“Ghosts don’t walk in straight lines”

A conversation with Saskia de Brauw and Vincent van de Wijngaard.

Bowery and Grand Street, 2018, courtesy of Saskia de Brauw & Vincent van de Wijngaard

She’s a celebrated artist and top model, he’s a renowned photographer and filmmaker. We’re speaking of Saskia de Brauw and Vincent van de Wijngaard, of course, the Dutch power duo currently showing at Foam Amsterdam. For their collaborative project, Ghosts Don’t Walk in Straight Lines, Saskia crossed the streets of New York by foot and circumvented the city’s extreme velocities. Her slow journey through Manhattan, visualized by Vincent, resulted in a time-transcending photo series, a short film, and a book that recollects the meditative journey. Glamcult met the artists before the opening of their first exhibition in the Netherlands, which can be experienced until the 10th of February.

What struck me in the description of your project is the emphasis on “a slow walk”.

Saskia: A slow walk was really the starting point, where and why this project was born. When my modelling career took off, I travelled to New York a lot and found it to be a very difficult city to comprehend because of its fast-paced life. In order to make myself feel at ease I started taking short walks and slowing down my tempo—making it easier to take in the overwhelming city. At a certain point I started thinking: what if I would do this all day? How would it feel? And what would happen? The idea then grew and I asked Vincent to be part of the project.

Does this slowness relate to finding yourself, somehow?

Saskia: Sure! It’s also a kind of meditation through which you find yourself in the silence and calm yourself. That’s one side of it. On the other hand, it’s a state of mind that allows you to see and experience things more clearly.

Broadway and West 50th Street Metro, 2018, Saskia de Brauw & Vincent van de Wijngaard

During your walk, you tried to evade the grid that defines Manhattan. Can you tell me why and how?

Saskia: Well, essentially it turned out to be impossible because New York is entirely based on this grid. We chose to walk down Broadway as much as possible, following a route that the Native Americans used to travel in the past. That old route wasn’t straight or static; they followed the landscape. On the contrary, the grid system doesn’t respect the landscape at all but ploughs right through it. It’s not at all like the old European cities, in which you can wander around and get lost. Leaving Broadway, at a certain moment we took a turn into China Town and onto Doyer Street, and eventually went back to Broadway.

Saskia, you just mentioned the moment you asked Vincent to get involved. How did the project become a joint effort?

Saskia: I wanted the walk and performance to become more than that, and really have it documented. We were living in Paris at the time and travelling to New York regularly. I already had certain routes in mind, so we began walking and doing our research. Vincent started taking photos, recording soundbites, interviewing the people we met, and filming on Super 8. Piece by piece it began to grow. Collecting all this material, we knew that at some point I would embark on the definite walk. But the research material added up to so much, that we decided to make a book. We started looking for the right people to collaborate with; Haider Ackermann made a garment, Jim Beard composed a soundtrack… all in all it grew on us for four years. Every time we visited New York we got to know the way a little better, we got to know the city a little better. We even moved to New York because we started feeling more and more at home.

West 25th Street and Broadway Bridge, 2018, courtesy of Saskia de Brauw & Vincent van de Wijngaard

The way one experiences a city, or walking through a city, is of course subjective. What did you pay attention to or focus on during your journey?

Saskia: I think Vincent and I both have a different answer to that question.

Vincent: Shooting on the street is how I got into photography, and it’s the way I work in general. I often research certain places and what has taken place there in the past. In a city like New York you can sense the traces of time—especially in Northern Manhattan, the 225th Street, where our walk commenced. From there you descend into the city, and feel time shift through the colour palettes and scenery. Saskia and I don’t work together a lot, but when we do, we look at things in a similar way. I try to filter out the everyday elements that define a place or time. Of course your choices and edit influence the end result, the book or the film, but the essence of the project remains unchanged.

Saskia: You told me that you focused less on the most beautiful shots…

Vincent: Yes, the project is perhaps more conceptual than my other work because Saskia’s work is more conceptual. There are a lot of moments during a city walk in which nothing happens, and our project aims to include those moments. To me the continuity of the walk was very significant. What I love about photography is its power to take viewers on a journey, to put them in your shoes—not only to see the beautiful moments but also to see everything that you have seen. This project is not about grand moments; it’s about insignificant instances that are always there. Together they comprise a bigger essence.

Saskia: It’s about the small things you can relate to that become a crucial element in life and make up a bigger picture. For instance, I remember seeing a huge flock of birds ascending from behind a man on the street. It felt like magic—but really, it happens all the time! It’s all about perspective, your place in that moment in time. And the ways paths cross.

Saskia, you wore a beautiful garment by Haider Ackermann. What does it symbolize?

Saskia: Yes, Haider used leftover fabrics to design it. It’s a patchwork of materials that normally would be wasted. Maybe that patchwork is the patchwork of New York. It also reminds me of the street surface; it’s coarse and grey, almost as if it’s been soiled. The garment is quite theatrical and long too, it feels aged and drags behind me on the street. What I see in it, most of all, is the attire of a traveller.

Vincent: There’s an aspect to the garment that characterizes all of Haider’s work. It’s not a one-dimensional design; you can see multiple layers and look at them in various ways. It’s continuously evolving, which is exactly what our walk is all about.

West 178th Street Washington Bus Terminal, 2018, courtesy of Saskia de Brauw & Vincent van de Wijngaard

Words by Leendert Sonnevelt

All images courtesy of the artists




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