Nathalie Hartjes

In de afgelopen zeven jaar heb ik zelf het genoegen gehad als directeur leiding te geven aan MAMA (maart 2015- maart 2022). Die eerste ontmoeting met MAMA in 2006 gaf ook vorm aan mijn visie voor de plek: een platform te faciliteren voor jonge en nieuwe makers, juist als bepaalde thema’s of vormen nog niet gangbaar of serieus genoeg worden geacht.

Work field: Curator More Mentoring

I studied Art History and Archaeology at Leiden University, where I hoped to graduate with a thesis on music videos. Despite my initial proposal being rejected, an interest in the interweaving of popular culture and visual arts has remained a guiding principle in my career and artistic preferences. A major encouragement for me was the exhibition I-pod Killed the Videostar (2006, curators Ken Pratt & Boris van Berkum) at MAMA, platform for visual culture and young talent. As a young art professional, working at the time at Kunstinstituut Melly, this exhibition signalled to me that my interests mattered. It strengthened me in the belief that popular culture is an important influence in the visual arts, an uncommon notion at that time. Over the past seven years, I have had the pleasure of leading MAMA myself as director (March 2015- March 2022). That first encounter with MAMA in 2006 also shaped my vision for the place: to facilitate a platform for young and new makers, precisely when certain themes or forms are not yet considered mainstream or serious enough.

I started my career as office manager of Kunstinstituut Melly (at that point still called Witte de With) and was able to develop from there. I fulfilled all kinds of roles, from communications officer to personal assistant to the director and project leader of the first editions of the Young Art Critics’ Prize and the collaborative project Shared Space with TENT Rotterdam, and in doing so built up practical, policy-related and artistic experience. In parallel, I became active as a reviewer and writer which helped develop my own artistic vision and voice during my early career. I published for Tubelight, 8weekly, Den Haag Centraal and Kunstbeeld, among others, as well as some artist publications.

I have mainly worked for and with small to medium-sized centers for contemporary art; after Kunstinsituut Melly I worked for de Appel arts centre, successively as coordinator of the Curatorial Programme and the Gallerist Programme (2010 – 2015), I was artistic director of Nieuwe Vide (February 2014 – April 2015), or on a project basis (within and outside MAMA) with Stroom, Kunstpodium T, Kunsthuis SYB, amongst others. I find this intricate network of institutions that explicitly focus on experimentation, production and presentation of contemporary art and thus talent development an indispensable link in the cultural ecosystem and am also involved in defending their interest as a board member of De Zaak Nu.

My artistic preferences still lie with art practices that push the boundary with mass or popular culture. I am interested in “camp” strategies that manage to turn traditional notions of good and bad taste on their head and bring together layered ideas in an aesthetic that is usually dismissed as superficial or over the top.  This reappraisal of so-called low culture is one of the areas where questions of belonging, insiders and misfits are continually being re-examined and what I consider to important questions in our social reality.

Nathalie Hartjes on mentoring
Young artists find themselves in a place where the core of their upcoming profession requires them to be authentic and personal. This requires vulnerability and courage. While developing your practice and career you are constantly confronted with questions about where you want to go and how you can carve put a place for your practice in the (Dutch) art environment. It´s a challenge to navigate the system, with its institutions, funds, galleries and other actors, and sometimes it feels like you have to conform to certain unwritten rules to make your dreams happen. This can feel like a straightjacket at odds with the desire and expectations of authenticity.

I believe you should always trust your gut, your so-called intuition, and then find the words and the frames of reference that support this. Intuition is never random, it is built up from (lived) knowledge and experience and discovering and recognizing its origin is a valuable guide when taking steps towards future projects, partners, research topics.

My take of mentoring is an unbridled curiosity about your frame of reference and sources of inspiration.  Exploring together what the core ideas behind your choices are; where are you in life, in what way does your work represent your personal ideology and mission; thinking about your positioning, who do you work with, where and why; what dots do you have on the horizon and how do they relate to what you are doing now; how do you shape your practice in a way that is also considerate of your well-being? I believe that the artistic desires should always prevail, but to make it sustainable it is also necessary to make strategic choices. I enjoy thinking along with you, I am someone who enthusiastically offers up ideas and suggestions, but I will always emphatically bring the conversation back to what your feelings and opinions.

Ultimately, growing your career is about marrying your artistic goals with an awareness of the social and policy landscape around you, so that that doesn’t form a limitation, but a space to navigate. Not everything is possible, but it is precisely where ambitions and reality collide, where the friction creates sparks from which beautiful things arise.