Groeten uit Eindhoven Project Description

"Groeten uit Eindhoven" began as jovial chit-chat during a 2003 summer gathering of close friends and family in Eindhoven, NL. The concept instantly became a carnival like performance of Carmin Karasic as Antje and Arjan Venmans, a prominent Dutch civil engineer, as Jan. Antje is the fictitious Dutch 'cheese girl', het kaas meisje, developed as a commercial entity to promote Dutch cheeses outside of The Netherlands. She has become a Dutch stereotype with her traditional dress, blonde hair, blue eyes, big smile, and tray of Dutch cheeses. We decided to walk the talk on July 30, 2003.

Coco Fusco's performance artwork inspired my investigation of stereotypes through visual representation of 'the Other'. Her performance piece, Stuff, explores the relationship between tourism and the creation of myth and stereotype. It opens with Fusco and artist Nao Bustamante seated at dressing tables on opposite ends of the stage writing postcards. The postcards are read to the audience and tell of experiences the artists had with 'foreigners' projecting their preconceived desires onto these Latinas during their travels abroad.

Groeten is about the absurdity of stereotypes. I saw "Groeten uit Eindhoven" postcards as a way to confront American stereotypes of the Dutch. 'Groeten' also allowed me to investigate Dutch perceptions concerning Dutch traditional stereotypes. Some Dutch people seem to be proud of Antje, others think the character is silly, but Antje is certainly as positive a Dutch stereotype as tulips and tolerance. 'Groeten' uses positive stereotypes and humor to evoke stereotypes in general.

The strategy was to invert the Dutch stereotype by inserting Antje and Jan into typical daily Dutch life. We were photographed in public places doing ordinary things, so that we could interact with viewers in an unmediated environment. The unusual image of a black woman as Antje made Dutch people question Antje's image as their ambassador in the first place. The Dutch are proud of their reputation for tolerance, and interracial couples are very common. But as postcards sent to places outside the Netherlands, the image of an interracial couple in Dutch traditional clothing adds another layer of absurdity to the project. And when there is less tolerance for interracial couples, the image will challenge prejudices.

Groeten also alludes to the ubiquitous 'period & location' stereotypes, such as cowboys in southwestern USA. We chose places and activities that would illustrate the fact that no one except Antje and Jan were dressed in traditional clothes. Some of the choices were far more successful than others. As a result less than 10% of the photographs "worked" for the project. We had to leave Eindhoven to find a windmill. Since the tulip season is a matter of weeks in the spring, tulips appear only on postcards Antje buys during performance. Another motivation for this project is the simple fact that Eindhoven is a major Dutch city, yet it has the most lackluster postcards I have ever seen.

Groeten is entertaining, fun and disruptive. Through humor, we poke at subconscious fantasies about the "Other", without overt or obvious critique. The political content is intentionally obscure and doesn't make people feel guilty. This project uses humor to take viewers through potentially uncomfortable issues, by planting the seeds for (re)evaluating stereotypes in their own personal experiences.