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Babs Haenen: Interview for Archivorum

We are continuing to explore the dimensions of Archivorum through the eyes of the people directly involved in the emergence of the space. Today we are talking with Babs Haenen, the artist creating a façade for our new headquarters.

Babs Haenen is an artist working with clay and specializing in porcelain. Born in the Netherlands, she graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in 1979. Since then, her works have made it to the permanent collections of top-tier galleries and museums such as Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Cooper-Hewitt Museum and The MET museum in New York, and many more around the globe. Babs’ creative path too, has defied borders and crossed continents. From 2010 to 2018, she has been partly living in Jingdezhen - a city of porcelain tradition, where she had the opportunity to come into contact with this very far and fascinating culture.

Details of the façade developed by Babs Haenen for the City Theatre in Haarlem

When approaching the façade of the Archivorum building, Babs Haenen found herself referring to the tradition of using porcelain and glazed brick and its modern iterations:

‘I have done architectural projects since 1998 when I was asked to develop a tile that was produced with Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum, the oldest company in the Netherlands to date. I also participated in the restoration of Stadsschouwburg Haarlem (City Theatre), and, just like Archivorum, it is a good example of how history continues nowadays. Similar to the Archivorum building, there was the old façade which was made in 1920, designed by the artist Leon Senf and produced by the Porceleyne Fles. For the restoration project, the architect Erick van Egeraat asked me to design a porcelain cladding for the building.’

Babs Haenen’s façade for Archivorum will contain both small grains and large pieces of porcelain, tests she made for her artworks, as well as previously left out pieces that she had collected throughout 42 years of her work. The façade will become a living archive of the artist. It will represent not only her works in the form of broken tiles but also the principle of the artist: uniqueness. Remembering her first encounter with architecture in 1998, Babs notes that during her work for the Stadsschouwburg Haarlem, a unique glaze color, combination of cobalt and copper chlorides created an artwork that can’t be repeated.

Babs thus praises the Archivorum building and its porcelain-incrusted façade as part of the returning tradition:

Ceramic shards for Archivorum façade by Babs Haenen

‘In the Netherlands, we have famous buildings done with glazed bricks, like the Amsterdamse School and Art Nouveau wall tableaus. We are known for this. As you know, for years, it was all glass and metal and concrete and it's interesting, in the whole world now, ceramics, using clay, touching clay is a hit. Not only in Europe but also in America you now see artists making plates, making vessels. And you have to think I’ve grown up in a culture where ceramics was low, and painting was on the top’.

Babs continues with other examples from the industry like a sudden rise of West Coast Ceramics. In the 1960s and 70s, ceramics, mostly non-functional ceramics and names like Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson, became a vital part of the Funk art movement. Babs notices how it is now resurfacing again in the galleries and auctions.

Ceramic shards by Babs Haenen

Theorizing the reasons behind such a shift, Babs focuses on the importance of touch and how it is becoming more meaningful for both art lovers and art makers:

‘We want to feel, we want to touch again. The Netherlands is very minimalistic. When I studied at the Rietveld you had Art, Applied Arts and Design. Most students wanted to become a conceptual artist. And I said “I am a maker” and I think there’s a difference between a maker and a conceptual artist. But now I see that the making became more and more important again’.

For the Archivorum façade, the combination of touch and color will become an important part as Babs notes:

Pierre Bonnard, "The Studio at Le Cannet, with Mimosa"

'My artwork, you want to touch. Because I was a dancer and only entered the field when I was 27, movement is very important but also touch. I work with white porcelain because I can make any color I want. As a painter, I can combine several colors. When I saw the paintings of Rothko, I thought ‘How can I do it with ceramics?’ I wanted to fade one color into another not with sharp lines but shading them away. [For Archivorum], I had a painting in mind. Johanna had Rousseau in mind, I had Bonnard in mind. And because I saw this wonderful painting of Bonnard, ‘The Studio with Mimosa’, I wanted to add yellow. It’s nice, it’s in the garden. The architecture of Archivorum, I see it as a secret garden’.

The façade of Archivorum is not far from completion. Once done, it will be a unique secret garden in the heart of Berlin, on the edge between remembering the past and creating the present.

Until Archivorum opens its doors for the public, we will continue introducing it through people, concepts, and spaces that formed Archivorum as an idea. Stay tuned!

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