In Contact: Vera Mennens

A blackbird and a magpie are fighting over territory in the holly outside in my garden and several bees are buzzing in the lavender plant I bought in a garden centre a couple of days ago. I step into my working room and look at the stacks of books I placed on my desk the night before when my head was too full to do any more reading1.  The air slowly cools and when I look behind me and see my desk gradually disappear in darkness2. I look up as I see you move towards me.  “What now,” I ask, as if you are the only one that knows now how to proceed. “I don’t know,” you3 answer. Light is coming from two large windows in front of me and I can hear a city echo behind the glass. Your room is filled with cupboards and shelves full of books, bouquets of wild flowers according to the season, a terrarium, an aquarium, a table covered with letters, scraps, and sketches.  A large cylinder desk is covered with all kinds of letters and packages of various sizes and contents, mushrooms, pieces of weeds, stones and fossils, instruments and lanterns, boxes with negatives, maps, travel plans and other pieces that concern urgent activities, probably about ten at a time. We glance over the table together and start to organise. Lists of possible walks and plans for visiting archives are taking form and emails are written to be send out as soon appointments can be made again. I look at you once we are done. “It is nice we can be together in this specific time and place,” I say as I begin to feel a sense of direction again. “We will know in time,” you answer, “we will know in time.” (…)

1  The past three months, while not being able to physically make work and collaborate with archives and collections as I usually do,  I have been reconnecting with materials stored in my own archive as a way of going forward and go over new possible narratives.

2 This room is based on the only known photograph and a very visual description by J.P. Thijsse of Eli Heimans’s study room at the Plantage Muidergracht in Amsterdam, page 194 , ‘Life and works of E. Heimans and the flourishing of nature studies in the Netherlands in the early 20th century’, by F.I. Brouwer, 1958.

3 Eli Heimans has been my fictional conversation partner over three years while executing my (field) research. These conversations form the base for the main narrative line in the video essays from The Three Stages project. During these last few months I was able to find comfort in his written research on landscapes, geology and biology, helping me to reevaluate my research that I will be doing in the near future.

Images used: Stones, Geologie-boekje, Eli Heimans, Amsterdam, W. Versluys, 1913, page 107 / Sea Holly, In de Duinen, Eli Heimans & Jac P. Thijsse, Amsterdam, W.Versluys, 1899, page 16

Artist Vera Mennens (b. 1991) and co-founder of at7 project space, lives and works in Rotterdam. Throughout her practice Vera Mennens’s main research is on the question how you can research history and historiography as an artist. She works in a wide range of media including video, text, photography,  audio, installation and textile. In her research project The Three Stages (2017- ongoing)4 made alongside the writings and saved collected objects of Eli Heimans (b. 1861 – †1914), one of the founders of the nature conservation movement in the Netherlands, she sets out on a journey not only looking for Eli Heimans and the landscapes in his stories but also to determine how we deal with archived history and the way we perceive nature contemporarily. As she navigates through an era in which nature, as well as our understanding of nature, are visibly under threat, she delineates a space in which connections can be made between and about time and place; a space that invites and asks us to choose a position within these issues. Vera completed her Bachelor in Photography at AKV/St. Joost, Breda, in 2013 and her Masters Artistic Research at The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, in 2017.

www.veramennens.nl

4 This work has been made possible with the help of the Heimans & Thijsse stichting, Amsterdam, Bram Langeveld (Natuur Historisch museum Rotterdam), Arike Gill (Naturalis Biodiversity Center Leiden), Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam, Arboretum Trompenburg Rotterdam, Jippe Kreuning, Naomi van Dijck, Inge Molenaar, Textielmuseum Tilburg, Mondriaan Fonds and the Prins Bernard Cultuurfonds – Josine de Bruyn Kops Fonds.