The urgency is there, but the water awareness is lacking.
Yes, that is why I want to make people think about the consequences of climate change. By asking questions: How high is the water in your garden when the tide comes in? What would you be willing to do to keep your feet dry? Put more tax on raising the dikes or move to higher ground? And what measures are you taking to tackle climate change?
With the power of art and the magic of images, you can explain a complex story in an accessible way. The water boards are embracing my project, because it helps them bring water management to the attention of the public. Without their work, half of the Netherlands would be flooded.
What role does water play in your life?
I was born in a houseboat and now live in Ellewoutsdijk in the province of Zeeland, the heart of the Dutch delta. Maybe that is why I have developed a deep respect for the power of water. But I prefer to talk about the power of nature.
Nature offers us peace, inspiration and a refuge, but it is also under great pressure. We treat nature as if it were outside us, something we can exploit without limit, yet we are dependent on it. That worries me.
Do you mean that we do not live in complete harmony with our environment?
Yes, we have a lot to learn from indigenous communities in this regard. Their ecological knowledge is important in addressing climate change. After my studies, I spent time with the Haudenosaunee, the original inhabitants of America.
I visited schools in six different reserves and conducted 21 interviews with elders. The questions I asked came from Dutch school children. These conversations impressed me. Their respect for nature is enormous!
Every child grows vegetables in its own garden and they all know very well where the meat comes from. They learn that their actions have consequences for the next generations. This is at odds with our Western perspective. We think in terms of government periods of a few years and generally consider economic gain as being more important than protecting nature.
I saw in practice how the indigenous community moves with nature rather than against it. Their motto is apt: “Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.”
How do you contribute to a liveable planet?
I want to protect nature. In my spare time, I go out and collect litter. For me, that is a way of connecting with nature and finding inspiration. About three times a week I collect litter, from packaging to mouthguards.
I usually take one bag to put the rubbish in. When it’s full, I’m done. In other words, start with yourself and do what you can. Showing that you care for nature motivates others.
What role does visual art play in this?
I use visual art to formulate answers to social issues, in such a way that I touch people and get them to take action. I do this by appointment, in church or at school, but it also often happens on the street when passers-by see my work.
During the construction of the exhibition at the Watersnoodmuseum, a woman approached me. She told me an emotional story about her experience during the flood disaster of 1953. She was six years old when she was sitting with her bottom in the gutter and the water was running down her ankles. These chance conversations are what drive me to make visual art.