From Architecture to Spatial Experience, Finding Your Own Definitions of Curatorship
I come from a long lineage of architects. I think my father wanted to be an artist. During my upbringing, there was a lot of culture in my hometown, The Hague. My father taught me how to draw, took me to big museums in Europe, and took me to Asia. I draw obsessively as a child. My dad and I used to have watercolours sets and we would do all these watercolours during our journeys, especially during our journeys to Asia.
Technology and emotions. I went to study digital media design. I went there because I loved to draw but it appeared to be a lot about interactive installations. I took a deep dive in media arts then, I was 19. It was nice but there was a gap between the cold technological world of media art, where most of the interest is on technology, its changes, aesthetics, possibilities, and how it affects society, and my emotional, expressive drawing background. Then I went to Japan, and during my second Masters I studied technology even deeper. That gap was still there. Then I discover contemporary art, and in particular through curator Yuko Hasegawa’s lectures. I met some other contemporary artists and curators through her. I wanted to break free from media art, and its very functional shapes, and I saw contemporary art as a place where I could combine my emotional side and technology, and also change the focus from technology to something more internal.
Sliding into Curating. I made a switch from my Masters into a PhD of intermedia art, or frontier art. I started working a lot with Mono-ha (the Japanese art movement about the expressive quality of materials) and materials, woodwork, cloths—going against material often used in media art. I got invited as a guest student to one of Hasegawa’s curators courses, a first in Japan at the time, and met Seiha Kurosawa, and that’s how working on curatorial projects started to happen for me, very randomly. I wasn’t aware at the time of what it was. Also back then, people like gallerists, curators—it’s going to sound very bad—they seemed fake to me, like people who perhaps couldn’t make it as artists. I didn’t know they were actually on my side. But in this course I noticed that these people were very smart and cool to talk to, it fed me so much on a theoretical level. Through that I stared getting involved with Seiha’s projects, he asked me for exhibition designs. I have a lot of experience in that because of my architecture and installation background—before I start anything I make 3D models. It was very natural to me, like making a big installation with somebody else’s works. It was refreshing also, going out of my own mind and ego. After that, I had a project with a Mexican curator, Pablo Cendejas, then another one with Sehai. I switched from doing exhibition design to co-curation. Now I am thinking about how to expand that experience through my practice.
I am quite new to this, but I also think that there are a lot of routes that end up in curation, and I want to define what it means to me. I don’t want to take an outside definition and see how I fit in. What I do know, is that once I started doing exhibition design and curation I also started curating an exhibition including my own work. It’s a holistic approach to art practice, with a bit of loosing your ego in the process, because you involve other people’s work. I approached curating from the spatial angle, wondering about how I experience a space, once I enter it. It’s exciting and challenging when you bring other elements, you need to go outside of your own mind, think about how to present other people’s work and channel them to the public, that process forces you mentally, and because of that you are expanding your own world. And then, there is also that whole social part that is important for me.
I would not say that I am a pure curator, I would not pretend so. I understand why people who make art and curate would want this distance between the two. But I can see how I would involve other people in my future art projects and how my role would be very ambiguous, as an artist, art director, curator, maybe it would be a blend of that. It allows for a very loose and versatile type of collaboration, sometimes you are at a distance, sometimes you get inside the creative process. There is more interchange this way, switching from curator to creator to overseer.
One side of me is very interested in cultural exchange, for instance I invited Dutch artists to Japan. I was also a Dutch person in Japan, but I was living there for eight and half years. I presented their work in a way a Japanese curator would not have been able to, although of course they would have done it with their own qualities. I thought this is my added value, this is what I can bring. And I was also doing it for personal reasons, going through the experience of living in Japan myself. Now that I am based in The Netherlands, I am kind of interested to do the other way around. Perhaps it is also some kind of peacemaking with my own fractured identity, because of my eurasian background.
Going to Japan. I grew up in The Netherlands with a Chinese Indonesian mother and a Dutch father, speaking only Dutch, but in a very caucasian environment. When I went to Asia I didn’t know how to relate to people outside my own family. I felt estranged, yet looking the same as everybody else. That was conflicted. Also, Japan is very good with technology and I liked animé, films, and was curious about subcultures in Tokyo. So I also wanted to know how I would get along with people from Asia. It was a search, that is sometimes part of my art practice.
Between Cultures, Intimacy, and Fluid Curatorial Roles. Currently, in curation, I am interested in this cultural exchange, especially between West and East, especially the Netherlands and Japan, since I am affected by it. On an artistic level, I am very interested in the theme of intimacy. In particular how it’s influenced by our contemporary ways of interacting, from virtual exchanges to the ability to fly somewhere easily. I am interested in how we communicate our identity, how we experience it, how it changes, and how it’s related to intimacy. I want to think about how these shifts in time and distance change our relational world. These two themes don’t have to be separated, they can overlap and merge. I am also growing an interest in involving performers, but I don’t want to direct everything, I want to leave some openness. It’s a process of navigating the distance between the curator, to a form of equal collaboration, to being a producer. I like being able to move along that range, it depends on case by case, but it gives me a lot creative freedom.
Transforming Spaces. One big part of why I also like curating, comes from my architectural background. It’s about having a space, like a puzzle, and changing it into something beautiful. That is the case for architecture and that is the same for installation art, and curation. I am not a very language-focused curator, I am more about the spatial experience. That is a strong red line throughout my work. That’s why it’s not very hard for me to work with other’s people work, it’s just like having larger blocs of material. I love transforming spaces in this sort of beautiful and meaningful way.
I feel at home when I trust and love the people who are around me. What I really got from coming to Japan, is that at the end I realised people are the most important for me. How are the people around me? Do I love them? Do I trust them?—if I have that, then I feel grounded and at home.
A book that still haunts me is “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera. I’ve read this book a long time ago but it keeps floating back into my mind and influencing my way of thinking. It reminds me that its good to nurture contradicting personal traits within myself and that this actually can lead to more creativity, happiness, and balance. In the book it’s about heaviness vs lightness, but for me it’s about distance and involvement for my curatorial and art practice. And in my creative practice it’s also a lot about the wild one vs the chess player.
I like people so I like having people around, for fun I like going out drinking and to the movies, I watch a lot of them. I like games, board games too although nobody in Japan does that, but video games. For instance, one month ago, I was very stressed out, and at night, I sat with my girlfriend to play Resident Evil together, with some beers. That was a great stress release.
I love skate boarding. The sense of flowing through things … It’s very poetic. I am very rigid with myself, goals, schedule, lists, and always sort of in the tunnel fo achievement, but when I surf or skate board it’s the opposite, there is a sense of freedom. Somebody said surfing and skating were like dancing, and I believe so. It’s like being a peacock and showing your feathers also.
There were times, especially when I was very sick with covid recently, that gave me confidence afterwards. Also in 2020, after finishing my PhD, which was supposed to be this “Hi I am here!” kind of moment didn’t happen because of the pandemic. I got very depressed. But eventually, from nothing I got to share an atelier with other people, and eventually got a lot of shows. Many of my art and curatorial projects happened in the last two years, just by forcing myself. The fact that I got it done and was proactive gave me a lot of trust in myself—that what I got from the pandemic. And some silence, silence is great.
If I were to meet my 10-year older future self, he would tell me to not forget to look around me, to enjoy my life, and to look at who my real loved ones are. Why would I say that? because I am kind of a workaholic.
If I wasn’t curating I would probably be involved, in my own art making, in more social practices and relational art—because they involve people.
Independent Curator and Artist
Tokyo and Amsterdam
Vincent Ruijters. PhD. Born 1988 in The Hague. Currently based in both The Netherlands and Japan. Originally an art practitioner, Ruijters graduated his PhD in Intermedia Art at Tokyo University of the Arts. During this PhD, he was a visiting student at the Department of Arts Studies and Curatorial Practices at the same University. This led him to expand his art practice activities into the field of curation.
Starting as an exhibition designer for Art Fair Tokyo ‘18, he designed an international section with a large number of artists of each a different nationality that represented their country. His following curatorial projects continue to have an international aspect to it. Ruijters co-curated ‘To defeat the purpose: guerilla tactics in Latin American Art’ presented at Aoyama Meguro Gallery. A show that introduced young and emerging Latin American artist to Tokyo. His most recent project as a co-curator is ‘Mimicry of Hollows’, in which Dutch and Japanese artist’s works mimic and anthropomorphize AI and Nature.
With a background in installation art and coming from a lineage of architects, spatial experience is the corner stone of Ruijters’ curational practice. He approaches his curational practice as ‘expanded installation’.
Vincentruijters.com | @vincent.ruijters