Interview with Daantje Bons


Can you tell us more about the way you create your artwork?
Well, usually I start off with some feelings or a specific thought about something I saw, felt or experienced. Often it is something I want to share my thoughts on. Then very quickly I make a visual translation, which almost always happens automatically when I try to get my mind around things. In this translation there is always some kind of a statement shown with my point of view on this subject. Sometimes I take the time to make a drawn sketch of my idea, but mostly I just start to grab all kinds of materials and props that I think would fit my idea. After I lay all my stuff down, I take my camera and start to make compositions. This happens intuitively and most of the time I don’t end up making the picture I had in mind in the first place. The thing I like and sometimes I hate at the same time is working with intuition. It is fun because I can surprise myself but it can also be very annoying not knowing what to do next and if the picture will work out.

Your photos have an intimate look, dealing with gender roles and stereotypes. How do you experience these personally and how does that translate in your work?
I think all of my work is very personal actually. All of my ideas arise from my own experiences. For example, I never felt completely at ease in my female body. When I was younger, being feminine was not at all something I felt comfortable with. But it was something that was kind of forced up on me growing from a young girl into a woman. I was taught to act and behave a certain way. When I got older I learned I was treated differently when I behaved in a feminine kind of way. Femininity and womanhood were always something I saw as an extended form of my identity I had to deal with. These feelings about femininity and womanhood I am still trying to figure out through expressing my views and thoughts in my photographs. Nowadays I try to reclaim my own feminine and masculine characteristics in a way I feel comfortable with as a person.

What are your weaknesses and how do they give you strength?
My mind is very chaotic and I find it very hard to concentrate on one thing. Also I tend to get caught up about something like a feeling or an idea, which can give me a lot of stress. Sometimes I literally feel that something has to burst out of me like a volcano. At that moment it looks like my whole life is depending on this idea that I have. Also I am very impatient when I have an idea, sometimes I feel my mind and body aren’t working efficiently and quick enough. It is almost like I am afraid that my idea or vision will fade if I don’t capture it quickly. This is something I try to use while making work, the energy in those moments is like a ball of fire and can therefore be extremely interesting. Because of this high energy I am able to work very hard and with a certain power. My mind, eyes and ideas are very sharp in those moments. But there are some moments of irritation when things don’t turn out as quickly and smoothly as I want.

In my work I like to research my own experiences and thoughts. This way I am able to break ground rules and build other ideas and possibilities. I feel gender should be something liquid and able to reform itself in whatever kind of shape.

You seem very comfortable showing images that have a certain vulnerability considering the intimate look of them. As Brene Brown said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” What are your thoughts on this?
I think crossing boundaries is a good source of creativity. Constantly challenging your thoughts and your opinions can be scary and new and therefore a great way of inventing yourself. Vulnerability can be very scary, maybe it looks like I am comfortable in my pictures but to be true I often feel very scared during the process. It is kind of like “breaking” yourself, cutting everything that is secure and well known from under you. I like to challenge myself and really get to know me. For me, identity is such an interesting and complex aspect, I like to get to know myself in the best way possible. Therefore gender identity is a major issue and of great importance in my work.

How is humour a way to cope with feelings like vulnerability or fragility?
Absurdism has actually always been a natural part of me and humor was something that exists from that. I like to put everything upside down and insecure, this probably has something to do with my “extreme” identity searching. Humour also puts things into perspective. I find it very amusing to challenge rusty patterns. For example, I have a photograph with a breast and a hairy nipple. I printed this one on 30cm x 30cm, when I have an exhibition I like to put this one a bit in the back. When people see this image from far they usually are drawn to its erotic esthetics and come closer pretty quickly. When they are close enough to see the hairy nipple almost everyone flinches and looks nervously around to check if someone else caught them being drawn to the picture. I can be very amused by this because you can basically see their mind being cracked over a hairy nipple. But is also can be a way to cope with feelings like vulnerability, it is sometimes easier to confront myself when the subject I am portraying is very personal. This way humour can be like a security blanket and makes it possible to keep some distance. Humour is also a method to talk about complicated subjects, it makes them more accessible. I use it the same way as I use esthetics in my work. People are mostly first drawn to an esthetic or humorous picture, it makes it easier to get their attention and show or tell them something different. 

You welcome the viewer into a “gender playground”. In what way is your work a playground?
I feel ideas about gender in general have been very stuck and narrow minded. In my work I like to research my own experiences and thoughts. This way I am able to break ground rules and build other ideas and possibilities. I feel gender should be something liquid and able to reform itself in whatever kind of shape. I picture it like a Barbapapa actually.
It is a playground because my work is about inventing, challenging and recreating aspects of gender identity. Also I like to think that my work goes further than being a funny or pretty picture, therefore I also would like to invite people to search their own ideas about gender within my work. I am hoping to create an open environment where thoughts and feelings can playfully be discovered.

What kind of reaction do you hope to get from people who see your work?
The people who see my work hopefully feel understood, inspired or a bit shocked. About that last aspect: like I said, I like to challenge ideas. Our society still is based on gender roles and I would like to make a difference. Sometimes seeing something different can be liberating. I very much hope to create a more open minded atmosphere about gender and make people aware of other possibilities.

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