Artist file (2016) written by; Enrico Mazzarello, Keir Plaice & Mack Meels
Fran Hoebergen believes that his artistic process is less about research than it is about discovery through creativity. “I never really have the feeling that I’m doing research. I don’t label it as research,” he says. For him, art is a way to discover what the mind cannot resolve by itself. It is a “process of making,” a process of discovery. Whatever the result might be, Fran tries to allow the artwork to evolve on its own. For example, when asked about his current work, Fran says, “this floor I’ve been working on for a few weeks. First it was made of paper. Then, I turned the paper into wood… I’ve been sawing for days and hours and now… it’s very clear that there is a route you can walk on.” This route is the key to understanding his work, he says. It is a discovery, which to him suggests the piece’s nature, maybe even its identity. “It almost seems like some kind of strange object garden. So, that is research – practicing and trying out stuff.”
Fran uses the word research here in a personal sense. He claims that through discovery, he can reflect upon the nature and identity of his work and proceed from there. It is an intuitive process, which he does not try to rationally control, which does not adhere to any principle. “I try to really avoid symmetry. Almost nothing is symmetrical… I try to be as non-symmetrical as possible,” he says. This non-rational thinking derives from Fran’s deepest inspirations and aims. Avoiding symmetry is one of them. Order and chaos is another non-rational approach he keeps in mind when creating a piece. Imperfections, opposites, coincidences, either serendipitous or unfortunate, all fall under the way he sees his art, and how he wishes to construct it. By taking this non-rational approach to his work, Fran is able to discover through intuition, which eventually becomes inspiration.
That is not to say that his work is devoid of intellect, however. “I read a lot. I read to get ideas, to get a point to start from. When I discover something, when I want to try [something] out, when I want know how [something] would work, when I want to turn it into something visual, or into sound.” Ideas are a starting point, a seed of inspiration, which he allows to grow. He uses the knowledge he gains from books and transfers it into his work in a personal fashion. Curiosity leads to discovery, and Fran is entirely devoted to his sense of curiosity, for that is basically what most of the times triggers his inspiration.
Although he reads widely, and cites other artists as inspirations, particularly the 20th-century Americans Mike Kelley, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Paul McCarthy, he is most interested in the everyday experience of life. “I really look for things that I encounter directly,” he says. The academy influences him as well of course. For this project, he was assigned a room. “I had a space and I really didn’t know what to do with it,” he says. His encounter with this space was conflictual, for he felt he was being both encouraged and limited at the same time. There was pressure to create something there, then. “At first I just kept it empty for a very long time, and I just had one little ball [there],” he says. Eventually he managed to create something out of that nothingness, which may have been what the project was for. Still, that kind of approach is a double-edged sword. “I sometimes get really sentimental and get that feeling like — ah, I wish I had an ambacht. I wish I was a really good painter or a really good sculptor, and I could just focus just on sculpting and put all my ideas in sculpting, but when you know about more things, it gets hard to just focus on one thing and you have to work with all you know,” Fran says. “I have more to work with, but also more to choose from. It is valuable in the end… I’m kind of doomed, but it works out in some way.”
And it is working out, slowly but surely. Fran mentions a video project he recently produced about a journey on a train, which he composed as if it were a visual song. “I see the train as a medium in itself. A train plus a camera is like a camera on wheels, for me… A train is something that is available to everybody, but when you use it as a medium to express artistic ideas, it is able to become something different, actually.”
This transformational process, of grasping one aspect of experience and turning it into something new, is often a synesthetic one in Fran’s work. “When I look at things, when I compose things, I see rhythms,” he says, “Sound I use as a compositional tool.” Still, he says, “it is visual in the end. It doesn’t matter what I imagine it to be. In the end, it will be physical.”
Fran’s’ attitude to this inevitability is complicated. “Sometimes, I would rather make nothing,” he says. His ambivalence is partly derived from his time in product design world, which he felt was overly commercial. He interned with designers who he says would “really work on creating their own fairy tale.” “Instead of the artist who is making art because he has to, the designer's trying to design art. They really try to design this kind of image, really trying to use it in a commercial way.”
For Fran, this kind of myth making is a real problem. “It really feels like some kind of default in society. It’s a very capitalistic behavior, in which we make things that are really actually not useful look like they are.”
Art’s power, for Fran, is that it can question those myths, those artificial notions of what things are for. “I think art should question function. Because it is non-functional, it can question function,” he says.
And yet, art has its own auras, which Fran is skeptical of, particularly the theoretical language that so often surrounds it.
“I have been struggling a bit with this postmodernist language in which artists have started to describe things in this theoretical way, and almost the theoretical story became more important than the thing itself… I think you can try to explain it in a theoretical way, but it’s like you are trying to make art with words and that’s not what every artist wants to do. So, if you really want to make a great story, you should make a great story and you should use beautiful, maybe difficult words, and in a different medium you can also use beautiful difficult techniques,” he says.
Discussing art is still possible of course, but for Fran a less limited language is necessary for him to do the work justice. “I often write texts, which are more poetic. It’s hard to be literal about these things. So I often try to translate what I make in a more poetic way, actually,” he says. The strength of such poetic language is that it can be derived from the thing itself. As Fran says, “when you really concentrate on working with visual things, it’s very necessary to just look at the visual effect, and not what concept arises, and look at where contradictions happen, or contrasts, and when you combine one with the other: how does that tickle your imagination?”
“Actually, I love fairy tales and myths," he says. And so we are thrust back into the process Fran has described for us, back to the meeting of the mind with the world that surrounds it. Just as he experiences the world and transforms it into art, Fran suggests that we should experience art and transform it into, well, art, which is its own sort of understanding. Perhaps, in our world, things do tend to eventually be thrust into the market. But, like Fran, we should strive to resist the definitions the market tries to impose on us. We are responsible for our own definitions. From them stems all that we create, and thus defines us as individuals. These definitions eventually leave a mark on the world. A personal mark we, as people, chose to leave behind for future generations. And as Fran says: “Eventually, when you die, you want to leave behind something that does not rot.”