EO: What type of music were you making when you first started and had become cool?
NT: I was making music with a drum machine, bass guitar, and a lot of reverb. [Laughter.]
EO: Were you singing on the tracks or was it ambient?
NT: No. It was more punk and noisier, but simple music. It meant more to me in the long run as a developmental thing. Though there was something to it.
EO: What happened once you arrived at school?
NT: I was very impressed with the potential of graphic design, that you can work in the cultural industry and actually make money. Also, the person who ran the department, Linda van Deursen, she was so cool and a total role model. She did all of the graphic design for the cultural institutions in Amsterdam, and it felt like the first time that I could be a professional but also make cool stuff, which was wild for me, because before you could only have it one way.
EO: Yeah, you had to compromise your integrity by being a professional.
NT: Exactly. It was the first time I thought, 'Wow, you could be a cool creative thinking person and be a professional functioning in society.'
EO: Did you always feel like you had to be practical?
NT: Yes, of course! Where I come from, you can’t just be bohemian. It’s not an option. Just being an artist was never something that crossed my mind, until I started making money as an artist. It was so deeply ingrained in me that I had to be practical. After I graduated from school I got a job working in a graphic design studio. And then I don’t know how it happened, but I started to do these spoken word performances.
EO: Had you done performance before?
NT: No, I graduated with my B.A. with a video featuring a voiceover component. Someone during the graduation show was like, “Oh my god, you should perform the voiceover work.” It was all so random. My whole career I've never decided to do anything. It was mostly one thing leading to the next and deciding what to invest my energy into, which is how it is to this day. I don’t think it was the most compelling performance, but I think people found it strange and engaging. I think this happens with a lot of artists. They get this initial interest in their practice, not because the work is necessarily compelling but because there is an idea that something more is there.
I was performing a lot, and then at one point it got plugged back into graphic design. I thought, wait a minute, I’m performing these words but I can also make them into exhibitions, [Laughter] because I have six years of typography education, and maybe it could be interesting to start combining the two things together.
EO: Did anything specific happen to make you feel that way?
NT: It’s very hard to be a performance artist in the art world, exclusively performing, because no one takes you seriously. Infrastructurally it’s bullshit and you can’t make any money. There’s this whole part of me which was craving graphic design. Things collided. My life as a performance artist was lacking the space to work with words visually, and the graphic design side was missing typography and printmaking, and then somehow very rationally it came to me to combine the two of them.
EO: Do you think there was a desire to create a tactile object or experience, one that isn’t completely ephemeral?
NT: For the performance, and content of the performances, they both possess ephemeral aspects that pass by very quickly, whether they’re the words I’m saying or the murals that I'm designing for installation. With physical works I try to do something counterintuitive. I want to use something that is so temporal and fluffy and work with it to present it in a classic way.
EO: Like an advertisement or catchy showtune?
NT: Yeah, I find that kind of persistence interesting, creating that type of language and using that structure.