Ano Mac talks to artist Irene Hoff about her latest show The Silent Observers Of The World, on at the Deus Gallery until October 8. Video and images by Lonneke Teunissen.
Irene Hoff sits down. She has a one of those direct gazes that holds you while she speaks, there’s no wandering regard here. She is quick with a joke which she delivers precisely in her heavily Dutch accented English.
Her smile is a long line that turns up at the ends. Subtly amusing, often sprinkled with a smidgen of irony, but still very full, warm, and genuine. She is tall, blonde, trim, and carries herself with a dancer’s poise. I get the distinct impression that a younger version of herself could have been the poster girl for a Dutch bicycle manufacturer. She blurts things out, like the rumour in her family about someone way back down the line buying the second F in Hoff in an effort to making the family sound more fashionable and thereby classier. Her ancestors may have needed it, this woman sitting opposite me defiantly doesn’t.
When I was first asked to do this interview, I’d thought this would be your standard artist Q&A, I’d even printed out a list of questions, leaving myself enough room in between each to jot down her epigrammatic responses. I was here because Irene has just opened a new show at the Deus Gallery in Canggu called THE SILENT OBSERVERS OF THE WORLD but a few minutes after sitting down with Irene the whole interviewer, interviewee thing had buckled, collapsed and morphed into something a lot more organic than that. We talked about her kids, we talked about mine. We told jokes, we got side-tracked on non-relevant topics before circling back to the who, where, why and how. With all that in mind, I beg your indulgence with my mishmash as I try to rip the relevant out of that colloquy.
Heralding from a place, and here I got the distinct gist of a rather bleak desolate spot, called Friesland in northern Holland, Irene set off on this, her life adventure, over 20 years ago. She spent the first seven years in Jakarta. She fleeced over those years but from what I could irk out of the banter, you can tell that it’s this period where she constructed the foundations for a very strong real love for Indonesia and her people.
She changed countries and husbands a couple of times, moving to and living in Hong Kong and then Vietnam before coming back to Bali with her two daughters seven years ago. Coming home? She is comfortable here. She has definitely regained her poise.
“The more shit you crawl through, the better person stands up on the other side,” she popped out at one point. “Every journey is about the better version of yourself that you can create.”
You get the impression very early on that Irene is very human. Scratch the surface though and you quickly see that she is in touch with a lot of energies that most aren’t. She is a healer. She is a psychic. Not the crystal twirling, cheese cloth wearing type. No, she brings that no nonsense northern European attitude to it. To everything. Neither does she adopt an air of the aloof. She sees herself moreover as a communicator. Her art is a massive element of that.
She arrived back in Bali with a ‘lot of luggage’ as she put it. To come here was a deliberate choice, she knew it would be good for her children. She knew it would be good for her creativity. She knew it would be good for her. She has used her time here to unwind the strands of the inoperable and disentangle them from what is important and then discard them. “There is a freedom that living in Bali affords anyone with a brain,” she says. “It allows the ability to clear your mind.” She loves to get on her motorbike and ride. To explore. Always new places to go to. New people to meet. “The decision to go, or not to go, is mine”… and it is this freedom that has allowed her to dig deeper and well… as she put it… go.
It was during this riding around, the exploring, where she came up with the concept for her latest exhibition. She saw the bill posters wrapped around posts and glued on walls that were once used to call out an item, a band, a bar, then quickly forgotten, left to decay with so many natural layers, as one poster is applied on top of the old, the used and the forgotten creating what she saw as natural art pieces, some of which were thick and heavy with months of posters behind. Layers upon layers upon layers. The weather had come and cast her elements upon them adding patina and texture. Being rather pragmatic, it wasn’t until she had figured out the perfect method of floating the pieces in box frames that the full plan for this exhibition came to mind. In early 2018 Irene started to pull off and collect these posters. On some outings her children accompanied her. I am sure more than once person has seen her and wondered what the crazy tall Bule woman was up to. Wonder no more.
The art is part of her mission to awaken and create awareness of beauty in the forgone. To Reshape. Repurpose. What we are seeing is an adroit exploration of time passing. Inspired to recreate something that already existed.
The process of creating each piece is time consuming. Toilsome. Irene strips the posters down into long slivers. Making these long vertical jigsaw pieces. Only in her minds eye lives the solution to the puzzle. A naturally non-patient person, she needed a lot of perseverance when it came to making these layered pieces. She remarked on the therapeutic aspect to it, how she became immersed in the process. Something of a fanatic, she used it to heal herself some more. By the time she came out the other end she had completed 150 pieces in total. When each piece was complete she would put it aside, leave it for a day or so before coming back and revisiting it. A last look. A cursive glance, whether as a whole, it worked or didn’t. It was immediately apparent to her whether there was something missing or not.
Since its inception Irene has worked with Bali Plastic Bag, a group which seeks to abolish the use of plastic in Bali. This for her was the perfect opportunity to marry the two, to try to link her art to something tangible and to open up an opportunity to give back.
Irene has always used paper in her art. She is normally a painter, watercolour and acrylics. A drawer, with pens and pencils. A lot of pieces use a combination of all of the above, so this multimedia isn’t something new. But like her, her art is evolving, nothing is fixed. A lot of her previous, or known art is about extinction, funnily enough there are overtones of it in this show. In her other works she paints and draws birds and animals on the edge of extinction. Capturing the last of a breed. She has worked with Paul Hilton, the Australian Wildlife Photographer capturing these beautiful fragile creatures and shedding light on their plight.
Art is now her chosen profession with people buying it here and taking it home with them to many far-off points across the planet. Her next show will be in Mauritius, April next year. She is no stranger there, in fact she has had a dealer there selling her art for quite some time.
“For a long time, the art followed me,” she said, “now I follow the art.”
The Silent Observers Of The World by Irene Hoff is on at the Deus Gallery until October 8.