On the Couch with Tineke Van der Eecken

Tineke Van der Eecken AAR On the CouchWho is Tineke Van der Eecken?
She is a Belgian-born Australian: a visual artist working in precious metals and designer of jewellery, a writer of poetry and (mainly) autobiographical fiction, a mediator working in conflict resolution. In a previous life she worked and lived in Africa, which is where much of her writing and art refers to.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
Change is good and like Edith Piaf: ‘je ne regrette rien’ – I don’t regret a thing. Some of the toughest experiences in life find their way into art. I have always embraced change. Each time I move country I seem to reinvent myself, and it is never planned. It is partly a creative challenge, partly an extreme form of adaptation. My career from the age of 16 has meandered, spiked, plunged and re-shaped. I started off as a barista and waitress and soon after my studies in Criminology and Children’s Rights was employed by the UN as a specialist in gender analysis and planning, a restaurant owner and director, a marketing and PR professional, an investigative journalist, a politician, a CEO, a mediator in prisons and now, and now: a writer and artist.

Who inspires you and why?
Potentially everyone. Children inspire me because of their lack of inhibition. South African freedom fighters Nelson Mandela, Miriam Makeba and Desmond Tutu inspire me because of their take on cultural diversity and forgiveness. The Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado inspired me for putting into photographs the story human suffering, and beauty. Tim Winton inspires me as a West Australian writer for portraying the local coastal life and characters in the most vivid language. Conversations in prison have inspired me to write my next novel because they have revealed worlds unknown to me.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I celebrate diversity. To know is to love. If people took the opportunity to share more and listen to others there would be more understanding, more nuance, more acceptance of difference. And I need to do what I preach. To share my own humanity I write from a vulnerable place. To show what is often not revealed. In visual art, I like to show the intrinsic beauty of nature, in the form of an uncut gemstone, a casting of a natural seed or a rescued piece of bark from an endangered tree.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
I generally don’t enjoy being a tourist. I’d rather work somewhere, embed myself to experience life on a day to day basis. I have lived and worked in Papua New Guinea, in Burundi, in Zambia, in Belgium, the UK and Australia. To return to any of these places makes for good holidays. Belgium is an annual favourite, to visit family and friends. I also love the Belgian art scene and can’t get enough of it when I visit. I like living in Australia though, and writing while visiting other places in Africa, Asia, around Europe. Last year I visited Zambia where I used to live, and reconnecting with friends and places there after fifteen years made for a very special experience. Recently I had a chance to have an art residency in Spain, and I will be organising a writing and storytelling retreat in a chateau in France in 2019.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
A beach walk from South Fremantle to CY O’Connor Beach with the many dogs, preferably early morning or around sunset. Dog beaches are a very Australian thing. It is also a place of diversity: beach and ocean, coastal bushland, the CY O’Connor statue, the old powerhouse with its graffiti, the new developments around that area all provide plenty of inspiration to be present in the now and aware of some of the history.

What are you currently reading?
I always have a few on the go: a mixture of audio-books, printed novels and poetry. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (38 hours of audio-book). Legacy by a friend and fellow poet Julie Watts is on my bedside table. An Open Book by David Malouf is on the coffee table – I will be talking with him about it at the Perth Writers Festival in 2019.

What are you currently listening to?
Some of my European favourites are Asgeir, Love Like Birds, Amatorski. Australian favourites are Loren Kate, Tinpan Orange and Mama Kin. I love cooking with Norah Jones and going for a run with Adele and chilling with Sarah Blasko. Some of my all time favourites are Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf.

Happiness is?
Feeling grateful for what and who is here. Being in the now. Responding to this creatively.

What does the future hold for you?
More travel. More creative pursuits. I will continue making jewellery and selling this through galleries. Next year I plan to host more writing and creative retreats around Western Australia and Europe. My partner and I are organising our first storytelling and writing retreat in a chateau near Toulouse early May 2019. I am also working on my first book of fiction set in Western Australia: the story of a man who has been in prison and wants to turn his life around.

Tineke is the author of Traverse – a travel memoir that charts the unfolding disintegration of a marriage and a woman’s last-ditch attempt to rescue it by taking a difficult and dangerous trek with her husband – published by Wild Reeds Press. For more information, visit: www.readtraverse.com for details.

Image: Tineke Van der Eecken (supplied)