Speech by Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science, at the presentation of the Johannes Vermeer Award 2017 to Iris van Herpen

Ridderzaal, The Hague, 30 October, 2017

Ladies and gentlemen,
members of the jury,
Iris,

Tonight I am standing here for the first time, as Minister of Education, Culture and Science. And Iris van Herpen, it is a great honour to present you with the Johannes Vermeer Award for 2017, one of the most prestigious art awards in The Netherlands.

This is a very special way for me to begin my work, being here, surrounded by all these devotees of your work, people working in art, your colleagues, your friends and family, and to present you with this recognition of your wonderful craftsmanship.

Tonight, this place, the ‘Ridderzaal’, is a place of honour, for the arts and creativity in The Netherlands. Because it plays such an important role in this society of ours. Art is like oxygen: it’s necessary to survive.
We have a flourishing creative sector in the Netherlands, and we must cherish it.

That is why I am very pleased to be able to say that this administration is investing heavily in arts and culture, because they have inestimable value. And I am honored to start my work as a Minister, in this sector.

Tonight is also remarkable, because it is the first time that this prestigious award in the arts, goes to a creator of fashion designs. It was high time, after previous winners from the domains of photography, architecture and theatre.

But, Iris, I also notice that when I am calling you a ‘creator of fashion designs’, I am labeling you. And I know that most of the times, labels do not do justice who’s standing in front of you.

They do not do justice this crowd, nor to me, and certainly not to you.

Because Iris, as I look at your work with wonderment, I can see how you are playing with laws of physics, how you use materials in ways that they have never been used before, and I see that the bubble of the fashion world is not your bubble.

Because your creativity crosses the traditional boundaries between domains and disciplines.
And I think many people will agree, when I say that what characterizes your work is precisely that crossing of boundaries between domains and disciplines.

But I also think that your work is even more than that. I think that what you are doing is more than just thinking across boundaries.

In my opinion, the way that you work shows us that you think without boundaries, leaving existing preconceptions behind you.

And when you work without boundaries, everything that you see, and everything that you come across in life, becomes material that you can work with.

This can be about the world that we are able to see in front of our eyes: the lights, or nature.
Or we can think of what nature has to offer, that does not meet the eye instantly: the rich resources of the Earth, the raw materials that become physical components of your creations.
You’re using them in ways that no one else had dared to think of: creations inspired on water, ice and steel.
You’ve made yourself familiar with the power of the resource, and you show us a desire for sustainability.

But working without boundaries also applies to the people who you encounter, or whom you actively approach to collaborate with.

And that is another trait for which I, and your colleagues in the fashion world, have the greatest admiration.
Because many more innovators are now emerging in the fashion world, who have their roots in the Netherlands, and who now find it quite normal to work with other talented people from outside their own discipline.
When I read about the remarkable creations, developed by you and your fellow designers, I read stories of collaboration: those creative achievements that you bring to the world, that we can see and experience, they have come about thanks to looking beyond boundaries.

Iris, in your case you have worked with a whole range of experts: a biotechnologist, a specialist in magnetism, an architect, and a dancer. To name a few.

You allow them to move you, out of a pure need to know. And you have a fundamental curiosity and hunger for new knowledge from other fields.

Indeed, it seems that you are constantly searching for ways in which knowledge from other fields can be used to transform your field of work.

You show us what true curiosity in another person, or the other subject, can cause. That inspires me deeply.

You’ve stepped out of the confines of what a fashion designer is. In doing so, you have succeeded in opening up the established order - ‘Paris’ - to innovation and fresh ideas.

So you are a true innovator, forging connections between fashion and technology and incorporating it into the very heart of fashion.
That is something quite unique, and this is something that you achieve by allowing your work to speak for you.

Tonight we can witness this at first hand. Take a look around – apart from the great beauty in your work, by which you show us the core value of art, your work is a remarkable encapsulation of everything that relates to fashion, the future, digital technology and science.

You are connecting craftsmanship with the technical sector. And you show us that technical knowledge is of importance in other jobs, outside this sector, as well.
In short, you show the world that can open up to you, when you make yourself familiar with technical science and engineering. I hope that this will lead to inspiration, to an increasing interest among students, in the technical sciences.

Above all, your work is popular, it’s highly sought after. You are living proof that artistry and business can go hand in hand.

And you are also one of the Netherlands’ most famous exports, helping to showcase our country through your work. It makes me proud that we are getting noticed around the world. And I’m sure that the members of the audience here tonight, who work as our cultural representatives in many different countries, will feel the same way.

Iris, the clothes that your models are wearing tonight would boggle the minds of my parents’ generation. When they were growing up, fashion was functional, and practical. Your clothes said something about your position in society.

And when I was growing up, as a young girl in Belgium, going to school every day in my school uniform, everybody wore the same clothes, so you couldn’t tell anyone’s position in society and there was no way to stand out at all.

But outside school there was some space to express yourself, and to create an identity for yourself through your clothes.

That tendency has only got stronger.

Fashion is a channel for self-expression, and now more than ever your clothes tell people who you are.

And perhaps, Iris, your work takes that one step further. Because you show us who we could be.

And with that, you’re doing exactly what I think is important in art. You reach out to reflect on matters of identity. You create new perspectives and offer hope for a positive way forward.

I would like to thank you for that. Because you are an example. An example for others working in creative professions, an example for policymakers working in the culture sector, an example for people who want to forge connections with others, and an example for me, in my new job as minister.

By presenting you with this symbol of the esteem in which we hold your work, I hope I can speak to the entire creative sector in the Netherlands. Because a sector that can produce someone like you, is a sector that is doing very well indeed.
And so I hope that pioneers like you will continue to emerge in all fields of art and culture. To make it possible for them to flourish: that is what I see as my task for the years to come.
The Netherlands could always use more talented professionals like you: more eyes that are open to the world.

And that is the message I would like the students here tonight to take home with them: look beyond existing boundaries.

Because then you will be looking for what is new, what is exciting, and you will be looking for how you can learn from other people.

You will be asking questions and searching for answers,
answers that will fuel your imagination and creativity.

Iris,

You have left the confines of the fitting room, and pushed back the frontiers of fashion.

In recognition of what you have achieved so far in your career, and to encourage you to continue on your journey as a pioneer, crossing boundaries,
I am proud to present you with the Johannes Vermeer Award for 2017.

I will be presenting you with a beautiful glass trophy, created by the artist Bernard Heesen.
I will also present you with the full jury’s report, so that you can read about why they selected you as this year’s winner. And you will receive 100,000 euros, to spend on a future project. I heard you already have ideas!

For now, I wish you every success with the next steps in your career, I hope that you enjoy this evening of celebration, and I would now like to invite you onto the stage to receive your award.

Thank you.