You've been together for about a year now. Which project are you most proud of?
"Sunshine is the best Disinfectant". We heard about this competition related to the March elections here in The Netherlands, an attempt to create a creative counter-campaign against the populism of the Dutch right-wing. We have always been interested in the relationship between politics, media and art, so we thought it was a good idea to participate. And we won. We collected right wing quotes and slogans used by conservative parties, and transformed these xenophobic, fear-inducing slogans into more innocent statements concerning the weather and gardening. So Wilder-style sentences like "Islam is a retarded culture" became "The palm tree is a difficult plant to grow". Upon the black and white populist original slogans we placed colorful 3d toy letters, so you could see the new, adapted version of the slogans, but also the original ones. We produced lots of posters, seed packets and postcards, and handed them out all over the city. There was even a tram in Den Haag that sported one of our posters!
Having analyzed the mechanism of populism, what can you say about the success of Wilder's populist discourse?
Simply that populism works. The world is changing, voters are changing. They are more hybrid, and the choices they make are connected more with the media and the somewhat made up narratives of reality the media provides, than with economic division of class. The left needs to find new, more effective techniques to communicate, because nowadays it is all about communication and timing. And Wilders is excellent at timing. He knows exactly where and when to appear and how to create a myth about his persona and his ideas in the mediascape. He creates a myth by using fear and anxiety. Obama does the same, and creates a myth of hope. It is not about left or right, it is about playing the game and winning, through effective communication devices.
Dirk Vis: Our project could easily have been seen as just a bunch of very silly quotes, a form of arty, leftist, intellectual activism. But then we started to diffuse them in the streets, and on trams. A populist reacton to a populist discourse. Catchy, fun messages that everyone understands.
What does the Noord project mean to you?
The project is fascinating. I'm really interested in the idea of looking at Noord through the eyes of Middle Eastern artists. When an art project obliges you to look at your own taken for granted Dutch world with the gaze of somebody else, this can be very interesting. You can engage with reality in a completely different way, and discover things you were not aware of.
Dirk Vis: We also feel that this project is a statement to the rest of Holland: we do not care about your xenophobia. We are interested in the Islamic world and we are interested in the way others perceive our world. Even though it's not a new message in the art world, we believe it is still a fundamental statement that needs to be made.
Ghalia Elsrakbi: We are a little suspicious about the travel guide. Up until now, the
design seems very Western. We hope that in the process of the project, it will change, and become less of a “western lonely planet”, and more connected to the way Arabian culture deals with maps. We'd like to see it go beyond the conventional Western grid we are used to. We believe this project can create an interesting bridge between two different cultures and two ways of understanding and relating to reality, combining the more “rational” linear way of West and the more fluctuating erratic way of the East.
What we are planning to do for the project is in a way related to this mixture of cultures. In the Arabic world, history and guides always present a strange mixture of fact and fiction, and you do not know where the one stops and the other begins. By moving closer to a fairytale world in urban Noord, we'll also come closer to the Arabic tradition.
Do you feel there's a difference between Noord and the rest of Amsterdam?
What we like about Noord, is that it is somewhat less organized and less structured than Amsterdam. In Noord, it's still possible to find weirdness and irregularities.