29 March till 7 May 2013
Review by Tanja Baudoin
At eight o’clock in the morning Beetsterzwaag is in a state of frenzy: it’s Queen’s Day and that means the annual parade takes place in the village. This year it starts at quarter to nine, so that everyone can be in front of the TV in time to watch the live abdication of Beatrix and the coronation of Willem-Alexander. Kamila Szejnoch, artist in residence at Kunsthuis SYB, is participating in the parade. She has created a candy house in the form of SYB’s façade using iced cakes donated by the local bakery Verloop. The house is constructed with the help of neighbours. It stands on a float, which is pulled along by a tractor. Little children are eating sweets inside the house, while Kamila is decorating the exterior with whipped cream. Other children are walking behind the float and are handing out bits of cake to onlookers.
Over the last few weeks Kamila has researched who lived in Kunsthuis SYB before Sybren Hellinga opened the doors of his gallery there; from which Kunsthuis SYB later emerged. The Schroor family have lived and worked in this building in the previous century. They set up a sweet shop, where butterballs were made and sold. The balls enjoyed great popularity far and wide. By calling upon this sweet history Kamila has tried to root the current identity of the house in the past. At the same time, she has turned it into a fantasy that might stimulate the collective imagination of the village. The candy house in the parade is an attempt at this; and Kamila also invited artist Eliza Proszczuk to lead a workshop in building small-scale candy houses for around twenty children from the village, in which the Kunsthuis building functioned as a model for the edible structures.
Inside SYB Kamila presents a video work of her encounter with Theo Schroor, one of the former residents of the house. In the video, filmed by Ruben van Klaveren, the now elderly Theo leads Kamila through the house whilst telling her about the former function of each space. His father made the butterballs at the back of the house, and where the kitchen is today is where Theo was born. Theo does his best, in a mixture of English and Dutch, to clarify the layout of the house to Polish-born Kamila. It’s an awkward situation, but it’s sympathetic that Kamila doesn’t disguise her position as a stranger in the village.
She is the foreign artist who wants to dig up local history. Many artists who include forgotten stories or historical characters in their work have the tendency to efface themselves, but the encounter between Theo and Kamila gives evidence of her own fascination and complicity. It’s significant for this man to share his memories, but the historical aspect of Kamila’s project has perhaps less significance for the village. Theo comes to watch the video in the afternoon, but his family doesn’t.
In the front space Kamila has hung a number of old enlarged newspaper clippings on the unplastered wall. They are articles about the previous occupants of the building, the story of the Schroor family and the butterballs. Another wall features two photographs of the interior and the exterior of the house from the time of the sweet shop. On top of the mantelpiece Kamila has placed an old advertising board and an original butterball box. They are minimal interventions in an otherwise bare space, which have the effect of emphasising the emptiness of the space instead of bringing the building’s history to life. This leads to the uneasy realisation that the objects are merely memorabilia; the house is a shell and the days of the sweet shop are long gone.
What remains is Kamila’s incomplete vision of the candy house in the parade, created thanks to the information she tracked down, Theo’s memories and her own imagination. According to the philosopher Paul Ricoeur the attempt to separate memory (fact) and imagination (fiction) from each other is often in vain, because memory comes to us in the form of an image in which imagination is the décor of the past. It’s therefore not strange that Kamila’s projection of the Kunsthuis is like the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel: the exterior of the house is an illusion of candy, which above all is an image that enchants (and disenchants). Of the actual life that took place in the sweet shop, we know practically nothing.