22 Oct 2020 • Shows
Design’s new intimacy: With events removed from calendars across the globe, Victor Sonna created his own
This is number five in our series of articles in partnership with Dutch Design Week that look at whether the ‘new normal’ has brought a new level of intimacy to the studios of creatives in the Netherlands.
Because of safety measures, self-isolation and social distancing, we’re having to reshape certain relationships. Many of us are having less contact with people and spending more time in secluded bubbles – on our own or in smaller groups. What does that mean for creatives and the way in which they interact with their audience? Have their relationships – with studio visitors, (potential) clients and collectors – become more intimate? Moved from formal and business-like to more personal and close? We’ve partnered with Dutch Design Week (DDW) for a series of interviews with creatives in the Netherlands to discover whether the ‘new normal’ has brought a new level of intimacy to the studio. Cameroon-born, Eindhoven-based artist Victor Sonna reflects on how the past year has influenced him and his practice.
What impact has the ‘new normal’ had on you, and the way you run your studio?
VICTOR SONNA: Not so much so far. I have less contact with others but it’s now much more intimate. I try to make my audience understand the contingency of human behavior and existential chaos. Since this is my current view of things, I cannot help but create works that are radically open to a whole range of interpretations. In this way, the forms that my works take are implicit reflections of my themes and my general worldview.
Has the lack of physical and sensory contact with your pieces affected what you’ve sold or developed?
My work is often not very pleasing to the eye, because it’s an expression of the ‘scars’ of human existence, of ‘damaged goods’. I don’t really create works that are aimed at a specific audience or specific segments of an audience. Instead, I try to create meaningful works of art that change the viewer in some way. I try to make them aware of issues that we all share as contemporary people. The beautiful things I see all around me are the necessary things; if something is really necessary, it will have value and a certain beauty. Products leave nature as raw materials and end up with man, who is part of nature. Man, who also deals with the artificial, is challenged to let what is natural be present in his creations.
How did ‘confinement’ impact your creativity?
Everyday reality has forced me to improvise and to recombine all kinds of materials in order to create new objects. In my work I still use objects that have broken down or been damaged or discarded, giving them a new context. I investigate to what extent the original meaning can be preserved and how those constellations can give new meaning. I believe that ‘an attribute and a new context’ or a ‘new attribute created from the old one’ stimulates innovation. This is what I call ‘conscious action’.
We increasingly tend to reduce damage, holes and obstacles in our lives. In contrast, it is my intention to leave these ‘mistakes’ or ‘failures’ in my work, both structurally and formally.
Everything around us can just as easily collapse, change or disappear completely. Nature has limits, and limits are about acceptance.
Without being present at events, how do you make sure your work still gets seen right now?
I’ve been organizing exhibitions myself or with organizations. I’m always looking for possibilities, and the present situation has given me time to reflect, discuss and create new ways to show 152 pieces of art. I’ve had long dialogues with my conservator, and will never forget the importance of the ‘battle’ for innovation that ensued.
Have you experienced – or do you expect – that the current situation will change the types of companies, clients and producers you work with?
I will answer this question by telling an anecdote. As a child, I had worn-down slippers for shoes. Not daring to show the holes, I remade these slippers into a boat, a car or an island. I invented a new context for each particular slipper, giving it a new identity. As I mentioned, everyday reality forces me to improvise and to recombine all kinds of materials in order to create new objects. Back then, that was my day-to-day African reality. I believe innovation starts the moment the road behind you has ended. Then you will have to innovate to survive. The coronavirus also gives us opportunities to find new ways we never would have found otherwise.
I understand that a good relationship between the artist and the community is of the utmost importance in the life of a project. You initiate a work of art with a community. People come and go, goals are changed, means and materials change. But ideas and applications remain. The challenge for designers and users is to gain the mentality and awareness to put ideas and techniques into the ‘right’ context.
At a time when design weeks are being cancelled to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, creative workspaces are open on an appointment basis, with or without design week. We are nowhere without creatives and their workspaces.