Michael Van Den Heuvel is Dutch and Thor Selander is Danish, and they are combining elements of painting and sculpture to depict China – especially China’s present in contrast to its future, and Chinese artists from angles that are not traditionally examined. They wrote to ChinaHush looking for a platform to expose their art to a greater audience. We found their artwork to be engaging and confrontational, truthful and personal. Also, we thought that the sporadic nature of their decision to work together and backgrounds before going into art to be fascinating. Below, you will find an interview that ChinaHush conducted with Michael, where he goes into the motivations, inspirations and process of their art. Also, there is a digital gallery of their work at the end, so please enjoy!
For any inquiries about the work, please e-mail Michael and Thor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, the whole series will soon be displayed at a gallery in Amsterdam (link: www.kerseboom.com).
ChinaHush: What is the history of Atm-art?
Michael: Neither of us have a classical background in art. As a matter of fact, Thor used to work as a lifeguard for the Danish queen and I used to be responsible for removing landmines.
ChinaHush: What is Atm-art?
Michael: Atm-art started with just the two of us, Thor and I (Michael). We are two friends who met each other in China working as part-time guides while taking groups of tourists around China. One day sitting on the back of a cruise on the Yangtze River, we found each other as artists. One mostly by means of painting and the other by sculptures , but more important they both had a feeling that art should make people think and provoke them in a subtle way. Not necessarily kicking them in the nuts, but just giving them a sort of itch. We both had some background in South Africa so we decided that our first show should be there, but we also wanted to have a show in the parliament building. And, well, with some bribes we got our way. One late night, we invited 53 guests and officially had our first showing. In 2007, we decided to have a moving exhibition and we chose the Trans-Siberian Express to have our showing. We made 26 rail paintings to hang in the train and to hang in some stations where the train would stop. The show was a success, in a way. Before the train got to Ulan Bator, all the paintings had been stolen.
ChinaHush: What kind of art do you consider your paintings are? Any specific styles?
Michael: Photorealism is our preferred style, but we also work with sculptures.
How did your exhibition in Beijing in 2009 go? What kind of feedback did you get?
Michael: We could not get official permission to show our art in China , so we smuggled them into China and then had a small and selective exhibition for invited guests only. But the ones who came were impressed an happy.
ChinaHush: Talk abut the upcoming exhibition.
Michael: In a way, our upcoming show in Amsterdam is a message to the people of China. In the years that we have been traveling and working in China, we have seen that China is very fast changing – there are buildings everywhere, people talk more and more about money, there is pollution all over China, and somehow we felt that this was a pity, and we felt that it would be ok if we made some paintings that showed how people from the outside see China. But our paintings were not made to mock people than to make people aware that they should not lose this great culture they already had and not lose that.
One way of doing that is by making paintings of the future of China, the way we see it. However, we have not been able to post any onto a BBS forum without them being deleted in a few minutes.
ChinaHush: What do you mean by “the future of China” and how do you depict this in your paintings?
Michael: For example, if you look at Qianmen Square, that is a very important historical building, but you can see that in China advertising is moving in all over the place. Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC are everywhere. There is no place in CHina where one can be without advertising, so we made the entrance to the Forbidden City with lots of advertising to reflect this.
ChinaHush: What attracted you to China in the first place?
Michael: What attracted me to China is the diversity, the growth, the positive attitude that most Chinese people have, and their ability to hope for and work for a better future.
ChinaHush: What are your future plans?
Michael: Besides the the “Look at China now” show in Amsterdam, we are also part of a group show in the Netherlands that will take place in a few months, then we have a short period where we will concentrate on making sculptures. We are currently negotiating with some of the major libraries in Europe to put up sculptures that will focus on banned books, and we will also create a few paintings that are related.
ChinaHush: How do you feel about your interactions with Chinese people who are not necessarily artists?
Michael: During our travels, we of course met lots of people. These people generally fell into two groups. One group will try to sell you something and bother you for a while about this, and the other group is very interested in who you are and often very friendly. Eventually, and especially in small towns, we found that getting stopped to drink some tea became very normal, even though we could not speak with many of them.
ChinaHush: In your artwork, there are Chinese artists depicted from the front and the back. Who are these Chinese artists and what is their relationship to you?
Michael: The Chinese artists are Sheng Qi, Miao Xiaochun, Wang Qingsong, Chen Wenbo and Qiu Shijie. We wrote to them and now we are friends with some of them.
ChinaHush: What do you think about them? Why did you pick these artists?
Michael: Of course, they are different from us, but all of them are very special in their field. The way we seet it, Wang Qingsong is definitely the best art photographer in the world, and then there are few people that master the light in paintings as well as Chen Wenbo. So we really admire them and like I wrote before, in the future we might collaborate with them and we also felt that they are very open to listen to how we see things.