The way in which Moniek Toebosch (Breda 1948 – Amsterdam 2012) expressed herself in her work as an artist was incomparable. In Metropolis M (2013, no. 1) she was posthumously characterized as: “fearless, provocative and absolutely unconventional”. Toebosch shifted effortlessly between various art forms, without any regard whatsoever for the rules. She appeared as performer, sound artist, film actress, theatre-maker, text writer, and in the visual arts she worked as a painter, video-artist and happily incorporated the latest technology in her installations and projects for public spaces.
As an artist she also generously accepted the responsibility she felt for the artistic community. This was apparent in her many roles: as an inspiring teacher and mentor at various art schools, a director at DasArts, (De Amsterdamse School, Advanced Research in Theatre and Dance Studies), a member of juries and advisory boards, as an often invited speaker / performer, a member of the Arts Council, and a supervisor of the PhDArts team, guiding professional artists in their doctoral research at Leiden University.
With the exception of one year spent at the music conservatory in Tilburg, she received her art education at the St. Joost academy in Breda, where she graduated rather atypically from the fashion department with a 16 mm film. This was not a complete surprise however, since at the time she came in contact with Frans Zwartjes, an artist and musician but mostly known as an experimental black-and-white filmmaker. As his favorite silent protagonists he manipulated his wife Trix and Moniek Toebosch in outrageously absurd situations. Looking back, this collaboration was to define her artistic endeavors. At that time her signature theatrical courage, uninhibited freedom and openness undeniably defined her as artist.
She exploited these qualities to their fullest in her legendary anarchistic music-theatre performances from the seventies in collaboration with Michel Waisvisz. He played electronic music on the crackle box he had invented as she improvised wild singing performances.
The highlight of Toebosch’s theatrical career was Aanvallen van Uitersten (Attacks of Extremes, 1983) her presentation of a remarkable evening program for the Holland Festival that took place at the well attended Carre Theater in Amsterdam, broadcast live on television as part of a series by VPRO. The most notorious evening included Glenn Branca and his band playing terribly loud music, a sensational fashion show and the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ivan Fisher that was supposed to perform the Prelude of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and accompany Toebosch as mezzo soprano singing the Liebestod. As she appeared from the wings onstage, the conductor walked off. Disgusted by the noisy commotion, he tapped his baton, signaling his departure with a good portion of the orchestra following at his heels. What happened next was breathtaking as we watched Toebosch mobilize her grandiose talent for improvisation. Begging the remaining members of the orchestra to stay, they timidly began to play under her direction. Dressed in her magnificent costume as opera Diva she began to sing, holding notes and jumping up into the air to reach the high ones.
Much of her later work was created in response to specific requests, commissions and contexts. With finely honed antennae for what was happening around her and in the world, she was very much in tune with the zeitgeist. She persistently created new, adventurous work with verve and flair. Even though the work often included her very personal voice, was light-hearted and not at all moralistic, the outcome was never the same. An important example is the nationally recognized Engelenzender (Angel Radio Station, 1994 – 2000) on the Houtribdijk. She was asked to come up with a proposal for a public work with the theme of shelter / refuge. Instead of proposing a physical object or monumental structure, Toebosch turned to her love of driving for inspiration. The car, routinely taking you back and forth from home, is the shelter where you truly feel at ease. And if you can listen to angels singing from your car radio, the experience is made perfect. The site she chose was a 29 kilometers long, narrow stretch of the dike between Lelystad and Enkhuizen, straight through the Ijsselmeer, with an endless view of water on both sides. She herself sang all of the angels in countless variations; high and low, soft and loud, choral and solo about faith, hope and love.The only material aspect of this work consisted of the blue signs posted on the dike, announcing the radio frequency “Engelen / Angels, FM 98.0 Mhz”.
Art-historians have a hard time categorizing her body of work. Even though as an artist she typically used performance, sound and language, one cannot pin point her work through her choice of specific materials, a reoccurring theme or particular disciplines.
At several international exhibitions she presented her impressive and moving installation Les Douleurs Contemporaines (Contemporary Sorrows). Hundreds of different size loudspeakers were placed to form a walking trail for the exhibition space. The sound they produced was a sequence of horrified cries, waling, sobbing, and crying women and children. It was the middle of the nineties and the news was filled with daily catastrophes from war zones…
The proposal for an exhibition of her work instantly led Toebosch to an unparalleled alternative. She made a video of herself behind a desk, dressed in a conservative suit, and greets the viewer with Welkom, gaat u zitten (Welcome, Please Take a Seat). She proceeds to describe her work verbally. It was, in essence, a type of performance that allowed her to express her own ideas, as was the case when, about two years before she passed away, she presented herself as her alter ego Paul Rubens. With combed back hair, heavy rimmed glasses, a severe looking outfit and a distorted low voice she made it clear that there was also a male soul residing inside her. At the same time she shot footage of De Strijkrol (The Role of the Ironer), which was a rather meditative film. It shows her hands slowly pushing white linens through an ironing machine and carefully folding them, an act which she keeps repeating peacefully. It is an intimate, domestic activity, driven by the sound of Toebosch’s sturdy shoe on the pedal.
Her last performance before her passing, Erasing and Recovering on a Saturday Afternoon, was like a fairytale. Dressed all in white she climbed onto an elephant and rode it slowly through a rainy Oude Warande Park in Tilburg, which she had known as a zoo in the past. The elephant was dragging a harrow, simultaneously erasing traces of old, and turning the soil in preparation for something new.
www.ftn-books.com has a few Toebosch publications available.