Sounding The Sea: An Interview w/ Bik van Der Pol
On June 15th & 16th Invisible Dust will be hosting a symposium, Sounding The Sea, with artists, activists and scientists all delivering talks on their work and discussing the ever worsening issues affecting the world’s oceans. Visit the project page here for information and tickets.
In the lead up to the symposium, we are asking some of the speakers a few questions. Today, we are speaking with the highly creative, Rotterdam based artist duo Bik Van Der Pol, who are also exhibiting work at Offshore: artists explore the sea in Hull.
Invisible Dust w/ Bik Van Der Pol shot by Guy Loftus
ID: Your work is normally site specific, how did you find working on site in Hull and how did you arrive at the concept for your Offshore piece, The Anatomy of a Scene?
BVDP: We were invited by Invisible Dust to create a new work as part of Offshore. We’d never been to Hull; we had various Skype meetings and visited the city for the first time last year. We met and talked to lots of people about its history; we met marine historians and we looked at the city’s Royal Charters, researching its history as a port, which is of course implanted in its DNA and permeates everything. It’s always interesting to look at the economy of port towns and cities and to see what happens when industry falls away and it’s replaced by something else.
We’d heard the stories about Rembrandt apparently fleeing to Hull in the latter part of the 1600s after getting into financial difficulty, and spending a lot of time here. The Ship Builder and His Wife is a fascinating work and the letter is particularly interesting [the painting shows the wife bursting into a room with what looks like an urgent written message] as we don’t know what the letter contains. We knew there was something in that idea of communication, both public and private, and took it from there, working very closely with Invisible Dust curators to create the work.
Bik Van Der Pol with The Ship Builder and his Wife by Rembrandt, Ferens Gallery, Hull. Image by Nick Harrison
ID: As part of your piece you have invited some people from Hull to write a letter, can you tell us about that?
BVDP: Visitors will see that the intriguing letter detail of Rembrandt’s work has been made as a carpet, showing only the couple’s hands and the letter. They will also listen to recorded transcripts of eight different letters that were written in 2017. We asked a number of people in Hull to write a letter, which could be fiction or fact, perhaps with an addressee in mind – the letters were then recorded by different speakers for the exhibition.
There are eight letters, each written by people from different generations and different walks of life. For example, one letter tackles the issue of Brexit and how the subject divided – and is still dividing – generations; it’s a young guy writing to his grandfather about how he voted and why. We won’t give too much away about the rest of them, but it’s fascinating to see how many of our behaviours and concerns haven’t changed all that much since the time of Rembrandt’s work, despite being from another age entirely.
It’s also interesting to look at how the written word can be personal and censored to the rest of us but then easily become public – for example, we’ll never know what was in the note to the Shipbuilder, whereas private Government notes about Brexit negotiations suddenly became very public [in November 2016, notes carried by a politician’s aide that included the line ‘have cake and eat it’ were spotted by the media and widely reported].
ID: Both Hull and Rotterdam have a rich maritime heritage, how do they compare?
BVDP: The rich history of each city is still very evident when you look around and look up at the wonderful buildings. Rotterdam has undergone significant regeneration over the last 30 years and is now thriving; it looks like Hull is undergoing a similar transformation. We just spent the afternoon at Fruit watching young musicians [as part of the Three Minute Heroes project] – the Humber Street area of the city is great and it feels like there is a lot of good stuff happening.