Izzy Liberti , 1996, USA/Italy

Cultureland artist January – March 2020

How did you experience your stay at Cultureland? Would you recommend it to other artists and why?

Yes! Amsterdam is a beautiful city that I already knew I would enjoy by its extensive bicycle infrastructure alone; its domestic architecture and cultural institutions are also wonderful- perhaps it goes without saying that the city itself is great, and I feel fortunate to have experienced it as a temporary resident, rather than one of the many many tourists who overwhelm its center. Starnmeer is also so beautiful, and tranquil, and I am continuously shocked by how much I love its rural landscape and surrounding towns, considering that I always thought of myself as incapable of handling life outside of big cities (perhaps because I feel, still, some sting from growing up in a sprawling american suburb and the isolation that I felt living in a small town). Also, the residency is rent-free, which is already very advantageous, considering that it means that Cultureland is considerably more accessible to artists, as we already worry so much about rent in our normal working lives.

What do you think of the timeframe of the residence? (2 weeks Amsterdam, 6 weeks Starnmeer, 2 weeks Amsterdam)

I like it! I think two weeks is a good amount of time to start formulating a project, and having a month and a half is a healthy amount of isolation to work on the project physically. I can’t speak to the return to Amsterdam, since I decided to not to return during the corona pandemic, but I assume a final two weeks would have been sufficient to finish up the residency and prepare for the presentation.

Could you describe your daily schedule during your residency? What places/institutes did you visit?

I tend to wake up later than I’d like to, if left to my own devices, so I would usually have a brief breakfast and lots of coffee to compensate. In Amsterdam, this was usually followed by a walk around in Erasmuspark, right near the studio on Admiraal de Ruijterweg, or in Starnmeer, a walk around the garden or on the dike, with the coffee in hand of course. Then, I would get to work, either by exploring and writing, as in Amsterdam, or working on my woodcuts, as in Starnmeer. During the first two weeks in Amsterdam, I focused on visiting museums, namely the Stedelijk, but also the Rijksmuseum and the EYE film archive (with next-door neighbour Ronny!) and also exploring, trying to find my way around as much as possible without looking at my pocket-computer for help. The film archive at EYE was particularly fascinating, because I watched a lot of films from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s of the works on the Zuiderzee and creation of polders therein. I think I understood conceptually that the Netherlands are an extensively engineered landscape, but seeing the footage and, of course, the actual polders and dikes as they stand today is continually surprising.

How was your stay at the Buitenwerkplaats (Starnmeer) in comparison to the studio in Amsterdam? Did it work for you as a way to feel the overall theme, which is; the cutting edge of culture and nature? Did it contribute to your project?

At first, I wasn’t sure how I would respond emotionally to staying in Starnmeer, because I’ve never lived somewhere so rural and so isolated, but I was surprised with how cozy the little loft was to live in, and how nice it was to be so alone with my work in such a beautiful landscape. The apartment in Amsterdam is of course, also wonderful, in the way that urban living provides convenience and liveliness constantly, but Starnmeer offered a tanquility that I don’t think I ever had been able to fully submerge myself in, and room to breathe and look out at the wide, flat landscape. I do think the balance was good also with relation to the theme, and it was interesting to notice the ways in which neither is a fully “natural” or fully “urbanized” place, there are startling ways in which each world intrudes on the other. For example the artificial nature of the polder itself, with canals turning at right angles, and extensive planning on water management, and in Amsterdam, the natural elements which are unplanned pop out for their contrast with the city, such as birds forming their swarms of movement, and unplanted plants that defy human logic, growing wherever they find themselves.

Your project ‘Flight of Parakeets’ brought up an interesting reflection on hidden urban symbols, and their ability to approach modernity and the future on a different psychological level. Why did you choose this topic?

My work tends to always relate back to modernity, changes in our landscape that change our perception of the world and reality, instability that an industrialized (and post-industrialized) world in flux will always deliver,; this type of dissatisfaction that is novel, with respect to most of human history. I feel like it’s easy to take for granted the fact that for most humans who ever lived, they could count on their lives looking much like their parents, unless they lived through a major political revolution or war. Now, even in peacetime we have a psyche-shattering sense of unknowing, and that naturally produces fear, and that produces stagnation of our imagination, or worse, violence. That’s why I find hope, idealism, and to a certain extent, utopian thinking actually practical, in an ironic way. The first step to improving a situation is that someone has to suggest that it’s possible to see a situation and its possibilities differently. If nobody believes that things can be changed, then we’ve already lost agency over the future and surrendered it to hegemonic forces, whether that be autocratic governments, or malignant corporate entities, or other forms of organization with undemocratic goals.

When I arrived in Amsterdam and began to explore, get lost on purpose, document the things that struck me as potent, I quickly found the parakeets and began asking about them. Even without the knowledge of where they come from, or exactly how they arrived or when, it’s obvious that they aren’t native to the landscape of Amsterdam, and then the implied story that they carry becomes hopeful, because they are living testimony for adaptation through dramatic environmental change. (In this case they change their environment, rather than staying in one place and watching it change around them, but the sense of instability remains the same.)

Did Cultureland as an Artist in Residence provide enough inspiration, resources to support your project?

Yes, I think most of the challenges to resolve to find the meaning of the topic for me came from within, which is to say, having to spend some time researching the history of parakeets in Amsterdam, exploring the city and understanding its history, and just brainstorming, sketching, finding what feels right, for example. I appreciated the initial meeting, because it always helps me to talk to other people, and especially other artists, so that was very nice. And the fact that there was another artist talk happening during my stay was beneficial, because I got the chance to mingle a bit with people at the opening who might be interested in coming to mine, and also got to understand a bit about the format that my talk might take.

You went to AGA Lab, a studio & lab for experimental printmaking, close to Amsterdam Sloterdijk station. What was it like for you to make your own prints there?

AGA Lab is a wonderful space with great facilities! These kinds of publicly accessible workshops I think are so important to the wellbeing of an artistic community. I went in not needing much assistance, because I have a degree in printmaking, but some artists who are not trained in the various crafts within printmaking may find themselves needing some assistance. Which is available, of course! But would add time and complexity to a given project.

In which way will your project ‘Flight of Parakeets’ and your stay at Cultureland be of value for your future projects?

I think my stay at Cultureland, and by extension the work I produced and contemplated here, added a much needed balance of an acknowledgement of the natural in my work. Very often, I focus, perhaps too often, on The City as the ultimate human expression; I relish in the kind of fearful sublime of industrial landscapes, like the ones I’m familiar with in New Jersey, or extreme forms of urbanism, like Manhattan, and often don’t consider the obvious necessity of its opposite, agriculture, rural communities, and natural landscapes, so I’m glad to find a comfortable place to begin exploring this as well. I have a feeling I won’t completely let go of this kind of wonder for the Faustian impulse of urbanity- the insatiable power, aspiration, and tragedy of their development, but I do sense more awareness of the natural as an antidote to our nihilistic, myopic tendencies. I have a feeling that my embrace of rural landscapes before was tied also to a disgust for car-dependant planning, which is sadly the case in almost every community outside of major cities in the United States. I value this knowledge and experience of a rural landscape, which I don’t find entrapping, because it incorporates density in small villages, and can still be traversed by bike, and in the village centers, by foot. I hope it isn’t too late for some American towns to retrofit into a more sustainable way of life modeled perhaps after European examples.

Thanks for your time at Cultureland! Any last comments, quotes or random ideas you want to share with us about your stay at the residence ;)?

Perhaps emphasizing the bicycle culture to prospective applicants would be helpful, living in Starnmeer would be a lot more difficult (and less enjoyable!) if I didn’t know how to ride a bike. Of course, I am an avid bicyclist, and came to the Netherlands with the knowledge of how important bikes are to Dutch culture, but perhaps a fair warning is in order, saying that you really will only be able to walk to your groceries on the weekend via the Ferry, if you can’t bike!

See the project at Cultureland by Izzy Liberti