Amelia Holmwood talks to Hannah Streefkerk
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Meet Hannah Streefkerk the Crafty Artist who cares about Nature
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
I am Hannah Streefkerk, I'm 39 years old and one year ago I moved from the Netherlands to Sweden. I live with my partner and his two children in a small house in the forest with a view of the lake. It is wonderful to see the lake as the light is changing all the time. In the winters we can skate on it, in the summers we swim in it. Next to being a visual artist I work as a craft teacher (wood and textile) with children from 10 to 16 years old. And although I like to be a teacher, I feel 100 % an artist.
Has craft always been an important part of your life?
My partner used to explain to other people that I am always working, and he is right about that. Just sitting on the sofa and watching television is not how I function. Sometimes I watch movies, but I always prefer to do some crocheting or embroidery. I always feel that when my hands are not working, there is something missing. I really need to work a bit everyday. It is good for my brain because you can think, when my hands are working and there are so many ideas in my head, it allows me to explore those ideas. So the answer on this question is a 100% YES.
When did you learn to knit/crochet? Who taught you?
I grew up in a big family and my mother wanted all the girls to learn all these textile techniques. Partly because of the techniques, partly because she loved it to see us all sitting around the table and talk and have a good time. Can you imagine, 6 girls sitting around the table and working? I guess the sound level was sometimes high for my father and my one brother... My mother taught me some basic techniques, mainly embroidery. She tried to teach me knitting but somehow I don't get that really. I prefer crocheting.
What first inspired you to work with nature?
During my years at the art academy I started to work with installations mainly based on language and computers. After my study I had a solo exhibition in the art hall Groningen and I made a computer installation for that. The atmosphere in that exhibition room needed to be cosy, so I embroidered some pillows. When I started to do that I felt that I had missed embroidery. I never thought before to use it for my art. Many times during my life in the Netherlands I went for short trips to the islands in the sea in the north of the Netherlands. I always liked to take photos of nature. When I came home again I started to embroider a piece of grass and since then I stopped with my old working style and felt that I only wanted to focus on nature. Somehow it felt good. More and more I realise now that I need nature. I just love to be outside and play with the things I find around me.
Why do you work with textiles, what do you find so appealing about them?
I never describe myself as a textile artist. I am a visual artist who uses the material that fit my ideas best. Most of my work is about taking care of our natural environment. Working with these techniques is slow and you need a lot of time to finish things. I am questioning why I should invest time in something if it is not worth while. So, why should I repair a tree, when they will cut it? Why should I repair my sock when I don't care about this sock.
I am fascinated by the stitch. It is so much more for me then just a stitch. It connects, it takes care, it decorates. And many stitches together demonstrate so much love. I also like the simplicity of techniques in embroidery and crochet. You only need yarn and a needle...
What is your favourite medium?
I don't have one favourite. As I said I like embroidery and crocheting very much. During some periods I work more with one than the other, one is more attractive to me. It all depends on my ideas.
What is your biggest motivation?
Difficult question, I always say that I just have to...Already when I was young girl I knew I wanted to be an artist. The best thing about being an artist is that I can decide what I want to do. I make the work that I want to make and that is because I need to. Life without art seems very empty and boring to me.
What message are you trying to convey through your work?
Artists always have these nice statements which galleries etc want to have, so I have one to. I think this text describes pretty well at the moment what my work is about, but the problem with these kind of texts is that they always look so black and white. Sometimes it's impossible to say in words what the work is about. That is the reason why I am not a writer or a poet. I am a visual artist who communicates with images, because that's my language. But here is my short statement:
I am a nature based contemporary Florence Nightingale...I mend wounded trees and leaves. With yarn I stitch together the torn bark of various trees and I repair holes in fallen leaves. Besides handicrafts like sewing and crocheting I use other techniques to look after our nature. With my interventions I want to invite people to reflect upon the damage inflicted on nature by human activity. Not all the wounds I mend are inflicted by humans, they come from natural processes in nature. As I play the part of a caretaker to nature which in turn becomes the patient, our role in the harm done to our environment is highlighted. The forest as a work place is traditionally a frame around masculine activities, pictured for example in the archetypical lumberjack or the fabled woodsman. By bringing typical traditional female virtues, the handicraft and the Florence Nightingalesque touch of a nurse tending to those in need, into this somewhat masculine realm, I want to emphasise that caring for our environment is everybody's business.
Today the trend in our everyday lives is to use and discard, instead of taking time to repair or restore our belongings. We would rather buy a new pair of socks than try to stitch up the holes, and we would rather buy a new chair than try to fix the broken leg. I challenge this attitude, as I take it upon myself to manually repair my natural surroundings. I want to create a visual metaphor for our responsibility for taking better care of our environment.
When you aren't sewing trees together or crocheting jelly fish, what do you enjoy doing?
I like to be outside for a nice walk or just sit for a while on a rock, and I like reading. Also talking with my partner about art and everything is very nice. He is an artist too and we share a lot in our work.
This last question is a traditional, we ask all our q&a's: Would you rather have a cup of tea and some cake, or a pie and a pint?
I'd like a tea and a pint. I am not a big fan of cake or pie, so I'll stick to the drinks...