Featured Artist

Lynne Brouwer

Interview by Floor Kortman, photographs by Lynne Brouwer

When we asked Lynne Brouwer (1992) to be our featured artist she was actually right in the middle of graduating at the Royal Academy of Art. So we figured a nice way of congratulating her was by showcasing her brilliantly odd work. Brouwer has a taste for abstract photography which shows in her love for close-ups and detail, as well as her choice of subjects. Take for example, ‘Designs for Discomfort’, a series on confinement architecture in which she explores the startling use of pastels in spaces like prison bathrooms. We talked to her about the 50 possible symptoms of mental illness and the dark corners of the human psyche.

lynne brouwer 5

You just graduated, like yesterday, congratulations! I know you and a few of your classmates decided to graduate a bit later than most of your class, can you explain why you did this? Was it a collective decision?

Thank you! Speaking for myself, for it was not a collective decision, the final year at the academy had been quite demanding: writing a thesis, creating two bodies of work and exhibiting them in the time-frame of less than 5 months for gallery Nest and cultural centre Het Nutshuis, assisting jobs, trying to get some sleep in the meantime… When it was time to really focus on my graduation-project, I just realized I had no focus left at all. So around May, I looked at the pretty much terrible chaos of material and ideas I had created, and decided with my teachers it was best to give it some more time and to start over, which turned out great.


Tell us about ‘A Stranger’s Strangeness’, what made you decide to document signs of mental illness?

I started this project during my internship with the wonderful Cristina de Middel, who I worked with for 5 months in London in 2013. I’ve always been fascinated with psychology, and especially the sharper edges of our psychological wellbeing. Something that has always stuck with me was something my stepdad wrote to me as a teenager. ‘You’re not crazy – the world is.’ To this day, I still don’t know if I agree with the first part of that observation, and during the first months in London, I wondered if it was me or the world that was strange.

So when I came across an excerpt of a Yale report called ‘Fifty signs of mental illness’ by James Whitney Hicks, this dry dictionary of doom, if you will, it provided me with a personal mental health-checklist. I carried a copy of the list with me and started documenting signs and traces of my environment that, to me, felt like visual interpretations of these symptoms. They include sloppiness, paranoia, appetite disturbances, religious preoccupations, and fears, for example.

For your graduation, you researched spaces that have a negative connotation or function, what kind of spaces are these?

I ended up in a prison sort of by accident. I knew prisons in the Netherlands don’t look the way they are depicted in movies but the broad range of pastel-colours amazed me. I wanted to see if this wryly optimistic design was a phenomenon that could be seen in more places that have an inherently negative function.

Besides my curiosity towards psychological motives and deviant behaviour, I think what ultimately fascinates me is friction. That which is considered negative, strange or dark never ceases to confuse and therefore inspire me. But I’m equally interested in the solutions, the optimism, the ‘science’ of our need to improve and control. I’m just another person trying to get a grip on the madness, I guess.

lynne brouwer 3 lynne brouwer 2

You don’t photograph a lot of people, why is this?

Thomas Ruff’s famous series ‘Portraits’ consists of straight-up, coldly lit portraits, large prints of these dead-serious looking people. But in a way, they’re not people at all; they’re facades, surfaces, objects. Ruff believed and intended his portraits to be devoid of emotion, information, the very thing that makes us human. He wanted his portraits to tell the viewer absolutely nothing about the person photographed, which might be the exact opposite approach of many portrait-photographers then and today.

Photographing people confused me during my studies. I found the images to say so little about who they actually were or what they were thinking. Their physical traces, seemingly unimportant, showed so much more to me of their (sub)conscious behaviour than any portrait I made could ever do. Also, I kind of suck at making portraits.

Now that you graduated, what’s coming up next?

I’m terrible at doing nothing, but I’m doing the best I can at the moment. For the coming months I’d love to work with a designer and printer on creating an edition of ‘Designs for discomfort’ to show at the academy-wide graduation festival in July. Then there’s tons of books still to read, apologies to be made to family, friends and plants that have been severely neglected, new languages to be learned, jobs to be found.. Yeah, I think I’ll be okay!

lynne brouwer 4