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Iekeliene Stange and Victor de Bie present Umfeld

Model Iekeliene and artist Victor take you for a ride of tea parties, polaroids and dreamy paintings at The Horse Hospital.

Walking down the cobbled street outside the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury and down the dark, cold, little stone corridor at its entrance, you could never anticipate that soon you’ll be entering the surreal, quirky and utterly unique world of Dutch model Iekeliene Stange and her good friend, Amsterdam-based artist Victor de Bie. This is ‘Being John Malcovich’ but prettier, with better cheekbones, and lovely home-made cakes. What’s not to like?

Iekeliene’s Polaroids of friends with flowers in their hair, loved ones lying on top of wooden houses, a faded horse and carriage or a herd of goats in the Norwegian woods, are hung alongside Victor’s paintings and drawings of friends all hastily gathered together or re-imagined in a dreamlike Dutch Master manner as surreal Catholic Cardinals. Don’t be surprised to see the odd wooden horse lying around too. If Victor had got his way, it’d be a giant knitted pony!
We sat down with some tea and Iekeliene’s yoghurt and banana cake to find out more.

Dazed Digital: Victor, you studied fashion design initially but you didn’t chose to go into fashion in that way, why?
Victor De Bie: Well, I love fashion but actually, I got so unmotivated working for designers. They work so hard and for so long and if you’re lucky after 10 years you’ll make some money. I found it a bit frustrating. I loved to design and to draw things but it was difficult for me to really make a collection out of it or to organise a production because in the end fashion design is only about 10% designing and making something cool and then all the rest comes after.

DD: Money, the business…
Victor De Bie: Yeah, and I just couldn’t handle it. The thing that I liked the most about fashion, was creating the fashion drawings and maybe, you know, the first toile. Afterwards, I really had to work, “ok, now I have to finish it because I’ve started!” And when you’re at art school you always have to explain everything and you can’t just say “because I like it”, “because it’s beautiful”! I came out of school and started making more and more drawings and then on canvas, with more colours and more backgrounds, more people or more faces. That’s what I wanted to do, get out the things I couldn’t voice.

DD: How would you describe your style? What do you like? There’s a lot of colour!
Victor De Bie: That’s very difficult. Yeah, that’s the first thing you see. Some of it is a bit of a trip, you see colours and you think ‘cool’, you run to it to have a look and then you’re like ‘hmmm, there’s also something happening that’s not that cool’, you know? There are always groups of people or faces and a lot of historical details.

DD: Are there a lot of friends and family in them?
Victor De Bie: Yes, there are a couple with Iekeliene. There’s one of my nephew. It’s a big painting I made for his birth and it has all these details like the Spanish flag, he’s half-Spanish, and the Catalonia flag from Barcelona, because he lives in Barcelona so I have to have both on it, and that’s the ring of the family of my mother, and the birds are the guardian angels. There’s a self-portrait in the corner, as a clown, and under the window is a big painting full of people I accidentally drew. It’s all very personal.

DD: How did the idea came about of mixing the two, Iekeliene’s Polaroids and your paintings?
Victor De Bie: It was a bit of a coincidence because we met about 5 years ago in Rotterdam, I scouted her in the streets..

DD: So, is it true that you ‘discovered’ her?
Victor De Bie: Yeah, that’s true, ‘discover’ is such a big word, she’s very special, very beautiful and she was like my painting!

DD: How did it happen?
Victor De Bie: I ran after her, and she was in dreadlocks and piercings everywhere, she was like a walking rainbow, and I said, “Stop, do you want to be a model?” I was scouting then for IMG, and she said, “Me a model? But I’m not beautiful!” and I just wanted to cry! I first sent her picture to another agency in Paris and they said ‘Victor, we really like your style but now you went too far!’ They really said ‘C’est pas possible, c’est pas possible!’
Iekeliene Stange: I was like ‘Oh, this silly man, who is this!’ I had no idea, I was an art student and a punk rocker with dreadlocks in my hair, Victor still makes fun of me. It was quite a funny situation.
Victor De Bie: I saw my painting running around! I remember you were walking under a light, and suddenly I saw your features, with all the shadows, you know. I was very much inspired by Iekeliene from the first moment and then we became friends, which sometimes happens when you meet people and just click, we actually do the same things, we both have very personal styles…

DD: I was going to say just that because her photographs and your paintings really do compliment each other.
Victor De Bie: Yes, I didn’t know that so was very happy with it! I saw them in the computer, we skyped, and now I’m very happy to see it all together, it really works very well. What I really like about Iekeliene’s pictures is that they’re very personal, there are also the backstage pictures but we chose to do this because it’s so personal, with old friends and family, same as my paintings, with strange or surreal inspirations, so that’s why we decided to put it together. So, actually we’re telling the same story but we’re both telling our story, our ‘Umfelds’, which is why we chose the word.

DD: What does 'Umfeld' mean?
Victor De Bie: The word ‘umfeld’ is a German word, we use it in Dutch to describe our surroundings but it’s more than that, so we don’t have a word for it, I don’t even know the word in English. It’s like surroundings and also atmosphere, it can be anything, thoughts or people you like or don’t like.
Iekeliene Stange: We were very enthusiastic one day in Amsterdam. At first we thought of these backstage pictures that I have but that’s so predictable, you know, we wanted to do something really personal. We have very similar imaginary worlds that we live in! We inspire each other as well and there are certain things, like this picture [a Polaroid of a girl wearing five different hats on top of each other] is inspired by Victor, he always wears lots of hats on top of each other. That’s why it’s our ‘Umfeld’, it’s our surroundings, all our close family and friends, very personal. We’re also kind of disconnected with what’s going on in the rest of the art world so we just do whatever we think is nice.

DD: So do you think the exhibition will travel to other cities?
Iekeliene Stange: We’re thinking about it, we’ll see how it goes, if we’re still up for it! It’s a lot of organising, there’s so much that comes along with it. When we sat down in Amsterdam with Victor in the summer, we came up with all these ideas and Victor always gets carried away like “Let’s knit a pony!” and once we started putting it all together we were like ‘Oh wait, we need to do this and that…’

DD: Were you always into photography or is it something you stumbled upon?
Iekeliene Stange: No, I’ve always been into photography a lot, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do and I actually applied to go to Art school to do photography but I ended up studying multimedia design. And then, I got into modelling, Victor scouted me. So that’s how it all began. I went along with it for a few years and then moved to London to study but I couldn’t actually afford it and then another agency scouted me here, Select, they were really enthusiastic and had a very different approach to it so I decided to give it another go. I complain about it a lot but actually I must admit that it’s helped me a lot, financially. It has broadened my vision a lot, the travelling, meeting so many different people. I do realise that I was very lucky, especially when I see my friends now and my friends are broke and with the recession they can’t get jobs and I’m complaining about what I do!

DD: What are your plans with the photography side of things, do you want to take it further?
Iekeliene Stange: Actually, my plan is to get more into photojournalism, that’s what I’m really passionate about. All those old-school Magnum photographers, I’m reading their biographies now and for me it’s so inspiring to be able to use photography as a medium to change things in the world, to show things to people that are happening and find my own way of doing that as well.

DD: Your backstage photography is a whole different thing and it must be interesting to document that too.
Iekeliene Stange: Yeah, I do realise that there are people interested in seeing those kind of pictures because it is from a different perspective than what you usually see. I know all the people, I know the girls and they act differently to me, they feel more relaxed. I like to capture the girls in a moment when they’re not aware of it. I think it’s nice for me to experiment with cameras, there’s so much waiting around and I find it quite funny because I get so bored! Always with Galliano and Dior I feel I have to take pictures because it’s so amazing!

DD: Tell us a little more about these pictures and the stories behind them.
Iekeliene Stange: A lot of the pictures are taken in Norway, in the North, where a good friend of mine is from. Her parents live in one of these little red wooden houses that they’ve built themselves, it’s really lovely. It’s also about some of my favourite places, it’s so beautiful there and the nature is untouched, like here, you can see the goats where we went hiking in the mountain.

DD: They’re very folksy, like fairy tales…
Iekeliene Stange: Yes and I like folk tales, so I’m inspired by that and some of them are more inspired by Dutch nursery rhymes. I just like for people to be able to look at each image and really go up close to it because they’re all little Polaroids, like little windows, and with each image to make up their own story and think ‘Who’s this character, what’s going on here, what is this little house?’ And I also have this very crazy colourful side of me so there’s the carrousel, the ponies, and that goes well with what Victor does.

DD: Do you take time to plan the shot or is it more instant?
Iekeliene Stange: A lot of times I’ll see certain things and I just take it whereas this one for example [a self-portrait of Iekeliene with her hair down, standing in front of a wooden house in the woods] is more set-up, I knew what I wanted and I told my boyfriend how to take it. This one was on a trip down to Devon, also one of my favourite places.

DD: Devon is very folksy too!
Iekeliene Stange: Oh, I love it! It’s so beautiful and green, I’d love to have a little cottage house there.

DD: Any other places that you’d like to go to?
Iekeliene Stange: So many actually! I have so many trips planned. I want to go to Eastern Europe, Romania and Ukraine, and I also want to go to the North of Scandinavia where the Sami people live and I’d love to do something about them. These people are the only indigenous people in Europe and they’re getting extinct. We just live such funny lives in this side of the world, we’re busy with such silly things.

"Umfeld" at The Horse Hospital, 30 Colonnade, WC1N 1JD open until 4th April (11am - 5.30pm) with high tea served between 3pm and 5pm.