Jonas Van der Haegen – An Interview

Jonas Van der Haegen (°1996, Ghent) is a queer artist who is currently based in Belgium, doing his Master’s program at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. His work functions as visual research in the artist’s personal life and interests and touches subjects like sexuality, identity, and relationships.

He researches the relationship between himself and his models and the connection that is created. His work questions how we approach gender and sexuality in the 21st century in the frame of freedom and under the influence of the internet. //

KB: I believe you are currently based in Ghent? How much do you feel location still affects an artist’s work?

I’m currently living back in my hometown since moving back from Japan. It’s very small, and things are calm here, which I can appreciate, and it gives me the time and space to reflect on my work. I’m also finishing my MA program here in Ghent at KASK currently. Working in your home town has definitely an effect of comfort, which can be nice at times when you are doing more editing work. To produce my work, I mostly get out of here and go to places to photograph and create. 

I have lately been thinking of moving after graduating this summer. The idea feels very refreshing and inspiring as my place now is more like that comfort zone but also comes with the feeling of being stuck sometimes. I always got attracted by big cities, but I also realize the price of giving up the luxury of space and time that I have now. 

KB: What would you say are the major themes in your work?

As a queer artist, I’ve always been attracted to subjects like sexuality and identity as it was always a personal issue growing up. For me producing work is naturally about my own world or part of my life. With my recent work, I’ve been reflecting on what the role of my previous work was and I could understand that there is an urge in me to look or fight for freedom and equality. 

The latest work I produced in Tokyo was when I reached the point of realization that I have a role as an artist. To tell something more than just a story. That my work could be used as a political weapon as it grew into a bigger project that was produced in collaboration with the LGBTQIAP+ center in Japan. That made me comprehend that my work can be more and that I should do more as an artist. 

KB: You do photography, videos, sculpting. Which medium started it all for you?

For me, it mostly started with photography. I’ve been attracted to other arts as well, but I always preferred photography because it’s a very easy medium to produce work with. Everyone can photograph, and it’s just a click away. On the other hand, you don’t have much input as an artist in the whole process, unlike a painter, for example, who chooses the paint, the way he paints, colors, the kind of canvas…

For that reason, there was a period when I really disliked photography. I had the urge to put more of myself into it. After some time, I realized that you could put so much personality in photography in details and presentation but also puts you on the spot as an artist. Replicating beautiful scenes is easy, and everyone can do it. For me, it’s reflecting on photography as a medium, your subject and yourself and creating a concept of a world that brings something to the table. 

I personally prefer to mix different mediums nowadays. I’m very attracted to sounds, so in presentations there will be mostly some kind of sound included. Also presenting work could be an installation, and it is very important for me. Hanging a picture is easy, but finding a balance in a room and being versatile is an art on itself. 

KB: Where do you draw inspiration from? Is your daily life a big part of your work?

My personal life definitely has an impact on my work; it would be weird if it wouldn’t. As I’m still young, I grow and mature in my work as in my daily life. You also build up a relationship with your work after years, which reflects partly on your personal and daily life. For me the relationship between my personal life and work has been always very close. I think for me that’s the most authentic way and how I feel comfortable producing work. 

I draw inspiration from different things. From other artists that I really enjoy or exhibitions that got curated very well. But I mostly get inspired by music. I always aspired to make music, but never really learned so far. Lately, I’ve also been very into perfumes and the process of creating it. 

KB: Are you working on any publications now?

With my graphic designer, I’m currently putting together a book of my work I made in Japan in 2018 – 19. I would love to get it published soon when we get it finished because I think the work is worth to be seen after all the effort and labor that went into it. I’m not sure yet if I want to self-publish or work with a publisher. 

KB: Are you working on something specific right now?

I’ve recently started on a new project, where I’m visually researching the concept of freedom. Freedom as a right, freedom as a concept, freedom as a symbol … It’s still in its baby shoes, but I definitely think it’s an interesting topic living in these times. We will see how that will go…