Bianca Severijns is a Dutch born artist who lives in Israel. Her sculptural installation range from wearable sculpture to wall relief made of paper. Through an elaborate process she utilizes this medium with remarkable skills to create simultaneously playful and thought provoking sculptures which evoke reflections on displacement, the meaning of a safe home, and coping mechanisms. For instance, her Blanket sculpture which is currently showing at the recently opened TLV Biennial 2020 particularly resonates with the angst during the pandemic. Since we have finalized the interview process before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we have recently re-visited our last question in order to bring her responses up to date.
AS: You were born in the Netherlands and live in Israel. You are also coming from a design background, designing a wide range of products, from furniture to toys. What would you like to share about those journeys – from Holland to Israel and from design to art?
Bianca Severijns: Before immigrating to Israel in 2007, I owned a design studio in the Netherlands together with my life partner. We designed children concepts for Dutch and International brands such as Esprit, Jelly Cat & FlikFlak. Our life was immersed in creativity and full of creative people. In Israel however we discovered that the design business was different and difficult, forcing us to change course. It turned out that the physical journey to a new country created a parallel journey from functional-usable-aesthetic product design to imaginative-inquisitive-provocative-communicative-emotional art.
Playfulness has always been a central anchor in my work. Play for me has to do with fantasizing, investigating, experimenting, creating, exploring and being spontaneous. During my design career in the Netherlands my partner and I played with various materials – wood, foam, fabrics and paper. Now I play exclusively with paper.
AS: It seems evident in your work that paper is your key medium, as you say in your interview for Allthingspaper (Jan, 2017), you have “an avid affection for paper,” and on your site, you are giving some reasons why – paper is vulnerable and humble but at the same time also decisive and powerful. What is the genesis of this affection and can you elaborate on what draws you to paper?
Bianca Severijns: Indeed, paper is my treasured medium. I approach paper with my bare hands which makes our relationship very intimate. Paper is vulnerable and humble while also decisive and powerful – perfect for conveying my artistic visions. The material is full of possibilities and begs to be transformed: you can cut, fold, weave, tear, crumble, roll, paste and layer it. Paper speaks to me, the sound when I tear it, the touch, the smell, the texture…it’s mesmerizing. Still today, I discover new things, develop new techniques and explore new paper-related elements. The play with paper is endless.
Unfortunately, paper as an art medium is still pushed into the category of craft or applied decorative art despite being accepted as contemporary art when used by grand masters like Picasso and Matisse. Rather than regarding paper as merely a support to draw or paint on, I treat paper as material that can be manipulated in new and unusual way. You can listen to paper because it has a memory, resistance, textures, limitations, a charm and so much more.
AS: It seems like you explore in your process temporality, rhythm and fluidity. You say, “it is a process steeped in femininity and labor.” Can you expand on that notion and how do you think it reflects in your work?
Bianca Severijns: The urge to make things with my hands is a lifelong passion that started when I was very young. As far back as I can remember there were always crayons, pencils, fabrics, papers, and paints to play with on our living room table. I am always attracted to the handmade. My artworks are labor intensive in that I tear each piece of paper by hand and then merge them into aesthetic compositions. Labor is a pleasure for me, from time to time I find myself in a meditative state, totally engulfed, drawn inwards.
Gender labels have always been attached to fiber artists, textile artists, and paper artists because the materials we create with are highly associated with femininity. I weave, merge, paste and sometimes even sew paper, techniques or art forms that are identified with female disciplines and women’s work. When my viewers look closely, they are amazed how each artwork is made of hundreds of hand-torn pieces of paper and appreciate the labor and time I invested in creating it.
AS: Let’s take a closer look at one of your recent projects in Venice, Protective Blanket Series. It seems to blur the boundaries between wearable art and sculptural objects, include other materials such as thread and fabric besides paper, and involve video of 1:40 minutes as well. What is the idea behind this series, your process and a brief description of the exhibition?
Bianca Severijns: I was invited by the European Culture Centre (ECC) to participate in the Personal Structures exhibition during the Venice Biennial 2019. The objective was to place established artists next to emerging artists from all nationalities. I created a wall installation of two Protective Blankets as a metaphor of fundamental human rights and needs such as security, protection, acceptance, respect and freedom.
My aim was to promote dialogue on topics such as tolerance and appreciation. Those of us who enjoy a degree of freedom, safety & fairness are lucky. The many paper threads that compose my Protective Blanket installation represent emotional testimonies of people either needing protection or providing it somewhere in the world – it can be in our community or on another continent.
Although often perceived as an ordinary object, a blanket is loaded with associations, connotations and expectations. It holds promise of care, warmth and protection. We are welcomed into the world in a blanket and we leave it in blanket. In the lifetime in between, we need physical and metaphorical protective blankets for our personal existence and well-being.
From an artistic angle, the Biennale was a wonderful opportunity to challenge the confines and perimeters of paper and how it is used in contemporary art. I created a flexible yet sturdy protective blanket that can be worn. The best way to demonstrate the movement was by video of the Protective Blanket worn by two models who sway with it on themselves.
AS: You touch in your video upon the meeting points between old crafts and digital tools. I found the video very engaging and evocative. My question is twofold – how do you see the meeting points between old crafts and digital tools and what role do digital tools like video play in your work?
Bianca Severijns: Maybe better to use “handmade” instead of old crafts. It was an exciting developmental process that gradually took on deeper meaning and expression. My personal signature style of sewn layers and to merge hand-torn papers into a prehistoric animal hide blanket vividly came to life on digital video. I discovered that the potential of the camera as a complementary art form to provoke thoughtful conversation about how people still require protection in our digital 21st century.
I am not a video artist; it was a completely new medium to work with. Initially I had a vision of shooting a sequence of still images that turned into a short video film to show the Protective Blanket as a graceful artwork in motion. Who knows, maybe this can be a springboard to more experimentation combining these two mediums!
AS: In Response to Place from 2018, you made five intricate paper objects. It says in the text that they are made as “testimonies of living in a country of extremes, conflicts and disputes.” I guess this in a way brings us back to the first question about your journey from Holland to Israel. This series seems to dig into your assimilation process within a hyper complex environment. What would you like to share about this body of work?
Bianca Severijns: My experiences as a new immigrant to Israel were the inspirational foundations from which my paper artworks sprouted. It was a life changing event of course. Coming from a so-called protective, safe, easy-going Netherlands, I was suddenly exposed to wars, terrorism, religious issues, a strong Middle Eastern mentality and so on.
I uprooted myself by choice, but many in Israel (Jews, Muslims, Druze, Bedouins etc.) were forced to uproot or have a family member that was forcefully uprooted. This subject intrigued me so much, it turned into the “Uprooted Series”.
I feel a strong correlation between my work process and this theme: my hand-tearing technique represents situations of being torn forcefully away from ties and belongings. The monochromatic color neutralizes feelings and associations to homelands. The time and labor invested to create the art reflects the required time and labor for re-rooting in new soil.
In the Response to Place Series the five art vessels mirror the complexity of living in Israel. I start each vessel with the same shape made of coarse black paper pulp. Then I layered them with hand-torn pieces of paper that are a metaphor for the layers of complexity. I play with the inner world – outer world. At first glance, the vessels appear to be attractive pieces of art. At closer inspection, each vessel contains distorted elements. I left holes, splits, cuts or total bareness as representations of the darker sides of living here. In some of the vessels I literally ripped off freshly applied paper pieces to create a resemblance of imperfection and disharmony.
AS: You don’t seem to shy away from exploring your personal life in your art. I am looking at your Sister series, where you depict your three daughters wearing your paper head vessels. As described in the related text, these paper vessels give a “fictional feeling and are free from any cultural values, associations or symbols.” That ties to an erasure of identity or up-rootedness. Can you elaborate on these ideas in this body of work?
Bianca Severijns: Sure, the head vessels created for the Sister Series carry no symbolism related to either the Netherlands nor Israel and the personal identities are erased as often happens when a person is uprooted. When I uprooted myself, I also uprooted my three daughters who were all born in the Netherlands. They were raised in a bi-cultural environment forcing them to actively form their cultural identity and consciously define it. The portraits were framed to generate an effect of timeless quality. Nevertheless, as a spectator, you feel the remarkable presence of these three unique individuals that are bond by sisterhood!
AS: Tell me about your Art-Zine, your online art-magazine.
Bianca Severijns: Five hundred printed Art-zines were my giveaways to visitors of the Venice Biennale opening night as a type of fun and more intimate catalogue that presents me, my art, photos of the work process in the studio, inspiration boards, quotes and insights. My daughter, Litay Marcus, and her boyfriend, Arthur Fraiman, did a fantastic job with their creative input. The online version is available on my website. The plan is to create a second Art-zine for my solo show this year.
AS: We have finalized the interview before the global Covid-19 pandemic and I asked you to revisit this question more recently: Where do you see your work developing these days?
After going through a challenging and confusing period of COVID-19 lockdown and political instability here in Israel (3 elections), I believe that my artworks of the “Protective Blanket Series” are more than ever representing our need for physical and metaphorical “Blankets” that protect our well-being, security, safety, freedom, and respect! So my Protective Blankets Series still will remain a focal point.
At the beginning of this year, I had a tight schedule of preparations for exhibitions planned in 2020 – The Tel Aviv Biennial, Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair, several group exhibitions, and a solo exhibition at the Hansen House Center for Design, Media & Technology in Jerusalem. Although we are slowly exiting the lockdown period it is all still a big question mark. But I am happy to announce that the TLV Biennial 2020 opened its doors last week. One of my Blankets is on show there.
I keep very active in my studio regardless if anything will be on show this year. For a planned group exhibition titled Confrontation-Conversation in Buenos Aires this coming October, I initially wanted to make a work dealing with “Femicide” but the sudden harsh confrontation and its effects with this pandemic changed my course. I suggested three COVID-19 artworks that are a natural extension of the social themes and humanitarian subjects in my art. As I see it, the confrontation addresses our dealing with sudden disasters, while the conversation relates to how mankind can leverage catastrophes for positive change.
My solo show at the Hansen House is postponed to 2021, I am challenging myself with a ‘site-specific’ or more accurately a ‘site-responsive’ installation. Before it became a cultural center, the Hansen House building was home to a self-sufficient leper community until 2000. My artworks will respond to the history, former inhabitants, and particulars of this very interesting building. So exciting!
All image courtesy: Sigal Kolton
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org