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Philip Tonda and Susie Hollands in conversation

Posted on October 1, 2009 by Susie Hollands

Philip Tonda Heide
A conversation between Susie Hollands, Director of Vingt Paris and founder of Vingt Paris Magazine and Philip Tonda, artist and curator.

Philip: When did you first get the idea of creating an artist-in-residence program?

Susie: I got the idea when I came to Paris in 2003 or 2004 to pursuit my own artistic ambitions. I met a lot of people and everybody seemed to have something in common – they came because Paris is a good place for creative souls. However, it’s really hard to find a place to live and work here!

At this time I was also starting an art gallery with some friends. While this was not necessarily a sustainable undertaking, it did give some insight to the Parisian art scene and the situation for artists: Rents are sky high and there are very few spaces available. But artists need space to work.

Then we developed a community of people who nevertheless lived here, artists, photographers, writers etc. And this community has grown to what Vingt Paris Magazine is today. The idea of a residency project is really an extension of this.

What brought you to Paris yourself?

Philip: The train! I lived in Amsterdam at the time, and had received a scholarship from the Dutch Art foundation, BKVB. I came to Paris for a small vacation, after not having been here for many years. It was just wonderful! I discovered so many areas of the city that I had never heard of before, and met so very interesting and welcoming people who invited me to stay in their houses for free and discover the city with them.

After this experience I thought to myself: “Move to Paris! If you don’t, it’s just fear holding you back! ” And so I gave up my apartment, stored my belongings and told my friends I would move. They seemed sad about it but I assured them it would only be for 2 months. It’s been 2,5 years now.

This happened at a time when I had to face myself in some profound ways, and went through a lot of development, professionally as well as personally. This, in connection to my move here, made me arrive to Paris with a feeling of liberation. I’ve carried this feeling with me since then, and I appreciate it a lot. Paris stands for me for personal freedom, which is something that interests me in various ways.

Susie: Yes, it’s often an important place for people in their own history. Maybe it’s because of the legends and the history… The artists in Montmartre etc… Living freely and making art. It’s a place that has always contained ideas.

Philip: Yes that’s it; a city of ideas!

Susie: And it’s a place where you meet so many interesting people, and have many conversations.

Philip: Yes Paris is really about conversation. Less about party, I’d say, than for example Berlin or London.

Susie: There’s no party! (Laughing) It can get boring sometimes..But there is indeed a lot going on in electronic music, though in a more “serious” and less party oriented way. And there are so many different cultures represented here. Just think of the African communities here!

Philip: Personally I was so ready for less party and more conversation when I came here; it was exactly what I needed.

Susie: Maybe you can tell a bit about what you did when you came here..About your curating projects..

Philip: Yes..Well, I came to Paris without really knowing anyone here, but that soon changed as I would meet people all the time: In cafés, in the metro, at galleries etc.

I had a strong desire to create a space where art would be shown, experienced, enjoyed, questioned and discussed. It’s not an obvious choice to come and start something like this in Paris. Most people would ask me why I didn’t go to Berlin. “Because I think Paris needs more independent art spaces”, I would answer! I didn’t mean that in a pretentious way..Paris has always had a lot to offer and there is really a lot to discover. But the independent, self organized, non-commercial, serious and critical art scene is not as strong here as it is in some other cities. Yet, in a different way there is something very independent about the Paris scene: Even though it’s often rather commercial, it at least more independent from trends than what I see in other cities, and that’s something I appreciate.

Susie: It’s not about being “cool” here..There is a freedom to be as you are, and people are generously interested.

Philip: Exactly. This generous interest of people from all fields and all ages is so liberating, after having lived in some of the more hype cities such as “über-young-and-trendy-and-very-very-arty” Berlin.

Yet, to develop myself as an artist and curator in Paris was a lot of hard work, but it eventually worked out quite well. TPTP has grown to be a lively organization, now working independently from a physical space, organizing exhibitions and art events in various locations. On Oct 28th we will open the show Pixelpops 2011, and in November we’ll take part in Nofound Photofair.

Working independently has proved to me that a lot is possible! I think it’s mainly about wanting it strongly and working very hard. If you do that, each of your small actions and gestures will lead you in the direction of where you eventually want to go. Experiencing this has motivated me even further.

Let’s speak a bit about the practicality of the residency. How will you choose the apartments?

Susie: They will be chosen completely randomly – because the spaces have to become free. When an apartment is empty for a period before someone moves in, or while waiting for a space to be renovated. This happens sometimes…there are not plenty of such opportunities, but there are some.

Philip: Are the landlords open to the idea?

Susie: They are people of the city, and in some cases they’re open to support art. It’s my job to communicate the idea to them and make them interested.

But you know..people like the city because of art and culture and history, just like you and I do. And yes, it’s great to like this stuff, but the reality is that this can happen because there is some support for it. So people need to realize that they also need to support culture in order to have the opportunity to experience it.

Furthermore a lot of the landlords already work with art in various ways.

Philip: Are the landlords mainly French or foreigners?

Susie: It’s a mix. We have about 20 percent French, 50 percent American…15 percent British.. and the rest are from all over the world..South America, Australia, Iran..

Philip: I have a question pointed towards myself as much as towards you: What do we expect from the artists?

Personally I think that art shall be approachable in a visual way as well as in an intellectual way. And the artists need to have a certain consciousness of their own artistic identity, and to be able to articulate their work in a coherent way.

Susie: Yes, it’s a necessary skill to articulate your own work nowadays.

Philip: I think it’s about taking a starting point in real life/society, make a research and create something visually exciting and coherent out of this. It should be born out of a real and profound interest in something, and contain an investigation directly related to real life, and in this case the city.

In terms of media, I have no preferences really. The residency is probably more suited for people working in video, photography or writing than for artists working exclusively with painting. However, it totally depends on the individual artist, her ideas and methods, so it’s definitely not impossible that the chosen artist will be a painter.

Susie: It must be someone who can delve into the city, who can first of all give a new perspective on the city and who can work with the layers of the city: History and so on. Complexity!

Paris is not an easy place to live or to understand. It can’t be categorized in a little box. That’s why some people have trouble when coming here; they’ll say “It’s not like that where I come from.” Well, surely it isn’t..now deal with that! Nothing is black and white…it’s grey! It’s about dealing with where you are at the moment. Like life.

A lot of movements where born here..We are bombarded with the history..One of the great things about Paris is indeed the history, the ideas of the past and the fact that we’re exposed to exhibitions of art from all centuries. This is wonderful! But what we look for here are people who look at Paris as it is today!

Philip: Yes…Individual ways of relating to contemporary Paris. And we’ve already started by having this conversation and by making this project. Now we invite the artists to talk…By asking “What is Paris?”

Susie: And I want to add: Paris has given me the opportunity to meet extraordinary, creative people of all ages and that has contributed to my own development. The creation of our original gallery, latterly the online magazine – and now the residency program: It’s all an attempt to give back to others some of what the city has given to me.

Director: Susie Hollands

Concept development and curating: Philip Tonda, in cooperation with Susie Hollands.