Felieke van der Leest. The Zoo of Life.

Interview  /  Artists   Making
Published: 11.03.2015
Felieke van der Leest. The Zoo of Life..
Sanna Svedestedt
Edited by:
Edited at:
Felieke van der Leest. Necklace: Incognitos Anonymous, 2011. Plastic animals, silver, glass beads, textile, leather. Pendant: 8 x 8 x 8 cm Carpet: 16.5 x 16.5 x 0.5 cm. Felieke van der Leest
Necklace: Incognitos Anonymous, 2011
Plastic animals, silver, glass beads, textile, leather
Pendant: 8 x 8 x 8 cm Carpet: 16.5 x 16.5 x 0.5 cm
© By the author. Read Copyright.

During one of the last cold days of January we get a hold of Felieke van der Leest over a surprisingly stable Skype connection. Felieke is by the computer in her home studio in Øystese, a small town in Norwegian countryside, situated right by the breathtaking scenery of the Hardanger Fjord. Although it is only a few days before the opening of her big solo exhibition at the CODA Museum in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, she seems quite calm and relaxed.
- It was a lot of work to fill in the list with all the information about the works, Felieke explains.

- There are over one hundred twenty pieces in it. Most of the works in the exhibition are from my own collection. I decided years ago that if I make an edition of four pieces or more, I will make one extra for myself and that is the “zero” number. I don’t have one from all of my pieces of course, some are unique and sold already, but I have quite an extended collection of my own work. It is very practical. If a museum or a non-commercial venue asks me to participate in an exhibition it is not so difficult because I have these works available without having to ask galleries or private collectors. But because the exhibition at CODA is so comprehensive there are also twenty five to thirty pieces that are from the museum collection and loans from private owners. Bye the way, packaging all those zero number pieces, that was also a lot of work, Felieke laughs.

Felieke graduated from the jewellery department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 1996. Her final project was made up by crocheted and knitted textile jewellery, a style which she kept working on for almost six years, until an injury stopped her from doing too much crocheting and lead her back to metal. She also started incorporating plastic toys and has since then become famous for her unique jewellery style, combining metal, textile and plastic animals. 
Felieke van der Leest, brooch "Spermheart", 1996
Textile, metal safety pin, (rubber), crocheted

The exhibition Into the Zoo at CODA presents work within the animal theme over a period of 18 years, starting with the Spermheart and the Piglet with the Red Boots from her graduation show up to the most recent pieces made in 2014. This big solo exhibition also coincides with the release of the new book Felieke van der Leest: The Zoo of Life. Jewellery & Objects 1996–2014 published by Arnoldsche.

- It all started back in 2012 when I thought, life is good but a bit boring…you have group exhibitions and once in a while a solo exhibition, you make your work, send it away... I thought: “I need something big!” I already had a book, but it was from 2006. I still sold it but I had made so many new works. So it would be good to have a new book, but best is to have a new book and a big exhibition together. And where would I like to have this exhibition? Of course I thought about the Netherlands and Norway. You know you can take your own initiatives. In Dutch we say: A “no” you already have, a “yes” you can get.
 Cover, Felieke van der Leest: The Zoo of Life
Jewellery & Objects 1996–2014 published by Arnoldsche


Felieke was born in 1968 in Emmen, the Netherlands. After her initial studies at the Technical School for Gold- and Silversmithing in Schoonhoven she moved to Amsterdam where she arranged a studio space in her small third floor apartment. In 2007 Felieke happened to flip through an art magazine where there was an announcement stating that the county of Kvam was looking for Dutch artists to populate the Norwegian countryside.

- We were getting fed up with the business and craziness of the city and were thinking, “Well let’s move”. Maybe to the north of the Netherlands where we come from, or England, or Belgium or Italy… Then I read this announcement that the county of Kvam was looking for Dutch artists that would be interested in moving there. They organized a weekend and the only thing we had to do was to pay for the flight to Bergen. In the announcement is also said it was only half an hour away from winter sport areas and my boyfriend, now husband, likes snowboarding. Because he is a computer programmer his workplace is very flexible. He still works for the same company in Amsterdam but just online. Culture is high on the scale here. They thought “if we not only have beautiful nature, fresh air and space, but also more culture, then maybe we can interest people to come and also interest more people not to leave our county”. It was a good idea. But if I would ever move to a countryside without artists, hmmm, I don’t know... It is nice to have people around who know how it is to work in this field.

Although it might seem as quite a big contrast to move from the country with the highest population density in the European Union, to a small village with little over 1600 inhabitants, Felieke claims that the move didn’t make a big impact on her artistic practise.

- I don’t see a difference and I don’t feel a difference. The only thing is that there are fewer distractions, but I have also a child now which is another kind of distraction. Here I have to arrange more, thinking about getting materials and sending work back and forth to international exhibitions because Norway is not a member of the European Union. And if I order gold - first of all - here 14K gold is more pink. I thought it was something Norwegian or Danish, but in the US gold seems to be also more pinkish. So when it has to be yellow I buy Dutch gold. Sometimes it takes more than a week to get the materials I need… In the Netherlands you call before three o’clock and have it the next day! Here you really have to plan, Felieke laughs.

- But no, I don’t have the feeling that the topics or the way I worked changed. That stayed the same, but my lifestyle has changed. I live now a much more healthy life, breathing in clean air, hiking in the mountains and working in the garden. This winter we have a lot of snow so I go almost every day cross country skiing just a ten minute drive from here. I loooove the snow! And after I saw the Swedish film “As it is in Heaven” by Kay Pollak, and for integration and language purposes, I joined the local choir. I never ever thought I would do that….
 Felieke van der Leest, necklace/brooch "African Caucasian Indian", 2014
Textile, gold, argentium

The move from the Netherlands to Norway in 2008 happened to take place just as the effects of the financial crisis started spreading over Europe.

- The support system here in Norway is very good still, especially compared to what it is now in the Netherlands. Since 2011 the Dutch budget for culture has been cut with 30%. Here in Norway there is not yet a finance crisis. One day it will probably come here too, lately the oil prices have plummeted…

Whether the financial crisis is solely to blame for the hard times for artistic practices is debatable. The dilemmas of the art jewellery community are frequently discussed on forums like Klimt02 and Art Jewelry Forum. Has Felieke been following the online discussions on how to improve the situation for art jewellery?

- I read it. I have thought about it. It is not that I have good ideas about what to do, but we all know that most of all we need more people to see and buy our work. I was one of those who just started at the time when there was a lot of support from the government. I have received several grants and a lot of my work is bought by museums and collectors. That is only for very few artists. I still can’t live from the work although I am quite well known, which is not very encouraging for the younger artists I can imagine. I am happy that my work is getting a lot of attention but I wish I could say that “Yes, I have a good income and I will have a good retirement plan”, those basic things for people my age with a normal job.

- If you are celebrated in fine arts you can make a living from your work. But the people who make fine art are with so many, much more than us jewellery people, and those who are at the top are the very few. If you would compare it to the jewellery society maybe just one of us can be that person. Our community is still small and we have not had that long history as in the fine arts.

- Maybe in twenty or fifty years it will be different. Our field is still young. It is interesting to look at photography. How long did it take for photography to become art and have higher prices and that art photographers are being able to live from their work? I hope that will happen to the art jewellery also. Our world is expending and a lot is happening in Asia and South America. There are many more jewellery makers now compared to twenty years ago. It must be very difficult to start now as a young designer. I had, not only luck, but when I graduated in 1996 it was with colourful works, which was not very common, it was with humour - also not very common, and it was with textile techniques, which just started to become popular. I was getting attention from both the jewellery world and the textile world. I was at the right time, the right place, with the right type of work and I got all this attention. It went very natural. But if you now would start with the same type of work it might not have worked out that way. 
- I hear from a lot of people that they love my work, they get inspired and happy so it does something to them, and that happens quite broad over the whole world. I am not making these works just because I like to make them and that’s it. I am sitting here on my own, working in my studio, and I am in a way a social type. So it wouldn’t have given me the strength to go on. I would have looked for a job or career in some other field. If what you create not only makes yourself happy but also others it makes a difference. So I continue. Whether if it is profitable or not. My aim is to make the world more beautiful. Let’s say that it is my contribution to this world, to make it a little bit better place.
 Felieke van der Leest, object with bracelet "Run Roadrunners Run !" 2013
Plastic animals, silver, glass beads, cubic zirconia, polyethylene.

Our Skype session is almost over, but I want to ask if Felieke has any advice for the young artists that are going into the field now?

- Be passionate about what you make. Show it to a lot of people, show also what beautiful and interesting works your colleagues make. We need to spread our works to become known everywhere. Wouldn’t it be great if one day we don’t have to explain anymore to people what contemporary jewellery exactly is, and it is as common as a painting? And some practical advice: I recommend making small editions, so your work is more affordable for costumers and make your own “zero” collection, very useful in the future. And of course, get good photographs of your work. It is an investment. I was once at a SNAG conference (The Society of North American Goldsmiths) where Boris Bally gave a lecture, and he was talking about good pictures. He said something like: “It costs a lot of money but if you have good pictures it can put your work on the cover of a magazine”. I took his advice and half a year later Brian the Lion was on the cover of an art magazine! And if an organizer of an exhibition asks for pictures send it as soon as possible. This increases the possibility that your work will be used in their PR campaign.

Into the Zoo is on show at CODA until May 25th, and then the exhibition will travel to Norway to be presented at the National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Trondheim in September. Other than that, what is up next for Felieke?
- At the moment I am working on a series of small brooches on which you can change parts, like changing clothes. Another thing I will do is participate in a landscape project. Last year I made a plastic trophy deer head with antlers that was wearing a necklace with a target pendant. It still hangs high up in a tree and it is quite big, about one by one meter. Artists from all over are invited to make art in our neighbourhood. This year I am thinking about making moths that are clinging to trees, and when pulling a string they hit their heads against the tree making different sounds... That will be fun for children too! When I was living in Amsterdam I was very into the jewellery community, but here I am the only art jeweller, so now I am more connected to other artists. There is also an Artist in Residency here which brings in artists from all over the world. I participate in projects which have nothing to do with jewellery, but being a jewellery maker you think in jewellery anyway, so in this upcoming landscape project the moths will be more or less like brooches for trees. And after that project I will submerge myself into the world of dinosaurs!
Felieke van der Leest, Camouflage Deer with Target Pendant, landscape project 2014.
Felieke van der Leest, Camouflage Deer with Target Pendant, landscape project 2014

© By the author. Read Copyright.