Vancouver’s art scene will import some inspiration from Holland this July when Dutch artist Desiree Palmen launches a series of workshops in collaboration with Grunt Gallery. Titled Mamook Ipsoot (“to hide/make hidden” in Chinook), the series will enlist local aboriginal youth to collaborate with the renowned artist and explore their connection to the urban landscape.
Art as intervention
Though she originally studied sculpture, Palmen realized early on in her career that she was more interested in performance art that stages interventions in real life situations. In 1996 she participated in a collaborative project titled Met Ondertitel (With Subtitle) in which artistic work was smuggled into Dutch scientific museums. The museum visitors couldn’t easily discern what was scientific truth or what was artistically added.
“My wish was to make art that has a direct connection to (my) daily life,” she says.
During a routine trip to the post office in 1999, Palmen came up with a new performance art intervention practice. Outraged that a security camera taped her without her permission, she created a camouflage suit that made her virtually unrecognizable. She then made another visit to the post office where a fellow artist photographed her in camouflage.
Palmen has since continued to work with camouflage, creating numerous projects where she paints a person’s clothing to match a carefully selected landscape around them. She then photographs the results in order to permanently capture the performance quality of a piece.
Participants in Palmen’s projects have included teenagers in culturally complex and politically volatile cities such as Jerusalem and Istanbul. The results of the latter workshop were presented at the 2011 International Istanbul Biennial, a contemporary art exhibition.
Glenn Alteen, program director at Vancouver’s Grunt Gallery, saw Palmen’s work in Istanbul and invited her to bring her camouflage workshop to Vancouver, recruiting local aboriginal youth between the ages of 11 and 15 as participants.
Mamook Ipsoot will invite the youth to pick a spot in the city that they strongly connect to, and then collaborate with Palmen in being painted into that particular landscape. Palmen will record the results on photographs and on video and Grunt Gallery will arrange for the photos to be displayed in the city’s public spaces, such as bus shelters, in the fall.
Alteen is impressed that Palmen is not only willing to work with teenagers, but that she also provides a high degree of collaboration with the participants. He believes that focusing on First Nations youth for the workshops is particularly meaningful since they aren’t a demographic that receives enough attention in Vancouver.
“It’s just the whole idea of the land, and how kids negotiate the city and what the kids see in the city,” says Alteen.
Palmen thinks that working with Vancouver Aboriginal youth is important because she is aware that the city is located on unceded First Nations territory.
“It’s a way for the youth to explore their connection to their surroundings and affirm their presence,” she says.
However, Palmen purposefully avoids blatantly political work. She aims to ease politically heated situations through her art rather than to overtly illustrate them.
Jolene Andrew is the youth outreach coordinator for Mamook Ipsoot, and is excited about the project’s potential to reach out to First Nations youth at a grassroots level.
She believes that Palmen’s method of painting the youth into the landscape gives them the tools to reexamine their relationship to what is supposed to be their homeland.
“I really like [Palmen’s] model of painting the youth into their landscapes…[it] gives them another way to look at themselves in this place that’s supposed to be their homeland,” she says.
Andrew thinks that Mamook Ipsoot will be an invaluable experience for youth participants and will provide Vancouverites with some thought-provoking public space art.
The Mamook Ipsoot workshop series launches Tuesday July 9 from 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m., and continues every Tuesday and Thursday in July. To get information and updates about Mamook Ipsoot, visit http://www.grunt.ca.