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TENANT OF CULTURE: A CONVERSATION WITH HENDRICKJE SCHIMMEL

Editor-in-chief Estelle Gervais spoke with Royal Academy of Arts graduate and London-based designer Hendrickje Schimmel, the creative mind behind Tenant of Culture. Through her latest work “Science and Worms; Death Scenarios”, she researched the possible final forms a garment can take, creating thoughtful experimental installations. To say that her work is only art or only fashion would be undermining; it’s all that and everything in between.

THE FINE PRINT: Your educational path is quite interesting! You’ve studied womenswear, dirty arts and mixed media, which are all complementary to your past and current artwork. What would be a lesson each different field of study brought you?

HENDRICKJE SCHIMMEL: I think by going through all these different kinds of educations I have been forced to take an interdisciplinary position, which became the point of departure for the methodology of Tenant of Culture. In all the institutions I went to I struggled to find my place, only to eventually realize that my place was somewhere in between. This when it became clear for me that not fitting anywhere actually meant fitting everywhere and ‘being in between’ became a virtue. Every bit of education and professional experience adds to this. I think education in its current format is way too standardized and therefore a lot of people end up feeling out of place. Somehow maintaining an interdisciplinary practice is often conceived as being ambivalent which I hope will change in the future.

TFP: Is your work a response to your surroundings or beliefs? Is sustainability an important component in your artwork?

HS: I don’t consider myself an idealist or environmentalist but my work is often interpreted that way. I think sustainability is not the starting point but the concept of recycling is. We live in a highly saturated and over-informed world so inevitably the remix and the collage become important methods of processing information. I employ these techniques in my work by sampling idea’s, objects and aesthetics. This is what the name of my practice Tenant of Culture represents: the idea that my position as an artist is not to create from scratch, but rather to adopt the method of montage. I always refer back to Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, which was an attempt to map out Paris in the 19th century in a highly fragmented way. Benjamin combined quotes, notes and all sorts of debris into this ‘archive’ without any ambition for coherence. This can be seen as a form of recycling, and this is the method of recycling I want to employ. One that is not just about the environment but much more a mindset that is all encompassing.

TFP: Where would you draw the line between fashion, art and design in your artwork?

HS: As a Tenant of Culture I permit myself the freedom to ‘rent’ space in both the worlds of design and art and fashion and to metaphorically move out and in whenever I please. This method of shapeshifting allows me to create art and design. To speak both languages. These intertwine and twist into each other and ultimately I would not like to draw a line between art and design but just see the things I create as things that add to the ever-expanding archive that Tenant of Culture is.

TFP: Please tell us more about your thought process behind your latest curational work “Science and Worms; Death Scenarios”?

HS: The role of the curator is an important part of my practice. This can take different shapes and forms. For the project “Science and Worms” the role of the curator addressed the way cultural hierarchy is created in the context of the institutional collection/archive. For this installation I investigated the role of the curator as the person who determines what is important enough to become part of this archive and therefore what is important enough to preserve. I used different methods of trapping and fixating garments into square and rectangular shapes to reference traditional interfaces of display.

TFP: It is quite noticeable most of the garments you use had a previous life. You also do a lot of juxtaposition of different pieces, giving them another life that still serves their original purpose. Where do you find these pieces and how do you pick them?

HS: I can’t really tell exactly what it is that draws me towards a certain garment. I guess imagining the bodies that have been in it, the situations it has lived through, the idea’s it communicated, the intentions of the previous owners. A garment is like an empty shell when it’s not worn and the possibilities are endless. When there are traces of previous owners this only adds to the possibility to speculate about the garments lifecycle. The anonymity is important, I don’t use garments that represent something special. I prefer ordinary ones, the ones that don’t stand out, because they allow room for endless speculation.

TFP: In the same train of thoughts, how do you decide the final transformation each textile will take?

HS: That is completely reliant on the concept. I examine the functions and themes surrounding the phenomenon of the institutional archive such as preservation, restoration, display and storage. These determine what process the garment is going to be subjected to and therefore what transformation it will undertake.

TFP: What kinds of textile or other raw materials you particularly like working with?

HS: I like to work with basic and natural materials such as cement, silk, wood. But it is not necessarily a matter of my preferred materials as much as it is the material that will tell the story most accurately. Recently I started to work a lot with organic matter such as plants, mud and soil. I find this very enjoyable because these ‘materials’ are not as easy to manipulate. Especially plants that need to stay alive require continuous attention.

TFP: Do all the pieces you created have a duality raison d’etre? Can the consumer decide its final purpose himself?

HS: I hope so! I would really like to leave room for the consumer or spectator to determine whether something is wearable, functional or if it should serve a decorative function. I would love for someone to purchase one of the framed garments and just rip it open because they would prefer to wear it rather than hang it.

TFP: There is a clear transition in your work; while your earlier work leans more towards a fashion collection, your latest curates an exhibition. Where do you see your thought process evolving after graduating mixed media?

HS: I like to remain in between both these things. Even though I currently have mostly exhibitions coming up I would love to find a way to also sell garments. It is important for me to keep both aspects alive. I would also like there to be space within the concept of Tenant of Culture for collaboration or just simply the display of work that is not made by me. Ultimately I would like to formulate a concept with Tenant of Culture that allows me to create anything from fine art to garments to sandwiches to gardens to deodorant.