Born in the Dutch town of Hoevelaken in 1985, Levi van Veluw studied at the ArtEZ Institute of Fine Art in Arnhem before taking up an internship with photographer Erwin Olaf. Photography is an important theme in Van Veluw’s work, and he also sculpts in various media, but his subject is always the same: himself. For Origin of the Beginning – a recent, rather sombre, series of installations for the Ron Mandos Gallery in Rotterdam – Van Veluw set off in a new direction, using small pieces of wood (squares, balls and slats) to re-create the bedroom of his childhood.
This interview is from our 2016 publication One Artist, One Material: Fifty-five makers on their medium, available for purchase here.
What inspired the mosaic-like rooms in Origin of the Beginning?
LEVI VAN VELUW:They are about my childhood, a time when I didn’t have very much structure in my life. I was searching for control, which resulted in an obsession with structure, pattern and repetition.
I was thinking about my self portraits and trying to find out where my fixation on materials and structures came from. So I decided to go back to my youth and re-create the personal environment where the obsession started. When I was a child, I used to spend a lot of time in my bedroom all by myself, and I was always experimenting with materials. I took three elements from those memories and built three rooms around them.
Dare I ask – how many wooden blocks did you use in the room based on squares?
I used 14,000 of them, and each one measures 16 cm2. I made them all myself. The room measures 4 x 2.5 x 2.5 m, just like the other two. They are all life-sized. If you add up the squares, balls and slats, it comes to 30,000 different pieces, each of which I placed by hand.
Must have taken ages.
I started in November and finished in May. Along with the accompanying photos and videos, it was way too much work in such a short time.
Why use such a repetitive material and technique?
The square symbolizes a kind of symmetry and precision. But I glued all the blocks by hand, one by one, without using any measuring instruments, so although it looks organized, actually everything is skewed. I wanted the work to show the struggle needed to lend structure to the chaos of blocks. It's about me searching for control.
Then in the room with all the wooden balls, you see a pattern on the left side that blends into chaos. This was a returning nightmare I had at that time, trying to keep the rolling balls in one line, but eventually ending up in chaos. In this work, you see me losing control.
Your works are solely self portraits. Why?
For me, it works to keep the concept close to myself. I don’t have any ambitions to create political or social work.
Yet in your work you are hardly ever recognizable.
That’s because it’s not really about me. I just use myself as a subject. If you could see me, the blocks would become a suit, and that’s not what I want. The setting has to look believable and real.
Are you planning more works in this medium?
Yes, but maybe more as an experience – as something you can walk through.