On climbing real and metaphorical rock formations 🪨

the climbers of XP

Hey everyone, it’s Emma here and this is XP’s May newsletter.

May started out pretty fun for us because the bouldering (1) trip we had been wanting to take for a long time finally happened!

people bouldering

1 Bouldering is a form of free climbing that is performed on small rock formations or artificial rock walls without the use of ropes or harnesses

Fontainebleau is a famous climbing area south of Paris. Hidden in its beautiful forests are thousands of sandstone boulders with countless problems (2) to climb. Since the 19th century French alpine climbers practised bouldering there, as a ‘playful form of training’ for climbing actual mountains. We had been playfully training on the artificial rock walls near XP since 2019, and felt ready to climb actual rock formations, so we drove out to France with a bunch of friends and pitched our tents.

(2) Problems is boulder language for routes
there are these special guidebooks full of problems

The climbing was so fun, and standing on top of the rock after finishing it feels a-ma-zing. But for me, the best part was having a crew, supporting each other, feeling like a team. Sure, you do the climbing by yourself, but when you look down your friends are standing there with a crash pad, cheering you on, shouting advice, spotting (3) you in case you fall. Very XP, if you ask me.

(3) Spotting is a technique used in climbing, especially in bouldering, where the climbers are close to the ground and ropes are not normally used. The spotter stands below the climber, with arms raised or at the ready. If the climber falls, the spotter does not catch the climber, but redirects the climber's fall to land safely on a bouldering mat


Enfin, back to the studio.

Once every month or so we have a studio meeting where we discuss XP business, like: "Any events coming up?" "Who writes next newsletter?" And "Where could we get some CDJs?" But first on the agenda is a check-in-moment where we share how we’re (really) doing, like a little group therapy session (there's even tears sometimes). Often, there is at least one of us that’s busy and stressing about a big job or deadline coming up, usually balanced by someone relaxed with more white space in their calendar (but increased chances of feeling lost). Only very rarely is everyone in the studio on a deadline at the same time, which is great news for our plants and our newsletter.

During our last meeting I started thinking about how we are all on our own little creative journeys with various chapters of stress and rest, uncertainty and stability, rushing and waiting, good fortune and bad luck. I imagined what all those individual highs and lows would look like in a collective XP line graph (4).

(4) hypothetical graph of different XP journeys

Then, in my head, the graph became a landscape. I've been visualising landscapes to help people talk about feelings for over a year now, so I couldn't help applying this metaphor to the creative practice.

There are mountains (5), representing the more intense fast periods with various challenges (good or bad), difficult problems to solve, an urgency to keep climbing (and at some point, there is no way back), a fast heartbeat, a sense of achievement when reaching the top.

(5) Gijs reaching the top – photo by Dewi Kruijk

There are valleys (6), flat and peaceful, but also more predictable. In the valleys there is time to rest and reflect, but if it's too wide, the freedom of direction there can be paralysing.

(6) Jack chilling in a valley – photo by Dewi Kruijk

From a valley, you might see multiple mountains in the distance, they might look scary and impossible to climb, and you have to choose which one to take on. From a mountain, you might see the green valley below and long to be there and lie in the grass and rest.

I was curious to hear where in the landscape the creative climbers (7) of XP feel they are at this moment, so I asked them: If your creative life is a landscape of mountains and valleys, where do you feel you are right now?

(7) The creative climbers of XP & extended (Font) family

Jack said: 

"I think I have reached the summit, but the peak, which appeared so clear from the valley below is not so well defined up close. There are brambles and no clear path, it’s awkward, I am looking at my feet as I walk tentatively, making leaps from one rock to another. Am I sure this is the top, I wrack my brains for that image of the peak from the valley. I have planned to abseil down to a familiar base camp where friends are waiting to greet me but I know there will not be much time to rest before the next ascent."

Ben said:

"When I think of where I am right now, I can easily think through a climbing metaphor. I've been going up a mountain for most of this year. There have been difficult overhangs that can only be manoeuvred through sheer persistence and then there have been complicated slabs that require a more tactical mind. Now I feel like I've reached a move that involves a leap into something unknown and new. I'm fairly sure I can make it but the doubt in my mind of what happens if I don't is giving me fear. As I build upon my studio-based work with something bigger and more collaborative with more responsibilities, I hope that I can remember to stick the jump and find my footing. I need to remember all that I've learnt and found value in up until this point and find ways not to forget about it. If it all works out and I manage to keep a firm hold, then I can look forward to what comes next. But for now I just need to commit to it."

Gijs said:

"I’m in quite a valley. I’ve had some hills this year but generally it has been relatively peaceful, and no real deadlines in sight. It feels quite relaxed, time to enjoy the blooming wildflowers in the valley, time for thoughts to form, but I also start to feel a little impatient. I want to go see something new, exit the garden and make a, well, journey. If I squint I can see some mountain tops around me through the fog, but it’s not clear how exactly to get there. They ask me to just pick one and go for it."

Emma said: 

"Two months ago I was brisk walking through a boring but steady money-job-valley for a while and then BAM, a very unexpected steep exhibition-mountain appeared in front of me and I decided to climb it. It was challenging and exhausting, but extremely fun, I literally felt high. While on that peak I was looking forward to resting in a valley, but now, two weeks after the opening, I feel like I’m still descending from this project (in that way where you’re kind of stumbling downhill and can’t control the speed of your legs, you know) and the next hills and mountain are already in front of me and even though they seem like fun climbs I’m like.. Wait! I need a break! So I’m trying to figure out how to slow down, and then find a better route that has more flat areas in between to sit down and enjoy the views. Also shouldn't forget to look back and be proud of that last mountain."

XP-friend & fellow climber Tiana said:

"I am on the slope of a mountain. I feel free to go down to the valley if I get tired, but I want to keep climbing! Some people say I can’t make it to the top, others say it’s easy. I keep on because pleasant things keep happening to me as I climb; discovering new lookout points and friendly animals. Sometimes I’ll come across parts of the mountain that are harder to traverse, but it’s always worth the challenge to find myself on the other side, or an alternative way to keep ascending. I look forward to the next obstacle, and am currently enjoying the peaceful climb."

XP-friend & fellow climber Elliott said:

"Gijs, Emma, and I were sitting on the yellow bench across from Schuurmanoomkensgrassotti when Emma asked us the Mountain/Valley question. Sometimes, when I'm asked questions, all I come up with is images. It made me think of storybook imagery. The next thought I had was of this album, and how, when you are listening to it, you don't know exactly where you are in it. Is this a mountain or the valley? Sometimes, it's hard to tell.
I asked Emma and Gijs where they thought I was, and they said in the mountains. I think they are right. Moving to NL, creating new friendships and deepening others, starting new collaborations, climbing with friends - these all feel like beautiful mountains. But also, moving here has oddly felt easier in some ways too. Maybe this is the "meadow" in the mountains. Sometimes, it's difficult to tell where you are, and it's nice that friends can help with that. Hope to see you in the mountains, the meadow, or the valley."

Kirsten had no time to write since she is currently climbing the very last bit of her finnisage-mountain (see announcements below!). She has been on this climb for 1,5 years now, and there have been highs and lows and we at XP have witnessed most of those, so we are looking forward to cheering as she hoists herself on top of that last boulder tonight!

Reading these answers, I thought back to Fontainebleau again, and how the trip felt so in line with the 'Extra Practice philosophy'. In the actual, individual act of climbing a difficult problem, all you think about is how to get up, stay on the wall, where does my next foot go, how not to fall. And you can count on XP to be there with a metaphorical crash pad, cheering you on, shouting advice,spotting you in case you fall. 

But just as important are the moments before and after the climb, in the valleys around them. And you can count on XP getting fresh croissants in the morning , packing sandwiches, throwing around a frisbee, cooking dinner, building fires, taking photos, and driving you home (8)

(8) driving home with aching muscles and sweet friends, from rocks to flat lands 

Shoutout to XP for being there during everyone's ups and downs! 
Here's to being on a journey together and having a good time (9) 


And a special shoutout to the Font family

(9) Wesley, Sina, Kirsten, Wietske, Ben, Esther, Lukas, Jack, Tiana, Gijs, Emma, Elliott, and Dewi having a good time


And now, out of metaphorical landscapes and into real-world happenings:


Kirsten is warmly inviting you to the finissage of a chapter of How To Save Time, on Friday the 26th of May from 19:00 at Oostkousdijk 12A, 3024 CM Rotterdam!

How To Save Time circles around a longstanding fascination with temporality, documentation and validation. Amidst a pervasive feeling of dischronicity, Spruit has been exploring methods of recording and processing ‘off-time’ through various media, as an attempt to work with time rather than against it.
This Friday a cycle of this project will be closed with a performative reading and installation subtitled –Where was I?, a diaristic work that recollects the remaining fragments of time spent reorienting and overwriting oneself.

Good Times Bad Times is back up and running with a looser programming schedule! For the next seven weeks you can listen to Curved Knowledge, a show by Sabrina Basten, every Tuesday evening and on June 13th I (Ben) will be putting on a special show about a lovely radio station called St. Giga. Tune in: https://goodtimesbadtimes.club/

On the 2nd of June, Ben’s students of the Design Research course at the KABK will be hosting an exhibition about their amazing work alongside a dinner and a party at LAAK in The Hague. The theme once again is looooveeee, so expect a romantic atmosphere, coupled DJs, traffic light relationship status glow sticks etc etc. You can buy a ticket for the party and the dinner here: https://laak.stager.nl/kabk/ti...

Emma’s installation United Mental States is still on show at the exhibition Hybrid Tales for Hybrid Times at MU Hybrid Art House until June 14th. The next weeks she’ll be hosting various workshops in the space using the installation as a ‘therapeutic tool’.

On June 9th we have a casual synth-session planned at XP. We do them for fun, privately but if you want to hang out or join in, by all means, bring a synth and/or a drink from 16:00 & let us know x

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