with claudia and danilo from the mangotree in amsterdam

Q: I just came back from a Cuban trip.
D: How was it?
Q: After seeing how people live there I feel my life is a huge privilege. I have so much versus they have so little, I mean in a materialistic sense, of course.
D: Were you very interested in Cuba before the trip?
Q: I think I have some very vague ideas about the country, therefore my interest is pretty superficial, I would say.
D: Yes, I know. It’s very abstract, maybe. It’s like doing research from the distance.
Q: It’s not anything personal. I didn’t feel any emotional connection to the place until I get there.
D: Then you feel something in you, not just outside of you.
Q: Yes, exactly. Ok, tell me how your team work. You and Claudia.
C: Danilo is our photographer and technician, he built and maintains our website. And I’m responsible for the transcripts and writing and editing them.
D: At the moment we are trying to be very open and flexible with the direction we are going. We don’t want to hold on to a completely fixed idea yet, because then it becomes very artificial and we will lose all our spontaneity.
Q: Also you don’t want your project to be all about yourselves. It’s a collaboration between you and your participants. You want them to take the lead, maybe.
D: Yes, it can become very artificial, then it’s not that interesting anymore. You need to know how to just be. We are not trying to manufacture too much. But also I think there’s danger when people get on camera, well I don’t have experience with that yet, I mean when they are being filmed they feel like they have to say really smart things.
Q: You mean interviewer or interviewee?
D: Interviewee. I don’t have such a feeling myself but I notice when people are being interviewed, they are trying to say really interesting things, smart things.
C: And then I sense the person is not opening up. The person is too busy with the image, and not really with the question. And until now I think we had once such experience.
Q: You get the feeling, like intuitively?
C: Yes.
Q: And Danilo you too?
D: Yes, I felt it at the moment.I sensed there’s an orientation towards the result.
Q: And what did you do when you sensed that?
C: Well, I tried, we tried to get the interviewee into being more personal, but it didn’t really work out in the end. We had a nice interview, and it’s more about the topic, but we also wanted it to be personal. We don’t want our interview to be about someone who is a specialist in growing trees, for example, or what he thinks about the population of trees in Amsterdam.
Q: You don’t need to interview a spokesperson for a special field.
C: No, we want to know how he got into this field in the first place, the personal connection to what he does, not just what he does. We don’t need experts talking about their expertise.
D: At the same time when it happens, I also think it’s our duty to stay respectful to the limits of that person. It’s too aggressive to transpass the limits of the person. To try once or twice to get into the personal layers of the person its enough. That’s also what I mean we need to stay flexible in the creative process, so we can make something interesting out of what the person does offer.
Q: Did you still publish the interview afterwards?
D: Yes.
Q: But then that’s not what you have on your mind for your project. You want something personal.
D: But that’s the personality of the person.
Q: Is that the real personality of the person, or just a persona?
C: But maybe that’s just how this person wants to be.
Q: And you think this facade is authentic in its own way?
C: Honestly on our website we are not really trying to intellectualize our project. We are just describing what we do, and these things we are telling you right now we are not really put out there. We just have this in our mind, like we want it to be personal. When we go to these people for interview they are not aware of what we would like to happen. The only thing we say is we want to create this atmosphere so a dialogue can happen. We explain the symbol mango tree is something warm and cosy.
D: And abstract because it obviously doesn’t exist in our landscape, it’s not in our daily life.
Q: The only fruit I had in Cuba is mango, so for me I will forever associate mango with Cuba.
D: I think we have to go to Cuba. But back to your question, if we are in the middle of conversation and I realize it reaches my limit I would just let you know, and I think that is very authentic. I might not let you into my deepest essence, but at last I’m very honest with you.
Q: You mean instead of pretending to be opening up, it’s more authentic to not pretend and just stay closed?
D: That person for sure is in touch with his needs, and his limits. I think this is the natural flow of the situation.
Q: I understand the situation. But I don’t think I really have that experience yet. I have interviewed of about at least 50 people, but it never really occured to me that in the middle of conversation we need to reset the limit. I’m just thinking what I would have done if this happened. Most likely I would just let the person off the hook in the middle of it. But afterwards am I going to include this piece into my collection? Probably not. Because I still have a say in the final product.
C: I see. But with our project we have a very conceptual concept. It’s about what is happening during this 10 minutes. Whether the person is opening up or not it’s all the matter of perspectives. We may just get under the surface, we may go deeper, or we may stay above. Different people may also have different views on the matter.
Q: So no matter how you personally feel about it you would still publish the piece?
C: Yes, because it’s about what is happening during the 10 minutes.
Q: It’s what actually happens, so you don’t need to filter things out.
C: Yes, we stay to the reality of it.
D: And you know there are a lot of people that are not in touch with the layers themselves that we would like to get to. So we are not holding the presumption that we would manage to get there.
Q: It’s like doing psychotherapy.
D: Exactly.
C: Also the difference between our work and yours is we really have limited time.
Q: I need at least an hour.
C: Yes, and we don’t have an hour. Sometimes people do have time, but it’s half hour max, including doing the photos. Sometimes it happens for longer, but it’s not the published part.
D: The standard is once the topic is chosen, after 10 minutes it ends.
Q: I see. Claudia you said you are responsible for the written part. That’s a really difficult task. I have to do both photography and writing, and photography is so much easier.
C: I know. But I also really enjoy it. Once I start it, I can go on for hours.
D: Claudia used to be an editor in a publishing company. A newspaper in Switzerland.
C: I used to work at different newspapers and magazines. So I have already been doing this for really long time, and I was also a translator.
D: She has a lot of expertise in editing.
C: For me I find doing interviews really interesting, and challenging, because there’s difference between spoken words and written words. Sometimes there’s a huge gap between them and I was very unsatisfied, and thought we are not even getting close to close the gap.
Q: Sometimes you have to listen to some parts of the recording repeatedly and still not getting what they say.
C: Yes, mostly I get them but they will never be the same as how somebody originally said it.
Q: You need to videotape it to fully grasp the conversation. Do you want to do videos? Do you want to keep the current format or branch out?
D: I think we are very open to a product being developed and constantly changed. Like vlogging at one point we might do it, but also it can be just exceptional and we go back to only writing and photos. We have a category on the website that is still open called story, and I think we have to change it into specials.
Q: I think for your format it will be very interesting to shoot videos. It’s only 10 minutes so it’s the perfect length.
D: But people can get very self conscious in front of cameras.
C: I experienced that because I also needed to do video interviews for newspapers. I saw people either didn’t want to do it in front of the camera, or they signed with relief once it’s done.
D: It takes a lot of training. It’s like being on stage, and as a dancer I experienced that a lot. I have to let go of the idea that I’m being observed. It takes a lot of practice and that’s why people on TV are good at what they do, because they don’t feel that sensation that oh my god, I’m being observed. They can actually act quite close to their normal behavior.
Q: Do you think this generation that grew up with internet they are actually very used to videos, they are doing YouTube, Snapchat, etc etc?
D: But they have the control, that’s different. You are your own editor so you can choose your best angle, you prepare your own words, you decide the content. But when suddenly 2 people put camera in front of you, and you don’t know what question will come up, it’s scary and it’s out of your control.
Q: It’s like you are a puppet on a string.
C: We see now they are already nervous. Because they don’t know what’s going to happen, what kind of topic will be chosen.
Q And when this is all done they also need to be photographed.
D: It’s tricky. I have to say with some people I don’t only take photos of them afterwards, but also during the sessions, or before. Because sometimes I find it difficult to take photos on the spot and make them look natural, or have some artistic quality. I have to find the moment to introduce photography to the process so it won’t look too awkward. It’s difficult.
Q: For me maybe it’s easier to take photos of you two together, because you can just interact with each other, so you don’t need to notice the camera or me too much. But with one person its difficult to not get self conscious, because then there’s no distraction. It can feel very vulnerable to be in front of the camera. I need to talk to them a lot so they can relax. It’s a very psychological thing to do.
C: And you don’t have any format for your interview?
Q: No, it’s completely improvised. We probably start somewhere random, and sometimes we end up at some really interesting spots, we are really going under the surface, and that’s wen I feel the interview is going really well.
D: Actually the last interview we published was a bit like this. We had dinner with 6 people at the same table, and it was very spontaneous and different to our other interviews.
Q: And you published an interview with 6 people?
D: Yes. But it was a special subject about LBGT, it’s a special feature.
C: It was crazy work, I mean the transcrip. It’s was one hour talking that I need to transcribe.
Q: And with 6 people! But that’s not 10 minutes interview.
D: 10 minutes per person.
Q: I see. Having dinner around a big table with all those people and talking, that sounds very Italian!
C: Yes, as we are both Italians, this is indeed part of our culture. It’s a big part of our life that we are always sitting at the dinner table, and having a discussion of all sorts. Till today it’s still something I love the most, going somewhere with food, and talk to people.
Q: It’s your preferred way of socializing?
C: Of course I also like dancing. But being at the table, enjoying the food and having a good conversation, there’s nothing quite like it.
Q: It’s really one of life’s pleasures.
D: Talking is a pleasure. Finding out about people for me is also very pleasurable. Also I’m thinking in response to your question about authenticity, I think it takes training. Of course intuition is a big part of authenticity, and Claudia has been trained a lot because as a journalist she has conducted many interviews. So she’s very good with words, and she understands the essence of words. And with my background in psychology, I have been working with patients in clinics, I have a very trained feeling towards this kind of approach of talking to people. We have a very good training from different entrance points.
Q: You mean to be a good conversationalist, it takes practice? It doesn’t come natural to everyone?
C: Honestly for me, it’s really hard. For me it’s a challenge because I’m not the person who approaches people on the street. I’m actually a bit shy. I’m not someone who will just go to people, and say hi, we have this blog, can we have an interview. I have to step out of my comfort zone and get better with practice. It takes time for me to feel comfortable with it. But in the end it always gives me a good feeling.
Q: It’s a personal challenge to help you grow and broaden yourself.
C: Yes.
D: I think at the moment you are pretty good at making contact with people to make it happen.
C: I think it’s because it’s a limited time, I mean 10 minutes, and I’m very good at playing a rol.
D: You have a rol. It’s facilitating the interview.
C: Yes, I take this rol very serious. But I have to put myself in the situation deliberately, otherwise it won’t happen. Also I don’t like to be the person who is always leading and guiding.
D: You mean this is the situation you wouldn’t naturally choose for yourself? I find when you in it, you are very good at dealing with it authentically. You are the same Claudia I know in life when you interview people.
C: Perhaps it’s this love and hate thing.
Q: But you said it’s part of your culture. You grew up with always talking, and always having discussions at family dinner table. Do you have problem with talking to strangers?
C: You know I now say positively I really like the culture of talking, but the truth is it’s also kind of forced. It can get too much sometimes then I’m really closing up. It’s all about sitting at the table and talking.
Q: You have a love and hate feeling towards that tradition.
C: Yes. I love it but I don’t like it when it’s forced. This Italian culture of sitting down and eating and talking has always been there, and I’m not the person who enjoys doing things just because it’s expected that you do it. I like to do it because I feel like doing it, but not out of convention. Maybe I don’t want to do it sometime because it’s not a good day for it.
Q: It’s a bit paradoxical but in life a lot of things are paradoxical. It’s not always either black and white. Sometimes it’s both black and white, and maybe some shades of grey and some other colors in between.
D: Definitely.
Q: I have one last question. Nowadays people are using more and more technology to communicate, such as social medias and texting. Do you think this type of face to face communication is dwindling? And how do you feel about it?
D: I think so. It’s also our manifesto when we started our project, we are trying to listen to each other, and communicate authentically in the moment, because it’s almost like an exotic thing to do at this moment. In this sense we are bringing this normal, almost ancient thing back to the table, because we believe it’s the most basic human form of communication, and it’s still worth doing.
Q: I also believe this need to know and to be known by other people is inherent in our human nature. Nothing can change that.
C: I think this authenticity thing we mentioned earlier, people are looking for it more than ever. Living in this world and being very busy with social media, digital things and virtual reality, people are longing for more authenticity. For example people want to make real food, touch them and feel them. There is a movement that people want to get in touch with the more natural side of the world and ourselves.
Q: The problem is a lot of people are not really aware of their real need. They replace their real need with pseudo need and try to fulfill that void. By posing on Facebook they think they get attention, therefore their need is fulfilled. But the truth is that it is just the surface. Underneath they have deeper longing but they are oblivious about it.
D: It’s the basic assumption of personality disorder that such behavior is a learned strategy to satisfy what comes closest to the real need. They don’t address the real need because it’s too intimate, and they are vulnerable for it. So they have this compensational strategy to address the emotion that comes closets, and can partially satisfy their authentic need, but not really and it won’t last so they have to repeat the behavior.
Q: It’s like a circle and it will never get you where you need to be.
D: Exactly.
10 minutes on a mango tree
In their own words:

Considering our backgrounds in psychology and journalism, we both have always had a great fascination and deep interest in people’s stories. Meeting people whom we wouldn’t have met under different circumstances. Encounters that allow us to understand people’s motivations, wishes, ambitions and that let us understand the particular details that make each of us so unique.

By planting the mangotree we created a little oasis in the urban jungle. A place that is comfortable for people to feel free and share their thoughts or feelings. The image of sitting on a tree that clearly doesn’t exist in our city’s landscape, is a metafore for offline encounters with people who are willing to explore the unknown oasis.

During 10 minutes we ask questions and give people we meet time and space to talk about topics which to us are representative and relevant for the time we live in. Contemporary interviews 2.0 #mangoview.

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