a conversasion with

Tom Van Den Wijngaert

The 24 of March, we had a lovely conversation with the artist, inside his atelier at Nucleo (Ghent)

AFFDP: Let’s start talking about the project “your presence will be noticed”, how did it become what it is now?

T: It was a funny accident actually, at first it was one big piece of fabric and then during the tryouts someone suggested me to try some cuts, or to dripping it, so I tried and here we are.

AFFDP: Oh, okay, this was casual?!

T: Yeah! Like the shirts as well. It all started with this picture. it’s a random picture I had in my library, it was like a far memory for me, it gave me the idea that everything was fading away, like you don’t exactly know anymore who and what. I tried to recreate them a couple of times but I think that it would never be the same.

AFFDP: Which one is the original?

T: The full left one, the red one, but I think it worked out really well, with the faking process. When I took the picture it was an accident as well, and it’s the best picture I’ve ever taken.

AFFDP: When we saw the work here (img 1) in the picture at Kiosk we thought about a meeting between two people, like a portrait of a relationship.

T: Yeah, it can work, it’s always accidental. Actually, I’m trying to work about the semiotic of marriage, the groom carrying the bride inside (the blue and white fabric piece), right now. Working with polyester and silk makes me able to have that smooth and soft effect. I also tried working with cotton, for a matte and natural effect. It also smells very good!

AFFDP: Like laundry breeze in the italian countryside.

T: Yes, exactly. I imagine like the Italian vibes of putting sheets on furniture before leaving the holiday house like ghosts. I’m trying to make some ghosts as well, with silhouettes and shape. You see a little bit of it, but you don’t see everything, all is around but hidden.

AFFDP: And what about the printed sign on the fabric?

T: It is a tattoo actually, my ex boyfriend’s, it looks a bit like a sport logo. Actually it may be the center of the whole project. “Your presence will be noticed” is about my relationship with him, the breaking up. I thought about the moment when all the memories that you have with that person are fading away. When you’re in a room full of someone’s memories, and each object scream his name. The whole concept of souvenir do talks about that, sometimes it can be a miniature or a magnet, but you can also have a simple object that is injected with personal meanings, I have this limited edition box of Tic Tac that I call “The sweet italian tricolore” I couldn’t opened it, I couldn’t throw it away, it’s just like standing there in my room.

AFFDP: Is the realness of the story an important aspect for you?

T: I always think about: “how can I tell a story, a very personal story, but make it interesting for other people?” I don’t want to give too many hints, I don’t want to tell the entire story clearly. This aspect becomes part of the research. I want people who come to see the exhibition, wandering around the room, giving them a little hint at a time. If you see the fabric work and then you arrive to the picture of the tattoo, you start wondering about the relationship between them. It’s about what you share, and what you keep for yourself, and just leave people wondering what happened, so they can make the story.

AFFDP: Like a plot, as fictional as real. People can see yourself in the work, but at the same time they’re trying to discover their own story.

T: People are very into reality TVs, they want to know everything about someone, but at the same time when a mystery is solved, they lose interest as well. This is also why I want not to tell a linear story but more like a random episode.

AFFDP: People are used to fragmented narration, also for Netflix and co., like after watching for the first time a whole serie and then you start playing random episodes

T: Yeah, you don’t know what is exactly going on, but also not identifying the players either, you can’t see mine or his faces.

AFFDP: Can everyone be anyone?

T: Yes, exactly.

AFFDP: Now do you want to tell us about this new project?

T: This is a working progress now. I started using these clothes hangers correlated with a video-text, describing each garment and connecting them to the owner. You can see all these hanged clothes, and then you see the video: “garment number one” with the description and just a random vague texts, like “when are we going to the opera?” or “crying with each other in the garden”. You get a little piece every time, just some little news. You collect little pieces, but you’ll get only a part anyway. I believe that when you choose a garment, which you’re attached to, and you want to wear it then of course you’re on a risk, of it being broken. When you go to a store, and you’re in front of the window, you see it, the perfect item, but you don’t have the money to buy it, so you just keep craving it. But then you buy it, and you don’t want to touch it -“it costs so much money so I can’t wear it now, it has to be nice and pretty and perfect!”.But then you start wearing it more and more, risking to ruin it, it’s like the stages of a cloth life. I used to be very precious about everything I bought, like books and CDs. I was very material, I bought a lot of books, a lot of magazines, I wanted them to be perfect and really hated it. More and more I started to appreciate the aging of objects, to be able to see the story behind it.

AFFDP: Of course the story is about a gay relationship, but do you want to talk about yourself as a queer artist or is it just a love story?

T: I don’t mind the tagline but I think that I share something more, I don’t think to be only in that one category, I think is too small, it can gets a little boring, a clichè. It’s a lot nicer being surrounded by people that do different kind of works. Not every queer artist wants to make very queer works, but mine yeah, mine is very Gay. During the process at the academy, some of my professors were like “don’t make it too gay, because you’re gonna be putted in a box”. I understand why he said that but at the same time I say to myself “Why not?”.

AFFDP: Do you like working in this Building (Nucleo)?

T: Yeah it’s fun, a nice space, very calm as you can see, I need this kind of energy to calm and focus, it’s also really close to my job place, so I can come very easily after work, it’s cute! In winter it’s very bad instead, it’s freezing, you’re here, all alone, it’s a little bit like ”eww”! So after work I just wanna go home, cry and sleep! (laugh)

A: Eating pasta! (laugh)

AFFDP: Do you usually meet people around here, like other artists?

T: Randomly, sometimes I’m the only one here! But it’s nice to know that people are around. Sometimes Nucleo opens the studios for internal artists, like a meeting, all the people of Nucleo are invited, they also do public open studios. Sometimes people create a little expo inside their atelier, it’s very cute, but for me this is a work space, I have everything here, I don’t want to hide or move away my stuff everytime. It is nice to be here, knowing that there are other people in the building, and that this kind of organization doesn’t exist everywhere. I feel blessed. Even in Belgium it’s not like that everywhere, is good to be an artist in Belgium for sure, there are a lot of opportunities, as long as you take and know about them.

AFFDP: Can we ask you something about the sport jumpers pile installation, are them all yours?

T: It started out to be a uniform, I had this slutty-sport look for a while, I have like ten or something of them. When I was doing it I went to all the Think Twice’s shops, at the 3€ day, and I just took all the pieces, the only thing that I was checking was the presence of logos, all the brands were okay, but no advertises or phrases on them. The one I care the most is the one hanged, outside the pile, that’s why is there, I have a lot of memory related to that jacket. Like when you have a collection, you can appreciate each piece of it, but you’ll always have your fav one. It was a really fun work to make, it took me a while, I started just zipping all the jumpers one to another, making this huge hoodie chain. It was really cool. I also tried to zip two pieces together, I liked the idea of two people wearing it at the same moment, they should have to be very close to each other, standing front or back to each other. I see sport as a very contact action, you need trust and to know each other.

AFFDP: So you have different versions of the same installation.

T: Yeah, I play with it a little bit, I also made an installation where people could wear them,during the exhibition, walking around, and then leave them again, but that didn’t really work, because people didn’t get it. It’s a little bit strange for people when they have the possibility of actually touch art. They’re like uniforms, we use uniforms to try to fit in, to be part of something, it was the first version of it. I find it very interesting, to watch people on the streets, and see them wearing exactly the same thing, it’s crazy “why are you wearing that trashy thing?” (laugh) A lot of people liked the installation just because they wanted to have all the hoodies, like shopaholic! That’s very not the point but it’s funny.

AFFDP: Like the “I love Paris” tees.

T: I love those kind of trashy souvenirs, when friends go for a holiday, I always ask them to bring me back something like this, I just say “take the ugliest magnet you can find”, like the weirdest magnet from the place you’re visiting, I have some nice ones! (laugh) When you visit Paris, everybody have the same picture of the Eiffel Tower, or everyone is taking the same picture of the Spanish Steps, or the Trevi Fountain in Rome!

AFFDP: If you check the hashtags you can find it, like a collection that belongs to anyone

T: That’s interesting! (laugh). Like you’re in Rome, next to the Trevi Fountain, or in one of the touristic spots of Rome, you’re walking around, minding your business. People are taking pictures around you, so in how many picture are you actually? It’s very interesting to me, how can I find those?

AFFPD: Maybe you can use Google re-cognition!

T: Yeah, maybe that could would work! And you could be there in the background!

AFFDP: You’re the landscape somehow.

T: Yeah! Enjoy the view! (laugh)

AFFDP: What about the hankies work?

T: Not everybody knows about the hanky code, the gay semiotic, but for me this work is an inside joke. People that know gay history, or queer semiotics can find it funny. I play with them also in a political way, this red version in fact is a joke for the critical political situation in italy, red is for fisting, so is like your gouvernement is fisting you! (laugh).I also have this idea of doing portaits with hanky code, like this one in red, black and grey (fisting, S’n’M, bondage), this is a very hardcore person! I want to have interviews with people, asking their kinks and sexual preference, and then creating a personal piece for them. The guy who wrote about this stuff (hanky code – gay semiotic) was a cool guy, he used to be a university teacher, and then he said “fuck it”, he become a biker prostitute! It’s very interesting to have a look in the gay life of the 50’s and 60’s, because the way it works is really different from now.

AFFDP: Do you have any referential artists?

T: I like Felix Gonzales-Torres a lot. I could say Carl Andrè, I like a lot the works of aging that he did and the concept of art being touched and taken. There’s a lot, but it’s nice to keep your eyes open, have your own opinion about things, there’s a lot of artists that I don’t like, and at the same time there’s a lot of artists that I really love. You should be true to yourself and not be like someone else.

AFFDP: Let’s talk about Pietra Publication, is it related to your installations or is it something apart?

T: Yes, more and more they’re becoming more separated, but I used to think of them as part of the process itself. There will always be a connection between publications and installations, but more and more is becoming a way for taking some time. Ideas can really be too much “in your face” sometimes, and if I have to do an installation it’s nice to be able to create separate projects with Pietra, to take a sort of break.

AFFDP: why did you choose the name Pietra?

T: I was still together with my ex when I started the publication, you know the gay cliché terminology, I was the “otter” and otters pay with stones, they keep their favorite stone with a lot of care, and if they lose it, they become very upset. At the start was a game between me and him, I wanted to keep him close. Then it started growing from that, something from the publication looks a little bit cheap, but they can still mean a lot. Like a stone, a souvenir can be anything but can still mean a lot to you, so that’s way Pietra.

AFFDP : Is the narration in the zines linear or layered differently?

T: Not much, not really. This one is a conversation with clever-bot. I was texting with a guy, it was a very fucked up conversation, with clever-bot I played his role. Some of her answers were very on point to be honest, so it was really funny.

AFFDP: When Pietra started?

T: Only the last year I really focused on it, I saw the Paris Ass Book Fair opencall and I thought okay, now is time to make it serious. I just wanted to be sure to do this on my own.

AFFDP: is there a lot of competition in zine fairs scene?

T: Lot less competitive then opencalls for art. In residences you can see stuff like that, in a Book Fair it’s a lot nicer and more honest, people are really friendly, everybody wants to learn from each other, it’s fun. Anyway I’m not a competitive person.

AFFDP: Are you the only one working on Pietra right now?

T: Actually, yes!

AFFDP: do you see in the future the possibility of collaborations with someone?

T: I’d love to make more collaborations, but it’s really hard. I’ve had some requests from people, but I can’t really pay someone right now, so it’s a little bit tricky for me to offer.

AFFDP: Yeah but it can also be an exchange!

T: I’m figuring out how to do better, how to make an opencall and to make something out of it. Pietra is still so small, I’ve had requests from photographers that are kind of big, asking myself “ why do you want to do that if you are not getting anything proper?” But right now I’m working on the 4th and 5th issues, and I want to collaborate with some guys here in Gent, they’re transgender and I want to make an issue about internet date and transgender experience of internet dating, ftm (female to male), transexual, who’s gay or queer. Trying to find a relationship online can be very tricky because people are bitches (laugh). But right now I’m just focusing on Paris and Berlin fairs.

AFFDP: Can we ask something about the project “the way we were”?

T: It’s like a mixture of the Felix Gonzales-Torres candy work, and the idea of souvenir. It’s a postcard, so you can send it to people, like a nice picture of the Trevi Fountain, but instead that’s an emotion. You can keep it for yourself like a memory or send it to someone you miss. The phrases are taken by a song of Barbra Streisand (Memory). I choose the blue because is one of the first things I started forgetting about my Ex, he has really nice blue eyes, so all these shades of blue are like a research about what kind of blue would be the most similar to his.

AFFDP: Like you’re trying to find his shade again.

T: Kinda.