Renate Ariadne

Haarlem, Netherlands

Renate Ariadne’s work gives a glimpse into an alternative world, inspired by her dreams. The low lit scenes she creates are filled with reflections and transparent materials separating them from our daily reality. Fascinated by sexuality and identity, her photographs investigate themes involving the body, such as loneliness, shame and control.

Born in Haarlem, The Netherlands, Renate Ariadne (b. 1993) started taking photographs at the early age of fifteen. Using photography as a way to understand and differentiate her dreams and imagination from reality. After finishing her Bachelor of Art at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, she moved to London, where she is currently based.

Where are you from and where are you based now? Could you tell us a little bit about both?

I was born in Haarlem, in my parent’s bed on the Bilderdijkstraat – in the early nineties. I guess you can say my childhood was an upper middle class ideal. Haarlem is a well educated, white city; no more than a thirty minute drive from Amsterdam. Young couples from Amsterdam come there to start their families. They all love jazz, read Murakami and vote left progressive – like my parents. I think I must have been around 15 when I started longing for a place less homogeneous, neat and well organised. The same age I started to become sexually aware.

Currently I live in London. I moved here from Amsterdam in 2017, a year after I graduated from art school. It’s an interesting cliche to me; coming to the big city to be free and successful. I don’t think anyone is quite prepared for the long periods of loneliness you’re faced with.

There is a feeling of “magic” in your works and it hits hard and straight. But what does “magic” mean to you? Where do you find it in your reality?

Your question puts it perfectly, magic is a feeling. A feeling that you get when you are looking at something that seems just so unlikely to be real, too oddly beautiful or filmlike – but exists in reality, and right in front of you. Like a tungsten lit petrol station against a purple twilight sky, or a single beam of sunlight breaking through a storm cloud. I always find that I get the same feeling looking through warped glass or seeing an unexpected reflection. And when I’m remembering dreams.
I started taking up photography around 15 years old.

To express my teenage sexual and romantic curiosity, but also to organise and distinguish my “normal” memories from my dreams. I’ve always been able to remember, both dream and reality, in the finest visual detail and it wasn’t uncommon for me to mix them up. I find that much like magic, dreams are unexpected reflections of reality.

Tell us more about your subjects and your connection with them and also how you go about approaching them?

I’ve struggled with this for a long time. My autonomous work is about identity and sexuality and often comes from a very personal space. I used to work with my own body before venturing out to my sister, then friends and eventually strangers – people who respond to my work online. Working with another person on themes such as loneliness and sexuality is an extremely cathartic experience. I don’t know why my subjects agree to model for me but I do always feel like I recognise a feeling of urgency in them. The mutual understanding and trust that we build those few hours together are special to me. I see them and they see me.

How are Sexuality and Identity interconnected?

I can only speak for myself because I believe this is different for everyone. In my experience much of my sexual identity seemed predefined for me – by society, by my father and occasionally other family members. I think that especially for those with whom that predefined sexual identity doesn’t fit, it starts to squeak and creak inside. Being able to understand that what I desired didn’t fit with the values I grew up with, and that I needed to find new values to accept myself and my behaviour, became a big part of my identity. Sadly, I can’t say I’m there yet, and as long as I’m searching the connection between identity and sexuality grows.

In your art you go through issues that often generate violence.. It comes in many shades. How do you deal with it?

Yes. Violence. In January last year I was sexually assaulted. Not being in control over your own body or a situation like that is violently frustrating. I think a lot of that frustration is channeled in my work. Most of it is about taking back control: “I decide what I do with my body”, which also strongly relates to identity.

But it is also about violence in general; I think emotional violence flows into physical violence and back. E.g. I don’t blame my assaulter anymore, he was dealing with his own share of emotional violence. And although no excuse, I think we are all forced to deal with a certain amount of violence over the course of our lives – I just wish that instead of being “strong”, we would share our experiences and become a more empathic society.

What is your relationship with your body / nature / inner light?

Haha, a complicated one! No – to be honest, I enjoy getting to know myself better every year. But the funny thing is, that even though I am quite in tune with my emotions, I am also terribly pragmatic and have little patience for people who seem “too spiritual” to me.

Is there a prominent feeling the pandemic left you with?

Yes – Hope! Perhaps that’s unexpected after all my talk on violence and sexual misperception. Yet, I’ve witnessed how both people around me and strangers online are catching eachother and providing mental safety nets. We’ve all felt numb this year, but perhaps it connects and provides new structures to talk about mental health. My dad used to call me a “Hopeless Positivo” (and still does), but I don’t think there’s anything hopeless about being positive.

What are you reading at the moment?

Primeval and Other Times by Olga Tokarczuk

Where can we find you online?



Words: Nicole Oike