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Tanja Smeets

The bulbs grow
and mutate

Proliferating. That is probably the best word to capture the art of Tanja Smeets. ‘Growing’ is also possible. But proliferation is more intense. Tanja Smeets: “Proliferation has no negative connotations for me. It refers to the ability to take another form, to transform, to renew.” During the third edition of Façade, she find refuge in the tranquility of Kuiperspoort. There, three and a half metres above the spectator’s head, greyish spheres grow. Very naturally, as if nature had taken over.

The narrow passage in the Kuiperspoort immediately drew her attention. “Extremely special,” she says about the location. And therefore extremely suitable for growing a new work of art. The passageway extends from 2.24 to 2.40 metres wide. When you walk through the gateway, you see the back of the historic buildings. Kuiperspoort is sort of like a vanishing point; you keep ending up in a different world. It’s fascinating.

After secondary school, Tanja Smeets studied Dutch for a short time. She wanted to write fiction. However, during that time, she didn’t get the chance to work with real, tangible material. Eventually, she switched to Arnhem University of the Arts where she was trained as a painter. “Painting didn’t  satisfy me. What I made came forth my painting, as it were. Now I use the open space as a canvas.”

Tanja Smeets makes mostly large installations that penetrate the space. Like parasites, they force their way through and lay a poetic layer of organic forms over the hard surface. Her sculptures are ‘lush corals’ that emerge from the walls or the ground. They flow and they drip, they grow and they mutate, they infiltrate and crawl into the skin of the architecture. It is an organically grown entity that becomes one with its surroundings, naturally, not made by human hands.

The installation she made this year in Kunsthal Kade in Amersfoort is called ‘Under the Pavement the Roots Whirl’. She finds this an appropriate title that, in fact, relates to much of what she makes: “There is a process going on under the skin. That fascinates me. Skin is a very important element in my work. Skin stimulates, makes one curious. At the same time, there is this subcutaneous layer that creates something uncanny. You look at the work of art and get the feeling that you want to stay in it. But there are also contrasts, confusions, uncertainties. They make you doubt for a moment when you zoom in.”

Tanja Smeets works with everyday objects. Downpipe leaf guards, deep fryer sieves, spoons and coffee cups – objects from the kitchen cupboard and the DIY shop – multiply in her work into plant-like forms. It is precisely these ordinary objects that give the feeling that such a structure can really grow anywhere.

For her work in the Kuiperspoort she is going to use grey downpipe leaf catchers. At a height of more than three metres, they form a structure of grey bulbs in the air, visible from Dam Square. “The spheres look spiny. They evoke associations with the sea, with underwater animals. If you look, it is as if they come growing out of the walls, they grow into the place. When I was asked to start from the theme ‘Freedom From Fear’, I found it difficult. We were still in the Covid era. Now Ukraine has joined in. I find that complex. In my installation, I am very much looking for the connection. My bulbs are connected through growth. I consider connection to be a strong counterpart of fear.

Tanja Smeets (Wijchen, 1963) lives and works in Utrecht. In 1991, she graduated from ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem. Her work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries, including the Henan Museum in Zhengzhou, China, the TextielMuseum in Tilburg, the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, The Gyonggi International Ceramics Biennale, Icheon in South Korea and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. In 2017-2018, she participated in the CAP programme of museum Vizcaya In Miami and developed an installation for the museum space. She made permanent installations for, among others, the Centraal Museum in Utrecht; DIFFER (Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research); the K.F. Hein Fonds in Utrecht, and Enexis in Zwolle. Works by Tanja Smeets can be seen in public spaces in Apeldoorn, Barendrecht and Deventer, among other places.

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