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Exploring Movement and Otherworldliness: A Conversation with Dimme Van Harten
NCO 014

Dimme Van Harten's journey into performance art is a unique and unconventional one, which began with her upbringing on a horse farm for people with and without special needs. She eventually found her way to art school, where she studied jewelry and discovered performance art during lockdown. Her work explores themes of "abnormality" in "normality," often through movement and small details. Dimme's performances are largely improvised, and she prefers to work without a script or choreography. She also creates tooth gems, which she learned to make after being inspired by a friend. Looking to the future, Dimme sees success as being able to continue learning, collaborating, and taking care of her body and mind while pursuing her artistic interests in light and video performance.

N: Hi Dimme, it is a pleasure to interview you. Can you tell us a bit more about your background and how you fell into performance art ?

D: Hello! Yes, I took a little crazy route to get where I am now. I grew up in a very small town on a horse farm for people with and without special needs. My parents always had in mind to make it into a family thing and to pass it on to me and my siblings at some point, so from a legal age, I was working in the farm and doing activities with the children there. In the meantime, I was graduating high school and I decided to go to the army. I was there for less than a year.

After I quit the army, I was still in school and had to go to a place every day called "Success Class," where all the underage people went without studies. Meanwhile, I was developing a huge interest in clubbing and music. I started to go out every weekend and that was where I found out that I loved to dance.

Dancing was for me the reason why I wanted to go out. There was no place for me in my town where I could move as freely as I could at a party. I chose to study outdoor sports because it seemed to be the most satisfying study for me where I could have a lot of freedom. After graduating my outdoor sport studies, I didn't know what to do. Through my local gym (while still living in my hometown) I discovered yoga and I started to make it into a daily practice. It was really therapeutic for me.

I could feel my body so well and that gave me so much pleasure and confidence, something very similar to what dancing in a club gave me. I always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer but never thought it was something I could do (regarding my background). When I was 21, I finally found the courage and applied for a preparatory year at an art academy. There I found out that I could do it and applied afterward for a bachelor at the Rietveld Academy. After the basic year (first year in the academy), I studied two years of Jewelry - linking bodies, where I really discovered performance art when the lockdown arrived. There were no available workspaces in the academy, and because of being at home, I had all the time to get back into my yoga flow, to have unlimited dance sessions in my room, and inline skate trips in the Amsterdam forest next to my house.

When I go skating, it feels like I'm flying, similar to how I feel when dancing. I think moving my body is something I find comfort in. I can express myself through it and release emotions and thoughts, I think even better than with a spoken language.

N: In your work, there appears to be a recurring theme of exploring movements and scenarios that transcend human culture, evoking a sense of otherworldliness and almost "alien-ness." Could you elaborate more on your inspirations and what you hope to convey with your art?

D: This probably reflects on my experience of coming from a small town, growing up with animals, surrounded by people who are not accepted within society, and how I always experience difficulties myself with fitting in.

This comes back in my work where I look for "abnormality" in "normality" in natural situations within my surroundings, and I like to capture that. I like keeping it real and natural, but looking for the surreality by adding or focusing on small details. Taking the viewer to another dimension without creating the dimension, but just through body movement or by placing things in another context.

N: What role does improvisation play in your work? How do you strike a balance between structure and spontaneity in your performances?

D: Most of the movements I do, I improvise. When I perform things in the moment, they feel very natural and real, and I really like that. I don't have a background in dance, and I'm not good at choreography. Sometimes, when I experiment with movements at home or elsewhere, I capture them and think about how I could use them in another context. But often, they stay in the moment. In none of my work do I really make a choreography or a script. For my graduation work, I decided to make a movie and not be in it myself. Even with the movie, I decided not to work with a script, but just a storyboard with some visual directions. This was a bit difficult for my crew and performers in the beginning, but for me, it was very logical. I cast the people based on who they are, and built the characters around them, so they just had to be themselves inside the character I put them in.

N: On a lighter note, I have to ask, what's with the tooth gems @diamond_dynasty_1996? How did that project come about?

D: Back in 2018, a friend of mine in Berlin, Juliane, who is a true fashion icon in her mid-40s, had tooth gems on all her teeth. I was obsessed and wanted them for myself. I did a lot of research, calling tattoo shops, etc., but in the end, there was no place in Amsterdam where I could get them at the time. So, I decided to do them for myself. Through my research, I got in contact with a wholesaler for tooth aesthetics and they loved my interest. They taught me how to gem teeth. Now, I make them for other people as well.

To make it more accessible and to have creative freedom, I decided to make it cheaper when you get more gems, so incidentally, most of my clients go "crazy."

N: What do you envision for your future and what would "success" look like for you?

D: Last year, I began working as a light operator alongside my studies. I perform light in nightclubs and music festivals in Amsterdam. Operating lights is a sort of performance where I sculpt the atmosphere alongside the DJ, feeding into one another and the dancers with sound and light vibrations. Being in the club environment surrounded by music, doing my show but not having to deal with people so directly all the time, is what I really enjoy. Working with lights also makes me less dependent on submissions and funding, while also inspiring me in my art practice. I want to dive into VJing as well, so I can perform video live and use that in my work too.

Maybe I'll study again, something technical like dentistry to match my tooth gem interest. I want to keep learning, but also have time to get inspired, collaborate, make my own projects, and take care of my body and mind. I think that's what success is for me.

All images courtesy of Dimme van Harten.
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