“Sometimes I’d write my life down from a third persons perspective, so I could analyze my actions better.”
Sanne van Balen
Artist and writer
Where are you from?
Friesland, The Netherlands
Your style in 3 words?
poetic, bright, existential
Your weakness? Your strength?
I work intuitively. For example, in writing or painting, I just start. Sometimes randomly. Often I find out later where my ideas or shapes come from. This is a strength as it makes the process fun and challenging. But it’s definitely a weakness as I don’t know when to stop. The possibility that the work won’t turn out so well is also right there.
When did you decide to become an author/artist?
The writer was residing in me ever since I was a little child. I remember getting my first fountain pen to write in my diary. Over the years I have filled over 100 diaries, those A4 notebooks with 80-120 lined pages. Sometimes I’d write my life down from a third persons perspective, so I could analyze my actions better. But it turned out I was writing fiction, as I became a character in my own stories. After studying Dutch literature at the University of Amsterdam and Image & Language at the Rietveld Academie, I started being a more serious writer, publishing short stories and writing a novel. As for the artist profession, it took me a while. Well, there were of course these teachers in high school that encouraged me. There was one that showed me how art is something else than just making a beautiful drawing. For beautiful drawings, I used to get bad grades. After figuring out how I could make what I wanted to make, I did not want to do anything else anymore.
Do you choose your art form, or does the form choose you?
I struggled a lot with figuring out what the right medium was for me. For writers it’s text. Photographers make photos. But I wasn’t sure about there being only one medium for me that would be the right fit. “Just writing” was not enough apparently. I feel the need to look beyond language. How is it that language shaped the world around us? When a project starts, I often choose a language-related topic. So, it’s possible that language is my one and only medium, but I let it manifest in different types of output. I also like to challenge my public to start figuring out what the actual work is. The painting or the thoughts that went into the painting? “Little bamboo” is a work where I am still not sure what the actual work is. Is it the painting? Or is it the photo of it? Or is it this performative moment of holding the painting in front of the bamboo?
What do you find most fascinating about the creative process?
How it always reaches this moment where the work will start telling me how to continue. I often experience this while writing or painting, I even tend to look for it. Usually, I start painting with a few brushstrokes and a whole narrative unfolds. I observe what the painting needs next. In writing I let a story unfold in a similar way. Usually, I just start with a few sentences that immediately take over the story. I start to wonder why my characters act the way they act. While writing a complete narrative unfolds. It makes the process of working lively and surprising. But sometimes I find it very difficult to finish a project. When is a painting good enough?
What surprised you most about your first art shows?
Last year I was very surprised by how visitors engaged with my sculptures in Bosk. Bosk was a collection of 1200 trees, that was being moved through the city of Leeuwarden for a period of five months. Part of Bosk was a residency I participated in. I created a set of 6 sculptures that were temporarily installed in the forest. The sculptures produced audio, I recorded voices that would ask questions about the way people look at trees. I observed the visitors of Bosk acting like it was very normal that my sculptures were installed in a public space. Usually, I see people taking a careful distance to a work of art, or they just walk straight past it with the “this is not for me” thought. But I witnessed kids hugging the sculptures or waving at them as they thought they would be turned on by a sensor. A lot of people made selfies with the sculptures. All of this surprised me so much that it encouraged me to make more work for the outdoors in public spaces.
Someone else’s work that inspired or inspires you…
For example Tine Melzer, Georgia O’Keeffe, David HockneyMaggie Nelson, Charlotte Mutsaers, Rudi van de Wint, Rezi van Lankveld, Marijke van Warmerdam, Maria Barnas, and many more.
A new project coming up or an idea you want to work on?
Yes, this year I will try out a new public space work. I am trying a new way of working, with more involvement of people living near the place where the work will be installed. Making a step to a more social practice is a tryout, maybe it works for the stories I want to tell. This year I will be working at StrandLAB in Almere (NL). I will be working on the question: how is meaning created? What language do residents in the neighborhoods of Almere use, to give meaning to the place where they live? This area is described by several people as ‘undefined’. Part of Almere 2.0 is this area “waiting” for further development. Through interactive writing workshops and conversations to be held, I will collect material. I eventually process this into an installation for Almere beach where the input of residents will be visible in a very poetic and windy installation.
When the going gets tough…
Well of course: ’don’t stop. I am a big supporter of working disciplined. To keep on trying and not wait until something happens. It’s like this concept of inspiration. One should wait for it to start flowing. Well, if you don’t mind, I rather just start trying instead of waiting. There will always come up something you can continue with later.
What does freedom mean when it comes to art?
As an artist, I would say freedom comes between the lines. When you let yourself create something you were not expecting or planning. When letting this in, I experience freedom in making art.
Tell us about your future plans…
I will be going outdoors with my work. Bigger and more weather resistant. I want it to sustain. On beaches, forests, and squares for years and years. I am also writing a novel which I hope to publish soon. It’s about finding meaning, art, voices, undefined landscapes, and life.
A book that everyone should read…
Bluets by Maggie Nelson or Max, Mischa & the Tet Offensive by Johan Harstad. O well, I also love De consequenties by Nina Weijers (it’s in Dutch)
Last but not least: what is your favorite Song?
It changes, but right now I’d say it’s ‘Lise’ by Eefje de Visser