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19.12.2019 | Words by: Gatool Katawazi

Lisette Appeldorn presents a series of pictures with heads covered in different masks. Lisette made both the pictures and the masks herself. As I walk through the exhibition – on show in our cafe – I immediately notice the bold colors she uses. At first sight, the pictures look like pleasant portraits of human heads covered in different materials. But as I take a closer look, they leave me with a weird, sort of creepy, feeling, but in a very positive way.

I met up with Lisette in De School, in the midst of her exhibition to talk about her artworks. While her works are an explosion of different colors, materials and emotions, the conversation with Lisette is very calm and pleasant. And I notice her passionate yet modest way of talking both about her work as herself.

Q: When I first saw your work, I immediately noticed that the figures represent human heads. I actually even thought that there were actual human beings behind the masks, but there aren't. When making a mask, do you also have an idea of a character that would fit the figure underneath the mask?

A: I've thought about that. Sometimes I think that the posture seems very weird. For example, the one with the saddle in red and black, that one is just looking at you, slightly bending over and sort of creepy. So if you adjust the posture a little bit, it already triggers a different emotion. You can play around with that. We do recognize ourselves because it seems to be a human body. But yet, when you can't see somebody's eyes you can feel like it's hard to connect with that person. I find that very interesting, I find that very cool. For me it is about the emotion that I want to generate. And, in a way it's also making fun of humans. 

Q: Do the colours you use also contribute to that?

A: Yes, as I said: if you cover something, it quickly becomes a bit lurid, a bit unsettling. Because I use very bright colours next to using pastel shades, it becomes a bit humorous. It gets funny, and even becomes a bit more pleasant to look at. I believe that things can touch you more if you play with colours. If you have the right match of different colours, the whole gets more powerful. Masks are often not pleasant to look at; usually masks are portrayed in works where the colours are more grey and black-ish. From my perspective, I want to look at an image is uplifting to me, an image that also brings out good emotions. Not only creepiness.

Q: I noticed that you are not only experimenting with colours, but that you also “play” with different disciplines. For example, you are not only a photographer, but also a designer of the masks. Can you tell more about this?

A: Yes, that came up during my studies. I changed a lot between courses at the art academy. I was very fascinated by the fashion side, the styling. But I did not necessarily want to be categorized as a fashion designer. I knew that I wanted to do something with human forms. Then I realized with that in mind, I could do so much if I covered ‘the face’. For me the power really lies in creating masks, it is like a canvas where I can bring different disciplines like product design and photography together. And I learned to discover my own style of working in that way. It gave me the chance of working in series and groups and with symmetry and formation unity, which is really striking to me. There are so many layers in my photos that I find very important. Sure, the image has to spark something, but everything that comes with it, such as colour, materials, structures, what the posture is... when do you have the perfect combination? Everything must fit together, and then you have created a kind of creature. And I do that by working in my studio and collecting the materials that I find along the way. That can be anywhere. I often go to thrift shops for example. Recently, I was at a birthday party where they had a cycling helmet in their house and I saw a face in it. It just happens sometimes that I see a face or a shape in something ordinary. I'm happy to be able to see those things.

Q: Is that something that you are consciously working on? That you want all these forms to melt together? Or is that something that just arises?

A: It just arises. I see the material and I see the base or the core: that is the mask. Or sometimes I bring different materials together, for example: I see goalkeeper gloves and I see eyes in that. But I also need something in the shape of a mouth and that could be an ice skate cover. You then get a sort of clicked head that I created myself. I can also see a dirt bike with a headlight and  think wow, I need to come up with a whole setting around it. And the jacket must have a kind of lacquer layer, because that gives a good reflection with the right lightning. That is how I bring different things together. After if I shoot the photos andhave the facial expression or emotion that I want, then I start photoshopping. Throughout that process I' m still combining and making.

Q: So it all comes together organically?

A: Yes.

Q: Why do you choose to photograph the masks? Instead of exhibitioning the masks as they are.

A: I like the idea of having it framed; it is something safe for myself. I found that photography was a strong medium to show the different postures and emotions. In that way you can work in series too, I only shoot the same position and then repeat it with other masks. I am now at the point that I want to involve it further in the sense of my masks coming to life: I recently started experimenting with moving images, so really videos in which you can see all sides of a mask. In that way, you see how the mask moves and what that does.

Q: Here in the cafe you exhibit each picture on a different material. There are prints, wooden easels, and a light bar. Can you tell more about that?

A: Yes, that is something that I kind of did for the first time. I found this a good space to experiment with showing my work on different materials. For example, one of the mask is already a headlight anyway, I thought I was able to make it more lively by adding light. And it also works very well next to the bar in the cafe. I like to experiment with different ways of exhibiting.

Q: Do you think this is a first step for you to making your work “come to life”?

A: Yes, I think so. At some point, I'd like to have an exhibition space where you can put LED images with moving masks and with a whole body too. Instead of only human heads, also the human body could be involved.

Q: Would you then still like to focus on the masks, or on the human side of it?

A: That is very much linked together. I think that by applying masks, it remains mine. It is my creature that I made. I do not want to show skin, because then it is a human and it is not mine anymore. I want to keep covering it.

Q: So you are creating an illusion of a human being?

A: Yes, exactly. If I put a mask in front of it and you only see the shape of a human head, what can we call it? Because what is it then? I like to play with that.

Lisette's work is on show in Cafe DS until the 9th of January. Entry is free.

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