Interview with Teja van Hoften

The expansive view of the house in Celleno is like a living cinema, where the sheep pass by every day and where the stream flows in the valley, carrying parts of fossil sea lily, which connects us to millions of years ago. The tranquility of repetition, the unfailing eternal rhythm of the changing seasons.

The first image that comes to mind when I think of Celleno is the blooming mimosa in the
garden of CAM. Marinus and I arrived in Celleno in early March 2009. In Germany it was
still mid-winter with lots of snow. But once across the mountains of Austria, it was suddenly
so much milder in Italy, with spring in the air. We were amazed that so many people had
moved to the wrong side of the mountains…
How suddenly a slight haze of gentle spring green appeared between the bare branches. And
later white clouds of cherry blossom, tall colza, sunbathing lizards and even a snake in the
garden. The tilting shadows under the olive trees revealing the slopes of the hills.
And the music of silence. Only sounds from nature, the bustling stream, the birds. The peace
and quiet of really dark nights that worked on me like a cleansing cure. That is what I enjoyed
most in Celleno. No TV, no telephone, no visitors and the two of us didn’t speak much. But
all around us nature sparkled, scented and chirped in full spring.
I had brought branch-like ceramic shapes for which I made crocheted counter-images, the soft
answer to the hard stiffening of baked clay. I could have done that anywhere, but I discovered
things that I continued working on at home, such as the lymph vessels / galaxies of seaweed
balls, the spermatozoids of sea lily stems, the gut-like bamboo roots, the rubbings of the floor,
which I later carved into and transformed into an artist’s book ‘con amenta in mente’.
And I kept a diary:
For a week it was almost summer, but now it is freezing cold, 4 degrees with a strong
northerly wind. After walking through Bagnoregio, now back inside with a large supply of
groceries, a good soup at noon and the stove on. It’s chilly outside. I bury myself in the
In 1973 I spent a week in Rome and bought postcards of the paintings in Tarquinia, but there
was no time to visit them. For years, they had been hanging on the wall above the dining table
during my art school years and in my mind they had grown to Egyptian proportions. I
absolutely wanted to go there. But as it often happens, seeing them was disappointing, at least
the human figures on show were. You will notice other things such as the nicely drawn
garlands and wallpaper patterns. And how impressive it was to discover underground
Etruscan rows of beds while walking around Castel d ́Asso, where no tourists go. A landscape
with hidden body cavities. (The relationship between body and landscape always plays an
important role in teja van hoften’s work.)
Rinie’s beamer is out of order and to Monica for advice. She lends us an old monitor straight
away, shows us around the house and introduces us to her five cats. How nice they are!
Afterwards to the sulfur bath. Soaking up next to total strangers for an hour feels a bit

Moving about in the afternoon and going to the river to look for some kind of trumpet-shaped
shells. Fossils? Legs of some kind of lobsters? Or the tubes of tube worms? I don’t know, but
they are beautiful and I could string them. (Heard at home from Corien that they are fossil
sea lily stalks.)
On my way stopped at an eight-inch long earthworm, which was bravely crossing the road.
Slowly retracting and slipping, it suddenly changed direction and its tail was now its head. At
home I cleaned the shells with a needle and a crochet hook for two hours while Rinie made
his first rain prints. Moments later it was pouring. He has made an exciting film of that.
Snow! Cold but sunny, so the whiteness disappeared quickly. Walked another loop from the
house and studied the flock of sheep from a different mountain. The flock looks like water, the
way the sheep move across the slopes. They are like one body, yet they remain a mass made
up of individuals. After all, I have never seen any fall behind, then suddenly realize that and
quickly follow the group in a faster gear. They crawl over the land like weeds, but faster.
Slower than a flock of birds. Yet it is usually like this: One sheep takes the lead and the flock
changes direction.
How different our lives are compared to that of the restless travelling artist Johan
Cornelissen whose book I am reading. Here in Celleno all that counts for us is being and
receiving: The way the wind blows, what the view is like today, the season we have ended up
in. We already have quite a steady rhythm of going to bed early and getting up early. And we
want to be outside as much as we can. A three-hour walk on most days, sometimes a bit
longer. And the rest of the day we work intuitively without worrying too much, preferably out
in the open as well. Last night while doing some chores we played some music but turned it
off almost straight away. The silence makes me very sensitive to sounds. I hear the sheep
trotting, their chewing, the rustling rain, thousands of birds and the expansion and
contraction of pinecones in the bowl. And that is all we need.
Before we left for Italy I was very busy getting organised and with the work that had to be
finished. That was only “giving” and very exhausting. But that is also a way to turn off
“thinking” by just “doing” all the time. Here in Celleno it is not “thinking” either because of
my “being” all the time. Still, Johan Cornelissen’s book got me thinking about what I am
doing in my life and actually that is not good at all for me (I was already worried as a child).
Living here and now is so much healthier.
Pictures made of ant streets with small round houses like stomata of the earth’s crust.
Monica comes over to invite us to dinner. We arrive there at half past five. The barbecue is
still glowing. There are about fifteen friends of theirs. Everyone is chatting and drinking. Two
hours later we are the only guests left… We had completely misunderstood. In the
Netherlands, people have dinner at 6 pm. At home we quickly started cooking.
In the evening we looked at the moon, which was almost full and sitting behind a cotton wool
ball. The shivering lights in the distance make you understand how much activity there is
around you, which you actually do not notice during the day.
With lame legs, bleeding from the blackberries and soaking wet, we were happy to be back
home behind the tear-filled windows.

After all this sunshine we got such a dense fog that I started making rubbings of the tile floor
inside to use these in a booklet with photos of floors and walls. The tiles have such beautiful
structures. After that we walked to Roccalvecce along paths we knew well by then. But how
different everything looks now that all trees are in bloom. From a distance we notice white
spots: the blossoming cherry trees. Around the oak one can see the old brown withered leaves
hanging on the same twigs next to the fresh green ones. An orange-yellow haze is now
hanging across the ends of the poplars in the river valley. And where there was a rock wall
last week, there is now a bright yellow surface of man-sized colza. Spring and autumn with
their changeability are the most exciting seasons.
Now two days at home behind the computer and telephone. Would have thought to experience
the wealth of cherries for a second time, but the Netherlands has overtaken Italy this year,
with a thick green foliage and even apple and pear already blooming.

Translation Hans Kal

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