Jasper Niens
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Interview by Nathalie Hartjes 1-11-2006 (for Tubelight).

For an exhibition in the GEM museum in The Hague, Jasper Niens blocked the entrance with a long and narrow corridor containing 24 doors on either side. In order to access the museum, the public had to cross the corridor to be able to see the rest of the exhibition. At an artfair in Amsterdam (2004) he constructed a large scale, white circular-shaped corridor around an empty grass field. Niens makes interventions on an architectonic scale.

Furthermore, these works derive from a need to create a context for a specific environment. Initially on an intimate scale, for example a car intersected by a tunnel, Niens increasingly works on architectural interventions in buildings and their surrounds.

"My work obligates participation, one can also choose not to go through them, but then you will miss the work and in many cases, the rest of the show. You cannot observe it passively, you have to intervene. I'm searching for that extreme."

Niens questions the pure functionality that is so evident in the Dutch public space. "The strict regulations in Holland means that when you enter a space you will never overlook the exits. Spaces are constructed in such a way that one can pass through them quickly. That's something I don't want. I want to create environments that look familiar but in fact that familiarity creates the perfect basis for confusion. By including disruptive elements in my redefinition of sites, you will be confronted with an idea of how to act normally in a given space."

A reoccurring theme in the work of Niens is the model of a tunnel. Places which you have to go through, where the end is not visible and where you are preferably with more than one person. "A tunnel is a means to cross an predetermined distance, no more than that. From this idea I try to make an active place, not only a place that you have to pass, but a place where you can be. Actually I am searching for places that are less strictly governed, where the habitual has been removed. The way people react depends on their proximity to each other, lighting conditions etc... These types of factors determine how you relate to the space, but also how you relate to others in that space. People tend to lose their co-ordination due to the unexpected within my installations. This also becomes apparent in the relationship between the visitors. Often they demonstrate a strange kind of giggling behavior, almost coquettishness."

Nonetheless, the authorative nature of architecture is not the subject of Niens' work, rather a tool to retrieve lost tension. "Viewed objectively, design is particularly conditioned by the ruling regulations, to conform to health and safety or to prevent crime. This creates places overly synoptic, with no corners to get lost in. However, in the places that don't comply one can discover a special kind of tension. Frankly I find the natural environment, in all its roughness, the most beautiful. A forest or a mountain is not made to be safe. Being there one is much more conscious about the evident risks."

The subtlety of Niens' installations ensures they blend into their surroundings. "I don't want my work to have a signature, my interest lies in the way that people react to it. My work should be invisible and in being so draw attention to the forgotten in the familiar. I am continually improving my skills, a work shouldn't strike one's attention because its badly built. Sometimes I think of it like looking through a pair of glasses. You will not see them if they are well made, but without them you will not see much of the world."

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