With two exhibitions currently showing in Vancouver, Dutch artist Mirjam Linschooten and Canadian artist Sameer Farooq say it’s a blend of research, asking questions, engaging in dialogue and working together. The exhibition features a mix of installation, photography, design and writing.
Farooq says White, Steel, Slice Mask which is on display in the windows of the Contemporary Art Gallery (Sept. 10–Jan 8) is an exhibition with some humour and even some violent aspects – such as a shelf cutting an object in half.
The artists want people who walk by the exhibition to be surprised and to have a sense of wonder.
“For a moment, we want people to be stopped and think, ‘Hey, what is going on here?’. It’s this visual interruption on a daily walk in the city,” says Linschooten.
The second exhibition is an off-site piece: Bear Claw Salad Hands located at the Yaletown Skytrain Station which Farooq explains it is more immediate and urgent.
“We discovered some online souvenir inventory lists from Gastown and what really peaked our interest is the way by which these stores kind of cater to building the city of Vancouver, how they are using replicas of cultural objects to tell the story of the city now,” she says.
There are four panels on the Yaletown Station with the names of souvenir items taken from these online inventory lists; featuring a mix of objects such as cell phone covers with Canadian maple leafs.
“We were really confounded by it so rather than inventing our own text, we just used what we saw- to use this work to act as our mirror. It’s a way for the city to reconstruct itself and what it is telling us,” says Farooq.
The questions and the conversations
Visits to museums such as MOA enable Linschooten and Farooq to gather ideas for their work – most recently on White, Steel, Slice, Mask and Bear Claws Salad Hands.
“We are taking a very conservative, pristine, proper idea from an anthropological museum, having fun and taking it apart,” says Farooq.
Linschooten explains their research for projects is two-fold; one is theoretical such as reading other artists’ works, historical and philosophical texts while the second part is based on observations at ethnographic and anthropological museums.
The subsequent visits to MOA and conversations with the community meant it took approximately a year to a year and a half for the Vancouver exhibitions to come together.
“We are looking into how they [museums] display objects, how they speak about culture, material culture and we take photographs and notes. There are some similarities and differences; we relate this back to the theory we have been reading and writing,” says Linschooten.
Linschooten, having had the experience abroad and her work in Canada, says Canada allows for a more sophisticated conversation than the Dutch in terms of acknowledging their colonial past.
“For me as an outsider, from an European background and its large role in colonial history, it’s interesting for me to look at the roles; who’s speaking for who and who’s examining who and how these hierarchies come about. Hopefully I can bring this dialogue and conversation back to the Netherlands,” says Linschooten.
A decade (plus) long collaboration
Linschooten and Farooq first met at a graphic design art school in Amsterdam but kept in touch as they both traveled and gained experience through their individual work.
“We already worked together in school and after we went our separate ways and developed our own projects and ideas, we still collaborated; our first project outside of school was in Istanbul,” says Linschooten.
Farooq says what makes their collaboration interesting is their two very distinct backgrounds.
“I’m a queer person of colour and Mirjam is a straight, white European woman,” says Farooq.
Farooq mentions that although maintaining a relationship (over 10 years together) can be challenging, it helps that they have a strong friendship. They make it work by listening to each other and being honest about expressing their own ideas.
“I think a lot of our work mirrors this great potential of collaboration through difference. A lot of the reason we work so well together is that we constantly get into dialogue around these issues of culture, representation and responsibility- it’s a beautiful collaboration that way,” says Farooq.