From the 23rd - 25th of May, All Street Gallery will present the upcoming debut of Dutch artist Emma Steensma and her first solo show in the US, curated by independent curator Will Wilson under the umbrella of Balloonapuddin.
At the heart of Emma's artwork lies a profound exploration of fear. Drawing inspiration from her personal experiences with dreams, sleep paralysis, and the unsettling presence of monsters, she confronts these inner demons through playful art. Through a masterful interplay of vivid colors and striking imagery, Emma invites viewers to join her on a visually stunning and emotionally charged journey of self-discovery.
Next, with his sometimes eclectic taste that keeps audiences on their toes, Will Wilson is known for curating exhibitions that are nothing short of a happening, as Claes Oldenburg would say. His ability to surprise and captivate with unexpected artistic choices ensures that every show he curates becomes a memorable experience. So, get ready for an art event that defies expectations and sparks conversations.
In anticipation to Emma's first solo exhibition, curated by Will Wilson, the two come together to discuss the theme of the exhibition, her artistic processes, and future plans to look forward to.
Will: Welcome to the Netherlands. My name is Will, and I'm a curator under the umbrella of Balloonapuddin. We'll be doing an exhibition, with Emma Steensma, on the 23rd to the 25th of May in New York City with All Street as the space and the host, and ONLYCHILD Magazine for the publication and media coverage in partnership. It's very exciting. So Emma, welcome. Do you have anything you want to share?
Emma: I'm just really excited about it. Right now, we're in the dunes of the Netherlands, with the sea behind us, so that's quite nice. Will just took a swim – very cold. That's what’s happening.
Will: So could you tell us more about the theme of the exhibition, and what initiated that process in practice?
Emma: The theme is based on a recurring symbol that I’ve seen throughout my life, which is the head of a wolf. I think it's connected to the symbolism of death, or maybe a scary thing I used to see as a child. Not in psychosis but just when you turn around and you think you saw something, but you didn't actually see it. I also have a lot of sleep paralysis, which is when half of your mind wakes up when you're asleep, and the other half doesn't, which means you can't move, but you're kind of awake and your dreams are also still going. So I tend to see monsters in my room.
I sometimes dream auditory sensations and I can feel them feel me, come up to me or even strangle me in my bath, which is really scary. I learned not to befriend them, but to accept them, and that’s what I'm trying to do with this project. It's something that you see all over the world with monsters. You have lots of traditions of getting on the suits of the monster, embodying the monster – not to befriend it but to neutralise it in a way. So that's what I'm doing with the wolf. I think the visuals are a bit scary, but it’s presented with bright colours. Lots of my work is done with bright colours and goofiness, almost a joke. The visuals are kind of joke-y for what it is. For me, it’s a scary thing, but it's kind of how I neutralise the scariness.
Will: I have friends who have talked about these visions and characters, and I’ve heard people call them jesters, as well as monsters. There's monsters under your bed and in your closet when you're a kid.
Emma: Nightmares. I heard somebody call it Dream Bleeds, which I find very beautiful. It's a dream that bleeds out into your reality. I read that 10% of the population has some form of it. There's also many deaths sometimes involved.
Will: Did you look into studies and research this? Was that where the sculpture started or was it through the dreams? Like through this half awakeness that you said, “Okay, I'm gonna make this now”, and then physically exploring it.
Emma: It was kind of fluid. I think I just really wanted to visualise what I saw at night because you can’t really explain it, you know? Also, I'm really into myths and legends, all that kind of stuff, and then I realised “Oh, there are so many in every culture, there's a mythical creature or nightmare.” It all has a different name – like in my culture, there’s a witch that sits on your hair at night, and then you get suffocated. In every culture, there's a different beautiful story around it. but if the witch is on your chest, and you grab her nose, you will find a pot of gold, which is why I left the nose open. (Laughs) Because I just thought that was a really happy and groovy approach to it, like, just grab the nose.
Will: You're referring to the piece that will be shown at the exhibit – this fabric sculpture that you've woven and sewn together to embody these dreams. But it started with multiple other characters first, which is what I was interested in, and what I reached out to you about, “This is fantastic. What is this? What's going on?” And we just thought, “Oh, let's try and do something here.” So you're having an exhibition in New York from the 23rd to the 25th of May, with All Street, ONLYCHILD and Balloonapuddin. And then from there, you'll go back to the Netherlands and do a show there. And maybe even another one in India.
Because these will be photographs of these characters and situations, do you think that you will try and change them per location?
Emma: I like to travel with it, because it’s a part of my culture. It’s not photography but more of a still moment of that sculpture, which is a part of me. I think travelling with it is also really nice, because in relation to mythology and travelling – in a sense, people experience way more when they're in a different situation. For example, when you sleep in a different space, you have to be half awake. That's just natural. So it happens quicker.
Will: Yeah, I also wanted to ask – what started your overall art practice, what sparked these interests? I know I spoke to your father this weekend and he said that since a very young age, you’ve been going to museums. You went to the Vermeer show recently and you've talked about going into painting more. Your practice is not exclusive to sculpture or photography. To be described, it's more of an expression of what art is.
Could you share, where these creative ideas stem from, and what you think may come next for your practice, beyond the summer and this exhibition?
Emma: Practise wise, I think this is kind of what I need to do. There's not many other jobs that I could do as well, maybe physical labour. I even thought about going into the army, but I don't like violence. It's gonna sound corny, but it's the most human thing, most living thing I could do. Like you're playing, it's like your child. That's what I did, and that's what I still want to continue to do. After high school, I had a choice. We have marks in the Netherlands and I did the highest marks I could go, to university at Central Saint Martins Foundation, and then to Slade School of Art in London.
Will: You worked with a collective of artists recently in The Hague? Correct?
Emma: Maybe. I don’t know. Oh, yeah, after I went to Slade, I wanted to have more practice based skills, so I decided to do an internship. But just on my own, with Joep Van Lieshout, who is a big Dutch artist and there, I learned to weld and to use plastics, fiberglass. It was really nice to do and it had everything. Sometimes, I even go back there to still use the available materials. But I learned a lot about just also making and going and creating and not only being focused on the whole story behind it.
Will: Sure, just physically expressing through materials.
Emma: It also gave me power, like “I can do it like this guy.”
Will: That's what school gave to me – a space, physical materials to work with, and also tools to work with those materials. And that enabled me to see beyond the constraints that I would have felt I faced at home, whether those were true or not. Also, just going off of what you had shared, you mentioned going to the army as an idea, but not liking violence. And I think a nonviolent soldier is a funny thing to think about. And what a soldier means and what it means in different languages and how it translates nonviolence is pretty straightforward. But at the same time, what does that mean? Is it just physical, is it verbal? Is it emotional? There's a lot of questions there. But that’s something I took away that was interesting. Yeah. That's very true.
Emma: We asked about future plans, right? So, I am in my studio almost every day now in the north of Amsterdam, so I really enjoy it. I am quite good alone. But in the future, I do see myself with more people creating something together under one big name, really making it a bigger thing. I think interactions in creativity can be really fruitful, if done non violently. Collaboratively. People can be really violent with our words.
Will: And with intentions, but it's unintentional violence.
Emma: It’s passion. Violently passionate. So if you can make a safe space for everybody. Whatever they want to do. Freedom. I would like that, but that's a foreign future.
Will: Sure. I think that's what I've been trying to do with Balloonapuddin, through it just being a name that was made up. That felt fun, and it felt like nothing and yet possibly everything at the same time. And through that, I'd like to represent Balloonapuddin. I'd like to embody it but I don't want to be known as it. I don't want it to be my name, that I am Balloonapuddin, but I've come to terms with it being a creative umbrella so similar to an artist collective.
So let's say that maybe you are able to get a warehouse or space, make that a studio — you bring more people in and create that nonviolent, passionate space for ideas. Who knows, maybe there is a little controlled violence or chaos. That's another way to explore this.
Emma: Yeah, maybe there's kickboxing every night.
Will: This is fantastic, though. Times up. I guess we have to stroll off into this pit of sand, and then get swallowed up by the monsters. Thank you all for listening.
In the dynamic world of art, the collaboration between visionary minds and creative spaces often leads to the discovery and celebration of new talent. Such is the case with the partnership between All Street Gallery, an alternative art space, Will Wilson, an emerging influential curator, and Reale Communication, a leading representative agency. This collective effort is poised to showcase the artwork of Emma Steensma, with each party playing a crucial role in bringing her talent to the forefront of the international art scene.
Join us at All Street Gallery in New York City on May 23rd for the exclusive opening, followed by two days of captivating artwork. This exhibition will showcase the artist's unique vision and creative expression, offering art enthusiasts a chance to discover her remarkable talent. ONLYCHILD will be exclusively covering this event, capturing the essence of Emma Steensma's artistry through our lens. More information to come on our Instagram.
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