How do you feel being a student at 40s? What relations do you have with your classmates and professors? Does your experience hinder or help?
That's a difficult question, because it's extremely upsetting for me right now that I'm dealing with a midlife crisis (never thought this would happen to me). I used to be the youngest, suddenly I was one of the older ones (fortunately, the students were very heterogeneous in terms of age). When I started, I was 36. This year, I will graduate at 42. I may have had more life experience when I started college, but as far as art was concerned, I was as much a beginner as anyone else. Sure, there are isolated situations that confront me with my age, where I feel strange and different, where I also sometimes have to deal with discrimination because of my age, but from the beginning I felt very comfortable with and among the other students, a bit like at home, less of a stranger than before. My fellow students make me feel like I belong just as much and I have good friends who are much younger than me. Sometimes I find myself in the maternal role, giving advice to my younger friends regarding personal problems or spouting valuable life wisdom. I have a professor with whom I feel understood, in relation to my artistic language and my life path. He has totally supported me in my artistic development, a bit like a father figure. I have been very lucky. Or in the right place at the right time?
Studying is a privilege and requires a lot of discipline at 30+. I have to work while studying to make a living. I have two student jobs. In one of them, I work in a residential home for mentally ill people. That has turned out that way, and is somehow also fate I think. The mentally ill don't let go of me either, or vice versa?
I think there are a lot of reservations about older students. People think that they are less malleable, too set in their ways. As for me, I thought I would paint. I ended up in a sculpture class, working with space, making video installations. I was open and wanted to learn. And I learned a lot. I have the feeling that because I'm older I have to prove myself twice and three times more. I became much bolder within the studies, learned to speak (still bumpy but anyhow), learned to see critically, developed my artistic language in the confrontation with others. During my studies I never doubted that this was the right thing to do. My experience helps me personally in the artistic formulation of the things and topics that occupy me. My artistic work is based on the experiences I have had. I think it also makes sense that I had to get older/bigger to make art. In terms of sharing in class, I guess that my experience is both valuable and unnerving sometimes. I hope it is more valuable.
You combine study and work, in other words, you're still sitting on two chairs. How does your social work reflect into your artistic practice?
I honestly never had the feeling of sitting ON a chair. I always had the feeling that I was sitting between chairs. And they are different chairs. Not just the professional ones. For example, as a social worker assisting a person with mental illness, I was often the next of kin, an advocate, a mouthpiece in the outside world. But I was employed and had to defend the framework of the institution, which is necessary because it ensures that people can live together. Difficult situations when my client, whose needs I tried to respect and defend, came into conflict with the rules of the institution, due to an acute psychosis, for example. When somebody put himself and others in danger, so that I had to commit someone to the hospital with a court order, knowing that this is the last thing this person wanted. A conflict to deal with and an exemplary situation where I found myself caught between two chairs.