For 25 years, Harmen de Hoop has been making art in the streets and other public spaces – most of it quietly in his native Holland.
The works range from the subtle (placing eight tricycles on a suburban street) to the absurd (tying two horses outside of a store or convincing the Dutch Army to park a line of vehicles across from a sculpture).
He has painted a crosswalk in the middle of the woods and created a partial basketball court (minus the hoop) beneath a highway overpass.
De Hoop does not elaborate much about his work, which is done illegally without sponsorship and much promotion, other than saying the pieces are comments on the use of public space.
On the heels of the publication of his long overdue first book, published by West Gallery Press, we tried to draw a little more out of the pioneer street artist.
What drew you to working in the public space?
I didn’t want to make “products” for museums and galleries, and even making installations within the “white cube” seemed a bit boring to me. So I decided to work in the streets and think about what art can be if you address an indifferent public (and if you don't use the existing language of the art world). That was around 1987.
What was that piece?
From 1983 I was working in abandoned buildings. And from there I went to work in shops. The illegal works in public space started with the waiting rooms because it was too difficult to get permission from the headquarters of big companies.
The Waiting Room pieces (a line or a series of lines connecting one waiting room chair to another) show a desire to get people thinking about interaction and activity. Where did that idea come from?
“Is an artwork an object that rich people can hang on their wall, or can it be something else?” and “How does art relate to functional things?” were questions I asked myself, and these works in waiting rooms were an invitation to people sitting in that room to start a conversation. The work tried to have a social function and not just be a visual thing.
One of those older pieces (from 1989) is inside a New York City subway. Can you talk about that visit? Did you make other works during that visit?
I made several pieces with self-adhesive tape or with painted lines in New York. I'd rented an apartment on the Lower East Side for three months and went around the city looking for places where people would sit on benches etc. I made works in Battery Park City and in the East River Park.
For the one in the subway, I waved some fake permits at people at the first station of the J line. I had 15 minutes to make the work, before the train would leave the station (some guys from Texas helped me to execute the work).
What struck me in New York was how different neighborhoods were, mostly populated by one ethnic group (unlike in the Netherlands). That's why I used different colors -- for different groups.
Much of the work in your new book goes beyond just public art, or street art as we recognize it today. The photos in the book reveal moments in time, such as someone writing “For Sale” on a rusted truck, or a boy throwing stuffed Mickey Mouse dolls into a public trashcan. What was the path that led to these works?
After making interventions for 10 years (first with 2-D additions to public space, then 3-D) I decided to do “staged events” (adding people and a certain action to a situation). You can call them “proposals for human behavior.” It is a different way to make suggestions about how a location in a city can be used. It gave me an extra way to comment on locations and social behavior in cities.
Our culture is too full of TV channels worrying about their ratings, Hollywood trying to satisfy everyone and museums making blockbuster shows.
I was curious as to how do you see the world. Are you constantly reimagining the environment around you?
I am not trying to change anything, I do not want to improve the world. I just comment on, and sometimes criticize aspects of everyday life in the cities we live in – and trying to understand the world a little better in the process.
And it gives me pleasure to create small “authentic moments” for the passerby. Uninstitutionalised, uncommercial, unasked for and absurd (just a few seconds of philosophy for the passerby).
Was this thought inspired by anything in particular?
Our culture is too full of TV channels worrying about their ratings, Hollywood trying to satisfy everyone and museums making blockbuster shows. I try to be the voice of one insignificant individual in a city full of insignificant individuals.
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