Anouk Kruithof is a photographic artist and bookmaker from the Netherlands. This year she won the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award, and last year she took both the Illy Public Prize at Art Rotterdam and the Grand Prix Jury as well as the School of Visual Arts’ Photo Global Prize at Festival International de Mode et de Photographie à Hyères, France. Her books include Playing Borders (Revolver, 2009), Becoming Blue (Revolver, 2009), The Daily Exhaustion (Kodoji Press, 2010), Happy Birthday to You (Self-published, 2011), and A head with wings (Little Brown Mushroom, 2011). This month her work appears in The Feverish Library at Capitain Petzel Gallery in Berlin, Germany.
Ward Long: Can you tell me a little bit about your library? Where is this bookshelf? How long have your books lived there? How often do you spend time with them?
Anouk Kruithof: I am a book lover. I guess I have a few book collections on this planet… wrapped in something which holds them, something secure. People would call it a shelf or storage boxes, but I see it as their home; because all these books are creatures unraveled, leading their secret lives. They are standing still and stay calm in their secure places. Until the moment you open them. They have no doubts. Then you share their magical new context as the owner, or the father, or mother. You become part of them. You’re entering their universe.
Having books, being with them, and making them is so intimate and focused.
Here you’ll find the most magical book I have. It’s called Glamour. You can’t read in this book who made it, but I got it from the Dutch artist Melvin Moti personally, so I know it’s his. Normally in a show they were laying around on the counter of a gallery or art institution and people could take them, but not many of those books were made. I am so happy I own this magic manual. The book consists of text by John Mulholland, Raimundas Malasauskas, and Akira Mizuta Lippit along with reproductions of bookcovers, which are titled: Book of Magic, How to Answer Questions, Mind Reading Acts, Our Invisible Friends, The Nightside of Nature. WOW!
I would say that I don’t own a library, because that sounds a bit too pretentious to me. It’s not even public. A library is for everyone. My books are mine. It’s a needy act to want to own books, but I can’t control it. Some just lay there on the wooden shelves of Amazon, they look at you and damn they scream: take me! And I am weak.
So, yes, I now own some books. You could call it a little collection…
WL: Last year I moved from Los Angeles to New York, and I left many of my favorites in storage back in California. I felt like part of my imagination was missing, or that some of my past had been erased. How does it feel to have your collection spread across three countries? Is there anything you’re rediscovering now that you’re back in Berlin?
AK: In the loop of time they are not one family but they are a bit here and there, like me. Most of it is in Berlin. Here, as I am typing this, they are on my right-hand side. I am looking at them while I am typing this. I am typing this. That’s a very funny sentence to type…
Sorry, I lost track. I made this shelter for them with my previous boyfriend. It’s a sympathetic and democratic bookshelf. There’s no discrimination. The tall ones have space enough and they don’t need to pay an extra fee. The little ones keep warm because they have their small cozy cottage. For every kind there’s a place that suits.
WL: Does anything on this shelf come from the time you were collecting for Enclosed Content Chatting Away In The Colour Invisibility?
AK: YES. I collected a lot of books for that work, and I kept those that I could understand or if I was interested in their content. So some are here in this bookshelf, but not so many.
The ones I used for the installation are in their resting place in Dordrecht, a little provincial city in the Netherlands. The first place within the city limits happens to be the place I was born and grew up until my mother told me, “Anouk it’s time for you to leave this house.” I moved to a student house, where I lived with three guys and which was located five minutes by bike from the art academy in Breda, another one of those provincial cities (which are a bit too small for Americans to imagine that we still call this a city). Then the art academy became my home for a bit. I was there constantly working, basically. I loved this time; a whole new universe opened up for me after high school.
This resting place is a bit sad I must say… those 3,500 books I have stored here are in some kind of coma unfortunately, they have to wait until they get built up as a wall. They become a collective gesture, once they’re together in an art space. Installed as an art piece, an installation, a bookwall, a wall of books, they became Enclosed Content Chatting Away In The Colour Invisibility.
My storage for my artworks is at my parent’s house. There they are: 3,500 books in plastic boxes to preserve them. It’s their shelter. I used them as objects to build with, because their content is a complete miracle for me, mostly because they are written in old German, or Eastern European languages.
For almost a year in Berlin I collected those 3,500 found colored books. Most books in this work are from the early 20th century or are Eastern European books that were written during the communist time and therefore are now totally dismissed. In Berlin those books are destined to lay around in the ‘1 Euro’ bookshops or end up at the Papierbank, which is a recycling dump for paper. Here, sadly enough, they are rotting away and have become meaningless and lost.
For Enclosed Content… I made an installation, a video, and a photo out of these books. I wanted to revitalize the books and use them not for their written content, but rather as objects — in this case as bricks to build a wall. The colors and sizes of the books determine the rhythm of the rising wall, which is strong and unstable at the same time. The content and even the titles of the books are deliberately hidden, because of the lack of interest in potential readers. They became more of an aesthetic gesture and tribute to all thoughts and written words that are concealed in this wall. I love books a lot. But in our time books are disappearing. This work shows that shift as well; you could look at it as analogue pixels. I like to invent new things out of fragments of the past — if that’s possible?
Besides Berlin and Dordrecht, I also have some of my books in boxes in New York. I miss them but I am going to see them. I especially miss 2013 by Justin James Reed, which comes with a violet UV flashlight to look at the book (which is completely empty/white at first glance). I made a video performance once of this book. So I have it with me in another form, but as soon as I am back in New York I am going to watch this book again. It sounds a bit like television… it’s another experience.
WL: You have a shelf dedicated to Michel Houellebecq. When did you discover his writing?
AK: I read everything by Michel Houellebecq including his biography written by Denis Demonpion. I started reading him quite late, when I was twenty-four, in 2005 or so. First The Possibility of an Island, after that — BAM! — all the other titles, and then it was just waiting for a new one to come out, and still am.
WL: Would your work be different if you had never read his books?
AK: I don’t know, maybe that’s not for me to say so or not. It was a weird time when I read book after book by him. The fact that he can combine the intellectual with eroticism attracts me. His books are sometimes a puzzle, sometimes so harsh, so cruel, and then tender as well, extremely funny and sexy at the same time. You can feel he is mentally quite vulnerable and maybe not so stable — this is what makes him interesting to me. He is losing it and being a visionary in his stories at the same time. Maybe he’s cynical, but you feel he’s playing.
Also, I think in real life everybody thinks he’s depressed and so shabby. He falls from his chair drunk during interviews, he says “fuck you” a lot, he is a bit of a French snob; I imagine him chilling at his swimming pool on some island in Spain with a glass of champagne, thinking about how he again can provoke his readers and critics, and he laughs a bit, enjoying it. What he does is something of a deeper provocation; with a single outrageous thought many people change their way of thinking. They finally start to think beyond the four walls around them. I guess that’s what makes his novels, his writings, his art, necessary and enthralling to me.
Here are some of the very special ones to me personally, which just now pop up in my mind when I think of what I actually have. I’ll give them a room with three walls around them…
The triangle of suburb titles: When Humour Becomes Painful, Learning To Love You More by Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July, and The Afronauts by Cristina de Middel. Alec Soth also loves this one. There are many good words flying around Cristina’s publication, and I loved it straight away, but I don’t agree with Alec on how well it’s produced. I think it doesn’t open smoothy, it feels a bit that the book should become an object but it organically doesn’t. Oh, I’m a little bit of a critic. I like Cristina, not only this book but as a human being as well — haha!
This is an odd triangle. There are hands on two of the covers. One is the book of Polaroids by Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg, from Self Publish Be Happy’s Book Club. I have written an “(Inte)review” about this book for 1000 Words Magazine called Stirring in a discordant cabinet of curiosities. Lonely Planet: Korea is the same but different. I had this book in my pocket just 15 days ago when I was still in Korea for the Daegu Photo Biennal. And the book underneath is super special for me, even though I don’t give a damn about the photos inside. It’s black-and-white portraits of psychiatric patients in some institution in the Netherlands, but my Shiatsu therapist gave it to me, and he meant so much to me in a time that I was a lost ghost. The meaning of the content of this book appeared slowly, like a web of connections, where every link jumps together in the flow of a wide river.
This is the triangle of unconsciousness. This is a book I am reading now: Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow. I bought it in New York, in Union Square. The other two are misleading and a bit older artist books by artist Simon Morris.
This is the insomnia triangle. There is a book about how to cure insomnia, and there is a novel of a respected Dutch writer called Willem Frederik Hermans, Nooit Meer Slapen which means, “Never Sleep Again.” Underneath there is a book I got when I was in New York last year: There Must Be Some Kind of Way Out of Here: Sleep Vol. 1, a brilliant zine full of pictures of people who sleep basically everywhere in every position, even together, with the most hilarious articles and advertisements about sleep, and no sleep. I can look at the pictures forever, because I am so jealous of what I see in the pictures, you can’t believe it. It’s my biggest dream to sleep like all of them. And the funny thing is that I photographed the same two men laying on top of each other when I was in New York in June 2010!
WL: What are some of your oldest books? What are some books you’ve added recently?
AK: This is a very old and early triangle. There is a book of 400 Dutch sayings, which I still love. I got it from a friend because I always mixed two sayings into one and killed the meaning straight away. There is a children’s magazine about art which my mother gave to me. I read it and looked at the images (Dada and Picasso, in this issue). I fell in love and it’s one of the earliest connections to art which I had on my own in my room. I remember that moment. I was not raised with much cultural knowledge, and neither of my parents introduced me to art. We never went to a museum when I was young. Old artbooks of Klee, Klimt, Schiele, Picasso, and Dali from secondhand stores became my first contact with art, and later came photography.
Underneath, there is a magazine which is one of the most funny and perverse books of pictures I have. I found it in Benidorm, Spain, on my first trip alone for making photos during art school. There are photos of women over 50 in weird lingerie, posing in the most extreme kitsch sets, or maybe their normal living and sleeping rooms (I don’t want to even think about this…). It’s quite disgusting and fascinating too. For a photo assignment later, I made my first photocake from one of these photos, together with Lorelinde Verhees, for Wia4 Bookmagazine.
Not the oldest, but for a photography-art book this is one of the earliest, which still means something. I got it as a present from Jaap Scheeren, my boyfriend at that time. We also started collaborating after graduation on the project The Black Hole and had a solo show at FOAM in 2006. When we were still studying in the same class, Jaap gave me this book: Jeanne Dunning: Bodies of Work, a catalogue from 1991. This is a book I take out of the shelves every year or so and every time I see something new that inspires me — it seems like this one is growing alongside me. I want to say, this book is always touching me. Some of the works might not do anything to me in the year I got it, like in 2000 or so, but now 12 years later they speak to me.
One of my newest art books is Michel Francois’ Plans d’Evasion. It’s so new that I am going to visit it now!