Swaen Harmsen

Artist statement & Bio

Swaen Thaisa Harmsen, Visual Artist (Painter and researcher)
Based in Utrecht, The Netherlands
Born in 1994
Nationality: Dutch/ American

Instagram: @swaenthaisa_art
Facebook & Linked In: Swaen Harmsen
Academia.edu: https://independent.academia.edu/SwaenHarmsen/Papers


I am fascinated by the dichotomous understanding of society that Western culture has developed. This understanding entails a constant hierarchical separating of differences which serves as a protective mechanism to keep the identity of the self ‘safe’. Wide-ranging dichotomies such as culture-nature, masculine-feminine and self-other, have become deeply rooted in Western thinking and are a cause of the oppression of ‘others’ and the exhaustion of the earth. The boundary where  these dichotomies meet is in fact not a clear cut line: the ‘opposites’ merge in and out of each other and exist simultaneously, equally, and differently.

In my work I investigate the boundary/ borderland between human and nature. At the hight of the current climate crisis a renewed love for the earth is born. This love is born out of the realization that  a potential and disastrous loss of our home and humanity is a possibility. In my paintings I try to create an ambivalence in which what we have taken for granted now falters. What becomes visible in this boundary/ borderland that I hope to portray is the extraordinary worth of what we have and what we cherish in the light of losing it. The underlying question that I wish to ask is: when do you let go of something so it doesn’t die? And when do you hold on tight to stop it from falling apart?


I did two years of theoretical research into the topics relevant for my work which resulted in my Master’s thesis “Approaching Closeness: Conceptualizing the Woman Mountaineer and her Journey from Home to the Liminal Summit of a Mountain” (2020, UvA).

In my thesis I unravel the historical concept of the sublime and its paradox as developed by Kant and Burke, which exposed the relationship between the dichotomies imbedded in the sublime and societal power structures. I discuss the less known concept called the feminine sublime. This concept focusses on the elements of dichotomies as equals and the unknown force that the sublime represents is embraced as a space/place of  difference without appropriation. I argue that the feminine sublime indicates that the sublime is not experienced at a distance (created by fear), but at a closeness. I was greatly inspired in my research by artist, filmmaker and scholar Trinh T. Minh-ha and her book Eslewhere, within here – immigration, refugeeism and the boundary event.
I conclude my thesis with an Artist’s Epilogue called “Ark of Sand”, which forms the starting point for my current series of works.

You can find my thesis and Artist's Epilogue here: https://independent.academia.edu/SwaenHarmsen/Papers

Current Project

At the moment I am working on three short texts that will be the starting point for series of paintings that are connected to the texts. "An Artist's Epilogue: Ark of Sand" is the first of these three texts. The second text is in progress, as are the paintings belonging to the texts. In the end a large body of work will be born out of this project. The texts will be bound into three small books forming a trilogy.