Amsterdam. Though Dutch people who are not from there-like me-might grumble that there’s a lot more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam, we can’t really deny that it is an amazing, creative and inspiring city that has had a draw on artists through the ages. Today, there are over twenty artist residencies in Amsterdam alone-not bad for a city with barely over a million inhabitants! I went to Plantagedok, a collective artist run building with a guest studio, to do an interview with Lino who told me many of the artists who come to their guest studio end up wanting to stay in Amsterdam, as they fall in love with the city.
One of those artists who keeps coming back and seems to have found her place in Amsterdam is María de Brea, a film artist and storyteller from Argentina. This is her second time at the Plantagedok residency, she has done many art projects in and around the city and is at the moment applying for the Film academy in Amsterdam. I met up with her at the tiny, very Dutch cafe she works at for a cup of coffee and a chat about her experiences as an artist in residence in Amsterdam.
To start, can you tell a bit about yourself and how you ended up here in Amsterdam?
Internet! Transartists! I finished my studies and I wanted to have an experience abroad, I had already been in Amsterdam as a tourist and thought it was such an interesting city, I was overwhelmed by everything. I had a friend who’s also interested in art and he told me, look at this website, Transartists, you can go to a lot of residencies all over the world! So I had a look, and I thought it was amazing so I started applying to several residencies. First I got an answer from Italy, I’m Italian, I’m from Argentina but I have Italian passport, that is also how why it’s not hard for me to stay in Europe.
I got an answer from Italy, I had send a portfolio and a proposal and they said, yes, come. But it was in the countryside, and I was like..okay, sure I’ll go to the countryside…so I was getting used to the idea without answering and the following day before I answered the Italian people I got this email from Lino. And I thought..who is this Lino? And I started Googling her and I was like..wooow..she studied sociologies, and she works at the film academy and I studied film so, I thought it was super interesting! I felt really connected, I would’ve been happy to go to Italy too but I was very much interested in this place, Amsterdam, Lino, everything.
Was it your first residency?
It was my first residency, yes. I was still very naieve at the time!
What was it like?
I was very excited to be here and very nervous about making the presentation and blablabla, but then I realised I’m a slow learner!
Haha yes, you too? Well I think it’s good to not give up! And it was good because now, looking back, I’m laughing about it! Eventually I went forward and now I’m like..oh..I was such a baby! But it was very interesting to work with all these people and see how they work and live together in this building, how they created this community and they collaborate, that was all very new for me. With the collective and all the projects, there are really interesting things going on there!
You started Textile Hunters with someone you met there also?
Yes, because I didn’t have any money and I started knitting and designing with plastic, with leftovers. I met another designer and we started Textile Hunters together which is still going. Now, I’m trying to apply for the Masters at the Film Academy, it’s two years and only ten people are accepted each year so I’m nervous but I’m going to apply anyway. I want to stay longer in Amsterdam anyway, if I get accepted or not.
Because you were here at the residency before, right?
Yes, I came to stay at the residency but I ended up staying in Amsterdam for the entire year, in 2013. I was like…I’m not going back! No way! ..I had to go back eventually though, I wasn’t making that much money and I had to sort some things out. So I said, okay, I’ll do that and plan to come back again and plan it out a bit better so I can stay longer.
After you did the first residency in Amsterdam you did a few more projects in the Netherlands, right?
Yes, I did a project for the Museumnacht, some festivals, all through the people I was meeting through the residency, they were like, oh come to this and this, and you can present this idea and do this and that….
The first time you came, since it was your first residency, was there something unexpected that happened?
I had no clue what I was facing, I was just going to go in and see what happens..but immediately I felt very welcomed by the people. Everyone was so friendly and doing something creative, so it was like..oh I’m part of this, I got this!
Was it hard that you didn’t speak Dutch?
No..now that I’ve been here a while I feel embarrassed, I should speak Dutch by now but I haven’t taken the course yet. I need to have more discipline and just do it. I’m doing an excersise with reading the newspaper so I’m learning more words and listening to people speak it!
Was it a specific project that brought you here?
Yes, I had a portfolio I put together with the painting and design I had done and I told Lino I wanted to take my knitting designs to the next level. I had been designing small fashion items and when I came here I made my first hammocks. It’s been growing, I was still trying to figure it out.
Did it help that you were in a residency that was also a collective?
Oh yes, all the time I was leaving the door open and people came by and looked in and being like ‘ooh what’s going on?!’ It’s also very diverse, very international, people coming from all over the world and all sorts of disciplines. I’m still in contact with people even though they’ve moved away.
Did you find it easy to find people for collaborations?
Yes, you learn a lot, I learned to team work. I was really bad at team work at first, but I learned through a lot of painful mistakes. I’m much better now and now I actually appreciate team work.
When you first got here, did you find it hard to find your place?
I was really lucky that year, I found a lot of people and I was having one project after the other. Maybe because I was being loud or something, very cheeky!
After that first residency and the year in Amsterdam, you went to London, right?
Yes..I lived in London for two years, it was a bit crazy but a good experience. It’s such a different city from Amsterdam, such a different vibe.
Do you feel like your time in Amsterdam has influenced the kind of work you make and in what way?
Hmm..yes, I think so, yes. But I don’t know..it’s difficult.
I can imagine, especially because you’ve been here quite a long time so then you might wonder..yeah your work changed, but did it change because you’re here or because your work always changes with time?
Exactly..I think I did grow a lot, being here. My interests started developing more, I became more curious, not being easily satisfied with what I make, which is good because it pushes you to do more stuff. And also like..when I had to go back after that first year, I was really sad. I wanted to come back to Amsterdam and then when I came back I realised I really wanted to be here, it was like a confirmation that I really wanted to go back.
The first time was seven months, and now five-six months, do you feel that is enough time?
It’s super, it’s more than enough time.
It’s not too much time?
No, no it’s good.
What advice would you give to an artist who does a residency for the first time?
To have a good plan and to work every day. There are so many distractions, with the internet and procrastination is something that’s happening a lot and I’m dealing with it too, I find myself procrastinating and I’m really unhappy about that. The studio at Plantagedok is kind of particular because it doesn’t have any windows, it’s kind of like a box. You don’t see outside so you can lock yourself in and focus. Do whatever you need to do. But also, don’t close yourself. Socialise, talk with other people. If you go to another country to lock yourself in your room you might as well be home! It’s a balance, try to find that balance.
Is there like a dream place, if you could choose any place, you would like to go to?
Hmm..that’s a complicated question! I think I would like to go to an African country, that would be interesting, I’ve never been there. But you know, I was lucky, I moved a lot, I’ve only done one residency here but I moved a lot because my aunt was an arcitect and she was travelling a lot and I was going with her, mostly to Europe and the US. That’s why I would like to go to Asia or Africa, see what it’s like there. But at the moment, I’m a little tired of moving around. If I get into the school I know that for the next two years, I will be here. I need a bit of that. I feel like settling a little bit and practicing Dutch, making a place with a bit more stability. Here, I have this one part time job at this small business, not like the six jobs I had in London, it’s flexible, close to Plantagedok, I can bike to my work, it’s good.
Ah so you’re biking to your work, very Amsterdam!
Yes, I like that about Amsterdam, being able to bike everywhere! I hope to stay here for a while, that would be good.
Thank you for the interview María, and I hope you can stay and settle in Amsterdam and that we’ll meet again!
You can see more of María’s work here and on Instagram @mariadebrea, and this is the website of Textile Hunters.You can read the interview with Lino of Plantagedok’s guest studio here, and this is the Plantagedok website.