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Hanna Piksen

Sarah Blake WOR interviews Hanna Piksen, from Het Nieuwe Instituut.





Can you start by telling me a little bit about yourself, your role at Het Nieuwe Instituut, and what you enjoy about being there?

Yes, my name is Hanna. I live in Rotterdam, which I am very happy about… I’m such a big fan of the city. I work at Het Nieuwe Instituut, as the head of education. It’s a nice role to have and I really enjoy working there, which brings me to the last part of your question. What I like about Het Nieuwe Instituut, is that they always challenge you to think critically about the way we are shaping society together, and I feel the freedom to do that in innovative ways. So, I can experiment a lot within my department, which I like. We are always looking for new ways of programming, to find the best match with the people we want to reach and to cover topics we want to discuss. So yeah, that’s it, we are always trying to question the things that are presented to us, and finding ways of doing that make me happy.




How has Het Nieuwe Instituut been managing during this period of changes and restrictions? 


Well, I think quite okay, but of course, it’s a struggle for all of us, but I think we are amongst the more privileged. I don’t know if I can speak on behalf of the Instituut, but I feel privileged during this period to have a nice home and a job, that I can still do. I see a lot of people around me that are struggling a lot more. 


For Het Nieuwe Instituut, we are working quite fast and reimagining our way of programming. So, of course, a lot of things we are doing right now are online, and we’re reflecting on all of this together with Rotterdam creatives. That’s what our ‘Thursday Night Live’ programming is now about. We’re hosting interviews with people who have a specific role in Rotterdam in the Creative field – they are speaking about how they are experiencing all of this. I think that is and has been to me, very valuable. 


So yeah, I’m already going into the programming side of things. It’s also about keeping connected with the city and not just going forward with the content we had planned but thinking about what is needed now.




A photo by Uta Eisenreich, that she made during our online FamilieFest, an event made for families to participate at home




Yes, I did notice you had a quick turnaround in getting a lot of events online… 


Yeah, I am quite proud of that. We heard we were going to close on a Thursday. Already on Sunday, we had the start of the ‘Sunday Scroll’, which we thought of that Thursday evening. It’s a guided detour, not just through someone’s camera, but a guided detour online, each time with a different topic. One of our detour guides (formerly known as tour guides) takes a design related topic that is important to them, scrolls the internet for content and shares that with us for 45 minutes. We are still doing that every Sunday and I’m really happy with it.




These are our detour guides which have been taking us on The Sunday Scroll



What have been your biggest learnings throughout this period? 


I think what I have learned in the last few weeks is the power of still being connected. I am still moved by what happened  last week. We wanted to organize a workshop with Charlie Koolhaas and her mother Madelon Vriesendorp. They are both very interesting artists and it was going to be a physical workshop, but of course that couldn’t happen so we were thinking of how we could shape it. It then became an online workshop that would last for a week with different meetings via Zoom, also using a closed Facebook group. It was all about how you shape the space around you. What kind of items do you have in your house, what kind of items do you make yourself and what do they all say about you?. We did this with about 50 participants from all over the world – from Russia to Brazil to Copenhagen, London, France and Belgium. So, what started as a problem, in that we couldn’t meet physically, became a very close community. They created their own safe space for sharing deeply personal stories, via their work but also in speech. We ended the week in tears, feeling so connected, but we had never met and were living all over the world. I’m still amazed by how that could happen! What I really liked was that in the end, the participants said that they didn’t want it to stop there. So, we will keep meeting each other via Zoom, and keep the Facebook group alive, because it was also something that was exactly what they needed during this time. It was a way of reflecting what Corona meant for them, what isolation meant for them, but at the same time, it was a way to break out of it. So yes, what I learned is that you can connect on a really deep level, even when not meeting physically. 




A video web cover by Karl Nawrot. Since we had to close our buildings, we opened live.hetnieuweinstituut.nl where you can find all our current activities. And each week we invite a different designer to create a web cover for this page.



That does bring me to the next question… Have you made any new connections or seen any new collaborations come from this period? 


So yes, all of those people that I met last week. I also like to see what is happening at the Thursday Night Live conversations, which is organized by another department. I like to see these people talking together about what this period means for them, and to see people share that in a way that is quite generous. It gives some hope and support but also sometimes just talking about and agreeing that it sucks. 




Can you name a Rotterdam based business or artist that is inspiring you right now? 


Yes, I think Bird is doing really well. I like what they are doing with Club Lonely and Bird TV. It’s really impressive because it must be so devastating for them, to see all their business disappear in a few days. So, it’s nice to see them standing. 


Also, Worm. I know someone who received a care package from them, which was like an envelope with paper materials, but also a USB stick with stuff from their archive, which is so cool! 


I am a big fan of Concrete Blossom. I am a big fan of Concrete Blossom. They are a Rotterdam based collective of creatives. We are working together with them at Het Nieuwe Instituut and they will organize a two-day festival on the 31st of May and 1st of June. The whole festival will be a reflection on ‘The Hoodie’ which is an exhibition we have. It will be online as well as offline and is called: ‘The Hoodie – Televised’. With contributions by young Rotterdam creatives, but also experts and designers from different parts of the world. I think they are working on something really strong, and I’m very excited about this event.




HNI Online Course with Charlie Koolhaas and Madelon Vriesendorp: ‘Nocturne’ by Daphne van Schaijk




What can we all do as individuals to support the creative sector right now? 


I think it’s already so supportive if you visit their events, and maybe even share the content. That would be fantastic to still feel the connection. If it’s possible for you, to help them financially by becoming a member or in any other way. I know a lot of institutions are struggling, so that would be very appreciated. 




HNI Online Course with Charlie Koolhaas and Madelon Vriesendorp: ‘A Room To Roam’ by Renee Borgonjen




Do you think this period of restriction will affect the accessibility of art and culture in the future? 


Yes, it’s quite nice that things are online but I really understand the critical voices questioning why it’s possible now, and wasn’t before when we were all asking for it. So it’s nice that it’s happening now but good to hear that we should have done it earlier. I think it’s also good to realise that the internet and online activity is not accessible to everyone. Not everyone has the tools or connection, so we shouldn’t think that we are being inclusive to everyone by putting things online. I am so enthusiastic that things are online and to see all of the other creative solutions people are coming up with, but let’s stay critical too about who we are reaching and what more we can do. 

Also, there is a risk in focusing too much on the online part, and none of us should forget the power of physical connection. The detour guides are working on a package at the moment, that will be a ’Detour Delivery’ of Het Nieuwe Instituut to your house, which will be filled with ideas and things to do and create yourself, in different fields. I think it’s good to also focus on other things, and I hope we can play a role in figuring out how we can meet each other again, and be connected physically. Maybe also facilitate people to meet people they don’t know yet, as that’s so important.






What do you hope to take from this experience, moving forward? 


I hope I’ll say this right… I think it’s important to realise that everything is a construct. A one and a half metre society is something that someone thought of and we’re doing that now, which is very important, and I would never say not to take that seriously but also it is important to think about why we are making these choices, and what the alternatives might be.To realize that these choices have been designed in relation to the norm, which not everyone fits. Thinking from people who live in couples, or with families, then to someone single, who can get very lonely at this time. So, I think we need to stay critical, whilst not endangering anyone. We should take the restrictions seriously, but also take a look at the future, and see how it is manageable to proceed.