Kloster Bentlage

In March 2023, an international group of draftsmen gathered at Kloster Bentlage in Rheine, Germany, brought together and guided by Lisanne Sloots and Emmy Bergsma. They shared knowledge about charcoal and experimented intensively for ten days, resulting in an exhibition there (April-June 2023) and present at Rijksmuseum Twenthe (January-May 2024). They also published a book about it.

Prior to the work period in 2023, there was an introductory weekend in September 2022. That first evening was already special. In the meadow behind the "Bauernhaus" of Kloster Bentlage we made a fire in a large fire bowl, around which everyone gathered. In the afternoon we had done the preparatory work to fire the charcoal: cut the decomposed branches of different types of trees we had brought with us to size and then put them in cans and filled them with sand. We retrieved dried logs, made pizza for dinner and brought that to the fire with wine.

While the drawing materials for the next day were being stoked in this fire, the first conversations about types of paper, fixative, various firing methods and the way we use charcoal in our drawing practice got underway. That this ancient material is still a challenge as an independent medium was clear.

Present at this first meeting were all the participating artists: Susanne von Bülow (Germany), Daniela Baumann, Benjamin Nachtwey, Jitske Bakker, Emmy Bergsma, Agatha van Amée, Gerben Dirven, Lisanne Sloots (Netherlands) and Fabrice Cazenave (France).

Day two we organized short presentations of the own drawings brought along in different rooms in the monastery. Gerrit Musekamp of Kloster Bentlage and Josien Beltman of Rijksmuseum Twenthe also came by, to get acquainted with each other and everyone's work. That same day there were already some exploratory drawing activities, individually and collectively. That tasted like more.

Jitske Bakker:
Just being surrounded by the persistent soft, scratchy background noises everyone produced as they worked with charcoal on paper in different ways at different paces was already very motivating.

Between the 2022 weekend and the 2023 artist-in-residence period, there were studio visits between some of the artists, to learn each other's working methods or work on the same drawing. The results and experiences were shared with the whole group through monthly zoom sessions. Practical preparations and material questions were also addressed in this way.

Sharing studio secrets and the belief that sharing knowledge actually enriches everyone was an important part of this charcoal project. The artists were carefully chosen for their varied use of charcoal as well as their openness and willingness to share knowledge in an intensive artists-in-residence period in one shared space, where normally artists work in the privacy of their own studios.

Fabrice Cazenave:
When I was invited to participate in this charcoal project, I immediately became excited by the idea of sharing the "secrets" of our practice. I could share my method for firing charcoal and in return I learned new techniques.

The "Scheune," a large open space on the grounds of Kloster Bentlage, became our shared studio, where ideas were explored and results hung on the walls or lay on the floor. There was a large work table for everyone and a number of standing partitions, allowing us to create our own workspace. Here each artist's activities, including experimenting, failing and making new discoveries, were visible to all. We regularly joined each other to look at a specific technique or process or exchange knowledge about the types of paper or charcoal used, which provided a continuous flow of exchange among the participants.

Benjamin Nachtwey:
The time in Bentlage was wonderful for me and full of new experiences. Working together with the "coalmates" in one room, participating in the experiments, developments and discoveries of the others, in a well-functioning, inspiring group.

Every morning, after breakfast provided by Kloster Bentlage, the group made a round, discussing each other's work process. That daily exchange of thoughts and ideas proved inspiring for next steps. Critical questions and supportive conversations were valuable for moving forward with content. Those conversations continued at the dining table in the common living room or in the kitchen of the "Bauernhaus. Where the delicious lunch and part of the evening meal was brought by Nadine Schaepmeijer of Kloster Bentlage. Those meals increased the togetherness that was also important during the exchanges when drawing.

Agatha of Amée:
The dynamics and trust among themselves in the group was so open and welcoming that during the working period in Kloster Bentlage any possible reservations about working in a group and a different environment immediately fell away.

Nature around the monastery was another source of inspiration. Early in the morning around six o'clock the first draftsmen started with "morning sessions" outside or in the "Scheune. After breakfast and the morning round, work then continued on their own. Outside among the trees or by the river Ems, which flows behind the monastery. These influences from outside can also be seen in the nature-inspired works.

Jitske Bakker: I saw the work period as an opportunity to absorb as much as possible of what I cannot find in my studio alone.

Lisanne Sloots: I let myself be guided by the birds in the forest, at the sound of a great tit my hand tended to make a different movement than at the cooing of a dove. That's how free, agile works emerged.

The pile of discarded drawings also became a source of new discoveries. Where some could no longer continue, others were happy with new starting points.

Gerben Dirven:
Perhaps the most immediate new inspiration was working on drawings with other artists. Whether I was trying to repeat markings or match details, I had never paid so much attention to other artists' handwriting.

Afterwards, everyone indicated they went into the work period "open. Learning from each other, being near each other was a common denominator.

Emmy Bergsma:
I started making daily drawings of the environment, as a kind of studies, but I didn't recognize my own visual language in them.

The project was accompanied by a trilingual publication: HOUTSKOOL, HOLZKOHLE, CHARCOAL in which the experiences gained are shared with a wider audience. This publication also includes a personal essay by illustrator Marcel van Eeden, insights into the history of charcoal, various firing methods and intriguing interviews with all nine artists, written by Josien Beltman. The book is illustrated with drawings made before, during and after the residency.

Susanne von Bülow:
During my days in Bentlage, I decided to work on a technique that was new to me - screen printing - and a new material: charcoal. It was not easy to share my uncertainty, my panic with a large group.

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