Jeroen Smeets Shares the Story Behind The Jaunt, the Collaborative Travel Project Sending Artists Around the World
March 10, 2021
Our editor-in-chief, Christopher Jobson, conducted this interview with Jeroen Smeets via email. Smeets is the founder of The Jaunt, an ongoing travel project that sends artists to new destinations around the globe with the goal of producing a single, hand-pulled screenprint. Photo by Andrea Wan during her trip to Nepal. All images shared with permission
Christopher: Take us back to “Jaunt #1.” How did this entire thing begin? Can you tell us a little about your own background in art?
Jeroen: Before starting The Jaunt, I was already working on and organizing various art projects. I came up working as an editor-in-chief of a Dutch skateboard/culture magazine, had my own art magazine for a while, opened a pop-up gallery in Amsterdam, and was doing things left and right. Through all of this, I was constantly in conversation with artists, and one thing that always came back to me was their desire to travel.
The idea of The Jaunt came about out of a drive to make that happen for the artists I was working with and who I admired. The first trip of The Jaunt was sort of a shot in the dark. I had no clue how people would respond to the idea of pre-ordering an artwork that was not yet made. But people responded very positively, and we’ve been running ever since 2013 now.
Christopher: How has Covid affected the project?
Jeroen: In a very odd way, not tremendously. Before Covid came around, I was already contemplating organizing a year of Jaunt trips in which we would not use any flights. Only travel by car, boat, train, or whatever other way. I was a little bit worried how to convince artists to try and look locally for interesting destinations, instead of flying to the other side of the world. Due to Covid, we were forced to speed up this process and start doing it right away. I think the hardest part of Covid for The Jaunt project is right now because it feels like everything will be opening up soon, but not quite yet, and this makes planning ahead very complicated. So I’m constantly juggling our schedules, artists’ schedules, and travel restrictions at the moment.
Christopher: During normal times, what does a usual year of the Jaunt look like? It sounds like there’s an enormous amount of logistics, planning, and moving parts for this to be successful.
Jeroen: The Jaunt does ten trips a year, and one of those trips is a Summer Camp for which we invite four artists at the same time. So it is mostly a lot of scheduling with artists and accommodations. I’ve been doing this for almost eight years now, so for the logistics of printing and shipping, we have a lot of resources available based on the location of the artists. That being said, there are always surprise challenges along the way that have to be dealt with.
Christopher: Do you have a favorite Jaunt or any stories that stand out as particularly amazing/interesting/crazy?
Jeroen: Well, we’ve had an artist staying in the middle of a rain forest, sleeping in a treehouse, and being awakened at night by an earthquake. Last year, we had an artist who was staying in a silent retreat in Sri Lanka without a cellphone only to come out two weeks later and realize that the world had shut down due to Covid. We’ve had one artist who fell in love during his trip and ended up moving and living in that country together with his new girlfriend. But to be honest, I think that the biggest surprise is still that we have not a single missed flight on any of our trips. I figured this would have happened by now.
Artistically, I think that some artists take the chance with our project to try something more unusual in their practice because of where their inspiration has taken them. But in this regard, we also give complete autonomy to the artists. We will help produce whatever they have been inspired to make.
We try not to guide or give too much structure for their trip. And this is what I think makes this project unique. Usually, artists travel to set up exhibitions, work on a specific project, paint murals, but rarely are they going to a place with the sole purpose of finding new inspiration.—Jeroen Smeets
Christopher: Over the years, have you noticed any trends or patterns in the types of discoveries artists make? How do you create structure for the artists on each trip while balancing the need for impulse, creativity, and the general randomness of life that leads to inspiration?
Jeroen: I think, if anything, we’ve sent more and more artists to remote places and not much to big cities anymore over the course of the last few years. Artists want to get away from it all and find some seclusion. But it all depends very much on the artist. We always ask our artists, “what is it that you want to do?” There is never an agenda or a briefing. It really is up to the artists themselves. We try not to guide or give too much structure for their trip. And this is what I think makes this project unique. Usually, artists travel to set up exhibitions, work on a specific project, paint murals, but rarely are they going to a place with the sole purpose of finding new inspiration.
Christopher: Reading through The Jaunt book, I was struck by how the trips seem like a profound gift and opportunity for each individual artist. Many mention how their destinations were practically dreams come true or how they make discoveries in their work. Do you find the same benefits when you travel? Do you ever get envy when working as a travel agent for artists?
Jeroen: I learned pretty early on with being the travel agent for this project that I had to put my travel-envy aside. I’m just happy for the artists to have these experiences. The trips that I do make are usually for work, exhibitions, or other projects, and then I typically try to make the most of my time and plan three events in one week in different cities. I have, however, on my last few trips, blocked a few days for myself to not be busy with work and instead go out and hike or travel to places off the beaten path. Those moments have been a great way to get closer to The Jaunt experience in a way.
I also think the effect of travel doesn’t have the same type of direct translation for me, as opposed to artists. Not being an artist myself, there isn’t really something that I see or experience at one place that I immediately can translate into something tangible. For artists, this can be more direct. They can translate their experiences into drawings, paintings, concepts. For me personally, it is more the accumulation of things I’ve seen, talks that I’ve had and people that I’ve met that can form the first ideas on a concept. Not to say that that can’t be the case for artists, as well, but I don’t have that direct translation to something in my work.
Christopher: I noticed that Collin van der Sluijs didn’t know he was traveling to Lastovo, Croatia, until the morning of his trip. Was that something you purposely engineered or that he requested? Is this a common scenario?
Jeroen: We’ve tried this a few different times, and only with artists who we invite for a second time on our Jaunt project. Mainly because I know the artists a bit better and know what they are looking for in a trip, so I feel more confident in putting together a great experience for them. Collin was the first one we tried this with, and I think it worked out great. We sent him all the information he needed in an envelope and told him he could only open it once he got to the airport.
Christopher: Most of The Jaunt trips seem to average around a week, but Andrea Wan’s month-long trek to Kathmandu, Nepal, stood out, not only because of the length but the remoteness. She shares some amazing photos of a hike into the Himalayan foothills. How did this trip originate?
Jeroen: This was an experiment that we tried out with Andrea Wan, in which we wanted the trip to be a catalyst for an entirely new body of work that would be presented in a solo exhibition with another gallery. Andrea Wan planned this trip all by herself. She stayed in a monastery on a silent retreat and then hiked throughout the Himalayas. It really was an amazing experience to follow and also to read her learnings and experiences, which she came back with.
Unfortunately, the solo exhibition didn’t work out because at the time we underestimated the planning and scheduling of such a project, especially in consideration to a third party, the gallery. We just were not able to bring it all full circle. Until now, this was the only month-long trip that we’ve done so far. I’m hoping to bring it back again in some way in the future.