Resident Van Doesburghuis Waèl el Allouche

Visual artist and designer Waèl el Allouche has spent the past three months for a residency at the Van Doesburghuis in Paris on the occasion of the Open Call Residency Van Doesburghuis in collaboration with the Mondriaan Fund. In Van Doesburg's studio home, makers and viewers can conduct research, develop ideas or create new work. Waèl: ‘In the Van Doesburg house I found the making again. I am now building an alternative model of the house and continuing my research into light.’

Wael el Allouche in the Van Doesburghuis

9 March 2022

How would you describe your practice?

‘I want to investigate. My art and design practice is a way of learning and understanding the world around me. I like to approach familiar phenomena from nature from a different angle and add a story to what we already know. For example, in 2014, for the Huis van Hilde, the archaeology centre of North Holland in Castricum, I made a sculpture from an enlarged grain of sand that I found under the House. How do we relate to our immediate surroundings? I find that question interesting. Light and dark also fascinate me. Earlier, I built a machine that measures the light intensity in a room. I then translate these variations in light into a 3D print, as an alternative view of the world around us.’

What does the question of identity mean to you?

‘I was about six years old when we moved from Tunisia to the Netherlands. I was balancing between the culture I had inherited from home and our neighbourhood in Eindhoven. Above all, I wanted to be free. In secondary school, I started making my own programmes on the computer. I had the impression that everything was always and only viewed from the perspective of the West: the voyages of discovery, the inventions, the heroes. I found it difficult to recognise myself in that. During an art history lesson, we were discussing Orientalism. Suddenly I had the feeling that it was also about me. That felt good and my fascination for art was aroused. Later, at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, I tried to abstract the environment around me, to reduce it to its essence. A bit like De Stijl, but different. I prefer programming, I am less of a painter.’

A room in the Van Doesburghuis

Do you feel the same affinity with De Stijl as you do with Theo van Doesburg?

‘Theo often felt misunderstood. He wanted to do everything himself and if possible be the best in each discipline. I have great admiration for his versatility and daring, but personally I believe more in sharing and learning from others. The Van Doesburg house is a great place, but also a bit of a loner’s experiment. Some rooms in the house are small and dark and then suddenly there is this huge studio, bathed in light. My parents were here for a weekend recently. I had the feeling that I was hiding them away at the bottom of the house. I see the house more as an art machine than as a home. I myself preferred to work in the room opposite the library, where Nelly van Doesburg gave music lessons. The studio with the high windows is overwhelming, a space to boast about, almost intimidating.’

How do you look back on this residency?

‘I would have liked to stay a few months longer. Even though it was sometimes quiet in the winter, made even more so by the pandemic, I slowly got attached to the house. Forest and swimming pool within walking distance, an excellent baker’s around the corner and a game of football with the locals. And above all the peace and quiet to work in. In the Van Doesburg house I found the making again. I am now building an alternative model of the house and continuing my research into light. New is a program with algorithms for a route planner where you are explicitly invited to wander and where surprises automatically appear on your path. That’s what this residency was, a welcome surprise. I hadn’t planned it like that beforehand, but when the opportunity arose, I grabbed it with both hands, and I’m happy about that.’

Text: Friso Wijnen, head of culture and communication, Dutch Embassy in France