‘It’s still a little… neat and tidy here’, says first-year student Håkan Karvonen, slightly exasperated as he enters a room on the 17th floor of the INNSiDE hotel. His lecturer from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Olle Stjerne, briefly looks around and nods in agreement. ‘It’ll be fine in the end. We’ll just put some plastic down. Lots of plastic.’ That may well be necessary – Karvonen plans to spend the next few weeks working in the hotel on three oil paintings that, when completed, will be used to decorate the bathroom walls. The room looks spotless and even still smells new. Hardly surprising, of course, for a room in a hotel that only opened its doors a month ago. Karvonen plans on moving in there tomorrow. But before he brings his canvases and painting equipment, he’s doing a final inspection to check how the sunlight is cast on the bathroom wall.
Karvonen is one of 14 Rietveld students who are being allowed to convert a room at the INNSiDE hotel into an artist’s studio. Not all Rietveld students studying art have this honour: the students had to give a presentation and the best were selected by people from the hotel and lecturers. The condition: their art must be in some way related to the room in which it is created and will be put on display there. Karvonen’s plan passed with flying colours. ‘Before making a proposal, we were allowed to look around the hotel’, explains the student. ‘I noticed that when you’re in the bath tub, you’re looking straight at a wall. It made me think: what would you like to see at a time like that? As a hotel guest, you’re in a strange room in an unknown city. I think I’d like to have a sense of home. Especially when you get into the bath and are relaxing.’
This turns out to be a very personal association. Originally from Sweden, Karvonen grew up in a skiing village in the northern expanses of that country, but his father is Finnish. For years – before arriving in Amsterdam to devote himself to art – he travelled around the world as a head chef. ‘I had to make everywhere my home. I discovered that it’s all to do with where your roots lie. That’s why I plan to take my own family’s history as the starting point for the paintings.’ The photographer who has come to capture Karvonen on camera is rubbing his hand across the bathroom wall. ‘Aren’t you worried that those paintings will soon get wet through?’ Karvonen grins. ‘It may be nice if the work blends organically into the space.’
This is exactly what Sjoerd Sybesma, General Manager at the INNSiDE hotel, is also hoping. He was the one who, just a year ago, came up with the idea of a partnership with the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. ‘We’re virtually neighbours. So, I thought: when you open a hotel as big as this, you need to connect with the local area. Otherwise, the hotel might just as well be in Madrid or London.’ Sybesma admits that he is not really an art buff. ‘But how cool is it that there’ll be soon be paintings hanging here that can be seen nowhere else in the world?’
The art works vary from paintings to installations and even video animations that will be shown on the screens in the lift. In the skybar – the centrepiece of this 19-storey hotel – one student is even working on a sculpture that is 6 metres tall. Olle Stjerne, the guest lecturer and former student of Gerrit Rietveld Academie who is supervising the project, proudly shows us it all. ‘It’s a wonderful challenge for the students to connect art to a specific room. At the same time, they’re learning about the interface with business, which is something they’ll also have to deal with when they graduate.’
In the corridor of another floor, we encounter a French student dressed in work clothes. She recently collected together the telephones from various hotel rooms and took a photo of them. This will be hung in one of the hotel rooms complete with a QR code to tell guests more about her project. ‘I’m doing the same with mattresses, which I placed against the window yesterday in order to take photos of them.’ She opens a hotel room door to show us, but looks slightly surprised. The mattress that she so carefully manoeuvred against the window has been placed tidily back onto the bed. ‘I guess that the cleaners didn’t fully understand the idea’, she laughs.
It will be possible to see the Rietveld students’ works in the INNSiDE hotel starting at the end of June, depending on circumstances, of course.
Text: Iris Cohen