Suzanne van der Lingen

12th Apr 2018

1. Hi Suzy, we hope you’re enjoying the coffee! Can you give us an introduction to your practice, interests and experiences?

Thanks for the coffee Astrid & Oisin, and cheers Geri for putting my name forward! I’m an artist, writer and curator currently based in Nottingham. I mainly work with moving image, and I usually produce text-based pieces alongside video installations. My research interests include translation, subtitles, and footnotes; looping, repeating, and rhizomatic narrative structures; as well as pseudonyms, alter egos and autofiction, amongst other things.

I’m very fortunate to have been quite busy since I graduated from my MFA at Edinburgh College of Art in 2014; I joined the EMBASSY Gallery committee in January 2015, was guest editor at MAP throughout 2016, and moved from Edinburgh to Nottingham where I was awarded a year-long studio residency at Backlit, ending last November.

Over the past year I’ve been balancing my practice with full-time employment. To be honest, I’ve been taking a bit of a breather over the past couple months, rethinking what I want to pursue and how I want to go about it. I don’t have any solid plans or deadlines on the immediate horizon.

I’m developing a crossword habit in the meantime.

2. Does place play a role in your practice? How does the experience of making work in Dublin, Edinburgh and Nottingham compare?

I feel like my practice has been definitively bookmarked by the places I’ve lived. When I was studying in Dublin, I felt really ambitious, optimistic, and encouraged by my peers and tutors. I made a lot of work that overtly drew from my own experiences and family history; I think I remember feeling surer of things in some ways.

After I graduated, I moved back to the Netherlands for two years, during which time I didn’t really make new work for the most part due to personal circumstances; I effectively became a carer for my mother who was terminally ill. A few months after she passed away, I got a job at a cinema and volunteered at a couple of galleries.

I applied to ECA on a whim; there was a sense of ‘now or never’ in terms of my practice. My first year in Edinburgh was liberating, focusing on experimentation and reorienting myself and my practice. The MFA encouraged collaboration which shifted my perspective drastically; in Dublin, I had worked with friends on curatorial projects, but I hadn’t really extended that to the work I was making. At this time, I didn’t feel comfortable inserting or referencing my own experiences as directly in my work as I had done in the past, and being able to tease out other focal points through collaborative practice was revitalising. I ended up mostly working on curatorial and editorial projects through my involvement with EMBASSY and MAP.

The move to Nottingham coincided with a massive change in my perception of place and belonging. I was, however, happily surprised at how easy it was to settle in here. Within a few months of arriving, I got the studio residency at Backlit, which I used as an opportunity to focus on my own art practice again. Over the past year, I’ve shown (new) work at various galleries and screening events, most recently in the project space at Two Queens last December.

3. Can you talk to us a bit about your research processes. Language appears to play a vital role, how do you go about sourcing language? How do you go about constructing a narrative?

My process can be very fragmented and/or cyclical, much like the finished work tends to be. I go through phases where I do a lot of reading, researching, visiting shows and watching films & TV, and all I (can) do is absorb images and information. Then there comes a point where I need to let all those things settle or be put to use, which can be quite a drawn out process as I rarely start with a very distinct or clear idea of what the finished form of the work will be. There’s a lot of splintering; I tend to work things out last thing at night or in my sleep. Maybe the way I’d describe it would be that the work grows concentrically, with an image or line of text spurring on the subsequent layering of the narrative. A lot of my work tends to be borne out of processes of frustration, which makes me question the (emotional) sustainability of my practice and how to counterbalance it.

I’m fascinated by language and the humour, the acute awareness of social order, and shifts in perspective that can come from misunderstandings. I’m drawn to wordplay and in part I think this is because I learnt English as a foreign language. I remember my mom telling me that when I was seven, in the first year that I moved from a Dutch to an English-speaking school, I barely spoke at all. I remember the embarrassment.

I wrote about subtitles for MAP a couple of years ago. I referenced a quote by Barthes, in which he writes of ‘the dream, to know a foreign (alien) language and yet not to understand it: to perceive the difference in it without that difference ever being recuperated by the superficial sociality of discourse, communication or vulgarity; to know, positively refracted in a new language, the impossibilities of our own; to learn the systematics of the inconceivable; to undo our own ‘reality’ under the effect of other formulations, other syntaxes; to discover certain unsuspected positions of the subject in utterance, to displace the subject’s topology…’ I’m drawn to the pliability of language, and how double meanings, (mis)interpretations or (mis)understandings affect the formation/projection of identity and narrative structures.

4 The interplay of visual and textual elements in your video work is compelling. Generally, which comes first when you are composing a work? (I ask this in particular with reference to recent video works like ‘I can’t say everything all at once’)

‘I can’t say everything all at once’ was originally written as a text piece under a different title, but I wasn’t satisfied with it in that form. I couldn’t figure it out. I then started thinking of it as a moving image piece, and took snippets of the text as key markers. There’s a lot of playing around, testing out layering and edits, cutting things out, repositioning them, feeling things out. The poetics of the slippages and overlaps between textual and visual elements is the driving factor. It really depends on the work whether the image or the text comes first; sometimes they happen concurrently. I keep a note of lines or descriptions of images that come into my head and let them germinate for as long as they need to.

5. I was fortunate enough to experience ‘This can only be thought of as a monologue within a dialogue, the artist talk you gave in collaboration with Claire Walsh at Edinburgh College of Art. Can you tell us more about that collaboration, about your guest editorial with MAP, how it evolved and what role it has played in informing your own work? How important is it to you to work collaboratively?

That talk was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in relation to my practice, and my (working) relationship with Claire has been central to my development as an artist.

After I graduated from ECA, I stayed in touch with Laura Edbrook who had been one of my tutors. She gave me the opportunity to produce some work for MAP, including an artists’ moving image screening for Glasgow Film Festival. Following on from this programming, Laura and Alice Bain, MAP’s editorial directors, approached myself and Claire to produce a year-long guest editorial project, which became ‘Footnoting the Archive’. Claire and I had collaborated previously on self-published works and editorial workshops, and we share a lot of research interests. We were really excited to be able to contribute to MAP in this way, reflecting on past content as well as contributing new commissions. Throughout the year, we worked with numerous artists, writers and organisations to produce an editorial programme that included essays, workshops, audio broadcasts, performances and screening events.

We were thrilled to be able to revisit the project as part of ECA’s Friday Talks series at the invitation of Maria Fusco. We were asked to produce a day-long programme around the ‘narrative’ research strand. The title, ‘This can only be thought of as a monologue within a dialogue’, is a quote from Karolin Meunier’s ‘Return to Inquiry’. It points to both our collaborative practice as well as our shared interest in parallel narrative structures (i.e. footnotes), and how they can be used to subvert or reflect on the structures of (self) representation within archives, histories and bodies of work. The day consisted of a lecture, screening, and a reading event which we curated from an open call. The response to the programme felt really powerful; the submissions we received and the contributions from people on the day were generous and thought-provoking. Every now and again, ripples of the connections made through that programme surface and it really moves me. Most of my projects over recent years have been catalysed by conversations, and I think Claire and I both felt strongly that we wanted the programme to be a platform for dialogue that could extend beyond the day itself, with or without our direct involvement.

My practice has been shaped by the support structures I was able to find in other practitioners, and I am so grateful for the experiences I had with Claire, Laura, Alice and the extended community around the ‘Footnoting the Archive’ project. It was an incredibly formative year.

6. Given the text based nature of your practice is there a book or author that you find yourself coming back to again and again?

There are a few. At the moment, the ones that come to mind are Katrina Palmer, ‘The Dark Object’ (plus anything else published by Book Works really); Emma Cocker, ‘The Yes of the No’; Deborah Levy, ‘Things I Don’t Want to Know’; and not a book, but Chris Marker’s film oeuvre, particularly La Jetée. I’ve focused on reading more poetry lately.

Also not a book, but I find myself thinking about Spalding Gray every once in a while - the way he mined his life for creative output, and then how he wasn’t able to live his life without interpreting every detail as symbolic, metaphorical or tragically serendipitous. Though not as extreme, I recognise a lot of similar tendencies in how I form narratives and interpret (everyday) occurrences and events, or have done in the past. Holly Pester mentioned the phenomenon of apophenia in a talk she gave in Glasgow back in 2016; it felt like a light bulb moment for me. I now happen to live on a street adjoining Spalding Road. I definitely read into things too much.

7. If you had unlimited access to resources and funding, is there a piece or project that you would like to realise?

I’ve always struggled to quantify my own practice in this way. I would value the time and headspace that unlimited access to resources and funding would afford me; I would invest in learning new skills that would broaden my creative vocabulary, experiment with different scales and forms. I can’t articulate a particular outcome as such. Perhaps I’d start using a pseudonym to alleviate noneconomic inhibitions. Travel, go on international residencies.


Suzanne van der Lingen is an artist, writer, and curator based in Nottingham. You can find her at and @suzonim.