Does intimacy and emotion as terms of an artistic approach mean that you yourself become vulnerable through your work? Does your approach include a sense of transcendency or spirituality; do you think in terms of spirituality or even religion, does it matter for your work?
I am not spiritual at all. I have not been raised spiritually. For me religion and spirituality are the same. With my personal work, the starting point is usually a technical problem – or challenge – on the one hand, and the layered emotion or idea on the other hand. Personal work, I think, should always say something about the maker. You should show something of yourself in your work, expose a bit. By putting yourself out there you make yourself subject to criticism, you make yourself vulnerable. I think this goes together. Being vulnerable should not keep me from making personal work, because it also always leads to new things and developments.
We know that you have always been very aware of political situations and processes, specifically in the Netherlands. Could becoming quieter in a way be considered as becoming less political, as a kind of withdrawal? Or, just on the contrary, do you see these approaches as leading back to political questions?
My work will always be political, because that is something that interests me. Not just in the Netherlands, but also abroad. My series “Paradise the Club” (2001) and “Rain” (2004) are political comments on a larger scale. I don’t withdraw, but I don’t like to put the message straight in your face. I prefer to lure you with an aesthetic outside, and then let the second layer sink in. The second layer is also not a direct one, as I don’t really like to tell people what to think. It’s better if they start thinking about a subject, instead of telling them straight out what I feel or think.
Erwin Olaf, born in Hilversum in 1959, entered the international art scene in the late 1980s. Besides photography he has also been involved in video and film. He has worked for magazines such as The New York Times Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, Elle, and Citizen K, has done commercials for i. a. Lavazza, Microsoft and BMW, and his work has been shown in numerous international solo shows. He received many international awards including the Dutch state prize for the arts, the Johannes Vermeer Award.
Erwin Olaf died in September 2023.
© Cover Portrait: Feriet Tunc