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"Life in Art is a Party!"


Against the wall in the studio of Bima Engels are meters of large abstract oil paintings. In front of them lies a long wooden beam on two trestles. The beam is clearly chopped. Bima runs through the thick layer of wood chips that covers almost the entire floor of the studio, lifts the beam and sets it aside. On the free trestles he places a framed drawing, upside down; so we have a table on which, next to my recording device, the baklava and the croissants he bought could stand. Let's get started.
Bima Engels talks a lot and enthusiastically about the Rotterdam art world, about artists and galleries, about his contacts with colleagues and sharing his love for art. "Life in art is a party" he once said to me during the presentation of an artist he co-signed for 'De Aanschouw' in the Witte de Withstraat. "A party to be celebrated with as many colleagues in art as possible.

Now at his studio he says that the allocation of a studio by the SKAR, three years ago, was also worth a party and a mention on his CV. "SKAR is a recognized organization and as a tenant I notice that I am taken more seriously in the art world. It looks well taken care of here, serious artists work here, that gives me support, and that's something that helps me a lot. I had an anti-squatting studio, that was awful, while I was working there it was demolished and rebuilt, the ceiling came down. Then you have no rights as an anti-squatter, really a-social. After a month I was gone. You couldn't do that.
His studio is located "deep in the south", as he himself says and hidden between the small workers' cottages of Bloemhof: "Sometimes almost impossible to find for my visitors and what's going on in here is hardly known to the people living in the neighbourhood".
"For me, my studio is really my place, my laboratory where I can work and research, you can't do that at home, especially when you work with oil paint like me. I work quite large and need a lot of space. Now I'm also chopping wood." He gestures to the beam and all the wood chips on the floor, "not to do at home. I can draw there, that's like writing and you can do anywhere. Usually I have a book with me, then I can write down my thoughts or make a drawing."

I'm a connector, that's my quality, I can do that, I can step in anywhere because there's no expectation pattern. You can't expect anything from me, I'm not in the position to buy anything and I don't want to get richer. So there's no tension, people talk to you much easier because you're an artist and you don't have any money. But I might be able to make a connection. That business is not for me. If all the artists would help each other you would get more collaborations and exchanges, if you could stimulate that... that would be so good.
And you know, there are big companies here in Rotterdam, like the Port Authority and Unilever, which all have departments that deal with art. Skar should invite those people, organize studio routes. Somebody from SKAR should do that, somebody who's above the parties, that's more pleasant."

"And that 'Behold', I was there for a month curator, that was a great success, because all the works have been sold and that's all for the artists. That's fantastic, that's the best. There was so much public, I like to go to openings myself, that's wonderful. Then I go out on research, trying to find art treasures. I know about all the galleries in Rotterdam, but there should be a lot more exhibition opportunities. What I have in mind is that artists from all kinds of different studio buildings are going to make an exhibition together. In a building owned by SKAR. I hope that one day Skar will create a place as an exhibition space for the artists, for the tenants of Skar. That seems fantastic to me. It could result in a lot of interaction between the artists. Maybe someone from SKAR should be set up to organize that. I would like to see that in the centre, or against the centre, nice and central then you have a lot of run-ins. I have that in my head."

He laughs when I ask if that's not something for him to do: "No, it's not up to me because I don't have a place like that. And it's very difficult, very difficult! But it would be very good to strengthen the ties between the artists without disturbing the peace and quiet in each other's studios".

At the end of the conversation we walk outside and Bima shows me the spaces around the studio building: deserted seats of the various artists hidden among the somewhat neglected greenery. Outside the high fence the workers' cottages of Bloemhof seem to be deserted and there is no one on the street.