Sonja van Kerkhoff    1989 - 98

part six                         nederlandse versie          

About two performance works:
Savour the Experience
, 1993 and Change is a Law of Nature, 1996 onwards

Savour the Experience

For my graduation in sculpture in 1993 I made a series of performances during the European Art Schools Biennale, at openings, on the street, in front of the city chambers and in an old church. I chose the form of 'ordinary' one to one encounters where I presented a tray of transparent egg cups as art for sale.

I was an artist selling my wares. A student graduating and moving into the art world.


performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Savour the Experience,
performance, 1993,
location: MECC conference centre
Maastricht.

My purpose was to get people to talk about art and to handle it. Each object had the words, Savour the experience engraved on them, and this was my point. That art was experience and this performance focused on the presentation of an art experience.

In 1994 I used footage from these performances to make a 6 minute video where a voice-over discusses what happens when an artist presents her art to the world.

video clip to come

A page about the video

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Savour the Experience,
performance, 1993,
location: Landbouwbelang at the
"Multiple Sounds" Opening, Maastricht.

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Above: Performance outside
the London Stock Exchange.
Photo: Annabel Knight, U.K.

Change is a law of nature, 1996 onwards


Performance commission by the
Hull Time-based Arts
for their festival Skint,
October 1996.



For the Change is a law of nature performances I informed people that I had currency to trade and presented them with a palette-shaped tray on which there were 5 plastic coins (in shades of translucent grey).

Most people took a coin in their hands and looked at it and fiddled with it while we talked.

My job was to convince them that this currency had some worth.

Although it appeared that I was encouraging them to buy or trade with me,

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Change is a Law of Nature, Hull, U.K.
photo: Andy Locke, U.K.

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Change is a Law of Nature, Hull, U.K.
photo: Julie Penford, U.K.

what I was really doing was getting them to consider the issue of ´value´ or ´values´ and in this case their own contribution to this process (the price was what they offered and I then considered that and talked about whether what they had offered was fair or representative).

What they really were valuing was the trust they developed in me -the artist and through that the art object.

And that was the concept behind the whole thing. That value or values are based on how much we trust the produce, and in the art world the produce is really the artist's act, not the paint.

I focused on these coins as ´art´ (and hence of the spirit/ aesthetic) during these exchanges, and this highlighted the moral dimension of commerce, rather than making fun of ´originality´ or ´value´.

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Change is a Law of Nature, Hull, U.K.
photo: Andy Locke, U.K.

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Change is a Law of Nature, U.K.
photo: Julie Penford, U.K.

"Commerce is as a heaven, whose sun is trustworthiness and whose moon is truthfulness"

Bahá'u'lláh (Compilation on Trustworthiness)



I was focussing on the relevance of art (money) and about what happens during a transaction and the implied values that go with this, to reflect not only on the evitability of change but to see that it's not such a bad thing.

One aspect of these exchanges was that currency became a memento of change and exchange itself rather than only a means of trade.

Now these sound like lofty ideas, but you might wonder how did it really work with people not 'in' on my story. Well, we talked (engaged), and I mostly asked questions to direct them into thinking about these things and into giving me their own opinions on the value of things, beginning often with the lack of money.

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Change is a Law of Nature, Hull, U.K.
photo: Andy Locke, U.K.

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Change is a Law of Nature,
London, U.K.
photo: Annabel Knight, U.K.

I was stunned by the receptiveness of people, and it was a great learning experience as well as a lot of fun. People's faces, after the initial unease, would light up, and they really wanted to trade with me, because they valued 'values', not just because of the piece of plastic in their hands.

I made this piece partly in response to the Maastricht Treaty where free trade and a common currency among the EEC countries were two items agreed upon. Living in this city at the time and thinking about these issues, I thought, why not make an art currency whose value is changing and is based on human interaction rather than the idea of some standard form. In a sense these coins can be seen as some sort of universal currency in that the only clearly cultural characteristic is the English text.

Yet in another way they are hardly universal in that their individual value is dependent on particular cultural circumstances.

Maastricht is a provincial city at the periphery of Dutch decision-making, where there is a pride in their own language and distinctive Limburg culture.

However, at the same time, there is an awareness that the province of Limburg is seen as backward and remote by the majority of Dutch residents who live in the west. It is this type of nationalism that hinders many countries, nations, internally and externally.

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Change is a Law of Nature, Hull, U.K.
photo: Julie Penfold, U.K.

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Change is a Law of Nature,
Hull, U.K.
photo: Andy Locke, U.K.

I believe that an auxiliary currency (whether of language or of money) is necessary to facilitate communication (and we have it whether we like it or not, say in the power of the DM, which influences other European currencies) and it is healthier to decide on this as an auxiliary, rather than leave it to the majority becoming the deciding factor, where strange ideas such as cultural superiority might come into play.

The shades of grey (in the colour of the coins) refers not just to the complexities of identity and nationalism, but also to my belief that there isn't a particular superior or pure race or colour or answer.

One reason for mixing the idea of money with ethics in my performances was to get people to think about their own responsibility or engagement in this process, not only to do with nationalism or identity, but also to do with daily transactions.

We all need a sense of the myth, romance, the positive or the human, in order to work through our own disappointments, fears or ignorance.

I hope that my change coins bring a smile, some small change perhaps?

More about this work in an interview with Johannes Birringer

performance by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Change is a Law of Nature, Hull, U.K.
photo: Andy Locke, U.K.

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