Tijs Rooijakkers is a brilliant installation artist who lives in The Netherlands. His work is all about bending and shaping wood and other materials and assembling them in inside/outside spaces http://tijsrooijakkers.nl/. He’s a very cool artist with a cool approach. Here’s our chat …

“… At first, my installations were studies. They still are but because of them, I'm getting asked more frequently to create permanent ones ... I still love to create the hit and run temporary ones. They are definitely the most fun to create ...”

MICHAEL: Tijs, I love your work. Your installations are amazing! I want to put them in my house, but my house is too small and I don't have enough money to buy them. So how can I really love installation art and help you? I don't know how to do this.

TIJS: Michael, Thanks for your enthusiastic words and what a great question! This question really makes me fantasize … I see you have a lot of installations in your city itself and its woods - that would be great as well. Or maybe you know another other nice spot?

An artist-in-residence period would do the trick, maybe two? The first to get to know the place and do research and the second, to install. That would be really perfect!

MICHAEL: Ha! Ha! I’m sure it would be.

TIJS: Most normal houses are too small for my ideas and installations. I prefer big, high, widely-open spaces, so the work won't take over the place but work together with it; complement it, strengthen each other.

MICHAEL: What inspires you to create installations? Aren't they only temporary?  You do so much work to assemble something that you have to take back down. Also, most people cannot buy them? What do you think about this?

TIJS: Empty or open spaces inspire me. When I enter such a space, my fantasies kick in and form; movements and figures enter the room. At first, a lot of clichés, but when I'm over those, it does get interesting and a hunch or notion takes form.

Sometimes, I just draw my playful and signature calligraphy ink drawings and the drawings take on a 3D form that goes with such a space to come.  If that happens, I try to find the best material to use or can sketch it in space. I do all of my work with process sketches.

My first 15 or so works/installations were done in art spaces and festivals with very little budget and so a permanent place might not be safe and I really like it when suddenly it's gone and people miss it and feel there is a emptiness or gap. When that happens, I know the work did its job and became one with the surroundings and worked symbiotically.

It's true that people can't buy them, but companies with a nice entree hall can. In that way, lots of people can enjoy the work. I love it when people who don't know each other start talking because of the work.

MICHAEL: I bet. And so, are none of your works permanent?

TIJS: At first, my installations were studies. They still are but because of them, I'm getting asked more frequently to create permanent ones. There are five of them right now and three on the way. I still love to create the hit and run temporary ones. They are definitely the most fun to create.

MICHAEL: Many of your works are made of very long strips of wood. No? Where do you get them and how do you make them? How do you bend the wood? Doesn't it break?

TIJS: I love the appearance of wood and working with it because it's pretty easy to shape it and get it the way I want. For my first work made out of wooden slats, “Otbo Velo,” I used beechwood because they say it's one of the easiest woods for bending.

Afterwards, I use oak because it is better, more sustainable for outdoor use. For the project, “WoenselSupertoll,” I got me some oak trunks out of the area that had to go anyway, and brought them to a sawing factory. It’s very cool to watch how your own slats get out of a trunk into existence. And in the end after bending, I brought them back to the neighborhood and hung them into the trees. Cradle to cradle?


TIJS: I bend them by steam bending or better, free steam bending (I don't use molds). I made a couple of steam boxes with wallpaper-steamers, steam them until the wood gets mushy. Then at the right time, they are very easy to bend. Thirty minutes later, they kind of stay the way I bended them, then I leave them for a couple of days so the moisture can come out and I oil them. When they’re steamed too long, the slats become like carton and do break very easily indeed.

MICHAEL: How do you assemble and disassemble your installations? I would think you need a small army of people to help you. No?

TIJS: For the past three years, I did work with a team, but before that I worked mostly alone. My first installation (2004) was up to 7 meters high and when the wall I was climbing on wobbled (because it was made of gas concrete), I kinda woke up a bit scared, but also very alive and excited that I was there all alone in that adventure.

I'm a striver not for others but for myself and getting impossible things done is very satisfying for me. When I was in the army and an odd number of people would be there so I would volunteer to work alone. And then trying to finish the job first before the couples did. Ha! Ha!

When I work alone, I get into my zone very easily. That's why I love working by night - fewer distractions. I love the inventiveness that appears when you want something done that seems impossible (one of the reasons I need deadlines) and there is nowhere to go or to ask people for help. It feels like a vacation in the unknown.

I'm not really a bossy guy so working with people most of the time costs me lots of extra time and energy because of the social aspects. But in public spaces I just can't barricade the space for too long and besides that, it is safer...

The funny thing of disassembling is that most of the time, one week building stands for a short time before tearing it downs. For the installation I made in Kunstenlab, Deventer: Habitat, I came in with two pallets of wood and one and half month later, I left with the same two pallets of wood.

Assembling is 90% just looking at the space/air/room/area and that of what I already installed. When something is not right it keeps on nagging. When it's right, I don't really see it anymore, it’s one with the picture and I move on. It's a very intuitive process.  When I work with a team, I globally say what needs to be done and when the team is gone, I start trying to perfect the pieces of the puzzle.

MICHAEL: Do you come from a family of artists? Why do you make art? Did someone tell you to become an artist?

TIJS: No, I don't come out of a family of artists. My grandparents were farmers. My father was a teacher and my mother a nurse and later on and still is a Yoga teacher. When I was a kid, she painted a bit as a hobby.

I didn't like school. I liked the teachers and other students, but the lessons didn't interest me at all. I dreamed my school days away watching and staring through the window. I liked sports and drawing though.

After the school day ended, my day began. I grew up in a very small village (1600 people) and me and my friend would wander through the fields and bushes looking for adventures, building huts and fires. Later on, we began skateboarding, hanging around and building our own skate obstacles. When we were 16 we made a real skate-park in the back of a friend’s parents house. It was there where we began to think of our future jobs.

Once when I was 14 years old I think, I asked someone what I could become when I was older, she replied by saying, “Anything you want.” I kept that in mind.

So, when we fantasized about our future jobs, most of them fell really fast because of the restrictions of our freedom and I also didn't want to sell my soul. I was always one of the creative guys in class so if I would have listened to my teachers I would have become a graphic designer or a commercial /advertisement boy. But I never liked that thought.

Art school was unreachable for me, I didn't have the right education top go to art school. So I went into the army looking for adventure and after five years, a friend who I used to draw with and build the skate park and skated with was allowed into art school. I visited him at school and talked to several students and it felt like coming home! Finally, normal and sane people!

I immediately resigned from the army and applied for school. I showed them a real lot of drawings I made over the years and they welcomed me in.

MICHAEL: Cool. And why do you make art?

TIJS: Why I make art? I’m only going to live once. Everything we people do has an impact, if we like it or not. I think for me, making art delivers the biggest impact in a positive sense that I could possibly contribute to the world. Besides that, I love tackling the things I do by doing them really seriously and laughing really loud when I notice I’m doing that.

MICHAEL: What do you think about the contemporary art world and art market today? Do you understand them? Are you part of those worlds?

TIJS: People I personally know from galleries, art institutions and museums are most of the time really nice, open and warm people that love what they do.

I went to a big art fair in Rotterdam, the Netherlands last week to see if it would be something for my work. My conclusion was that I do have a love/ hate attitude towards “The Art World." 

I hate everything I see; terrible, rubbish work and suddenly, I adore almost everything I see. I went incognito and didn't talk to anyone. I just didn't feel like it. And I left dazzled with a lot of mixed feelings. I don't really like the art talk much or at all. I like seeing, feeling and noticing things it does for myself.

MICHAEL: Absolutely. Finally Tijs, when people look at your work, what do you want them to see? Does your work have a message? If your work could talk, what would it say?

TIJS: My work wouldn't talk, it would dance fluently through bricks and space. Whispering LIVE.


TIJS: I don't know if it has a message or if it would be the message or question of existence. I would like that the audience would see the movements of the work that aren’t there, the process of being. I use simple metaphors and simple images/symbols that are not customary to luring people in.

My work has lots of layers that expose themselves to people who are open to them. I noticed that people like reading words to get into the work more easily, so sometimes I invite people who are good with words like poets and rappers so they can provide a physic skin made out of words on it.

For me, that wouldn't be necessary, but I see the people reacting the way I want them to so that satisfies me as well. Maybe in a couple of years I won't need to do that anymore because the language of the work is familiar and speaks for itself. And in some cases, it would say, “Let's move or dance!”

MICHAEL: Thanks Tijs. Very cool chat. I love your work.

TIJS: Thanks a lot for your questions. It was a joy answering them! I love the concept/method you use. Wishing you all the best and the best of luck with the great work you do! Who knows one day we meet. Would be great.

Check out Tijs Rooijakkers at http://tijsrooijakkers.nl/.