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
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.