Tent Academy Awards | Jasper Bruijns

Interview by Floor Kortman, video stills by Jasper Bruijns

On 12 July the Tent Academy Awards showcases the best Dutch and Finnish video and film art among the graduates of 2014. We talked to nominee Jasper Bruijns about his video ‘Welterusten’. The video shows Rotterdam by night. A modern metropole in which the lights never fade, with an emptiness in which loneliness can creep. One person stays awake to listen to those who are lost in the emptiness when sleep doesn’t seem to come. The night is patient, unintentional, waiting for a new day.

‘Together but alone’ is very typical in a city the size of Rotterdam’

Who are you?

My name is Jasper Bruijns, 25 years old living in Breda. I grew up as an identical twin and with 2 sisters adopted from India. Being a twin means living, eating, breathing, playing, and fighting together. And it is like being together on a certain way nobody understands except other twins.

How are you?

I am doing great at the moment. I just finished my studies as a documentary filmmaker at AKV|St.Joost. Everybody kept saying that after graduation there is a black hole, well, I don’t know where that hole is because I am busier than ever before. I am very pleased not to have met that black hole.

How did you start making video art, and what do you like about it?

I started making film when I was 15 or so. I can’t really say why or what I was interested in, making films simply made me really happy. I always loved the techniques of making film, so when I started I had a very technical approach. After that, I wanted to improve on the concepts and started on the AKV|St.Joost in Breda, where I could really start exploring what kind of filmmaker I wanted to be. My classmates and me experimented a lot with film; we really had the freedom within the academy to do so. Which resulted in amazing discoveries and works, and very different kind of filmmakers.

I wouldn’t call my work video art, but rather a poetic documentary. My work is too narrative to be a video artwork. Also, I relate video-image more to the term ‘show’ and because of the deliberate choices I make by keeping a lot out of view, I relate my work more with the term ‘cinema’.

Can you tell me something the process of making your videos?

I am a very curious person, which can be seen in every aspect of the film making process. Not only do I love to experiment in film and find out how things work, but it is also my working process. I start with a question and from there I start doing my research. I give myself a lot of limitation in the filmmaking process and start to experiment from there. I believe that film really finds its strength in limitation, it gives the total look a unity and it makes that every decision I take in the process is sharp and well thought through.

Who is the person talking on the phone, is there a hotline for lonely people who can’t sleep?

The person we hear on the phone is a volunteer working for a hotline in Rotterdam. People can call them for every kind of issue 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even during holidays. I listened to the phone calls during day and during night-time and I started to see a difference. During the night shifts the most common theme in the calls was loneliness and isolation. From there I started to do research on how people behave socially in the city and the social rules by which people behave in a certain way in a certain situation. Every role you have to play demands from you to act within the laws of that role. During night-time, when it’s easier to find yourself alone these rules disappear. Therefore, you stand closer to your identity and in Rotterdam it revealed itself in loneliness. ‘Together but alone’ is very typical in a city the size of Rotterdam.

Do you think there is a kind of sadness in the emptiness of a city, how do you relate to this yourself? 

Well, a city is never really empty, but there is that feeling of emptiness and loneliness. The night has also the power to make you feel alone. I started to look at the night in the city as the tide of the sea. The night overtakes the city as the sea takes over the shores. The people who are awake and those who call the hotline are like small islands. Gerard the man who picks up these phone calls is in direct contact with those who reach out to him from their isolated islands.

Why Rotterdam? I noticed you focused a lot on the modern architecture and also the interior of the house is very modern, lots of glass, kind of minimal, more impersonal in a way. Can you tell me something about your choice for this style? 

I bounded myself to Rotterdam. I found Rotterdam was similar to Stockholm where I lived and worked before, where I myself experienced a lot of loneliness in the dark periods of winter.

I get a lot of inspiration from paintings by Edward Hopper. The way he presents time in a painting is very exciting. You know that something is going to happen or already did, but the viewer is not sure what it is or was. This forces me to use my imagination. In the film I decided to not make the person on the other side of the phone call audible; I want to make the viewer to fantasize about whom that person is.

So, that made me figure out ways on how to create a personage in the film without making her visible or audible? I returned to Edward Hopper’s paintings. I wanted to involve the city further into the living space and place, so I started to experiment with reflections within this modern penthouse.

The reason I took this hyper modern penthouse is because I wanted to make a statement as well as making it a personage. The impersonal living space is indeed important. It made it also more universal.

Now that you’re graduating, do you have any other plans for the future, anything you’re working on? Besides the TAA, of course… 

Oh yeah, I have a lot of things going on right now. Next to distributing this film, I’m meeting a lot of new people, which is good. And, some talented classmates and me are doing research to setup a small filmmakers group in which we want to keep working closely together. We know each other’s process and way of filmmaking so well, that we want to keep on working together.

The video ‘Welterusen’ by Jasper Bruijns will be shown at the opening of Tent Academy Awards on 12 July, and will be on view in the exhibition at TENT until 17 August.