Birgitta de Vos

The Dutch autodidact discusses her second start as a bookmaker.

  • Words Harriet Fitch Little

Birgitta de Vos works from a studio in the Dutch countryside and lives on a converted cargo boat in Amsterdam, christened The Iron Lady in honor of its huge rusting hull. But the former trend forecaster and fashion designer insists that inspiration can strike anywhere: her limited-run books—which collage together art, photography and poetic texts—are generally the product of settings and sensations she encounters while traveling. To mark the publication of her third book Omnipresent | Beyond Borders, De Vos is hosting an exhibition at The Kinfolk Gallery.

With their cohesive handmade covers, your three books certainly seem like a series. Is there an overarching theme?
I ask myself the same question! I think all my books are about waking people up in some way. In this book [Omnipresent | Beyond Borders], it’s about how we see the world around us and think we need to take care of it in some way—but we need to take care of ourselves. The world would take very good care of itself if we didn’t abuse it. We have to change, not the earth.

In the book, you use a combination of drone and close up photography. Why?
It’s about taking a step back and zooming in. There’s also a cross on the book’s cover which signifies that we are the center, whether from a drone perspective or a close-up. We run in all different directions—East, North, South, West—and think it’s outside of us that change needs to happen, but really it’s inside.

You’ve designed fashion collections, made art and taken photos. What’s the appeal of working primarily in a book format?
I’m inspired wherever I go. It’s a gift, but also there’s too much inspiration in the world. I have to make borders, and a book is a very good border. I have a theme and I have to work to that.

You quit art college in Amsterdam to pursue a career in fashion and trend forecasting. Why?
I grew up in a small village and I was bored. I was always searching for what was in the outside world that might fulfill me. I went to college in Amsterdam, but then decided to quit when I couldn’t take up the internship I wanted. I went to Paris instead. I was very stubborn. Now, I’m an autodidact and love learning. I make whatever I make and I find my own way to make it.

You were so eager to get started in life, but now you make work about celebrating aging and imperfections. Are you surprised you’ve had this second start?
Fifteen years ago I was in this in-between time. I had done all these things already— I’d built a set of brands—and I went to see an astrologer. He said, “You’re a late bloomer” and I said, “No, how come? I did all these things already. I’m very early!” He said, “No, this isn’t the thing you’re supposed to do.” I thought “Wow! I get another chance.” But it needed to happen when it did. I could say, “Oh, what time I’ve lost,” but it’s not true.

How are you translating Omnipresent | Beyond Borders into a physical exhibition for The Kinfolk Gallery?
At the exhibition, there will be canvases made of the materials that appear in the book. I collected all these sand samples and pigment samples while traveling and made canvases from them, always using the material of the earth. It’s my inspiration.

Omnipresent | Beyond Borders is at The Kinfolk Gallery from September 26 to October 11.

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