refire them at home, and see if I could rescue the glazes.

Firing the wood kiln

Almost every object I made in Kecskemet was to be combined with other materials.  Other pieces were meant to be part of one or more extensive installations. Some of these have taken shape over the past months, others will follow…

Cosmogony 3, 2022, Wood, ceramics, lens, FAC construction system, 110 x 100 x25 cm


Marielle van den Bergh, March 2022

/ Instagram: mariellevandenbergh

Last year, 2020, we did a ceramic residency at Guldagergaard in Denmark, where we fired some wood kilns. I focused on mountains and icebergs, built from porcelain. At home in the Netherlands, I pursued the mountain theme further, which eventually resulted in a maquette based on a painting in the Chinese Shen Shui style of a mountain. The painting had been very ‘flat’, with the mountains as a backdrop, lined up one after the other and not very spatial. I needed to make a 3-dimensional mountain to be able to build the paper mountain I planned to make. The porcelain model was converted in a huge hanging paper mountain: “Cliff Hanger”, which was on show for half a year in the Paper Art Biennial 2021 in the CODA Museum in Apeldoorn.
Ans van Berkum wrote about this show in the Art Magazine “Beelden” #4, 2021

In Kecskemét, in Hungary, I started out by researching frozen animals that had been released by the melting permafrost in Siberia. Time has always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Now that the acute climate change is heating up the permanently frozen tundra, strange animals are woken from millenniums of sleep. Recently two lion cubs were found in rock caves, close together. They were called “Sparta” and “Boris”. The girl and boy looked like siblings, but it turned out that one was 44.000 and the other 28.000 years old.  Yet they looked like they both would wake up soon together and start their daily foraging.

Susan Hall

Building with paper clay and using wet clay to express rough surfaces were directions I wanted to explore further. I threw out all existing work plans, since this was the place and time to research paper porcelain. I wanted a limited theme, that I could vary over and over again, while learning how to improve myself. So I started to make busts, figurative sculpture, by building the base, continuously using the heat gun to dry what I had done and search for anatomically correct forms and the right expression, one that would reveal the character.
I focused on figures from the Korean costume dramas I was watching at night on Netflix. In a film you will see a character from different angles and their expression carries the story, so I could use that. The disadvantage is that you have to memorize what you have seen. Building from paper porcelain was quite difficult. As a material, porcelain is quite unforgiving. I liked to use soaking wet porcelain for finishing parts such as hair or garments, but often the top layer would not attach well enough to a drier base or parts that were too wet would cause the base to collapse. Often, that resulted in big cracks or collapsing heads because of the amount of moisture in the porcelain.

When I succeeded in building the busts – and if they emerged undamaged from the biscuit kiln – the next problem was the glaze. Glazing a mountain or iceberg is something else than glazing a human portrait. There is no way you can find the answer in books or by looking for examples in other people’s work. There is only one solution: you have to do it yourself and be ready to sacrifice each work you managed to keep standing, in order to create the intended facial composition and the right expression. Glazing can destroy them in a moment: open the kiln and disappointment is your share. You have to learn it this way – do the whole thing over again and try another way of glazing. Sometimes you will be lucky and the kiln, especially a wood kiln, will help you with extra effects and unexpected presents like ash deposits and fire marks.

We fired the Fred Olsen wood kiln and the Soda wood kiln. Firing a wood kiln is a complicated procedure and takes many hours. There are not many places in Europe where you can do wood firings. Guldagergaard in Denmark and the ICS in Hungary are two of them. Both centres were founded many years ago by devoted ceramic artists. Both places can be proud of the accomplished, famous artists like Nina Hole and Priscilla Mouritzen in Denmark: Instagram: @priscillamouritzen and Mária Geszler-Garzuly (HU):

Loading the soda kiln
Loading the soda kiln
Starting the fire
Firing at night

The best piece I made during this residency was ’the Viking’. It had an internal construction since the head was quite heavy and needed support. The glaze was a white shino, but overglazed while spraying, which caused contraction of the surface in beaded upper parts and a strange orange glow in the retreated, lower parts.
I donated this piece, the Viking, to the Collection of the International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemét.

In 2022 I will continue making paper porcelain busts, but I will focus on certain groups of people. I am thinking of socially or politically important persons or just friends, artists, children, fools, road workers, retired sun worshipers, or whatever takes my fancy.

2021 International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemét, Hungary

Mariëlle van den Bergh, 15-12-2021


One of the rare places in Europe where you can still find wood-fired kilns is in Kecskemét, Hungary, at the International Ceramics Studio. It was founded nearly 40 years ago by artists, as an artists’ initiative –
Artists, ceramists and students can apply for projects, courses and practice. For more information ask acting director Márton Strohner or Steve Mattison
The place is a picturesque labyrinth of buildings, kiln yards, studios, flower beds and open spaces, invaded by ceramic sculptures.

Courtyard with sculptures
Kiln yard with woodkilns
Kiln yard with part of Japanese kiln

Apart from project groups, students and semi-resident ceramists, there are individual artists, doing a residency in their own studio. Mels and I spent seven weeks there, in the autumn of 2021. Our goal was to make new ceramic work which we could wood-fire on the spot. During this period we met a ceramics student from a Turkish Art School, Gizem Altundal, who did her internship as a BA student.

During the second week I was lucky to enroll in a course given by the accomplished ceramist Susan Halls from the UK, who is well-known for her animal sculptures and books on the theme.
The focus of the course was the horse – in ceramics, of course. Susan taught us several ways to build a horse: slap building, cutting and joining elements and using paper clay.

Copper oxyde raku horse

The course was concluded with a raku firing, with Klari and Jacob as kiln masters. They handled the sizzling hot ceramic pieces and smothered them in saw dust in a spectacular performance.

Susan and Jacob at raku firing

Never a dull moment at ICS – immediately afterwards there was a Masterclass, given by one of the founders of ICS: Maria Gezsler-Garzuly. She is a very well-known ceramist, specialist in porcelain, who developed her own technique of silk screening on the surface of the clay. She is well travelled and nearly all ceramic centres in the world have her work in their collections. She did residencies in international ceramic museums and centres the world over. Next year she will teach a course in Keramiekmuseum de Tiendschuur in Tegelen, the Netherlands.
Maria’s students came from all over Europe and we had several nationalities in our kitchen, celebrating the good life of working as an artist and enjoying each other’s company with a glass of wine.

Maria is judging our work
Students work at Maria’s course
Maria’s work

One week later an international symposium was on. It lasted about four weeks and many electric and gas kilns were fired as well as some wood kilns. For the Symposium both well-known ceramists and newly-graduated students were invited. During the next weeks Mels and I were lucky we could attend the lectures these artists gave about their own work and experiences, broadening our knowledge extensively.
The artists of the International Ceramics Symposium 2021 at ICS:
Kitty Antal (HU), Virág Dályay (HU), György Fusz (HU), Mária Geszler-Garzuly (HU), Vladimir Groh (CZ) & Yasuyo Nishida (JP), Szilvia Haber (HU), Susan Halls (UK), Janina Myronova (PL), Márta Nagy (HU).

The symposium resulted in an exhibition in the museum at the ICS. A large part of the works that were made during the frantic symposium weeks were selected for the ICS collection. This is estimated to be the one of the most extensive collection of ceramic works in the world and consists of artworks made by well-known international artists like Sergei Usopov, Akio Takamori and many others.
We discovered a true hidden diamond when we saw two works from the collection which had been brought back from an exhibition. They were by Hungarian artist György Kungl. We admired the wit and humour in his subtle and clever pieces, combining ironic annotations with fine-tuned spheric scenery. He specializes in perspective views and balances brilliantly between two- and three-dimensional worlds.
He was invited (because we asked for it) to give a lecture during the symposium so we got to know him and his work better. A lot of earlier work is about James Dean; to György a symbol of the, at the time, unattainable western world. Dean got himself and his girlfriend killed in a car accident. György was inspired and made works with Dean’s house and the crashed car.

Work by Gyorgy Kungl

The Symposium had a nice mix of emerging ceramic artists and well-known and experienced ceramists.
Kitty Antal is a young Hungarian artist, who made it her goal to contribute to a better and more sustainable world. She recycles other people’s materials: clay and glazes. She shapes her own art in which nature survives even the harshest environments. Instagram: @kittyantal
Kitty is very critical about the use of resources and the abandoning of waste. She questions for instance the fact that left-over clay from the production of tableware in ceramic factories is thrown away. One of her heroes of sustainability in ceramics is the Hungarian-Swedish artist  Eszter Imre. We met Eszter at Guldagergaard in Denmark in 2015 during a residency and it was she who pointed out ICS to us.

Kitty Antal

Virág Dályay just graduated from Art School and won a prize which meant she was allowed to participate in the symposium, along with two of her teachers. Although her works have a rather dark source, they emerge as well balanced compositions. Her starting point is a rectangular brick sized clay form, from which she eats away the material and shapes it into clay bubbles. In the museum exhibition these sculptures cast interesting shadows.


We had met Janina Myronova before, in Denmark at Guldagergaard, where she was finishing a pretty impressive outdoor ceramic sculpture. She is well travelled, has been to many ceramic centres in the world, including the European Ceramic Work Centre in Oisterwijk (NL) and goes from one ceramic symposium to the next nowadays. Sometimes she even attends two symposia at the same time, producing big sized, hand-built and painted sculptures. The work is always figurative and very often it is autobiographical. Janina adopts details from the environment she works in. In Hungary she created a large girl and smaller boy, bearing grapes and peppers. Janina works in her own style and has created her own world, filled with figures and animals that are interacting with each other. All kinds of stories are played out and depending on what is happing in Janina’s personal life, her work will tell us the details. She is a real international ambassador for art and for unity, bringing the best of everybody out and emphasizing the similarities in humanity.

Janina in the studio
Janina in the gallery

Szilvia Haber is a Hungarian designer, artist and art teacher. She has done indoor commissions in buildings, of which her geometrical floor tiles in a church, inspired by the sea, were very impressive. In the symposium she worked on sculptural geometrical forms.

Szilvia Haber

With enormous pleasure we worked together with British Susan Halls for nearly our entire residency period – and we became good friends. A couple of times Mels and I were saved from starvation by Susan’s lovely meals, sometimes served next to the wood kiln, which demanded a constant supply of wood. Susan has a lifelong attraction to domestic animals, as she explained it in her lecture – although ceramics were not her love at first sight. But her Art Teacher had a keen eye and predicted that ceramics and Susan would be a special alliance and encouraged her to visit a pottery workshop, where she sold her soul right away to art, pottery and ceramics. Her early animal works in Art School were already amazing as were her drawings. She won a contest in the USA and in het presentation was a funny picture with a frog-soup bowl, sitting on the passenger seat of a taxi, secured by seatbelts. Susan is not afraid of big ceramic sculptures and developed her own techniques to built voluminous bodies, standing on 4 legs. She also wrote books about it. Susan also is a specialist in the raku technique.
Books: Ceramics for beginners: Animals & Figures
Pinch Pottery , Functional, Modern Handbuilding.

Susan in studio
Susan’s pig
Susan’s cat

Márta Nagy is a Hungarian artist with a special relation to the Netherlands, our home country. Her gallery is Terra in Delft and she has done a big outdoor commission, tiling the surface of a bicycle tunnel in Delft (“Garden”, Hamtunnel). Most impressive is The Hive, in 2010. She tiled intriguing the insides of a warp-shaped building in the Knowledge Centre in Pécs.
But foremost Márta works in smaller ceramic works, sometimes combined with textiles. Márta expresses her feelings and musings through her art. You could read her whole life by looking at her art. Scale is an essential element: her own garden can be sized back to 20 x 20 cm. and the drama of life is staged inside the walls. Titles are often clarifying. As Louise Bourgeois once wrote on her art installation during a Venice Biennial: “Art is the guarantee of sanity”. An artist as Márta Nagy, like myself actually, processes life through making art.
Nowadays Márta experiments with glaze and colour on ceramic surfaces. She is as much a painter as she is a sculptor and the skin, the surface is always important.

Márta in the studio
Marta’s table

Vladimir Groh & Yasuyo Nishida are
They are a Czech-Japanese couple, working exclusively in functional porcelain, using slip casting and hand decoration. Their products are amazing works, on the edge of what is technically possible and immediately recognisable. Colours bleed through the surface, the skin is sometimes like touching silk, the surface is rich on highly aesthetic details. They fire up to 1360 degrees in reduction, sometimes several times, and apply luster in oxidation at 800 degrees.
If you come across their work, which is quite possible since they travel widely, you will fall in love with the vessels, cups and bowls. In the Netherlands they exhibit at Ceramic Galerie Terra  (Delft), Galerie Del Campo (Wijster),  Kempro (Sterksel).

Yasuyo in studio
Groh en Yasuyo’s work

The artist György Fusz is a titan of Hungarian art. His first love was stone and even though most of his art is in clay, one still can feel this hard, earthbound heritage. Scale doesn’t matter to him. His vast works are made in a clay quarry, where he mixes the natural and manmade imprints with streaks of wool. His very subtle clay touches betray the hand of a giant. His master piece probably was a solo show, Nest M21, Gallery Pécs, Zsolnay Quarter, where he virtually made up the balance of his life. In a score of museum spaces ceramic figures, portrait busts, wooden bridges over clay rivers, labor equipment and a temple of wool, running down the surface like water. What touched me most in his work was the series called “Survivor”. Art down to the basics, raw emotion, pared down to the bone and powerful like a slap in the face.

Gyorgy in studio
Opening exhibition of symposium work

Back again, after almost a year ….

Although we have been very busy during the last year, nothing much has appeared in these pages. But we are changing that…

To cut a long story short: both of us (Mariëlle van den Bergh and Mels Dees) had quite a few exhibitions, with ceramics, paper works and the PATAMAP 2021 (an graphic edition of etchings, linoprints, photo and Toyoba prints at the occasion of 40 years Patagonia Studios). More about that you will find further below.

But now, October 2021, we also are on tour again. We decided to go on a residency using a prize Mels won at the Third Ceramic Triennial at CODA Museum, Apeldoorn (a beautiful exhibition nobody ever saw, since it was closed for the whole two months it lasted). The residency we chose was the ICS in Kecskemét, Hungary – first, because they are equipped with a few wood fire kilns, and second, because it was recommended by a colleague we respect a lot, Esther Imre.

After the busy Corona year we decided to do some serious slow travelling to get there. So we stopped over in Kassel, Ingolstadt and Vienna. We saw some artist friends and a lot of exhibitions on the way. Some of the last were quite extraordinary, which prompted Mels to try and make some sense of them in a text.

Strange Exhibitions: Kassel

Mels Dees, 10 October 2021

Even in Documenta years, Kassel is a quiet place. Of course the streets are crowded, but the visiting public is usually made up of introverted, contemplative people – curious, but strangely pensive. After a drink or two, I imagine they will fall asleep in their hotel rooms, dreaming of whatever art lovers dream of.

I remember that, when I first visited the Documenta some 40 years ago, I spent the night in my car. Even if a hotel room had been available, I would not have been able to pay for it. In the middle of the night a traffic cop knocked on my car window. I woke up and immediately started to apologize, explaining that I had come from abroad and there was not a single…

“No, no,” he said, “I just wanted to check you hadn’t died.”

So yes, Kassel might very well be the ideal town to house a museum dedicated to the way we treat our deceased: the Museum für Sepulkralkultur, built on top of the hill where all the exhibition venues are. It overlooks the beautiful, spacious park in the valley. The museum  is mainly about historical attitudes towards death – in Europe, Central Europe to be precise. There are hardly any non-European artifacts on show. Imagine how many Documentas could be filled with the answers to the fact that we die from cultures all over the world.

However, the existing collection offers quite a few surprises as well. For the first time in my life, I saw death pictured – not as the iconic lifeless skeleton, but as a process. A beautiful wooden sculpture at the museum shows a dancing corpse with rotting muscles falling from the bones and skin hanging in flaps over the exuberant carcass.

Later, when I looked it up, it turned out that these transi corps sculptures, as they are called, were quite en vogue in Western Europe during the Renaissance. They depicted a deceased person during the transition between life and death and some of them went as far as showing the dead body being eaten by worms. One’s belief in (any) god must be pretty fierce if it survives art like that.

But on the whole, our Western tradition tends to present a more palatable image of death – while trying to make it into a business model as well. We are provided with images as an anchor for our memories, places to go, things to do, rituals to follow and stories to believe.

That used to work, and probably still does, for most people.

Among more recent artworks at the museum, I find Der Findling, by Timm Ulrichs, the most touching. The title means both ‘The Boulder’ and ‘The Foundling’. The picture is the record of  an action performed in 1978, 1980 and 1982, during which Ulrichs stayed inside the stone sarcophagus for up to 10 hours. Ulrichs was a typical ‘action artist’ of 70s, preoccupied with death, film and politics – he had the words The End tattooed on his right eyelid.

But I like this work so much I will insert it into the book I make about my installation Sheltering at the Grenzkunstroute in Aachen, Germany.

The Museum für Sepulkralkultur provides a surprisingly sensitive and level-headed insight into the way we dealt and deal with death in the West.

I can’t think of any other institution that would handle the theme of suicide (in a special temporary exhibition, Suizid) as deftly and carefully as they did.

Weird shows II: Vienna

Vienna’s Museum Quarter is a dense concentration of cultural remains from its Belle Époque: paintings, drawings, architecture and photographs from  a time when the subconscious, surrealism, sex and other seriously modern phenomena were being discovered. Impressive, but also rather predictable: Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, Loos and their carefully canonised works have suffered a bit from overexposure. At least, they are not as unsettling and surprising as they must have been more than a century ago.

But Erwin Wurm’s Vienna exhibition escapes all of this. Its setting is premodern, even pre-19th century, and his work is decidedly post-post-modern. The clash between his works and the museal setting is surprisingly violent, as well as exhilarating and thoroughly satisfying.

It’s fitting that you have to take the Vienna U-Bahn and an endless streetcar ride into the mountains surrounding Vienna to get to the venue: Geymüllerschlössel. An old, renovated and re-renovated mansion sitting in a park with statues left behind after centuries of wars, fires and sheer neglect. Of course, to suit the contemporary public, its name has been simplified into MAK, Museum für Angewandte Kunst – which does not help at all.

But once inside, your attention is drawn by exquisite ceramic stoves – enormous wood-fired heaters that hide their efficiency behind 18th century ornaments, by swirling stairs and hand-painted wallpapers with exotic landscapes. Most of the paintings and objects are dominated by a thoroughly rationalist view of time and space. Otherwise unremarkable views of villages and waterfalls have been made up to date by inserting working clocks in the image.

The museum is almost bursting with clocks and delightful mechanical contraptions. Many of the clocks proudly display their inner workings, including intricate mechanisms indicating the moon’s phases, planet locations etcetera, making it pretty hard to discover what time it is. Other clocks are used to power automated miniature landscapes with waterfalls and playing nymphets. Remarkably, many of them still work.

In short, the museum – as an environment – is a rationalist’s dream of regularity and predictability. Even the surprises are fully mechanised. One of the masterpieces is a filing cabinet made by a  master cabinet maker, who managed to hide scores of trick doors, secret drawers and hidden spaces in the dresser. There’s a 15-minute video showing how some of them work.

And then, within this rather meticulously bourgeois décor, there is Erwin Wurm’s ceramic work. Tactile, fleshy, almost uncivilized  and blunt. The contrast with the delicate environment could hardly be more complete. Small wonder that the museum’s administrator, doubling as a guide and ticket seller, was more than a bit surly when I asked him what he thought about Wurm’s work.

The pieces look as if they are thrown together in a fairly haphazard way, with casts of body parts – ears, fingers, lips – attached in improbable places. Many seem to be off-balance, with asymmetrical holes and protuberances.

Most works are covered in a thick, pasty ceramic glaze, off-white, blueish or pink. It provides the sculptures with an unhealthy sheen, like the skin of fat people. In other places the shining globs remind you of intestines or bubbling lava.

Erwin Wurm always has had a subversive, sardonic touch, but in this exhibition his anger and fear sometimes seems to outdo his sense of humour. For some people it may be too much, but this work will remain stored  in my mind, at least in the subconscious department – in the company of such Austrian luminaries as Ernst Fuchs, Rainer and Nitsch.

New Messages from the Art World in Natthagen and Guldagergaard

As a result of the Corona Crisis during the spring of 2020, we saw our stay at SPAR (St Petersburg Art Residency) morphed into a Virtual Residency (see for our contributions). That also resulted in an Online Exhibition. If you want to see it – “Transpositions III: Mind The Gap” can still be found in the SPAR archive. Just scroll left on the main page of their site. Recordings of their public program events are available as well:

However, we were not content to sit still behind our screens. Despite the travel restrictions we managed to secure not one, but two residencies in the North of Europe: a very short try-out stay at Natthagen in Norway ( and a regular five-week residency at Guldagergaard in Skaelskor, Denmark (

Art and mushrooms in the North

Mels Dees, 27 – 10 – 2020

Travelling towards the Norway ferry at Hirtshals, we had a few days to spare. And as one of our favorite museums, the ARoS Museum of Modern Art (with its spectacular roof promenade by Olafur Eliason) was in the middle of a Covid hotspot, we decided to look elsewhere.

It was not easy to find, but the Skovsnogen Art Space turned out to be an unusual place, rather unkempt and without any of the usual suspects like Rodin or Giacometti – or Kirkeby, for that matter. There is no guide, no fixed entrance. You can determine your own entrance fee and there is no Gift Shop to pass when you want to get out. The Skovsnogen Art Space looks like a relic from the 70s or 80s, and that is probably exactly what it is.

Not amazingly original, but very well done: it takes a lot of effort to make an elaborate joke like this – and succeed. Kids love it, anyway

In some places the Skovsnogen Art Space looked like an artist’s workshop or a weird holiday camp, in others like a dump. Yet it was quite an adventure to walk through – impossible to predict what you were going to encounter next. Which is exactly what makes you want to go on.

Obviously, different artists had worked in this small valley, and they still were at it – there was a cement mill standing around.

Not all sculptures in the ‘workshop’ were perfect or even finished, but the atmosphere was one of medieval dedication. Here and there, there were  rather droll and amateurish pieces, but the unpretentious surroundings made them more interesting and sometimes their patina or decay lent them a certain dignity. I know from experience it’s not easy to react to and compete with nature if you work from your studio. So creating sculpture in situ seems like a good idea. At least it saves you the shock of seeing your piece’s size cut back to outdoors dimensions.

Huge cement blobs, made by simply filling bladder-like bags, acquire a sinister, life-like quality, while the tree gnome looks like it’s straight out of Lord of the Rings

Of course many artworks were well thought-out and executed. A good example was Walden, (too) obviously inspired by Henry David’s Thoreau’s famous book about a year’s stay in a wooden hut on Walden Pond. His account is also “a personal declaration of independence, a social experiment, a voyage of spiritual discovery, a satire, and—to some degree—a manual for self-reliance” (Eiderson). The 3D-version of Thoreau’s hut was precise and charming, but lacked the original’s  layered meanings and romantic ideas – still, it provided an exquisite sense of deja-vu.

A kind of 3D-illustration to Thoreau’s masterpiece, but you soon start wondering what it is supposed to add

Quite a few works were so dilapidated that it was quite an effort to reconstruct how they had looked or what they were meant to mean. Strange enough, that did not reduce the pleasure of exploring: it goes to prove how much art-viewing is nowadays approaching archaeology or simply puzzle-solving. At what state of decay does an artwork stop functioning, i.e. when does it cease to be a work of art? (Leaving aside the question what insects and other animals, or aliens descending to earth in an aeon or two,  will think of our art…)

You may lose your track in Skovsnogen Sculpture Park, but one thing is certain – you won’t be bored

A counterpoint to all this anarchistic turmoil is the cheerful construction by the professional  playground designers Monstrum. It’s a sensible sculpture for kids and grownups, beautiful, cleverly made and well-kept. Very Danish, if you ask me. Good, clean fun – nothing that can hurt or offend anyone, physically or psychologically. Then again: it does not move you deeply either. Very Danish, indeed.

Monstrum: lovely to see, crawl through and play hide-and-seek. Not much more, but often that’s quite enough

Then there are two artworks that do not really fit in. Rather harsh-looking concrete structures, one looking like a brutalist communist factory, the other like innocent street furniture. That first impression is deceptive, however.
The ‘factory’ turns out to have no other product than safety and warmth (in a shelter with a simple woodstove) and peace and quiet (in a kind of meditation room).
And what looks like a small group of purely functional steps turns out to be remarkably ambiguous: yes, it is a means to get higher up on the slope – but once you are there, it morphs into an Olympic podium, with the number one place slightly higher than the second best (to the right) who stands again higher than the third place to the left. An  icon of competition, you could say.

Two quite serious sculptures in the middle of a riot of crazy, cheerful and funny works

As you must have noticed, I inserted some portraits – mushroom portraits – between the high and low art we encountered in Skovsnogen. In the first place just because we found them there. And mushrooms interest me, especially if they taste good. Also because they are among the most beautiful natural structures you are allowed to see and photograph without paying for it. You must be a trained mycologist to be able to name them accurately, but it’s not hard at all to enjoy them. So I show them here, most of them unnamed.
The same goes for the titles of artworks I included, as well as the names of their creators. Because of the scarce and incomplete information, but most of all because I felt I did not need them to enjoy the works, I just did not bother. Sorry for that, but it is also (meant as) a compliment.

Norway residency 2020

Mariëlle van den Bergh, 3-10-2020

In the third week of September 2020 Mels and I arrived at Natthagen, in Julussdalen, about 150 kilometers north of Oslo.
It was the inaugural residency at Natthagen, an artist’s iniative set up by two Norwegian artists: Trond Einar Solberg Indsetviken and Robert I. Khoury, who is from Lebanon. We knew about the residency through our mutual friend Kitty, who tipped us and since we were scheduled to do a ceramic residency at Guldagergaard in Skealskor, Denmark in October, we thought we might as well make  a detour to Norway first. Mind you: this all happened during Corona times and we had to travel with letters that invited us to do artistic work at both locations. The Danish authority at the Color Lines Ferry read it all and said that we had to go 10 days in quarantine at Natthagen. No problem, as it is in a remote area with only 6 houses, in the middle of a fairy-tale wood, in full autumn colours by then.

View of the river at Natthagen

I admired the guys, who  had had the guts to start this residency, inviting foreign artists, while half of Europe was facing the Second Corona Wave and borders were almost closing again, regulations were tightening, and even the usual crowd on the ferry (staff and truck drivers) were a bit out of their normal behaviour, looking puzzled over their obligatory face masks.
Natthagen means in Norwegian “Night Garden” and indeed there is a small patch on the vast estate, where in the remote past the lady of the house tended a garden with flowers that bloomed and gave off a bit of light at night.

Drone picture of the estate

The estate is on a vast patch of land, containing woods, pastures, and buildings. The main building used to be a school, which was literally incapsulated into a new modern and comfortable building: the living quarters of Robert and Trond E and where visitors are received, and symposia and workshops are organised as well.  We stayed in a kind of cosy wooden cabin, a Hans and Gretel house, which is called Gamalstu. We were told that in old times up to 11 people used to live there. It is, as most of the Natthagen buildings, a protected site, so no changes can be made unless there is specific permission to do so. That is also the reason why there is no water and no bathroom in the Gamalstu. We had to walk fifty meters to the main house, where we had a bathroom for ourselves. Water was taken in a bucket and since we camp in tents now and then, for us it all added to the plesure of the “outdoors” life. At night we burnt wood logs in the sturdy stove. For Norwegian artists this might be quite normal and it is for us as well, since we heat our studios with wood stoves, but it might be a bit awkward for many other artists. These houses are wooden houses in the middle of a vast forest. Rule number one is to be safe with fire. So burning a romantic candle might be a bad idea and leaving things unattended on the electric stove as well.

Gamalstu from the air

Profiting from a couple of sunny days at the start of our residency, Trond E and Robert took us on a tour through the woods and it was enchanting! The beauty and spaciousness were breathtaking. The deciduous trees were turning into their autumn colours and various lichen were spread in a thick carpet. We picked mushrooms to use them for dyeing woollen yarns. Mels of course had other plans with the mushrooms: he preferred the edible types.

Robert and Mels and Karl Johann (eekhoorntjesbrood)

Trond Einar Solberg Indsetviken is an advanced water colour artist, with many solo shows in Norway and international exhibitions. Colour is his greatest talent and he conceives all fibres as textiles. He works on all kinds of paper, but very often on rag paper and this is of course made from textile fibres. All his life he had studied the behaviour of pigments, colours and water. When, years ago, he came across plants and mushrooms which could stain fibres and produced colours with a good light stability, he wanted to know everything about it. Right now he is one of the experts in this field and knows many local and foreign mushrooms, plants and lichens

Non-edible mushroom (velvet roll-rim) but good for dying
Mushroom dyeing book
Cooking dying mushrooms
Trond dying the yarn
Mushroom-dyed yarn and cotton

Robert I. Khoury is the head of the Natthagen museum, which is another building on the estate and which in normal times, would be open to the public during the Summer months. Next to the museum is the Art Gallery.
In a sense, Trond E is a local boy, born not far from the place they live now. Part of the museum is dedicated to photos and memorabilia from his family.

Museum wall
Art work by Trond
Cat doll

But Robert and Trond E as curators have collected much more. The museum boasts a distinctive collection of textile machines and tools, often dating back quite some time. They collect Scandinavian textiles and try to reconstruct how some of these were made and used. Some techniques date back to Viking times; Trond E makes his own wooden tools to perform an old type of crochet and sells them in the Natthagen shop. Both artists are highly skilled textile artists.
Trond Einar Solberg Indsetviken wrote a book on twin knitting: “En fargeglad tvebandstrikker og hans venner” ISBN 978-82-998149-2-8.

Trond at the loom

Robert I. Khoury specializes in bobbin lace. In Glomdals museum in Elverum, he spent much  time studying antique pieces and Christian baptism hats, reconstructing the patterns for historical research and making museum copies, since the silk originals from the 17th century are gone. In 2016, Robert was awarded a Norwegian State scholarship to study lace, with which he financed a trip to Slovenia and Italy, both centres of advanced bobbin lace production in the past.

Robert making lace
Baby jacket in lace

Right now Robert and Trond E are working at building a collection of lace pieces for the Natthagen Museum. Old bobbins and old pillows, as well as old patterns. They have a collection accumulated by a Norwegian girl, who went to study in Saint Petersburg when the Russian revolution broke out. She bought lace with all the money she had, hid it inside her coat and smuggled it to Norway. As soon as she returned to Norway, the lace started to become industrially produced, and the value of these hand-made pieces went down. She kept all the pieces for herself. Robert got the pieces when the woman died and the family inherited the lace, didn’t know what to do with it and donated it to the Natthagen Museum.

Band weaving

Both curators are collecting textiles from other countries as well. They studied the old band weaving techniques in Syria and made reconstructions of band weaving from Scandinavia. Wooden band weaving cards were found in the Queens ship which is exhibited  in Oslo, in the Viking Ship Museum,. So this way of making strong ribbons dates back a long time, but nowadays hardly anyone knows how to do it. Trond E and Robert want to preserve this knowledge and hand it to future generations. So one day Trond E taught me the old technique of band weaving too. I managed to make a long ribbon in a traditional Norwegian pattern and colours during the residency.

Band weaving Mariëlle in the gallery show

Since Robert was born in Lebanon, they have connections there as well and there are plans to initiate another artists-in-residence, this time in Lebanon. It will be one of the very, very few residencies in the Middle East and since the Natthagen residency is linked to the Lebanese one, these two residencies might prove to become quite important and a successful terrain for artistic cross-fertilization. Another building at Natthagen is the Old Barn. Mels worked here with plaster in preparation for his residency at International Ceramic Research Centre Guldagergaard in Denmark. He chose interesting tools and other objects that were lying around the barn and made plaster moulds from them. In Denmark he will press clay in them and use the ceramic versions in installations later this year. This location is quite primitive, without water, heating or electricity. There is a long work bench now, but practically not much more. However, there are plans to convert it into a studio with a huge glass wall overlooking the surrounding fields and woods, with electricity and therefore light and heating. As soon as  Natthagen has secured the necessary funding, the renovation will start. There are further plans for a Textile Studio upstairs. Natthagen has looms, spinning wheels, carding equipment. But this too will depend on grants enabling Natthagen to build this second studio, which could become a very important textile residency in Europe in the future.

Studio where Mels worked
One of the moulds at the final presentation

Trond E showed us some of his water colour works. One series in particular caught my eye and, being myself a textile artist, I suggested to try to felt one or two of these works. Trond had done some felting, mostly beads with the village children in Lebanon, but he was in for new experiments. So next day we started with a crate of beautifully coloured wool, bubble wrap, olive soap and a table next to the fire. We worked outdoors on the veranda of the main house, since felting is a wet business.
In felting, layers of wool fibres are stacked on top of each other and the last layer, the top layer, has the image or colours you want to show. We looked closely to the water colour to guide us in trying to capture it’s atmosphere. I had done some felting before, but never on this level and never so precise.
We were quite satisfied with the result and some days later we did a second watercolour in this way, differing some procedures and including pebbles as well.

Wool arranged with watercolour in the background

The last felted work was an idea of Trond E: stand outside on the veranda and try to capture the view in felt. The last working day we did just that and I was very impressed by the colouring Trond E did by using his hand carder tools. This was like he was using water colour pigments and created the shades he wanted. He applied them expertly as well in the composition in wool.
All four artists had an end presentation in the white Art Gallery, that is also situated in the Barn. Because of Corona we could unfortunately have the show only virtually.

End presentation
To a dead bumblebee

We like to thank Trond Einar Solberg Indsetviken and Robert I Khoury for the wonderful residency at Natthagen and I am grateful for all the old textile techniques I learned and hope to be able to master and use them in my work in the future. This residency is in one of the most beautiful areas in Norway and we were lucky to be the first artists in the Natthagen residency.

September 2020: what went on before

Mels Dees: Graphic art – or not

After making etchings and etched paper reliefs for several decades, I stopped doing it, rather abruptly, about 25 years ago. The main reason was my health – at that time, solvent-free  etching chemicals were hard to get and their results were far below par.  Also, public interest in traditional graphic art had been dwindling for years.

CODA Museum, 2006

In fact, it was just in time, as around 1995 the first affordable computers able to handle visual data appeared on the market. Affordable to me and other artists, that is. I jumped upon the new technology and began to manipulate photographic material and make computer-aided and 3d-designs. Within a few years this, together with spatial and outdoor installations, constituted a major part of my artistic output.

Artificial Memories13

Although pictures I have taken myself are often the source material for my work, I hardly consider myself to be a photographer – in fact, I do not care where the images come from. Sometimes I use found footage, even negatives found in the garbage or in the street. Sometimes there are details I laboriously collected on the internet: not so much objets trouvés as objets cherchés.
I want the elements to combine into a convincing statement, in the way a fiction writer takes fragments of the world around him to create a story. These elements may also include texts, drawings and even musical scores. The final work is created on the computer screen, but I want it to exist off-line as well.

Kyoto Mouse Teaching, van Abbe Museum Library, 2016

To create a physical print, you need a large format printer of which you have full control: the printing speed , print format, ink types etc. No commercial printing office will allow you to fiddle with its machine, so for years I used the large format printer/plotter at Grafisch Atelier Hilversum, the Netherlands. After it died a peaceful death a few years ago, I got hold of a similar machine and managed to transport the beast to my studio on the first floor, where it has been doing the good work ever since.

This year, the five artists working at the studio complex of  Ateliers Patagonia decided to publish a graphic art edition, a folder containing prints by Mariëlle van den Bergh, Mels Dees, Paul Legeland, Guus Smeulders and Rogier Walrecht.  They range from delicate Toyobo prints to etchings and lino prints.

Beachcombing, 2020

My contribution to PATAMAP 2020, Beachcombing, is a photocollage that more or less had its origin in the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of the rising number of infections in our home area, my partner Mariëlle and I decided to stay on the ‘Quarantine Island’ of Terschelling for six weeks longer than originally planned. Using a drone, I photographed the background material for my print.

As a result of my lingering distrust in depictions of reality, I always have had the urge to fold 2-dimensional images into 3d reliefs and objects. In that way I created shells and other natural shapes out of technical drawings and geometrical photographs – and the other way around. In apocalyptic phantasies that were aroused by the pandemic, I saw how these shapes were washed ashore on the island.

Detail Beachcombing, 2020

To me, it is unimportant if photography is included in the graphic arts or not. It is one of the few techniques which is suitable to take itself as a subject. Including a photographic picture (of a picture, of a picture etc) in a photograph seems natural. In that way I could turn Beachcombing into a melancholy reflection on my own art, and that is what I was aiming for.

August at Ateliers Patagonia: Etching the Terschelling Landscape

Mariëlle van den Bergh, 19 September 2020

In previous blogs you could see us being in lock-down, caused by the COVID-19 on the island of Terschelling in the North of the Netherlands. We cycled around and later I made black ink paintings on Chinese rice-paper from the characteristic dune landscape.
At home in Eindhoven, we worked on our graphic print for the planned graphic album PATAMAP, which will be presented in November, during the Open Studio Days of Ateliers Patagonia. There are five artists and each one works in a different graphic technique. Mine will be an etching on zinc, using the sugar water technique.

Sugarwater rendering of Terschelling Landscape
Sugarwater painting covered with etching ground

You start with making the first lines of the painting, using a solution of sugar water and soap. When this is dry, you cover the plate with etching ground. When this dried as well, you can open the sugar water lines by washing them away in warm water.

Etching bath with plate
Inking the etching plate

Now you can etch relief by immersing the plate for a while in the acid bath. From that moment on, you rework the etching plate by covering parts, filling parts with aquatint (resin dust  melted on the plate), scratching parts with sharp tools (dry point), opening up covered parts and so on.

Etching plate pus three prints
Five small Terschelling etchings

I worked with 6 small and 6 big etching plates. I tried all kinds of different techniques and eventually choose the etching plate that could withstand the making of many prints. If you print an edition, you have to choose a plate with substantial relief, because in the process of inking, wiping and printing the plate it will wear down and it has to last the entire edition. You always have to make some more prints, since each print is handwork and you have to learn to judge what nuances you prefer and what is a decent print in the eyes of an expert. I was helped a lot by two graphic experts: Paul Legeland and Mels Dees, both fellow artists at Ateliers Patagonia.

Small etching of Terschelling landscape
Test print large etching


From Launceston to Bilpin

Marielle van den Bergh, March 2020


In 2006 we went to Tasmania for the Poimena residency at the Launceston Grammar School in the second city of Tasmania: Launceston. The artist and head of the Art Department, Katy Woodroffe, had initiated the residency. We, Mels, our 8 year old son Quirijn and I, slept in a small unit, which was built to accommodate visiting parents of the boarding school students. We had our meals in a Harry Potter-like hall and had a studio in the annex to a Victorian villa, where the Art School was situated. In order to be able to make my installation of paper, I had written in the proposal, that we would travel through Tasmania to find a characteristic feature of the island, as a starting point for my work.
I also had to gather fibres, which would be a constructive element in producing the paper works.
Katy has a magic wand  – she waved it and we were provided with a car. We travelled for a week through Tasmania and fell completely and for ever in love with the island and it’s pristine, unspoiled nature. Especially the giant Old Growth eucalyptus trees (dating from pre-colonial times) are magnificent. Maybe I should say: were magnificent. We found out that these hundreds of years old trees were being harvested at the time (maybe still are?) for the Japanese cardboard industry. Lots of bumper stickers on cars protested against the destruction of these irreplaceable natural resources and symbols of beauty.

Quirijn inside a giant Eucalyptus tree with burnt-out interior

For a Dutch girl, with half her native country below sea level, and a natural instinct that is aware of the surrounding water at all times, the sight of the black, charred landscape was quite impressive. But nature was able to regenerate itself, we could see that from the fresh green sprouts on trees and on the ground. However, the carbonised wood, intensely black and spread as far as the eye can see, made us realize what kind of inferno had caused it. My installation at the end of the two months was called Burned Bush and was presented in the Poimena Gallery during our show ‘Double Dutch’. I used Chinese rice paper on a frame of local fibres (tree bark and button grass). I had worked before with these kinds of materials and built quite large installations with it in the past.

Detail of installation Burned Bush, with paper and local fibres, in Poimena Gallery, Double Dutch exhibition

The wild primal nature of Tasmania enchanted us, especially in places like Cradle Mountain with its multitude of lichens and ferns, and we marvelled at the mountain ridge of the Walls of Jericho and the orange lichen on the shore boulders in Bay of Fires.

Tasmania revisited
After 2006, we revisited Tasmania in 2018, and found some things had changed over those years. Tasmania has become a popular tourist destiny and is now quite fashionable. Yuppies from all over the world can be spotted in the island’s main city Hobart. Traffic is denser; it is hard to stop on the two-lane roads. More “foreigners” (mainland Aussies) have settled in Tasmania. Katy used to joke that Tassie was usually left off the map of Australia. In 2018 it was definitely a focus point of many people and companies with dubious agenda’s. There is a plan to built a luxury resort in the middle of a nature reserve – the rich will be flown in by helicopter. Somehow it also felt as if a lot of the Old Growth trees were gone. And there was snow at Cradle Mountain, which meant that the accommodation was fully booked and the park was filled with tourists, enjoying the cold winter weather. A bit like a Swiss ski resort in full swing. It looks like Tasmania is being discovered by mass tourism, mostly from east Asia.
The locals are not complaining about these developments – not yet, but many are worried. The best example of a pristine island, featuring breathtaking scenery but with a limited infrastructure – basically a single ring road – is Iceland. In summer, a brief season, the roads are packed with tourists, all driving in the same direction and all meeting each other over and over again during a couple of weeks. There is a discussion among the locals: making money in the tourist industry or voting for a limited access of visitors to the island. During at least part of the year, peace and tranquility are gone.
Back to Tasmania: how to manage large quantities of nature-loving tourists wandering over the wooden floorboards constructed in this beautiful natural reserve? Families of notoriously shy wombats sitting under a small bush may see a thousand people or more passing by on an average day.

Cradle Mountain National Park

BigCi residency in the Blue Mountains
But before visiting Tasmania in 2018 we had been in Australia, at the BigCi residency on the border of Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains. BigCi stands for Bilpin Ground for Creative Initiatives and has been founded by director and sculptor Rae Bolotin and her husband Yuri Bolotin, who is an explorer, bushwalker, writer and environmental activist.
Guided by our taste for wild, unspoiled and unusual places in the world, I found the BigCi residency on the Transartists website. Looking at the BigCi website, I found images of the Garden of Stones: an unique region in the Wollemi National Park, where – over thousands and thousands of years – soft sandstone layers were washed away and harder parts, sometimes very thin, curled up into natural sculptures of flowers and exotic plants, all in stone.
The area has also rock pagoda’s, sculpted layered mountains, towering over trees and undergrowth that hide cliffs that are hundreds of meters deep. We had to go there and experience these natural wonders.

Picture taken by Quirijn Dees of a bushwalk with Yuri Bolotin in the garden of stones, Wollemi National park

We applied as three artists, were selected and went as a family. Our son Quirijn is studying Sonology, Electronic Music at The Hague Royal Conservatoire and wrote his own work plan. My plan was to research the primal nature and use this for the installation I was planning to make for the solo exhibition at Museum Rijswijk, later in the year. The installation would be made from textiles and ceramics and I was granted fundings by the Mondriaan Foundation and Foundation Stokroos. These awards made a big difference, because in Australia you realize that scale is an important requirement in artwork, based on this environment. The art work had to be big and as overpowering as I could make it.

In the background: the Art Shed. Front: a table with tree bark for harvesting fibres in the paper tree
Barn with work in progress on paper tree.

BigCi consists of two buildings, located at the border of the Wollemi National Park: you only have to cross the dirt road. The main building is called the Art Shed and is a sober, but extensive multifunctional two-story building. At the ground level there is the communal studio space, and at one side the kitchen, bathrooms and Rae’s office. At the back of the building there is the library and multimedia room. The second level houses the rooms for more residents. The Art Shed has a very big roof, where rainwater is collected and directed to two big water storage tanks. The roof is also fitted out with solar panels, to generate electric power. In an area like this, one has to be independent and make optimal use of natural resources.
We were, however, located in another building: the Barn, this being a cosy wooden cabin, with a kitchen, bathroom, a big space where we all could work and two bedrooms upstairs. This building, which provides a lot of privacy, is often used by composers.

Rae and Yuri live down the road. On their land is a small lake, lots of trees, rocks, an abandoned sauna built by early Finnish lumberjacks, and some of Rae’s breathtaking sculptures.
Rae selects the participants for each month long residency quite precisely, fine tuning the mix of artists to make an interesting group, with the right creative chemistry.
Besides the three of us, we were in BigCi with the Australian artist Glenda Kent, the painter Terri McFarland (USA) and the Chinese, Germany-based artist Yiy Zhang. Yiy had won an award and was on an exchange programme with the Red Gallery from Beijing.

Yuri Bolotin gives a tour for all the artists on the BigCi grounds

The artists-in-residence
Australian artist Glenda Kent usually works with glass, building installations and figures from glass shards. She won the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize with a cute Teddybear, its ears are shards sticking out of its head. At BigCi Glenda focussed on a rather disturbing natural phenomenon: some trees in the bush are damaged by a beetle, the emerald ash borer, which eats the wood just under the bark. It leaves beautiful patterns on the skin of the tree. Glenda took rubbings and made moulds of an engraved wooden trunk. She also dyed paper with natural colours and used sun light to work on it.
The mould was to be used for glass works later at home.

Glenda Kent’s table, with rubbings, paper samples and natural dyes

Terri McFarland is a landscape painter, with a background as a garden designer in California, USA.
She had been on a residency in a breathtaking spot in Norway, making small paintings of the sea with scattered islands in special sunlight. One day during the residency, Terri, Mels and I drove out for some time to a valley featuring huge cliffs. Mels roamed around, taking pictures and taking risks, of which I was oblivious, since Terri and I were sitting still, making watercolours of the scenery. We were looking at a rock wall of a few hundred meters height at the opposite side of the valley, with trees of maybe forty or fifty meters high. The sun was setting, deepening the colours in the shadows. Besides the shadows lengthening, time didn’t exist. We could be sitting in eternity. The scale of the surrounding landscape was frightening and the realisation of the kind of power, that shaped these volumes, even more so.

Terry McFarland getting the colours right

Chinese Yiy Zhang is know for her performances, such as “Lebenslinien/ Sisyphos” (Lifelines/ Sisyphos).  She specialises in laborious, nearly invisibly subtle interventions in an urban environment, which she then records. At BigCi she prepared a performance, which she enacted during the presentation at the end of the residency, the Open Day. She sewed a coat, shoes and hat with the leaves of the grass tree attached to them. A grass tree is a another of Australia’s weird plant species: it grows 0,8 to 6 cm per year and can reach an age of 350 or even 450 years. In the performance, called “The Shell”, Yiy sat at a cosy table, drinking tea and reading the paper, while wearing the special grass coat and hat. You can find the film on her website:

Yiy Zhang’s performance during the open day at BigCi

Partner in life, crime and art Mels Dees has written below what his work at BigCi was about. He worked with stereo-photography and computer generated images, based on his photography. While giving his presentation in the library at the Open Day, he told stories about how remains of culture often trigger  his mind and creativity. He was very interested in the abandoned town of Newness, an old oil shale mining town in Wolgan Valley, that had been deserted a few decades ago. As a contrast, he used images of the thriving mining town of Lithgow where people are said to be so sure of the everlasting power of coal, that their street lights are never turned off. One of his pictures featured a meteor falling on the main street. The work was immediately purchased by a lawyer who had been fighting the establishment of new mines in the neighbourhood, probably to hang in her office.

Mels in front of his photo works, based on pictures made in the blue Mountains

Apart from being our son, Quirijn Dees is also a young Sonology student, studying Sound and Abstract Electronic Music in The Hague. He was quite amazed to hear the Australian birds making their natural sounds. If you haven’t heard them in real life, it’s hard to imagine their otherworldly songs. Some birds sound like water running down a plumbing pipe, others make noises like a cockroach with a bad cold. Quirijn had brought his recording device and spent the next weeks running out of the house, microphone in the air and becoming very frustrated because the annoying birds would shut up as soon as he showed his face. However, he managed to get the sounds he wanted, and presented an audiovisual animation at the Open Day, where Quirijn also explained to the public how he proceeded in the production of this work. He called his work: “heavily manipulated and transformed environmental recordings, combined with visual textures captured in the gorgeous environment. Thus creating an audiovisual work inspired by environmental elements.”

Animation, presented by Quirijn Dees during the open day, BigCi
Quirijn in the Wollemi Park
A deep and narrow gorge in Wollemi National Park, picture taken by Quirijn Dees on a walking trip with Yuri Bolotin

Working down under – a residency at BigCi

Mels Dees, 22-02-2019

Australia had already been discovered centuries ago by ‘us’, the Dutch – and some 50,000 years before that by the Aboriginals. But until last year it was the mysterious Southland to me, the place where people walk around with their feet backwards, where trees grow with their roots into the sky, where mammals lay eggs and saltwater crocodiles lunch on tanned bathing beauties.

Some stereo pics from our Tasmania residency

Twelve years before, in 2006, we had done an amazing residency in Launceston, Tasmania. Nominally Tasmania is of course part of Australia, but the island is far more cosy, friendly and relaxed than the wild and rough mainland. We really felt at home there – it was like an slightly weird, exotic version of our native country – and actually, twelve years ago, we all but stayed there to settle down forever and ever. We’re still not quite sure if it was the right decision to return to Holland…

Flying over an island off Australia’s NW coast

Mainland Australia is a different piece of cake. Not only does it take the greater part of a day to fly across it at 800 km per hour, but looking down from the airplane window it is clear why you would never want to (crash) land there. Most of the continent is about as inviting as the moon: red earth and scrub as far as the eye can see. No roads, just a few tracks. Hardly any signs of human activity – and most of the ones you see are pretty destructive. However, as soon as your flight approaches the coast the picture changes. Wide beaches, long, rolling waves. It still looks like a godforsaken, empty landscape, but your conditioned Western mind provides the lounge chairs, ice creams and long drinks.

Once you’re down in Sydney Airport, things are different, of course. Aussie culture can be more businesslike and down-to-earth than any other. Things are managed curtly, but friendly and quite efficiently – period. Which is OK if you want to get to your residency as soon as possible and get down to work, which we did. The major obstacle to drive our rented vehicle into the mountains was the fact there weren’t any maps. It was too expensive to use our Europe-based phone app, and the locals didn’t seem to need any – so gas stations did not sell them. Strange for a country where people still get seriously lost every year and sometimes even die on tracks in the outback…

Sydney Harbour

It was only after our residency that we had time to take a (much too short) look at Sydney. It’s a charming and welcoming city, on a beautiful location. The people we met were open and friendly, Chinatown is full of good smells and great food, and the harbor in the evening has a true fairy-tale beauty. Small wonder that people from all over world – China and South-East Asian countries in particular – are flocking to the place.

Why stereo photographs?

Mels Dees, 22-02-2019

More or less accidentally, stereophotography came to be connected to Australia in my work. Since childhood, I had always been attracted to the silent, frozen world presented by my grandfather’s stereoscope and his tiny (three or four) collection of pictures. They felt so much more mysterious and intimate than my father’s 8 mm films or my family’s colour photographs. So when we landed in Tasmania in 2006, and the huge Russian landscape camera I had brought in turned out to have been demolished by the customs authorities, it did not require a lot of mental exertion to land on the idea. With a bit of trial and error, I managed to construct an aluminum contraption which turned the simple digital camera we still had into a stereo camera of sorts. It did not work for moving subjects, but that did not bother me much.

Presentations in Launceston and Amsterdam

Presenting stereo material is always a problem. You end up with people waiting in line to peep through a private viewer and pictures getting mixed and messed up, or with a dark room full of people with ugly glasses, staring cross-eyed at a screen. My solution for our show in Launceston in 2012 was to make batteries of viewers, each with a single picture. That way I was able to preserve the private, dreamy atmosphere of my grandfather’s stereoscope. The viewers were made from recycled cardboard material and lenses from cheap toy binoculars. But the effect was quite impressive and I reconstructed the installation for exhibitions in De Meerse (Hoofddorp), Amsterdam and elsewhere.

City Park Folly, Launceston, 2006

Using stereo pictures to recreate the spatial experience of the Tasmanian and Australian landscapes turned out to be a good idea. Not only as a semi-vintage knack, but also because it induces the spectator to think about the space he sees. It might make him realize that this spatial experience – maybe all spatial experience – is actually constructed inside his head. Although the image takes on a tangibility that a single flat picture can never possess, it also becomes more ethereal, abstract and dream-like.

Model Tree, Wollemi Park 2018,

For the stereo pictures I created in Tasmania, I almost exclusively used black and white photographs, and restricted manipulation to negative and solarization filters. On the mainland, some 12 years later, I allowed myself the use of colour and computer-generated additions. This complicated the construction of the stereo images considerably. Colour creates depth in unpredictable ways and I realized that adding 3D-elements to a stereo picture is not easy at all. In many pictures I had to construct models in 3d (using Rhino), make a double stereo image and blend those with the background, keeping in mind the camera viewpoint, focus, lighting etc. And even then the results did not always convince (me).

Analoog en digitaal

But in Australia I made a discovery that made the presentation of stereo pics a bit less problematic. The standard size of old-fashioned stereoscopic cards is about 90 x 180 mm (the size is limited by the distance between human eyes). This turned out to correspond nicely with the frame of my Ipad mini – which until then I had used mainly to read Dutch papers abroad or foreign papers in Holland. It took only a few hours of tinkering to combine a 19th-century stereoscope (the closed Brewster type) and the case of my Ipad mini into an programmable electronic stereo viewer. Keynote presentation software is all you need to program endless series of stereoscopic pics.

Researching my Primal Nature Project at BigCi

Mariëlle van den Bergh, 20-03-2020

In 2018, at the residency at BigCi, Wollemi National Park in Australia, I started my research for the Primal Nature Project. This was an installation I planned to make for a solo exhibition at Museum Rijswijk and the work would be based on the wild, unspoiled nature of Australia and Tasmania. I wanted to make a combination of textiles and ceramics, both materials I have used in previous art works. I had applied for grants, but it would be months before I knew if the grants, by the Mondriaan Foundation and Foundation Stokroos, would be awarded.
At BigCi in Bilpin, I went on some bushwalks with Yuri Bolotin and took pictures and I made drawings of the scenery. The scenery is vast and unique, and especially in the area of the Gardens of Stone the natural rock sculptures are miraculous. I tried to get used to the visual language of the environment. The pagoda’s were strange enough, but these stone flower and plant-like forms would look awkward and exaggerated in another medium, except in photography.
Apart from drawings I also produced a paper tree, using local materials. Sticks, branches and tree bark fibres for construction, Cheap Chinese calligraphy paper as skin, Rae’s cement pigments for colouring and some glue to bring it all together. During the Open Day the tree was standing in the middle of the Art Shed and the drawings were on the wall at the first floor.

Drawings of the Gardens of Stone
Paper Tree on show at the open day BigCi 2018, photo BifCi

Apart from being a bushwalker and environmental activist, Yuri Bolotin also explores new regions and tracks in the Wollemi National Park. Together with co-authors Michael Keats and Brain Fox he produced more than a dozen books over the years, focusing on new walks, passes, flora and fauna, caves, aboriginal sites, historical places and industrial heritage. The books were all in the library of BigCi and at the disposal of the artists-in-residence.
We bought book nr. 6, ‘The Gardens of Stone National Park and beyond’ and it turned out to be most valuable back home, in the Netherlands.

Working at the LAB of the Textile Museum Tilburg
Half a year later, in the Netherlands, I was awarded both grants, which enabled me to make the work I wanted to do and – very important – on the right scale.
For applying at the LAB of the Textile Museum one needs quite a bit of money and a convincing plan.  The Textile Museum has a variety of departments, all with specialists in a different textile technique. For the Primal Nature Project I was going to work at all departments: Weaving, Knitting, Embroidery and Laser-cutting, Braiding and Tufting.

I started at Knitting and worked with Jan Willem Smeulders. We knitted on a fine knitting machine and made samples of colour combinations. The pattern is made on the computer and sent to the knitting machine. As a starting point you can use a digital image: a photo or a drawing, that is analysed and  reshaped into a suitable image which the knitting machine can handle. To get the right colours, we twined yarns to be knitted. They need to make the right thickness, right individual colour, that will in combination with other yarns make the right colour. Sometimes we also used a very thin plastic yarn, a monofilament.

Yuri’s book, the knitting programme and twined yarns.
Grey rocks and a grey knitting sample
Interim Ronya describes the knitted samples

We also started to work on coarser knitted cloth, working on another knitting machine and using a 0,7 mm monofilament yarn. The coarse cloth then shrunk heavily, creating a textile landscape. This demands quite a lot technical skill, both from the producer and the technician working at the knitting machines. Even the way you twist the yarn will influence if and how the cloth will be knitted. We produced big and long pieces of fabric, based on the colours of the Gardens of Stone, and while they were knitted, they started to shrink and wriggle, which presented quite an impressive sight. As a pattern I used the drawings of the rocks I made at the Gardens of Stone.

Detail of coarsely knitted sample in sand colours
Samples of the green knitted cloth
Green cloth being knitted on the knitting machine
Nearly at the end of the knitting process


I had worked before with product developer Marjan van Oeffelt. The last time was in 2017, on a series of  Rocks (Canada). Images are on Instagram: Originally I planned to have the woven parts in between the columns with coarsely knitted cloth. This didn’t work when, at a later time, in the European Ceramic Work Centre in Oisterwijk, I put the samples between the pillars. The textiles, made in different techniques, detonated. I solved the visual problem by sticking to the same technique for the middle piece; knitting in a combination of fine and coarse material. And two separate pieces, a standing and a horizontal rock, that would stand in front of the large middle part. The rocks were made of woven cloth.

Yarn samples on weaving programme sheet
Weaving machine and samples
Rock tapestry on weaving machine

Braiding (Passement)

Braiding was a new technique to me and the braiding department had a new product developer: Veva de Wolf. I learnt that there are different methods and different machines. The technique has a long history and has been used for many different purposes, like making cords for uniforms or curtains or decorations on dresses. What I wanted to do was to create vines which would match or contrast with the background. They also should have naturalistic details, like a rough surface, or carry flowers or leaves.
We made cords, in a dominant colour, but assembled from 16 spools with a different yarn each. If you want a dominant brown colour, you use more brownish yarns: some could be cotton, some wool, or acrylic, maybe one would be glistering polyester, just to catch the eye on a shimmer. So you mix colours and types of yarn as if in cooking, when you mix ingredients. It depend on what flavour you want, what you will use as an ingredient. In my case I used, besides the yarns, also rubber, felt (even the rest material after we had done laser cutting) and embroidered leaves and flowers. The other technique is called gimping: you use a cord spinning fast between two points. You can build up the cord by winding a yarn around it, feeding the spinning cord material. We made flowers and extra vines, using fibres (flax, grass, sisal).

Gimping, the spinning tool at one end of the cord
A long braided/gimped cord hanging in the studio
Gimped flowers with antique Indian glass beads


I had also worked before with product developer Frank de Wind. His embroidery machine is directed by computer images, which are drawn in a vector programme. The drawing will also determine the routing of the sewing line (which line first, which next, and so on) and one can choose in which pattern the machine will work (which embroidery stitch).
In my case we used water-soluble fleece and foam, to add volume to the material, and organza fabric.

Frank at the computer, drawing flower parts
Frank and interim at the embroidery machine
Embroidered leaves

Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is also done by Frank and he draws on his computer the shape and the route the cutter has to take through the material. You can use a lot of different materials. Funny enough, natural felted wool will cause a lot of burned-hair stench while synthetic felt cuts wonderfully.  I used long, laser-cut strings of leaves in the installation, but I also used the left over rest material as a core in the braiding of vines.

Laser cutting in natural and articifial wool
Frank releases the cut leaves from the felt
Laser-cut strings of leaves


Hand tufting is supervised by Hester Onijs. She usually works on a framed fleece from the back side, shooting loops of yarn through the material. Then the yarn is cut to a certain size, depending on the  size of the needle used. One can mix different materials: cotton, wool, synthetic fibres to make the right thickness and the right colours and mix these in order to get the right visual appearance. I used tufting to make the ceramic parts stand out. The tufting made the ideal surrounding edging for the subtly-coloured foam porcelain patches.

Hester shoots yarn through the fleece
Experimenting with different materials
Front side of tufting sample

Ceramics: working at sundaymorning @ ekwc

Nowadays, the European Ceramic Work Centre is based in Oisterwijk, in a former leather factory. Artists-in-residence usually do a residency of three months, which I also did in 2018. At that time I developed a foam porcelain technique, which I combined with knitted black and white material – resulting in a material that looked like landscapes.
In 2019 I was offered the opportunity to work at EKWC again for a couple of weeks. I kept working with foam porcelain and developed a range of colours that would match the textiles I produced at the Textile Museum. Foam porcelain is a mixture of components and adding oxides and pigments will influence the behaviour of the porcelain. To learn how to control the process you have to experiment a lot. I had transported the three big textile columns to the studio in the EKWC and hunted for matching colours in ceramics.

Porcelain sample, waiting for the kiln
Studio @EKWC with three textile colums and matchinh ceramic samples

Solo Exhibition Oernatuur, Primal Nature in Museum Rijswijk

On Sunday 27 October 2019 the exhibition Oernatuur, Primal Nature was opened at Museum Rijswijk by Australian artist Katy Woodroffe in the presence of the Australian Ambassador Mr. Neuhaus and his wife Angela Neuhaus. Katy, being the one who initiated the Poimena residency in Tasmania when she was head of the Art Department of Launceston Grammar School, remembered our Tasmanian residency in 2006, which had started all my textile works since that moment and which had been so influential in the newest work, the installation Primal Nature.
The show was also the last show curator Anne Kloosterboer made. She had started with the yearly Biennials: altering the Holland Paper Biennial with the Rijswijk Textile Biennial. These are international shows, featuring the latest works in fibre materials, and trends or extraordinary techniques from all over the world. They are always accompanied by an English/Dutch catalogue and many international artists are present at the opening. There also is a market in September. For a meet and greet and networking in the Paper and Textile Art world, I can recommend these gatherings. I myself was a participating artist in 2002 at the Holland Paper Biennial and in 2011 in the Rijswijk Textile Biennial.

            The work Primal Nature has been made possible by the financial support by
                        The Mondriaan Foundation and Stichting Stokroos   

There was a variety of activities during the show, such as an educational table with samples of all the textile materials and techniques used in the installation, as well as porcelain samples. The public was allowed to touch everything on the table. There also was an educational corner where the public could sew their own version of ‘Underwater Life’, using neckties and little rags I had provided. They could make their own small exhibition with some ceramic ship wrecks I had made. In three glass showcases more ceramic ship wrecks were exhibited, surrounded by more Underwater Life, made of ties and sewn by Outsider Artists and members of the Textile group STiQS. The museum also provided guided tours and there was a workshop where waste materials were recycled into small art works.
Australian BigCi director Rae Bolotin gave a lecture, recounting how her work as a sculptor had initiated the search for a bigger studio, which finally evolved into the creation of the BigCi residency, located at the border of the Wollemi National Park. Rae showed a variety of mostly international artists and the projects they had done at Bilpin over the past 10 years.
Her husband Yuri Bolotin’s lecture was about the special natural environment of the Blue Mountains, the Wollemi National Park and the Gardens of Stone. He explained how unique this region is in the world, how long it took nature to shape it and how vulnerable it is. The mining industry and even the Australian government seem to prefer a quick dollar over protecting the area, as the aboriginals have done for generations.

My own lecture, at the end of the exhibition, was on ‘Residencies and the influence on my artistic work’.
In BBK Magazine, March 2020 (Visual Artists Union), two articles were published about the lectures.
There are also two reviews of the show online:

Chris Reinewald on the website of Textile Magazine Textiel Plus:
Ans van Berkum on the website of Sculpture Magazine Beelden:

St. Petersburg – SPAR

Information about SPAR

Mariëlle van den Bergh / SPAR 15-07-2017

If you are considering to apply at SPAR, please read this interview Marielle did with SPAR director Anastasia Patsey:

Mlle: What is SPAR?

A: SPAR is Saint-Petersburg Art Residency. It is a programme that is located here, at the Art Centre Pushkinskaya-10. It started in 2012 and basically it functions as any residency programme. Visual and performance artists, as well as researchers, curators, writers, and educators come to Pushkinskaya-10 to live and work here on their projects. The period of stay dependsread more


Artists at SPAR in May and June 2017

We met Suus Agnes from the Netherlands, Marina Ross from USA, Andrea Stanislav and Dean Lozow from USA. Suus stayed 3 months, Marina 2 weeks, Andrea and Dean a couple of months and were actually at SPAR for the fifth time (with their dog). Mels and I stayed 2 months.

Marina Ross‘ project was Care for Beauty. She is an emerging artist from the USA, who is now enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Iowa. Her painting practice currently deals with the (self)image of the female body in the era of social media. The residency at SPAR is part of a larger research and is focused on studying representations of the body through visiting local museums, conducting interviews and creating new works. The works of the series “Care for Beauty” deal with the representation of rituals related to beauty such as applying makeup, looking at oneself in the mirror, as well as such events in a woman’s life as pregnancy and marriage, that often transform the strategies of (self)representation. The artists finds inspiration in the stories told by the female users in social media, staged photo-sessions, editing and careful curation of the visual content, short captions and comments and scenes from the well-known American TV series “Girls”. (Text SPAR)


Marina Ross


Suus Agnes’s project is called: Connect: Ecological Comics. Is a human being part of an ecosystem? Are humans simply animals? Do we have an obligation to look after the natural world? There are many ways to answer questions like these. Here in Russia I have spoken to people in remote and rural areas about their connection to the natural environment. I travelled to their houses, communicated digitally, or met them in the city and received a wide range of perspectives: from the problems with forest fires and bee populations, to the joys of living close to nature. A fire-fighter tells me it’s impossible for het to live a city life when she knows large parts of Russia are on fire every year. An Arctic scientist tells me about the methane gas bubbles that are appearing in the Far North due to melting permafrost. He calls for more awareness for the changes around us, so that we can adapt better in the future. A beekeeper explains how humans can both help and damage bees; and a villager speaks about the disconnect between people in cities and in the countryside. Each unique voice is visualised by choosing different artistic materials and colours. This is the beginning of my mixed-media graphic novel, in which I collect stories about the many ways humans are connected to nature. Suus Agnes is a comic artist from the Netherlands. Her work explores the meeting points of narratives, visual arts and environmental education. She completed a Master’s in Creative Non-Fiction Writing (Science Communication) at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and is trained in organic gardening, beekeeping, and nature conservation. Her narratives often investigate the connections between people and the natural world. Her work has been exhibited at galleries, libraries, stores and festivals in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. (Text SPAR)

Anastasia en Suus tijdens opening


Werk Suus



From the SPAR website: American artists Andréa Stanislav and Dean Lozow deserve the status of our ‘annual artists-in-residence’. They came to SPAR for the first time in 2014 and have been developing their work in St. Petersburg and Russia ever since. The multidisciplinary practice of Andréa Stanisalv engages sculpture, installation, video, and public art. She received a MFA from Alfred University, New York; and a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  The works of Andréa Stanisalv have been exhibited internationally at museums, contemporary art centers, galleries, biennials, and art fairs and are part of institutional and private collections worldwide. She is an associate Professor of Sculpture in the Department of Art, University of Minnesota – Minneapolis and the recipient of numerous awards including, including the Freund Teaching Fellowship, Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, McKnight Artists Fellowship for Visual Arts and many others. Since 2003 she works in close collaboration with artist and art producer Dean Lozow.


Andrea and Dean


Below are some of the activities we were introduced to by SPAR, needless to mention that we had to turn down many possibilities to be at opening of exhibitions and festivals. Just a random selection:

  • we went to a concert and exhibition by the Lithuanian composer/painter/photographer/poet Ciurlionis. The event was organised by the consul of Lithuania in the Hermitage.
  • Shortly afterwards, there also was a celebration and a concert organised by the Dutch Institute in Saint-Petersburg. Anastasia Patsey introduced us to director Olga Ovechkina, who had invited many Dutch and Russian scientists, business men and people from cultural or otherwise backgrounds.
  • At the courtyard of Pushkinskaya-10 a famous Berlin-based performance group, with mostly Russian artists, did a spectacular show with fireworks, dancing apples, a naked horn blower, dumping an accordion in a drain hole, orange smoke and a black flag waving while paper snowflakes fell down on the public.




  • Anastasia also organised a trip to a former Soviet building, parts of which possibly will be converted to SPAR residency studios. The relics from Soviet times – murals with heroic factory workers, red mosaics, bronze statues of model workers, abandoned trash in creepy cellars and a coat rack with genuine fur hats made the trip a real treasure hunting adventure.






This sunspot is mine: two exhibitions in St. Petersburg

Mels Dees, 25-06-2017

For an artist, the experience of visiting an exhibition will often differ slightly from most other people’s. Seeing someone else’s work may feel as if you enter his/her bedroom. Or his skull. Or, indeed, his studio. If there is any kind of rapport, you, as an artist, will be able to see what the exhibiting artist is trying to accomplish. And sometimes you are able to judge if his or her effort is successful – and that may make you happy, just happy. Or it can make you feel superior (such a lazy solution!), angry or envious.

But to me, the very best exhibitions I saw as an artist always made me think: I want to get out of here. I have to go to my studio straight away and get to work. Because, yes! This is what art is about and I cannot waste another minute to make it clear – in my way. And you dig in, you work and work, until you even forget who or what it was that got you so excited.

However, in St. Petersburg I found out that there are more ways in which other people’s art can support an artist: it may, for instance, make you feel at home. In this city I realized once again that making art is a way of living. Not just a career, not a way to create wealth or fame. It can, and maybe should be first of all, a way to create fragments of meaning, tiny chips of our dark and immeasurable reality that become intimate household objects. This sunspot is mine.

During the past month or so, two exhibitions in St. Petersburg have given me that almost forgotten feeling, the feeling that it’s all right. That it’s all right that all of us are working our ass off to create something worthwhile, while very few people understand or even care. And even that it is all right if you are barking up the wrong tree, selling nothing or getting no audience as long as you or someone else derive a moment of understanding from it – and probably even if nobody ever does.

ART MECHANICA at Kuryokhin Center


In the nineties, performance artist Sergey Kuryokhin travelled around Europe with his Pop Mekhanika show – and of course visited Amsterdam as well.

His shows were seemingly chaotic but mostly well-choreographed, featuring for instance a military band, choirs and a host of pop and jazz musicians

The first exhibition, Art Mechanica at Kuryokhin Center, often evoked the time that St. Petersburg still was Leningrad and art was a game you played against the establishment, authorities and stuffy teachers. In the ’80s and ’90s, Kuryokhin was a famous composer, pianist, experimental artist, film actor and writer from St. Petersburg. Several recordings of his wild and exhilarating performances were to be seen (to get an idea, see Sergey Kuryokhin live in Helsinki 1995, on YouTube), and the other artists reflected their mood, although in a less violent and restless way.


Ludmila Belova created the installation Overture, with 3D-printed porcelain figurines and music by the 17th century composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. This short movie fragment gives an impression (although the music is mostly drowned out by other sound installations).

The spherites is a complex installation by Daria Pravda, representing the ceremonial room of a fictional sect, the Spherites, which is supposed to have developed in Kronstadt, an island fortress close to St. Petersburg

Visitors can partake of the ceremonies of the sect, dating from the 60s, with typical soviet-era paraphernalia and a mystical spheroscope





For his sound sculptures Sergey Filatov uses high-tech materials and advanced technology to obtain subtle, sometimes barely audible effects (see and hear this fragment). He also is an author and musician, and he develops musical instruments.






‘rejected’ in the museum for non-conformist art


The second exhibition is in the Pushkinkaya-10 museum in St. Petersburg. Its title, Rejected, suggests connections with the ‘Salon des Refusés’ in 19th-century Paris, or with the Russian underground abstract art in the 1970s. But the exhibition shows that art can be rejected in many ways. There is a painting that was created because a piece of canvas was spread on the floor to catch the paint dripping from the piece Ivan Olasyuk was working on. ‘It received everything the other painting rejected’ – Olasyuk framed it years afterwards.



Of course, there were a lot of works that had been rejected in a more literal sense: Nikolay Yakimchuk’s collage of Putin, Rasputin and Putiatin (a 19th-century Russian Admiral) has been refused several times ‘because of the risk it would be damaged’. And ‘Alcoholorous’ by Mikhail Melnikov-Serebryakov was not accepted in the ’80s, because the exhibition committee said: “We all love drinking, and you’re criticizing such an amazing habit!”



There were other obvious reasons why painting had been rejected or somehow ‘got lost’:

The model depicted is a rather well-known Russian art critic, while the artist shows how he constructed the image


Andrey Chezhin’s Soap Opera had not been shown before


Even here the fly-ridden paraphrases of Malevich’s sacrosanct Black Square by Alexander Goncharuk were so controversial that the wall tekst was ripped off

The ‘Rejected’ exhibition was a pleasant surprise, which was not in the first place due to the superior quality of the works (although there was some pretty nice stuff), but because it contained a laid-back and humorous comment on St. Petersburg’s history of censureship and struggle for artistic freedom. Things obviously have not been easy for the artists here, but most seem to cope with a kind of carefree impudence. On top of that, the collection stressed the fact that a lot of the rejecting was done by the artists themselves, on the basis of their own criteria and judgments. And finally, the show as a whole implied a sly poke in the eye of the curators themselves, who are the new ‘powers that be’, the judges on which the artists’ success or failure depends in these neocapitalist days.



Mariëlle van den Bergh and Mels Dees, 14-06-2017

By now, we have got to know some of the inhabitants of our building, Art Centre Pushkinskaya-10. Let’s start with young Sasha, a sound engineer who helped us with our presentation at the Museum Night, together with his colleague Dimitri. When we returned the beamer to his studio we found him with the cat Marushka. Marushka is a temporary ‘lease’ guest at Pushkinskaya. She has only one eye, a feature dating back to the days of her life as a street cat. She doesn’t know how to purr, but she and Sasha sometimes collaborate in making works of art. She stretches out on the warmest place in the room: the copy-machine, and Sasha presses the button. Sasha also works in the sound studio on the second floor and in his spare time he composes electronic music. Some time ago he played with the idea to go abroad and study electronic music, but decided he was fine where he is right now, doing exactly what he likes. He also collects rare music on a special site on the internet, but he is only interested in rave music from 1980 to 1999. He has a hundreds of followers who attend his concerts, when he acts as a DJ. For people interested in a special, rather nervous variety of electronic music check this out, or if you want to hear Sasha’s own music:

Sasha and Marushka

Cat art


The next artist we came to know is Mikhail Kokorin, the maintenance man. After installing our new washing machine he showed us his wood mosaics. It is a typically Russian craft and he is good at it. How high the standard is can be seen in the Hermitage, where a lot of floors are made from precious woods, composed to the most intricate patterns. Michael showed us his kingdom, hidden behind the door with a “Komadante Hulio” sign and adorned with a cannon. During the twenty years he has worked in Pushkinskaya, he accumulated an enormous collection of works by the resident artists. We see his problem: there is more art than wall space. In his homely room in the back there is a series of his intarsia icons, in various kinds of wood, carefully shaped and inlaid.



Mikhail’s intarsia icons


Yulia, curator of the exhibition in the Great Hall introduced us to painter Ivan Olasiuk. We speak German with Ivan, who worked as an artist in Germany for some years after the Soviet Union dissolved. After staying in a small village near Stuttgard, he lived in a house in Berlin that was rented by German friends and where Rolf Biermann was a frequent guest. Ivan had exhibitions in Germany and other countries and we are impressed by his paintings. He says he wants to work in a human world: “Arbeiten mit einer menschlichen Welt”. Slowly his paintings seduce you. Layer upon layer can be unravelled, as on an old painted wall. There is a lot of depth in theses seemingly simple works. Language is very important for Ivan and to him, only the Russian language can express what he intends to say. But then again: Ivan is a visual artist and his true language is visual. Ivan sometimes works on a painting for years, revising it carefully until it is right. Surface is very important and Ivan has developed unique techniques that give the canvasses a worn-down appearance or just the opposite: very velvety and shiny. He doesn’t adhere to a fixed style or school. Sometimes he also inserts objects like photo’s. The painting “Das Kind” (The Child), which has an old picture of his daughter at the centre, encircled by velvet, rather erotic symbols on a deep purple surface. The symbols are his merged initials. We were lucky to encounter a fresh black painting, which he started as an kind of action painting at Museum Night, so the public could witness its evolution.

Ivan’s black painting


More about Ivan Olasiuk, see the short biography written by Yulia Pliashkevich: Ivan Olasiuk


We visited Anatoly Vasilyev in his studio, where he was preparing an exhibition in the Great Hall in Pushskinskaya in November. The title of this show will be “Wise Men” and Anatoly works with silhouettes of popes, Russian Orthodox priests but also with silhouettes of artists friends. Cutting silhouettes is a craft that was popular in the mid-18th century. Anatoly uses silhouettes and combines them with different graphic and painterly techniques to create his own universe.




Yulia took us to a door with three apartment/studios; she herself is staying in the space of Gennady Manzhaev , who is in his home region of Siberia, but we can visit his studio. There are icons and paintings and chairs with hand-sewn textiles parts and then we see more icons, also hand-sewn. These collages are quite special: varying from a Maria with child to Soviet icons with a red star and other political or social symbols. They show great sensitivity and a sense of humour as well, and we fall totally in love with them.


For pictures of his work go to this link and scroll down to the pictures: aslan gennadi

Nextdoor is Alexander Lotsman, a painter and draftsman pur sang. He works from nature, also plein-air, producing small oil paintings, graphic work and some pastel drawings. Alexander origins lie in the Baikal region (Siberia) and he likes visiting his old stamping grounds to fish and paint outdoors. But he also worked in France and the Crimea. If the weather is too harsh, he will build a simple plastic tent. We see gripping landscapes, beautiful evening light on small wooden houses and snow-covered villages.


The third artist is Aslan Uyanaev, who originally trained as an architect, but became an artist instead. In Art School he had to make figurative drawings and this, as often, developed into abstract painting, which he has been doing for the last 22 years. In his studio we can see quite substantial canvasses, nearly all square. The format turns out to be based on his material: jute canvas from old sacks. The shape suits Aslan well, because he often works on the canvas while it is flat on the floor, so he can easily add elements, only deciding afterwards how it should be hung on the wall. His colours are bright and there is a light atmosphere in his work. Sometimes numbers appear, but they just seem to be a pictorial element, like the vague faces on black-and-white copy paper. Aslan is one of the few artists with his own website: and he is, like Ivan Olasiuk and Sergej Kowalski, one of the founders of Pushkinskaya-10.

Aslan’s work


Aslan’s chair


Sergei Kovalsky,another  one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Pushkinskaya-10, showed us his studio and immediately initiates us into his philosophy. We see his first painting from 1969 and we are shown the last painting, part of his ongoing project to paint memories inspired by specific music pieces as heard on a specific moment in time. We marvel at an “Alternative Icon”: green, with a hollowed-out centre: “The sacred place is empty”. We see Kovalsky’s version of the vast Parliament painting by IIya Repin in the Hermitage. Here the identical politicians are grey-faced and there are a lot of da’s (yes) in the air. In a corner of his studio we discover a display case with the leftovers of a charred, black piece of wood. Sergei claims to have dug it up from Malevich’ cemetery, during a big public performance. Of course the painting is square. It’s a comforting idea that our Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam still has one black square left….. Another ongoing project is his Parallelosphere Philosophy. On this website, you will find a film by Monica Bernotas about Pushkinskaya-10 and Sergei Kovalsky explaining the history of the art collective and some of his art.

Sergej’s Hollow Icon


On Rachmaninov’s Music


On Lenin

Read this text by Yulia Pliashkevich about Sergej Kovalsky.

Sergei Kovalsky’s website is: If you click on pictures&music (left icon) and pictures&music&poesi-2 (right icon), you can download two great films about colours, music, paintings and poetry. See this short fragment to get an impression of  Sergej’s multimedia report of the early action days at Pushkinkaya.


The building of Pushkinskaya counts 34 studios, populated by musicians, filmmakers, actors, poets, painters, sculptors and other artists. From these studios around 10 are occupied by female artists. One of them is Xenia (Eugenia Konovalova). She was born and educated in Volgograd. She had many exhibitions, some in foreign countries. In 2006 she founded the DVER gallery/Open Door Gallery at Pushkinskaya-10. In fact we have seen her at work as a curator, explaining art in the corridors to visitors of the Museum Night.

We soon discovered Xenia’s brilliant ideas and sparkling personality. There was a catalogue with pictures of the ongoing project “Carrier Cockroaches project”: big insects from Madagascar, with oldfashioned postage stamps stuck on their backs. Each stamp carries the picture of an artist. Xenia collects artist’s-stamps-on-cockroaches as she collects languages. As in the project “Close Gibraltar, Save Venice” for a future group show. Mels is able to oblige her in several foreign tongues. She will paint the translated sentences on rocks which are (nominally) from Gibraltar and should be used to build a dyke in the Mediterranean Sea to save Venice.


Cockroach art stamp

Another painting with dark mountains turns out to be a nostalgic painting about the spoil tips in the Donbass region, where she spent holidays in her youth. Xenia plays with language as she plays with coloured paper, cutting up and sticking pieces together, using free collage techniques. In her tiny studio we see a big painting of the sunken nuclear submarine Kursk, a round painting of the space ship Mir, another live black cat (two eyes) and a movable “Green house”, a portable Art Gallery on wheels (see YouTube movie), which she takes out on the streets with whatever art she thinks people should take notice of.

Alien with herb family on earth

Museum Night


Mariëlle van den Bergh and Mels Dees, 25-05-2017

A few days ago Museum Night hit Saint Petersburg. A huge event, lasting from 18.00 on May 20 till 6.00 in the morning of the 21th of May. St. Petersburg public transport was running all night to acommodate the thousands of visitors moving from one venue to another. As it said on the internet:

Of course the Museum Night also involved Art Center Pushkinskaya 10, the organisation which hosts SPAR, our residency programme, the Museum of Nonconformists Art, Museum of the New Academy of Fine Arts, Sound Museum, many galleries, the Fish Fabrique music club and studios of artists and musicians. Preparations had been in full swing for weeks with at least half the building being involved in the event itself.

On Saturday afternoon the show Be like Children, Saratov non-conformist art opened in the Museum of Non-Conformist art. It was curated by Yulia Pliashkevich and Sergey Kowalski. This underground group of artists literally worked from the basement of the Saratov Art Museum – Saratov is a city on the Volga river, in the south of Russia. The group’s history could be read on a poster at the exhibition.


The group consisted of five artists, of whom only one member survives. The exhibition shows works by all artists, both from early times and more recent periods. There is a film featuring Vladimir Solianov, who made abstract work and shows drawings on the Volga shores of bathing people. Many of the exhibited works are executed on cardboard or wood from the museum’s transport crates. You still can see the lettering and the FRAGILE wineglass symbol. Yulia explains that very little material was available in those years. Artists had to improvise with whatever they could get.

Documentatiefilmpje Mels

Documentatiefilmpje Mariëlle

As SPAR artists we were involved in two items during Museum Night. We had an beamer presentation featuring work by both of us, accompanied by our son Quirijn Dees’ music. When selecting the works for the show, we kept Ecology, the Museum Night’s central theme, in our minds. We also showed our film Water (2004), made in collaboration with the late ballet dancer Lén Staals.


Our other activity was to conduct a workshop using waste materials – cardboard, plastic, cans and more – to recycle them into art works. Mariëlle made a mobile from beer cans and a wire clothes hanger as an example and to inspire people. It started off a nice collection of tin mobiles.


The hit of the night were the ‘monsters’ made from small waste objects Mels had injected with Styrofoam. If people got inspired and their fantasy was triggered by the weird shapes, they created the craziest beings on stick legs or sprouting from beer cans. In a couple of hours three big bags of foam objects were processed. Some of the resulting works were taken home – but many were lined up in a parade on the podium wall.

Samizdat History

Mels Dees 18-05-2017

Soon after arriving at SPAR, we started to realise we were living in a monument of sorts, or at least a tourist attraction. The complicated entrance (we have to go through a porch off Ligovsky Prospect, then a door, past the doorkeeper, down a stairs, out by another door, cross a small courtyard full of graffiti, pass a second porch to yet another courtyard, open a door with a primitive electronic lock, go up two flights of worn-down marble stairs – the lift isn’t very reliable – and open our apartment door with an aged brass key), this complicated entrance then, is often full of admiring Russian people taking photographs and selfies against the background of aging posters and improvised artworks.

The artwork at our front door. At unpredictable times it comes alive and clangs about a bit

The visitors range from very young and hip to old and pretty haggard and sometimes seem to be on a kind of pilgrimage to this place, which has been a stronghold of Soviet and Russian subculture since the ’70s. In one of the corridors there is a permanent exhibition about the political Samizdat during the ’80s, while there are several other, sometimes rather obscure exhibitions spread through the buildings, such as The Museum of Sound and The Rock Museum.



The Rock museum – consisting of only two small rooms – captures the spirit of freedom and resistance rock music used to spread during Soviet times and beyond. Obviously, it is inspired by the ’60s western pop culture but it has both a more existential and a rather home-grown look. Hardly surprising, as records and magazines were not available and song texts had to be copied in writing or with typewriters. Even electric guitars were almost impossible to get, and the museum shows some examples of beautiful home-made models.



The initiator of the rock (POK) museum is Vladimir Rekchan. He is an enthusiastic collector and one of the few old Leningrad Rockers still living to tell their stories of the seventies and before. Many of his friends have succumbed to age, drugs and rock and roll. Or to wodka, like Rekchan’s artist friend Sergej Lemechov. His underground drawings are toxic jewels, incredibly detailed depictions of the private and public hell he lived in. In the west he is virtually unknown – his work deserves more than that.








Victory Day

Mariëlle van den Bergh – 15-05-2017

We were lucky to witness the 9th of May celebration of the victory that ended the Second World War in 1945. In Russia you sometimes get the impression this victory was entirely accomplished by the Russians alone. Anyway, it is an event that evokes the ‘great’ Soviet area, so you see the hammer and sickle and the red flags reappearing everywhere. The main street in Saint Petersburg, the Nevsky Prospect, is decorated with stylish banners, flanking golden stars, all in a rather cardboard fashion and hanging high above the streets. On the sidewalks the commercial advertising pillars now show pictures of some of the fallen heroes. They are printed on huge posters, with their full names and other details on display. They were all different – it was impossible to find doubles. So each poster seemed to be a unique print, made only for this occasion. There must have been thousands of St. Petersburg’s fallen sons on the streets on the 9th.

The day started with parades everywhere but the main one was in Moscow. Here in St. Petersburg we had been able to witness the construction of the stand for the parade on the big square in front of the Hermitage, when we queued to get in the museum a few days before. The parade started simultaneously all over the vast country at 10.00 A.M. Moscow time. We were able to see it on a live television broadcast. Russian president Putin was of course overseeing the whole ceremony, which lasted for hours. Later we saw a compilation of the festivities in other regions. What they all had in common were the vast electronic displays in the middle of squares, showing the Moscow celebrations in real time.

Anastasia, the director of our residency programme SPAR, filled us in on some background information about the March of the Immortal Regiment. In the afternoon of the 9th of May, family members march through the streets, holding placards with pictures of beloved family members that died in WWII. Usually they also wear a bow of a orange-black ribbon on their breast. Sometimes they wave red or Russian flags. Mels and I went to see the fireworks at night. Coming and going over the Nevsky prospect, we submerged in the lively and cheerful crowd. There were families and bunches of youngsters afoot as were couples of all ages. Every hundred meters you would encounter a new treat like a living statue, a vendor of balloons, pigeons, a dressed-up bear, a beautiful girl in Louis XIV style, and so on. You make a selfie with them for some small change. And of course musicians would play. The merry fans would wave banners or MacDonald flags and sing along the popular Russian hits. We listened to two aged musicians, one playing the accordion and the other singing in a well-trained opera voice. Someone would toss them a banknote and ask for a special tune and then the whole small group sang some alltime favourite with dedication and ardent patriotism. Look at the video below!

video music performance

At 22.00 the fireworks started. The great booming sounds of cannons were heard everywhere and quite a crowd had gathered near a canal, from where you had an unobstructed view over the bridges and boats. The intriguing en quite complicated firework show lasted only 15 minutes, but was served in a continuous programme of beautiful pictures. The crowd cheered each time to show its appreciation. When it was over, no time was wasted and the St. Petersburg mob hurried home at full trot, or to a restaurant or railway station.


Mels Dees, St. Petersburg 03-05-2017

Instead of slowly travelling by boat and car for many days and thousands of kilometers – as we did on our way to the Reykjavik residency – it took us just a few hours to get to St Petersburg. I know, it has become commonplace to virtually everybody, but I find air travel increasingly humdrum and shallow. Both your origin and your destination are depersonalised, dissolved in a heavy mist of commercial imitation luxury. And during the first days at your destination everything remains slightly unreal. The soul travels by horse, indeed.

But when I look at the pictures I took over the past few days, the contrast becomes clear. Compare the idyllic picture of the wooden Foot I installed for the manifestation KunstenLandschap at Enschede, the Netherlands, with the violent (although humorous) art at entrance of our St. Petersburg residency.


The good thing was that, on the very first day, we lost our way in the outskirts of Piter. Nothing like getting lost in an unknown city to convince yourself of the reality surrounding you. However, behind the former Iron Curtain, few things are what they appear to be. The past tends to bend everything out of perspective and provides wry interpretations of even the simplest things.

Walking along Lygovsky Prospekt, just outside St. Petersburg centre, we passed a seemingly endless, yellow-painted wall. It looked like a 19th-century park wall, with the trees and the manor inside burnt down in revolutionary times and replaced by ugly industrial sheds.

However, on investigating the structure, it turned out that the wall had been extensively repaired – or even built from scratch – using Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), which must have become available in the Soviet Union only by the 70s or later.

So what happened on Lygovsky Prospekt? Was it an attempt to hide the ugly buildings from tourists behind a fake facade, comparable to the Potemkin Village built for Catharina the great? What about the other buildings in town? How real are they?





Mariëlle van den Bergh, St. Petersburg 04-05-2017

There couldn’t be a larger contrast between being an artists in residence in Iceland and being one in Russia. Yet, with only a three-weeks touchdown in Holland, Mels and I switched from one to the other. We took the airplane at Schiphol, Amsterdam and arrived on the first of May in Saint Petersburg.



Let’s compare. Iceland is Europe and Russia isn’t. To stay in Iceland there was nothing to arrange, just go there. To stay in Russia, you have to apply for a visa, and be officially invited by a Russian art organisation. In our case that was SPAR, Saint Petersburg Art Residency.


Also, although Saint Petersburg is only two hours and 20 minutes by airplane from Amsterdam and much nearer than many destinations in Europe, it is not considered to be European. You need to check your health insurance polis for instance, if you are covered for this part of the world. Saint Petersburg is the second largest city of Russia and competes with Moscow for being the nicest, most urban, sophisticated, wealthiest, etc. city of Russia. It hosts a couple of million citizens while Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, has little more than 100.000, one third of the country’s entire population. So Saint Petersburg is a big city. While in Iceland, we stayed at Korpulfsstadir, ten kilometers outside the centre of Reykjavik. In Saint Petersburg, we are right in the heart of the metropolis. As an illustration I include the views from both our apartments.



Both countries have their own currency, but there’s a huge difference in what you can buy for it. For instance: the price of a beer. In Iceland it is hard to find one in the first place. In special liquor stores, the Vinbudin, a nice home-brew beer would set you back some € 8. Which is the same price at Happy Hour for a pint in the local Reykjavik pub. Mind you – during Happy Hour you only pay half the usual price of the drinks. In Russia every supermarket has a broad range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Especially the Vodkas are omnipresent, but one can also choose from a real good variety of local and international beers and wines. A Russian pint can of beer is to be purchased for €1. We haven’t been in pubs yet, but you get the idea. There is a lot of food available in Russia and it has its own specialities, like a broad range of mayonnaise (with mushrooms, with herbs, with meat, with this or that fish), ditto pickled vegetables, and local pastries.


The other difference that catches the eye is the population on the streets of both capitals. While the general population of Iceland descends from Vikings and the rest of the people in Reykjavik consists of tourists, mainly Asian, in Saint Petersburg you will mostly just see Russian citizens.
But what a tremendous country it is! Its population ranges from Caucasian to Mongolian to Persian types. Although almost everybody speaks Russian and is Russian, it provides a very international atmosphere. Crossing the Russian border and continuing to travel through the same country, you could cross Europe several times over before you reach the end of Russia. I like this feeling a lot even if, in the tiny country that Holland is, you can also meet many nationalities. And sometimes visitors from abroad are already freaked out by the fact that we are with over 17 million people.