Het HEM is a home for contemporary culture, situated in a former munitions factory on the Hembrug site in Zaandam.
An observation by Maartje Wortel
I’ve walked past Maarten Spruyt’s studio (which is also his home) hundreds of times. Even if the building on the Amstel river doesn’t catch your eye, then the tourists will. There’s always someone taking pictures of the house. Behind the huge windows you can see a jungle of plants, and suspended above the plants is a fishing net full of globes. It’s as if the plants and the globes want to get together and tell the spectator a story. (Indeed, they do.) It’s as if they automatically attract you to them, which is peculiar considering that the plants simply serve as a curtain. You can’t see through them and yet all that green feels like an invitation.
Clearly, we’re talking about two different worlds here. On the one hand a world of which you are part and from where you can observe, and on the other hand a world you can almost touch, which evokes curiosity, from where you can reflect, but which is not readily accessible. (Something in you is awoken.) There is the outside world and the inside world. The public space versus the private. The city versus nature. Hardness versus softness. That window behind which Maarten lives and works is the boundary where one possibility (the large spatial one) merges into another possibility (the small, internal one). The wonderful thing is that the boundary (the window) doesn’t feel like a boundary, but rather more like a natural transition in which you, the person who happens to be passing by, spontaneously participate. You want (in this case: WANT) to participate in it.
Participating in something requires you to act. And ideally, you should (begin to) feel at home in it. Maarten Spruyt has the ability to place objects together and enable them to connect to the space they are in, in such a way that you automatically feel at home. The distance that ‘non-human objects’ usually evoke disappears organically and everything (people, animals, things, the artificial and the natural) merges into one. Perhaps this is because the artist takes objects seriously, as they do in Japan for example, and regards them as entities. In this sense, the divine resides in literally everything that exists, nothing exists on its own. And you can feel this. Whatever the case, even just the sight of his window causes you to slow your pace, expand your gaze and reconsider your point of view. Quite often people simply enter Maarten’s studio unannounced, stand in the midst of his collection of objects and ask, as if they’ve been invited to a secret party: What’s going on here?
What’s going on? They have arrived in Maarten Spruyt’s universe. (A universe within the universe.) In order to avoid being disturbed too often by people who for whatever reason feel attracted to his personal space, Maarten has installed a gate in front of the door, to which a cowbell is attached. That way Maarten won’t be taken by surprise when the next passer-by happens to wander into his workspace. He has work to do. Constantly. So that he doesn’t just reach passers-by with what he makes and conceives, but is also able to tell a more deliberate and larger story to a wider audience. Which is what he’s doing now at Het HEM. In exactly the same way as he lives, thinks, acts and moves, his main aim is to evoke numerous different emotions. (Maarten is an impressively handsome, extraordinarily tall figure whom you immediately fall in love with because he opens himself up, seems to tolerate chaos and yet retains control. Or, as an artist friend of mine put it in an email: he’s the ideal partner.) Maarten tells me he visited the shooting range in the winter and that the chill there contributed to his warm sense of being nurtured by the tunnel.
“The tunnel felt really comfortable, because you’re completely immersed in your own world. When I came to view it, there was no light, I had to use my phone to illuminate it and that was incredible. Straight away, the atmosphere was right and I felt really good in my own world. A world in which it’s wonderful to be able to portray lots of different emotions with various other artists. My aim is to portray feelings. The work should really get under your skin, that’s the power of art, it can touch raw nerves. That’s the case for the artists I’ve selected and whose work will be exhibited. It’s not my intention to create some kind of horror show, but I do want to call things by their name. Times have changed and we now have to reposition ourselves with regard to each other, to nature, to politics and art. The great thing about the tunnel is that there’s nowhere else for you to go. You simply have to go through the tunnel. Before you enter it, we make it a bit difficult for you. I want people to enter the tunnel on their own. We need to get out of our comfort zones. This current era really demands that of us. We have to push through, and that’s what the tunnel also represents for me. The exhibition is structured like a one-way street. It always bothers me a bit at exhibitions when towards the end I see people turning around and walking back. That makes me realise I’m almost at the end of the exhibition and then I can’t let go of that thought, so I can no longer look at the works properly. If you don’t see anyone returning, it gives more of a sense of infinity. And if you stop and consider something for longer, you see much more. My intention is to show unity in abundance. And for you to come out the other end disoriented.”