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Robert Henke-The computer based artist

Last April, at the music festival Rewire 2022, Robert Henke played his work CBM 8032 AV, in a packed Royal Theatre in The Hague. On stage, there were five computers from the 1980’s. A large screen was hanging above the stage, displaying visual art and code that Henke used to start or stop music compositions on the computers. So, who is this man, who sits behind a desk on stage while typing on his keyboard? Did we hear the result of digital craftsmanship or does it take more to create that kind of music? Klaartje Til interviewed the ever friendly Robert Henke to find out the answers to these questions

By Klaartje Til

Mr. Henke, how would you define your art?
I am a computer based artist. It is a label that describes the main instrument that is at the core of my work: the computer. I don’t really know how to play a musical instrument and I can’t move a laser beam fast enough to draw visual laser art by hand. I need technology to create music, audiovisual art or visual art. The computer is the essential counterpart for my ideas.

What triggered or inspired you to get into computer based art, like electronic music?
If I have to point one singular piece of music that inspired me, it was the album “Oxygene” by Jean- Michel Jarre. It was released in the mid-seventies, and I was deeply impressed by the music. It opened an emotional engagement with sound, that I hadn’t experienced before. It made me realize that electronic music with synthesizers was, to a certain degree, within reach for me. I realized, that if I worked hard enough, I would be able to afford a synthesizer and I could try to make electronic music. So that was pretty much the starting point.

What role does coding play in the process of creating your music?
I have always used coding. It is a natural part of my artistic expression. I started with simple things. If I wanted to create a melody that only slightly changes every time you play it, I would build a system that involves some randomness. So after, for example, 3 notes, I might either move on to another 3 notes. Or I might move to a different direction and play a completely different set of notes. Then again, after 5 notes, I would make the decision to either repeat the first note and return to the second one, or stop. That is an example of a very simple system that can be run automatically and creates variations of a melody, while I can focus on something else. So the computer becomes my play partner. It starts to improvise, on top of which I can improvise. That is an example of how to use a computer to do something that is musically inspiring and helpful. When the software company Ableton started, the programming became more organized and a straight-forward process.

How did the company Ableton start?
I was born and raised in Munich, but decided to move to Berlin to study computer science. Against all odds, I met a person in Berlin who I already knew from Munich. He was a friend of a friend and I didn’t really like him. During one of the lectures at the university I saw this guy. We both looked at each other in disbelieve that of all the people, it had to be this person being there as well. Gerhard Behles and I became best friends. We started making music together and Gerhard became the driving force behind the founding of Ableton. The birth of Ableton was based on the fact that we knew that something was missing, some sort of tool. We were quite certain that among the people who make electronic music, there would be enough interest for such a tool. Enough to found a small company. That is how Ableton was born.

What did Ableton have to offer that was missing back then?
In the 80’s and 90’s, the main role the computer played in making music was the role of a recorder. This meant that you still had to play an instrument in order to make music with a computer. We don’t know how to play an instrument, and we didn’t need to because computers can do this better than we could ever do. We built a system that allowed people to interact with the computer in a playful manner. That concept of real-time interaction with software to create music did not exist in a commercial product, the way we did it. Now it is a standard feature that a lot of other software products offer. But the initial idea that something like this could work, came from us, from Ableton. I still work for Ableton and I am still part of the company. I have no intention to ever quit, because it is also the product of my imagination. So much of ‘me’ can be found in the software.

What role does the city of Berlin play in your artistic life?
I was lucky to move to Berlin in 1990, right after the fall of the Berlin wall. There was this fantastic void in the city. Life in Berlin was incredibly cheap and there were empty spaces everywhere. A lot of people used the opportunity to become creative and I was part of that scene. The scene in Berlin was very small and I got in touch with a record label that was looking for new artists. So I didn’t need to do much to get my first record out. That is how I became an electronic music producer. It just happened very naturally, by being the right person at the right time, in the right place.

How did your creative work evolve from coding behind a desk, to live performing?
A lot of music was actually created during concerts. We always record our live performances and the best stuff ends up on records. So performing and releasing music have always been one and the same to us. What did change over time were the visuals shown during the performance. I started to create the visuals for my performances myself. I wasn’t very happy with the visuals that VJ’s created during my shows. Most of the time they had nothing to do with my music and it simply didn’t fit. I decided to write my own little video generator, to have something running in the background. But soon I realized that I reached my limits, so I moved away from doing my own visuals.

Why did you reach your limits, you think?
At the time, there were a few people who did really amazing stuff. It was clear to me that I couldn’t reach their level. I thought it would be pointless to try to compete with them and I gave up. I returned to visual arts via a backdoor, when I was asked by a small gallery to do an installation and came up with the idea to do something with laser. This was about 14 years ago, when there were only a few artists who worked with laser in a way that I found interesting. It was unchartered territory where I could make an impact and do something that people hadn’t seen before.

Is that your main goal, to show people something they haven’t seen before?
I wouldn’t say that it is my goal and on the larger scale of things it is impossible to show something that hasn’t been seen before. But even though my work is not unique at first glance, it has its own qualities. It has depth, it has details and complexity. It is rewarding to experience my work multiple times because there are so many details to discover. It is rich. What I do is always rich. As far as my laser-work is concerned, I have the feeling that a lot of people who work with laser nowadays, are at least to some degree also influenced by what I have done. Because I often see things that remind me of stuff I did 10 years ago.

So you are the inventor of the kind of work you do?
In science and art, the question of who is first with something is always difficult to answer. Ideas never fall from the sky, they are connected to cultural backdrop and social environment. So it is not uncommon in science and art, that similar ideas pop-up at completely different places and at almost the same time.

Do you consider yourself a scientist as well?
I know enough about science to understand how far away I am from what makes a good scientist. But, like artists, a good scientist must have imagination to discover things that are not clear yet. In order to come up with a new theory about how things work, a scientist needs to be bold and needs to question the existing conditions. For engineers it is even more obvious, because they build something that has a function. If something has a function, it also consists of physical objects that need to be arranged in a physical space. There are multiple options to arrange the objects and design can help you to discover these options. I come from a family of engineers and the biggest liberation from my family background was that I understood that engineering is art. My family didn’t make the connection between engineering and art, but once I understood it is the same way of thinking, I felt liberated to do whatever I wanted to do.

This realization that engineering and art have a lot in common, how does it reflect in your creative process?
My work is a combination of logic and intuition. Most of the things I do require programming, which means that I have to solve problems in an abstract way. A lot of strict engineering thinking is involved, but ultimately the result is sound or graphics, or both. However, the best code doesn’t guarantee that the end result has an emotional impact. Technically it may be doing exactly what I was hoping it would do, but artistically it just isn’t interesting. In those cases, I add something that I don’t consider very important technically, and suddenly the magic is there. I find it fascinating that I can use technology to create something that transcends from a machine into something emotional and magic.

You use old-school monitors as well in some of your performances. Why do you work with these old-school computers?
Those computers are from 1980. They are insanely limited and working with them is very tedious, but it also means I have to think before I work. I cannot just program something and see what comes out. It brings a completely different focus and that’s why I like to work with these computers. The whole notion of art is that there is always a balance between the known and the unknown. If I use these old computers to create something that feels contemporary, then I have this nice juxtaposition between glitch electronic art from this millennium, and technology that is cute, tangible and outdated. This combination is very interesting.

Are you planning on doing something similar in the future?
Well, I am still working on this old project with the old computers. It is an ongoing project. I am still creating new sounds and new video material. I am touring with it as much as possible. It is a challenge to get these large, heavy old computers on tour, because they are fragile and expensive to bring along. But they are part of my live repertoire that people can book. So if you want to have the show and you have the money and the space, you can contact me and I can say: ‘Let’s go, let’s do it!

Photographer- Arja Hyytiäinen

For Finnish photographer Arja Hyytiäinen, analogue photography is the only way to shoot pictures. Her photo documentary series are shown all over the world at art festivals and in galleries. The scenes she shoots seem to capture a frozen second of rawness and eeriness. From her home in France, Arja Hyytiäinen explains to Klaartje Til her life, lived with photography.

By Klaartje Til

I am originally from Finland but I moved to Sweden when I was 21 years old, because I wanted to study psychology in Göteborg. However, I didn’t enrol into the psychology program and instead, started a photography course at night school. I met people who encouraged me to do something more serious with photography, and I was very surprised when I was accepted to a photography school in Angermanland, in the North of Sweden. At school we spent endless time in the darkroom and we learned how to print and develop films. We did little reportages where you could figure out different types of cameras, to more or less, find your signature.

Karelians, is the title of my first exhibition, where I showed a photo documentary about Karelian people. For this documentary I lived for one year in a village in the Russian part of Karelia, just across the Finnish boarder. It was a very small village with only six villagers and a few cows. There was no public transport and no electricity. During the winter you couldn’t leave the village because of the snow and no one would clean the roads. After one year I returned to Sweden, to the dark room, to develop the black and white prints for my first exhibition. After my Karelian year I went to Prague to study photography at FAMU. So, from Russia directly to Prague more or less. At FAMU I did my theses on subjective documentary, from Daidō Moriyama to Anders Petersen to Antoine D’Agata. Anders Petersen was, with his pictures, a spiritual father to me. The way he lives with photography touched me a lot. I feel someone being alive behind his images. Anders Petersen and Antoine D’Agata have a street photography background. Their work shows encounters with people and can give you an idea of the smell of the room these people were in.


Train, Serbie, 2004

I made many trips to Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland and Moldavia, during my study in Prague at FAMU. The night trains were there, the light was there and I got to know other young photographers while traveling. I photographed a lot and developed the pictures in my bathroom. FAMU wasn’t very happy that I missed so many classes. I left school and lived one year in Berlin before I moved to Paris. I did photography jobs in Paris and lived in Berlin where I developed the photos in a darkroom. I sat a lot in night trains going back and forth between Paris and Berlin. I only felt at home in a night train, because I had left and I hadn’t yet arrived. I lived in night trains for quite a long time until I did an art residency in Marseille, with Atelier De Visu. They published a book, Le Quartier, showing my diary notes and my pictures to illustrate the notes. In Marseille I was busy finding my own language as a photographer. I tried to figure out who I was, traveling all over Europe and living everywhere. It shows in the work I made then, bits and pieces everywhere. A lot of pictures of bars and the Marseille night scene.

Rue de Clignancourt, Paris, 2003

I wrote a mail to Gallery VU’ and I asked them if there would be any possibilities for me to work with them. I sent them the pictures I made in Eastern Europe. They accepted me and I thought that my whole life would change. It didn’t, until I met Christian Caujolle. He was the artistic director of Gallery VU’ and the organiser of an amazing exhibition with work of Antoine D’Agata. I visited this exhibition again and again. Antoine D’Agata’s pictures deeply touched me, also because of the way these pictures were presented. The show was on Boulevard Henri IV, in an old cellar. The walls were painted red which contrasted with the black and white pictures. The pictures were in different sizes and fitted so well with the cruelty and the insomniac atmosphere in the whole place. It was so well done. At the time I met a lot of big photographers. They were all a bit lost, but somehow they were a family to me. I got some assignments via picture editors I knew, but life was really difficult. Eventually Paris grew cold on me. It became really difficult to find a darkroom. Gradually the darkrooms were shutting down in Paris until there were no darkrooms anymore. I moved back to Berlin where I found a large darkroom.

Vinyl, Paris, 2006

In the darkroom time disappears. The importance of the experience that I had at the time when I took the picture, disappears. That’s vital to me because when I am still emotionally connected to the event I photographed, I cannot be objective. What is interesting about fixing a moment in time in an image, is what comes out of it after I have printed the pictures. The images can be so far from what really happened. The story comes afterwards, during editing, when one image starts to talk to another image. In the darkroom I translate a photo to what I want to say with that image. I can highlight with a little white tone or closing up a circle. I always print the pictures myself. I love the process of defining the grain, the heaviness and the cut of the paper. It makes the image. Most of my prints are quite small. Some are smaller than others, but I go up to 50X64 cm at the most. Because I want to go to the essence when I create an image, I don’t want to waste energy on large prints. They are time and money consuming. The darkroom is a time machine where I bring up bits and pieces of a different life. I can go into the darkroom in the morning, when it’s light and leave in the middle of the night. When I come out of the darkroom I am completely in a different frame of mind. It’s like reconnecting with reality, like waking up and seeing things very clearly, for a very short time. That’s magic and wonderful.

I haven’t gone back to my archives for a very long time, because they always make me melancholic. I meet myself again because there is so much of myself in each photo. But I think it’s interesting that these captured moments remain in archives and they stay there. An archive shows a time lap because you can go back and forward in time. It is very close to cinema. The French film maker, Stephane Breton, made a film called Chère Humaine. Chère means “dear” in French, but it also means “flesh”. He contacted a few photographers, including me, and he composed a film by using our pictures.

Today I live in the countryside in France. That’s where my daughter was born. With the birth of my daughter, Finland came back to me again. It brought back childhood memories, and memories of the culture I grew up in. My work radically changed then. I exchanged the Hasselblad for a baby wagon, bought a little foldable Fuji 6×7 rangefinder camera and set-up a darkroom next to our house. I travelled a lot to Finland to shoot childhood scenes with this new camera. It resulted in the Ile d’Enfance series, The Island of Childhood. Because the Fuji camera is much slower than the Hasselblad, the pictures became more staged. For example, I would burn leaves in the backyard and my daughter would wrap herself into her father’s jacket, watching me burning leaves. Later I recreated this scene. I reorganised the same scene but the images came from a real life event. I think I always staged the scenes, even when I did street photography. I remember a girl I suddenly noticed in the middle of the night in Malmö, Sweden. She was at a street party and wore a beautiful white dress and a necklace of pop-corns. She told me she was supposed to be a pop-corn. She asked me why I wanted to photograph her. I just laughed and asked her to stand on the other side of the street. I took her out of the context. So I already staged scenes, but today I do more research before I create the scenes and take pictures.

Fin de saison, 2018

As a child I hung around horses a lot. Here in France I have three horses and they changed my life completely. These horses have an energy level that’s visible up to 3 metres away. You can feel this energy. It is a deeper level of communication and completely authentic. I don’t photograph as much as I used to. I still have my darkroom and I give photo workshops here at home. A few years ago, I held a photo workshop for young criminals. These boys came from Paris and they were very different in energy. Standing around a table was difficult for them. The horses acted like magnets. They calmed the boys down. Horses don’t judge, they don’t speak, they are impressive, you don’t fool around with horses. The boys asked whether they could take pictures of the horses. That’s how these therapeutic photo workshops started.

Movement is life, even if it is not directly related to photography or the work I did before. There is a time for everything. Photography has very little to do with photography, like music has very little to do with music. It is all about the output, the experience of what we want to tell with the medium we use. I think I am on this night train again at the moment. I will see where it brings me and how it will feel.

The building that cares

Dutch architect firm, Mecanoo, is internationally known for projects like the train station in Delft, the library in Birmingham and the Manchester Technical University campus. Until recently, healthcare buildings were not on Mecanoo’s list of successful projects. That changed when Mecanoo received the assignment to build a new medical centre in the Dutch city, Zaandam. For architect Ryan van Kanten it was an opportunity to put himself on the map with Mecanoo, as a non-typical hospital architect. Klaartje Til visited the Mecanoo office in Delft to interview Ryan van Kanten, the architect who thinks it is only logical that a building should have caring qualities.

by Klaartje Til

I will come straight to the point. Can a building have caring qualities?
Yes, I think so, but only when the building is seen as a whole. Mecanoo tries to do this. Right from the start of the design process we look for ways to give people in the building a better feeling. It turned out very well with our project for the Zaans Medical Centre. They did not want the new building to be a classic example of a hospital building. They didn’t decide to go for a typical hospital architect, and wanted something different. Mecanoo had not designed a hospital before. Still, they came to us, because they wanted something different.

What makes the Zaans Medical Centre so different from other hospitals?
Our idea was that this building should not have the appearance of a hospital. You should not have the feeling that you are entering a hospital. When designing a hospital you must take into account practical things like: easy to clean, and security first. For the Zaans Medical Centre it wasn’t any different, because those are the requirements. But in our design these appear not as obviously. We designed it more as a public building that rather gives visitors the feeling of standing in a theatre lobby, than in a hospital.

What makes a hospital building caring?
In our design for the Zaans Medical Centre we tried to avoid stress moments. People are reluctant to go the hospital. They have to because they are ill or need care. Just before entering the hospital they already have a certain level of stress. People also have a lot of stress when they sit in the waiting room, just before they are called in by a doctor. An architect can think of ways that positively distract them to reduce the stress. For the Zaans Medical Centre we choose to work with graphic art. Together with the designers of the Silo Studio in The Hague, a graphic art design was created that showed drawings on the walls. The drawings show people directions but they also add a feeling of astonishment to the building. The visitor enters a public hall that is three levels high and they experience surprise because of an enormous drawing of a human body. The drawing refers to medical science. But if you look closer, you will see things that characterise the Zaanstreek (the region that surrounds the city of Zaandam), like traditional houses and elements of shipbuilding. This is a funny distraction. The first impression is: “Look, what is this extraordinary drawing?” And not: “Oh, there is the bell and there is the waiting room where I have to be at a specified time.”

As an architect, do you think in terms of these themes?
I think strongly in terms of orientation and daylight. People must immediately understand where they are and where they have to go. I think it is important that an architect ensures that at the entrance of a building people see daylight, both at their right and left side. They should notice immediately where the elevator is, and understand immediately how the building is put together. Daylight is a must. My rule of thumb is: never create a waiting room that has no daylight. You must be able to experience the weather when you are inside the building. It reassures and eases the feeling of stress. Daylight also helps orientation. Sometimes we cannot avoid making an indoor hallway. Then we make sure that there will be an outside view at the end of the hallway, so people always walk towards daylight. If that is not possible, we will take care that at the end of the hallway there will be an orientation point with a lot of artificial light. There should always be a focal point at the destination towards which someone walks.

As an architect, how do you explore these aspects, when designing a building like the Zaans Medical Centre?
By talking a lot with the people who will work in the new hospital: the nurses, the doctors, the social workers, the volunteers. They are all experts who have a lot of information from their experience. During the design process we talked very intensively for two years, with different user groups. For healthcare projects, it is especially important to listen to the users.

Does colour play an important role in the design of a health care building?
When choosing a colour, for example when finishing floors, walls and ceilings, you have to consider a good balance of stimulants. It should not be too boring, so not only white. But too exuberant is not good either. When designing a nursing home for elderly people, these are pitfalls to be aware of.

What pitfalls?
For a large floor with a rubber or marmoleum finish, it is better to create an even-colour. Not a finish with a dark patch suddenly popping up. People who cannot see well, or people who have difficulties interpreting stimulants, would think that they are about to fall into a hole. People who suffer from dementia are also quite sensitive to that. With bright primary colours you can make mistakes. People who suffer from dementia do not know how to deal with those colours.

So be careful with bright primary colours?
That is correct. In nursing homes you often see a lot of pastel colours. They are softer and easier for people to understand. Furthermore, creating contrast in the design is important. A white door in a white frame in a white wall, is difficult for people suffering from dementia. They often have difficulty in understanding that it is a door. It is better to have the frame in a darker colour so that they know: “That’s where I need to walk.”

Does location play an important role in the caring qualities of a building? Zaans Medical Centre is near a busy motorway.
The Zaans Medical Centre is at the end of the A7 motorway from Purmerend to Zaandam. The location was a given. They own the ground there and we can’t change that. The original commission was to create a hospital on the location that is exactly opposite where the new centre is located now. Plus, a parking facility was to be created at the front side of the hospital, facing the city. During the competition we immediately told them: “We want to turn it around.” The hospital should face the city so you immediately enter the hospital coming from the city and not from the motorway. The hospital building presents itself to Zaandam and looks away, so to speak, from the motorway.

Was it important for you and your team to turn the hospital away from the noise?
Certainly. Our design also has a clear kink. It has a simple form. Strictly speaking it is a long-drawn indoor street surrounded with building space. This makes it an all-sided building. It doesn’t have a front or a backside. By creating a kink facing the city, we tried to create a feeling of welcome, a gesture showing that this is where I have to be. It is simple in structure but it works.

And what happened to the surroundings of the new hospital building?
The current hospital was demolished. A new residential area will be built on that spot. That will transform the hospital from an institution at the skirts of the city, to a building that is integrated in a residential quarter. It will be integrated in society so to speak. The ultimate goal for a hospital is no longer to be seen as an institutional building, a fortress where you have to pass through a gate to get there. No, the hospital is just part of society.

What trends are expected regarding the caring qualities of a building?
I expect the institutional character of a hospital will disappear. I think we will see less and less of the large hospital, where you first have to drive to a parking place and then enter the building. Healthcare will be integrated more in the normal street scene. The healthcare building will develop into a sort of shop. There will always be a central building with operating rooms and intensive care. These don’t fit in a shop. But around these central rooms is a layer with nursing rooms and out-patient clinics. Why create all this into a large institute? For the caring character of a building you need to make the building easily accessible so that entering a hospital is less stressful. It is not about individual colours or materials, but about the whole appearance of the building. If you look at a nursing home from the sixties for example, you will immediately notice that it is a nursing home. I don’t think that is a good thing. You shouldn’t have the feeling that you live in a nursing home, but in a residential building, that happens to have the care that you need.

Photography: Mecanoo/Thijs Wolzak

Brussels, a city with many faces

I have only been to Brussels, once. Well, stranded would actually describe the situation better. I had to catch a flight from Brussels Airport, but missed it due to the heavy winter weather. I had to stay overnight and decided to walk the streets of Brussels to soak up the city’s atmosphere. I understood immediately when people describe Brussels as raw. Walking through the broad streets, I felt uneasy. I did not understand why. But after my interview with the Dutch dancer and filmmaker, Jip Heijenga, I began to understand the city. Jip has lived for three years in Brussels, where she also studies film at the Brussels Art School, Sint Lucas. In this article she explains the raw side of this fascinating European metropole.

by Klaartje Til

What kind of city is Brussels?
Brussels has an eclectic mix of people. It has nineteen municipalities and about one hundred and eighty nationalities. That makes Brussels the most mixed city I know. I am very comfortable with that. It fascinates and inspires me.

What do you mean by “mixed city”?
Like every city, Brussels consists of social circles. I noticed that these circles flow into one-another. People know each other from different circles. Everybody is open to other circles. I also noticed that cultures are not separated by neighbourhood. There are so many different nationalities in Brussels, that they have to live together. You cannot separate them because the city itself is already so divided. Belgium is also so divided. Perhaps the reason why people feel at home in Brussels is because it is not a city made up of one nationality. Even though the city is divided, it works very well as a whole.

What do you mean by divided?
Brussels is not unified by language. It is also divided by the large number of different municipalities, and the split between Flemish and Walloon. French and Dutch is spoken in addition to the various languages that people speak from their own culture. Belgium is divided by Dutch and French speaking people, but the real Brusselaars don’t feel Flemish or Walloon. They are from Brussels and are proud of that. There isn’t a real division of districts, not even in terms of wealth. Rich and poor live together. And if I lived one street further along, I would have had to register with another municipality. I live in Brussels, but a bit beyond lie Schaerbeek, Ixelles and Saint-Gilles. These suburbs are separate municipalities with their own city centre. They have different rules and traditions, and are part of Greater Brussels.

Belgium’s Dutch and French speaking is often a delicate issue. Also in Brussels?
The older generation of Walloons expects everybody in Belgium to speak French. Younger people are often multi-lingual. Most of the Flemish people I know in Brussels speak French. But those originating from Brussels speak both French and Dutch. They move in the Walloon circles, as well as the Flemish circles of Brussels.

Is there a Brussels language?
Sure, there is even more than one language. There is Brussels French which is very different from the French spoken in France. There is the Brussels street language, very cool and with a lot of swag, often spoken by young people. And there is an old fashion Brussels language, which is only spoken by Brusselaars but hardly heard anymore in the city. It is a language of the past, a vernacular.

What does Brussels exude with its buildings and public spaces?
The first words that pop up in my mind are, “withered wealth”. There are many beautiful buildings, but they are so poorly maintained. There is a lot of grey and on a grey day the city looks extra grey. Also in that regard, Brussels is a city full of variety. There is a mixture of buildings with different building styles right next to each other. There are many Art Nouveau buildings in the centre of Brussels. The St Lucas Art School is in an old castle and in the area of Molenbeek there are a lot of new buildings. When you walk through Brussels you notice large murals with controversial, sexually explicit scenes.

You already mentioned them, the people originating from Brussels, the Brusselaars. What characterises the Brusselaar?
Visiting small cafes and drinking beer late into the night. All cafes close at a certain hour. For example, some appear to be closed because the curtains are drawn. But behind the drawn half-curtains, they remain open into the small hours. You have to knock on the window for a long time and raise your hand above those half-curtains. Then someone will open the door and let you in. There you will find the Brusselaar, still there at seven in the morning, smoking, chatting and drinking.

Are there cafes packed with mural painters?
The art scene is big but you don’t notice it. There is a techno scene in Brussels, mainly underground. Anyway, Brussels isn’t a city where clubs are the stage for big parties. The coolest parties are often one-off events, or organised only once a year. The hip-hop scene is huge in Brussels. They rap in the Brussels street language. The hip-hop youngsters are very stylish, urban with nineties influences, and little distinction in style between boys and girls. That is also Brussels. Being young and hanging out on the street, buying beer in the night shop, little loudspeakers in the background with hip-hop music, and speaking French-Dutch, till very late, when everybody is drunk.

Does Brussels have its own hero, like Amsterdam has André Hazes for example?
Yes, Jacques Brel. There is a statue of him near Manneken Pis. His music feels like Brussels. Stuffy, gloomy, sad, bleak and full of romance. A mix of it all.

I think Brussels looks raw. What makes it look like that?
It feels raw because it is a cohesion of different cultures and languages. There is disorder and a lack of structure, but that makes it also open-minded. The fact is that everything blends in and is very divided at the same time. That contrast makes the rawness, I think.

Garrincha-  A Colourist Pushing Boundaries

Hairstylist and colourist, Garrincha, of salon SIM SON loves to radically change hair colour. Both for himself and for others. “I think it important to help people do things with their hair that aren’t mainstream.”, he explains in an interview with Klaartje Til. Please learn more about the man who likes to encourage people to step over the line, because, if you want a radical change of hair colour, something inside you opens up.

Garrincha, why are you so fascinated by colouring hair?
I have been colouring my hair since I was 11 years old. I am 28 now, so over the years I have noticed how my hair reacts. I gained a lot of knowledge about colouring my hair and decided to specialise in it. I have very sensitive hair so as a colourist, I think I can handle all hair types.

Why did you start colouring your hair at such a young age?
I saw a cartoon in which one of the characters had pieces of red hair. I also saw Britney Spear’s video clip, Toxic, in which she has red, black and blond hair. That was what I wanted. I took my mother’s blue and red mascaras and I used them to colour my hair. She wasn’t happy that I was using her mascara. But she said, “If you really want this let’s do it the traditional way.” That same week I went to the hairdresser and my hair was coloured red (laughs).

What hair colours did you have?
There isn’t a colour I didn’t have. Red was my first colour. I’ve also had yellow, which is one of my favourite colours actually, purple, blue, green, orange, and black. I have had every colour of the rainbow.

Did you want to be a professional hairstylist when you were young?
When I was young I didn’t want to be a hairdresser. I wanted to make cartoons. But I didn’t find something I was good at, however, I was good at being a hairdresser. I decided to school myself at barber college. Also, on YouTube I discovered a colourist who creates colourful hairstyles. I thought, “Wow, I want to do, what he does.” That inspired my passion for colouring hair.

Your fascination doesn’t lie with the profession of being a hairstylist, but with creating colourful hairstyles?
Love for the profession grew gradually, especially for the creative side of it. It took a while for me to warm to the profession. At first, I was not good at all. Then I worked at a salon where I learned a lot from the colour specialist that worked there. He was a very good teacher. From that moment on, I experimented a lot.

What type of people have their hair coloured by you?
All types of people. Young, old, artistic and commercial. People who want creative colouring. People who only want highlights or have regrowth tinted. But I also have older customers, ladies who go for bright red or pink hair. These are people who go against society’s expectations.

So we can’t specify hair colouring persons as a specific species?
No, not really. It is the need for change. For some people, it symbolises rebellion, especially for young  people between 10 and 18 years old. Others want it to express themselves.

When someone returns to you after you have given the first radical colour treatment, do you notice a change in this person?
People who go for more creative styles, often want more. I have a customer who wanted blue hair at the time. I coloured her hair step-by-step. First I only did blue highlights. And now, five years later, I still do her hair. She had purplish blue hair and then orange.

In the stories that people tell you, do you notice that their wish to want more with their hair, also applies to something else?
People who go for a radical change become more confident. First they worry about the opinions of others. But through the years I noticed from personal stories that they become more confident. They don’t care what others think because they want to express themselves. I think it is very important, that people can be themselves and express themselves in the way they want to.

Do you feel an obligation to give people the opportunity, to respond to this urge?
Sometimes I cut children who would love to have blue or pink hair. Their parents don’t allow it because they fear what others may think. I think that’s terrible. A child shouldn’t have to worry about the opinion of others. I always try to help a bit. Not all parents appreciate that. But I think I ought to be able to do so, being a hairdresser.

What are your plans and ambitions as a hairdresser?
I want to develop a colour method and pass it on to other hairdressers, to share my love and passion for colouring hair. I want to help hairstylists to create more, to push boundaries and make them feel more confident. You can make many changes to hair with chemicals, such as hair paints and perms. In Japan and South Korea, perms are huge and popular. It would be great to do this here in the Netherlands, and teach these Asian perm techniques. In general they don’t perm in the Netherlands. It is associated with being damaging for hair and sheepskin. But I have noticed an innovative way of working in Asia. It could be an evolution or a revolution when it comes to the West.

Photography: Merel Oenema
Insta: Garrincha

Simcha, The Countess Of Curls

Klaartje Til would often sit in a hair salon, offering a little prayer, hoping that her curls would not be ‘cut off’. She avoided hairdressers as much as possible. She went once a year, only because it was necessary. That changed after she had her best haircut ever, a few years ago in Dijon, France. After this experience, Klaartje did some research and discovered a new phenomenon: curl specialists. During her research she met Simcha, from the Amsterdam salon, Simcha & Friends. In an interview with Klaartje, Simcha explains her love for curls.

By Klaartje Til

Simcha, why aren’t hairdressers and curls a compatible match?
If you are a hairdresser but not a curlyhead yourself, then you don’t know what a drama it can be having your curls cut. It is important for the customer that you also have curls. Or you should have a lot of affinity with curls and be specialised in it. You need to know a variety of curl types, to determine how short you can cut them. The average curlyhead is always cut poorly. Cut too short, is a better description. A curl has the shape of a spiral like a corkscrew and it jumps up immediately. A hairdresser needs to determine, based on the type of curl, the extent to which it wants to pop up in the air.

But have there always been people with curly hair in the Netherlands?
O yes, many curlyheads, but in the past, curly hair, especially Afro-hair, was considered sloppy, not chic. Curly hair was often a no-go. Migration brought different types of curls to Europe, but there have always been curls in The Netherlands. However, they were straightened or treated with chemicals to avoid curling.

What was your experience with hairdressers, as a child?
My curls were always cut too short. I told the hairdresser that I wanted to keep my hair long, “just a trim please”. After the third cut I said, please stop, because by then my fringe had jumped up my forehead. I got very frustrated with my curls, also because I lived in a community where most children got their hair straightened, brushed or braided. My hair was also straightened by hairdressers. I thought, “Why?” I looked terrible.

Then you thought, “I have had it. I want to become the world’s best hairdresser?”
Well, I don’t know if I am, but I wanted to do something that others couldn’t do or didn’t want to do. Even though I was a little child, I cut and dried my friends’ hair. I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I had to become a professional hairdresser and travel as soon as possible. This is because I knew that I wasn’t going to learn anything in The Netherlands.

You started traveling around the world. What did you learn abroad?
I went to Israel, to a kibbutz and started to trim their hair. I was 17 years old, and just did it. I decided to go to one of Israel’s best hair salons where people from all over the world, worked. They all had curly hair. They thought it cool that I was from Amsterdam and they wanted me to show them what I could do. Within a month, I was cutting hair in that salon and worked there for a while. Later, I travelled to other countries like Senegal and Morocco, to find out more about curls.

You use a new technique of cutting curls. What makes this technique so special?
A curl is a spiral. After washing, it dries up into a different shape. It will never fall back into the same shape. Imagine, one hundred thousand wet spirals that dry differently each time. That is why I cut beautiful symmetrical lines. In our salon we also cut very straight hair. Cutting straight hair is also a matter of cutting precise, perfect, sharp lines. I am a perfectionist.

The salon has been booming for more than 35 years. Is it because of the special technique used to cut curls?
Hospitality is very important, that is making sure that people are relaxed. For example, that customer there whose hair I just cut, told me that her hair was always cut badly. She was nervous and asked if she could show me pictures of hairstyles she would like to have. I explained that each person has a different hair structure, and that I would try to translate the pictures she showed me into a cut that works for her hair. I reassured her that we would do something beautiful with her hair. No stress! She just flipped because she was so happy with her new haircut. Happy that finally someone understood. That is what I see all day, people who almost gave up. My mantra is, “Don’t worry, it will be fine, no stress. I promise I won’t cut it too short.” Then they relax and smile. When they come up after their hair has dried, they smile or cry from happiness. To me that is the biggest compliment. (At Simcha & Friends, people with curly hair are cut and dried with their heads bent over.)

It is so much more than just cutting hair, is it?
We have a room for people who need peace and quiet, because they are ill or because something bad happened in their lives. They need extra care. If people are sad, they can sit in this room and deal with the sadness. A client who regularly visits our salon is very ill, she has cancer. I organise the wig and I cut it in the style she prefers. I always help regular clients who are ill, myself, and for free. To me that is the real work, giving these women a sense of self-esteem. Cutting strong, healthy hair and making clients happy with a haircut, is easy in comparison. It is important to reassure people who are fighting for their lives and losing their hair. They need to know that they can put their head in our hands and it will be alright.

That is not always easy I imagine?
I try to keep things light. I am Simcha, my name means joy. Making wigs together with customers often creates a lot fun and laughter. Today I had a customer who initially only wanted a haircut. She was so happy with it that she decided to stay and also dye her hair. All hairdressers were busy. She waited for hours until somebody became available to dye her hair, because she really wanted us to help her. Whether it is someone who comes in for a wig or someone who has been cut badly for years, it is wonderful to help these people. Their surprise and emotion are beautiful.

Photography: Merel Oenema.

Austin- An odd one in Texas?

When POM Magazine asked me to do an interview, I was surprised. To investigate a city in Texas, an American State haunted by the image of cowboys, red-necks and conservatism? Also, I didn’t know anything about Austin. That changed after I interviewed Dutch visual artist, Steef Crombach. She works and lives in Austin and lives the Austin life! In this article she explains what makes Austin so special.

By Klaartje Til

Steef, you have been coming to Austin for a couple of years. Can you tell me about this city?
Austin is the capital of Texas. That is a bit strange since Houston is much bigger. Austin isn’t conservative at all, which is often the case with cities where the government is located. But Austin is very liberal and remarkably different from the rest of Texas. It is sometimes said that people live in their own bubble. That you only meet people who have the same lifestyle and opinion as yourself. In Austin that bubble, and the border of that bubble is palpable and visible. As soon as you drive forty minutes from Austin you find yourself in small villages where you experience conventional Texas. And that’s really the opposite of what you see in Austin.

Why is Austin not like the rest of Texas?
It is both an intellectual and a real tech city, because of the University of Texas Austin with over 50,000 students. So there are a lot of young people. People come to Austin all year round because of the music. People from liberal cities such as New York and San Francisco, travel to Austin. The motto of Austin is: Keep Austin Weird. Today that is not as relevant as it was in the past. Hippies came to Austin, especially during the sixties and seventies. Since then, the music has come to Austin. Most parents of people I know that live here, are still hippies. Of course their children all get that. Buying organic products is normal here. The first branch of the organic supermarket chain, Whole Foods Market, started in Austin. And it is still here.

I didn’t know Austin is a big music town.
Bars, restaurants, and hotels are expected to have live music all the time. As a musician you can easily live off your performances. That is why many musicians come to Austin. So the variety of music increases, for which, people come to Austin. It is a circle that holds itself. There are a lot of annual music events such as South-by-South-West and Austin City Limits. And every two weeks there is a free festival called, Blues on the Green, attracting 8,000 visitors. Actually, there are free festivals here almost weekly.

Austin is on the Colorado river. Does that impact the city?
Nature is part of Austin. There are beautiful natural springs with ice cold water and rare salamanders. Barton Spring Pool for example, is a spring that is also a pool which continues to flow into the Colorado River. You can hang out there in the sun all day and sunbathe topless, which is very unusual in America. In general, people in America are very prudent. However, you can’t eat there, just drink water. Next to Barton Springs are the Barking Springs, because you are allowed to take your dog there. You can see the different segments of society lying next to each other, with a small metal fence in between. On one side there is the natural swimming pool with water drinking visitors. On the other side there is a water stream where dogs can walk around and people drink alcohol and play loud music. From these water springs, you can easily row or kayak through the city centre on the Colorado River. You will eventually sail under the Congress Bridge, also called the bat bridge because there are so many bats. So many, that the air turns black when they fly out every evening.

Tell me about the neighbourhoods of Austin. How do they differ from each other?
Until recently, the State Capitol building was the tallest building in Austin, because nothing in the city was allowed to be higher. That rule was abolished ten years ago. So all skyscrapers of the Austin skyline are ten years old or younger. But in general, there are many low-rise buildings in Austin. You often think you are in a bungalow park. Nightlife is in the historic city centre, on East 6th street, with bars that have balconies where you can stand. Near East 6th street is Rainey street. The story goes that a woman once started a bar there in her home. The bar was very successful and the rest of the neighbourhood decided to do the same. So in Rainey street there are residential houses that are now bars. In downtown Austin there are modern apartment buildings with a swimming pool in the courtyard. There are also many, many hotels. They usually have a swimming pool on the top floor. Often, non-guests are allowed to swim in those pools. Just outside the entertainment centre is Clarksville. This is a historic district where most houses are one floor high, have a porch with pillars and huge lawns. In the eastern part of the city, East Austin, people with less money used to lived there, until recently. East Austin is now flooded with galleries, museums and other creative projects that left downtown because of the high rents. Many buildings in East Austin are from the sixties and seventies. The neighbourhood is run down, but the inhabitants paint their houses in all possible colours and sometimes even line it with mosaic. Most young people live a ring further away from the city centre. That is a neighbourhood with a lot of apartment complexes. They are sometimes housed in enormous buildings with a swimming pool and a communal laundry room. Around these complexes a sort of new city centre is created with a large supermarket, shops and a nice park. The Domain is such a centre. These pre-programmed social meeting points don’t work in the Netherlands, but they do in Austin.

Do you notice the cowboy culture in Austin?
There are cowboys in Austin- people riding on horseback and who own a small farm near the historic centre of Austin. There is country-dancing in some bars and saloons. But most cowboys are republicans, think guns and the rough life. But, when is a person a cowboy? I sometimes work in the fields just outside Austin, helping a local brewery. They grow their hop there. Working in the fields you really need to wear long sleeves, long trousers, a hat, gloves and a piece of cloth to cover your nose against the sand and dust. You need to wear high boots because of the snakes. You look like a cowboy wearing functional clothing that protects and is needed for your work.

What do you call a person born and raised in Austin?
An Austinite, and you are only an Austinite if you were born in Austin. Because so many people from other cities moved to Austin, there are not many Austinites. Austinites are calm and down to earth. They will show their true character even though it may be the first time you meet them. There are no courtesies. You don’t have to guess what they mean with what they say. They are friendly people, down to earth, and they have a strong bond with nature.

Illustration: Auke Triesschijn

When I think of Los Angeles, I think of the movies, Hollywood and showbiz. After my interview with Camilla Lonis I now have a very different picture of Los Angeles. Camilla Lonis has lived in Los Angeles for several years. She works in LA, in an art gallery called Subliminal, owned by the graphic artist, Shepard Fairey, she designs for the OBEY Clothing brand and is also Studio Number One’s, design director. Camilla’s keyword for Los Angeles is culture. Car culture, tattoo culture, street culture, music culture, imported culture; those palm trees were not originally part of the LA street scene. In this article Camilla explains what makes Los Angeles so special.

By Klaartje Til

Los Angeles makes me think of glitz, glamour, Hollywood, showbiz and celebrities. Is that really the case?
If you live here, it is almost impossible not to meet famous people. The glitzy glamour Hollywood Hills lifestyle is definitely Los Angeles. LA has many neighbourhoods and they all are different. Together they form Los Angeles. Echo Park and Silver Lake, for example, are areas where you see people walking down the street, dressed entirely in ‘70s outfits. That is their daily outfit. If you drive a little further, you would arrive in a neighbourhood with a lot of Mexican culture.

What else do you notice about the influence of Mexico in Los Angeles?
LA is close to the Mexican border, you’ll be in Mexico in no time, it is a beautiful country. The Mexican border is also a place where people who try to enter the USA illegally, are arrested and detained in prison. However, LA has programs that help people who are illegal here. They have no papers, no social security number, but they can get health care. They can also, for example, get their driver’s licence here in LA.

Where do you think this solidarity comes from?
People with a Mexican background are the majority of the population in LA. If the city is not supportive of them, it will malfunction.

What is the reputation of Los Angeles both in and outside of California?
A city where everyone is dressed in yoga outfits and everyone has star power. Everyone is super arrogant and there is zero culture. People who are here on holiday visit the famous sights. They go to Hollywood Boulevard to visit the Walk of Fame, where there are also a lot of tramps. They see the big contrast between rich and poor. That can be confronting. They visit Beverly Hills and see excessive luxury and visit Rodeo Drive with its intense brand presence. However, these are not the things that make LA.

And what makes LA? How can I find out, if I visit Los Angeles?
You have to go all the way down Sunset Boulevard. It’s a very long street that runs through different neighbourhoods. You start at the beach and head for Hollywood. After you have passed the Hollywood Walk of Fame you’ll arrive in Los Feliz, which is a calmer neighbourhood. After Los Feliz, you enter the hipster areas Silver Lake, and Echo Park, and continue driving to get to downtown LA. If you drive on Sunset Boulevard, you will see all the areas that make up LA. I sometimes drive on that street just for fun because it’s beautiful. You should also visit East LA. It is the oldest part of Los Angeles with a lot of Mexican culture. South LA is very different too. It’s a vast area, not at all touristy and full of culture. Of course the beach is important in Los Angeles. I love Malibu with its beaches. It is also a great place for hiking.

A lot of rappers sing about Malibu beach don’t they?
You know, once you live here you discover that every part of LA is being rapped about (laughs).

Why is rap so big in LA?
Many famous rappers grew up here. Maybe it has to do with the LA gang culture. These gangs are  not just a few groups of people hanging around, having fun. They operate in their own way and there are certain rules for that. It’s a different way of growing up. It’s a bit rougher and perhaps you therefore feel more creativity and freedom, and the need to express yourself. In LA, that often happens with rap and graffiti.

Is Los Angeles a culinary city?
The food culture is very good, but you need to know where to go. There is an infinite number of  fantastic Mexican restaurants. Food trucks are an important part of the food culture here. On Friday and Saturday nights you see a lot of food trucks, sometimes even cocktail trucks, in streets where a lot of restaurants are located. Then you walk down the street and get a food-fill here, a taco there, and a cocktail from one of the trucks. It’s all very relaxed. But there are also extremes. LA has many super chic restaurants. They serve smaller portions and are beautifully decorated.

What do you call a typical LA person?
An Angelino and an Angelina. You have to have balls to be one. Whether you’re an LA native or you come to live here, you have to stand up. Of course, that’s in every big city. But this city is vaster, so you need to make yourself at home. If you don’t stand firmly you won’t find your way in LA. Even if you are born and raised here, you still have to fight for what you believe in. Angelinos and Angelinas have been through a lot, they are not afraid of anything. The atmosphere in LA is electric, there is so much to do and so much happening here.

It sounds electric, passionate, motivated and uninhibited.
People are definitely uninhibited. And if you want to achieve something in LA, you have to work really hard. There is a lot of competition. People come to LA from all over America and the rest of the world. It’s a mix of people who all want to make something of themselves. You have to be career focused and even then not everyone succeeds. Some people don’t make it.

How can you tell that someone is from LA?
By the respect for the culture that already exists here. It’s the way people treat each other here. I notice that people who have just arrived in LA, talk differently to tramps and the homeless. They have less respect for the fact that people could be armed. Angelinos and Angelinas respect the fact that there is a culture in which commanding respect is important. It results in very nuanced behaviour that people show to each other out of respect.

Designer in Los Angeles-Camilla Lonis

Camilla Lonis lives in Los Angeles where she works for graffiti artist, Shepard Fairey. She designs for the OBEY Clothing fashion brand, and is the design director of Studio Number One. Camilla talked to Klaartje Til about her life in Los Angeles and explains why she loves Los Angeles so much.

Camilla how did you end up in Los Angeles?
After I graduated from art school in Rotterdam, I worked for several years as a freelance designer in the Netherlands. At some point I started receiving more and more assignments from agencies abroad; especially from agencies in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. So I decided to visit those cities. I assumed that I wouldn’t find LA that exciting. But once I got there, I quickly changed my mind.

Why did you assume that Los Angeles wouldn’t be so exciting?
San Francisco seemed more interesting to me. There is a hippie culture, the people are more relaxed, there is beautiful nature. I had a certain image of LA, a flat city with a lot of palm trees, hot weather and people with attitude. But that wasn’t the case at all. However, it is true that LA is a city where you need a car. It’s hard to get anywhere without a car or driving license. As soon as I drove through LA, the way I thought about the city changed. It’s not one city but thirty towns that form Los Angeles. That was a surprise to me.

What made you stay in Los Angeles?
Art and my work as designer. A few months after I moved to Los Angeles I met Shepard Fairey by accident. He is a successful American street artist. He hired me to work as design director for his art gallery, Subliminal.

Shepard Fairey is a big name in the contemporary art scene. How was it to be hired by him to work for him?
It felt bizarre. I read about him in art books when I was still at art school. I admired him enormously and a few years later I was sitting at the table with him. In no time I started to work for him. Shepard is the creative director of Obey Giant and Subliminal, and I work directly for him. I am often called to help choose between one design or another, for a poster he is working on. He always looks and listens very carefully to what is happening around him. He is open to other opinions and his art has a positive influence. That inspires me.

You also design for OBEY Clothing. What is the typical LA look?
That depends very much on the neighbourhood. In Echo Park people dress super casual: vintage jeans of good quality, but old, with a clean T-shirt, blank with a single, small graphic design. Don’t try too hard, that’s not cool. Actually, you can’t dress as “a LA person”. There are so many cultures so there isn’t one LA look.

And to which culture do you belong?
In everyday life I work in Echo Park. I am an artist and I listen to punk and metal music. Street art influences my work. But I also go out in Beverly Hills and then I wear fancy clothing. When I go to a party in West Hollywood I dress cooler. That’s what I like about this city, there are so many different cultures.

You work in the design world. Is design important in Los Angeles?
Design and art is important for the city. There is much to see, so much to do. A lot of museums have free entrance. The art scene is young. Graffiti art is important, very visible and an important form of expression in LA. If you look at Shepard Fairey’s work, you’ll notice that he has made countless murals. They often became a movement. Because I do a lot of graphic design for local projects at Studio Number One, I often see my posters, banners and murals in LA. At some point I became the creator of the LA culture. That’s a serious responsibility. It means that I have to create with respect for the people who are actually from here, the LA natives.

What is the biggest adjustment you had to make, when you arrived to live in LA?
I had to get used to the way people drive here. They drive like crazy and then there are also these eight-lane highways in the city. But if you love the city, you want to be in every neighbourhood, so then you have to drive. The city is a grid and I can get everywhere very quickly via the road network, no matter how far a location is. The highways are built in such a way that you are suddenly at your destination. Los Angeles is easy to access as long as you have a car. And as long as you drive outside the rush hour (laughs).

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