Issue 44: ProFile with Otto Vossen

Amidst my travels to India, Malaysia and Taiwan last year I kept bumping into one of the most enjoyable and personable kite people I’d ever met… Otto turned up everywhere, displaying his unique hand made kites and seemed to share a real feeling of good will and equality everywhere, with every group we came in contact with, even going so far as to keep up correspondance with a great number of people around the world BY SNAIL MAIL. Additionally, his art kite concepts are 100% original, provoking, and tend to cover a wide spectrum of humanity.

He’s a truly outrageous guy and terribly funny, an asset to any festival he attends… With that being said, I’ll just let Otto speak for himself.

Where are you from originally?

Originally, as I always use to say to my mother, I am the product of a cold Christmas night in 1951, which came after a better party with nice wines and who knows what… She hates me saying that, but she never said it was not true. It anyway is the reason why I was born in september 1952. I’m Dutch. Born in the south and living there again after I moved 13 times as well abroad as in The Netherlands.

How did you get involved in kiting (what originally attracted you to it)?

I started kiting, when I was very young. My mother made kites for me and she loves it very much, too. You can see on this picture, where I am about 4 years old.

Getting older I forgot about kiting. One gets to be a teenager and kiting didn’t fit in that.

In 1988 I saw, during holiday, people at the beach with a parafoil. I had my thoughts as many have… Some kids!!!  Nothing better to do, ha???!!!  At the third day I had a small chat with them. About 3 months later I told that story to a good friend of mine and he said he liked the idea of kiting. It is when I bought my first delta for US $8.  My mother asked me if there was nothing better I could have spent my money on… But, she turned her thoughts and I was allowed to sew at her sewing machine. When we at a sunday went kiting at a field in my mothers neighbourhood, she always showed up. She loved to hold lines. At a later moment (she must have been about 65 years old) she wanted not just stand with a line and wanted to try a sport kite. I gave her an easy one and showed her a bit how to do. She went on flying for about half an hour without hitting the ground. She then asked if I had a kite with a bit more of pull than the kite she was flying now, which was a bit boring… Well, she got a big Hawaiian and later she flew a Wiebke (strong puller). She flew about 4 hours and enjoyed it with a straight smile at her face. I haven’t told her about a Revolution as I probably would have to give it to her for a new hobby.

The expression

“A series with a message, but easy and for a big audience. The kites will show pictures of people, who “gave” to me with their heart and mind and to whom I was allowed to “give” to their heart and mind.”

Is there anyone who has been a major influence on you, in regard to kiting?

No, not really and yes, many. None in particular. I liked to go kiting and see my delta fly before I went to the first kite-festival. Much later I started to admire and have respect to many kiters for their creativity.

I don’t like to copy and be copied. I think everyone should have its own style and that would make a happy sky. I always say that each kite is the mirror of the one standing on the ground holding the line. Some artists really have their own style like Michael Alvarez and his boxes or Michel Gressier with his special paint and forms, Ines Elvira Uribe from Columbia with her handpainted and busy kites and tails or Robert Trepannier with his humans. Just examples, because there are hundreds of kiters with their own style. It is nice to look at all these styles and what people do.

It taught me a lot about the passion these people have and how they express that. For all that came to light, when doing a kite project, which was called PROJEKT E2. It was open to everybody. Membership was done by making a kite with 2 Eddies and a square in black/red/white with maximum size 150m, to make it something for everybody and not only for those who think big kites are the most beautiful kites.

Look at different web sites to get to know more about this. It is still open and everyone can learn a lot on what kites fly. In fact this was a very creative kite-project, where all were admiring each other. That was the nicest thing about it. People were not jealous at each other. In fact all these people (125 members) with their 175 kites and even more ideas have told me that kiting and making kites has more than just a kite in the air.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for *new* people just getting involved in kiting?

I would say : Join the club and join a club. Most kiters are stand-alone and they should meet people with the same feelings. But, be aware of those, who are telling that they had it all and know it all. They are not the fine people in the kite scene and they just try to look interesting without really giving to the kite scene an audience.

It is also very different in the different countries. If you live in India, I would ask : “Have you never played a kite?” and here in The Netherlands it is more like join a club and join kiters to get the fun out of it.

What is it about kiting that most appeals to you now and keeps you involved?

Don’t get tricky, but yes, my drive for making and showing kites is the motivation I put in them. I think that it is nice to see a lot of kites in the sky in all kinds of sizes and colours. That should just be a part of the show. If we (and for all I mean the Europeans and not the Asians and alas, I can’t speak for the festivals in North America) want to keep on having our kite festivals, we will have to attract a bigger audience.

One of the ways is working with themes or special art. In a way, the big kites Peter Lynn started to make and show some years ago, where a new kind of art and a special theme was shown. It gave a new sight to kiting to see a very large kite. His theme animals of the sea is a great idea and I think Peter should stick to that. It is why I work after themes in the past years like Kissing the sky (who is around at a festival and what do kiters do), ART to REMEMBER (paintings made like EDO’s of artists, who died young and thus a new chance is given to remember them) or my actual theme BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE, where I show portraits of friends of mine and ask audience and kiters not to forget their friends and it is normal to thank them for what they do for you. Working with themes gives the public the extra, which is needed.

Look at football players and why people love them. Why do people play certain computer games? Why do people drive certain cars ? It all fits in peoples behavior and that is what organisations of kite-festivals often forget. If a festival wants to keep on attracting people, your first interest is the public and then you must fit in the kiters and their kites. Well, anyway, if you want to be sure to organise and survive whilst presenting a good festival something on the long term and not just the short term…. I think….

And there is something else to look at. It is called children. If children get a kite, they always think it will fly, when they start running. That means they expect that when they put in an effort, the kite will do so as well. Children have no interest in the technique. They want the pride of their kite in the air without any kind of competition. At a festival, they want their pride between all other pride. They want to be a part of it all. That for sure is something to use at a festival.

When making a workshop, don’t praise too much on what colours they use. It is their imagination, which should be respected. If they just want a kite, they don’t fit in a workshop and take care of that in that way. Children always start jumping, laughing and screaming if their kite is up. That is something which comes from pride. That is what should also be used in a fine way and thus can also be used on grown-ups. Let them paint on an excisting kite and you will also get jumping and laughing grown-ups, who in a sudden feel for kiting as they are meeting their own power of doing. Who starts ? Just pick people from the audience and go for it. You will get an astonishing result. The best way to promote a festival is when people talk about it…. !!!!

In what ways has kiting affected your life?

Very, very much. I know I am a friend of water and wind. I have been sailing for many years and learned people sailing. For professional reasons I had to stop that as I also moved to another region and later other country. Now, I am a professional kiter and I do just that for a living. A big change for life though !! What bigger effect can you get?

What types of kites do you favor the most, or specialize in?

There is no special form, but I remark that I love the one line flat kite, which shows much colours and my kites have a message. Most of them after my own design and they should give that little extra, which is needed at kitefestivals. That motivates me, too. That brought me also to have most kites of the series BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE to carry tails. These tails are of fabric from India as a thank you to the people of India, where I was allowed to spent many weeks with them. These people are so great that I added that to this theme.

How do you go about designing a new kite?

I do a lot at the computer, but most of the times it starts at a boring day, whilst designing at the border of a newspaper, looking at something boring at the TV or when I must wait in some waiting room / airplane or so. The best designs found their origin in this way.

What kind of sewing machine(s) do you use?

I have 3 sewing machines. The PFAFF 1220 is my favourite one. I sew by hand as little as possible.

How do you feel about kite making competition?

Not so good. As I said a kite is a mirror of psyche of the kitemaker and it is of a great failure to judge that, when having respect in mind. So, in fact you can’t do competition on who people are with their selfmade kites. Judging is already happening enough. I was a judge in kitemaking competitions moreoften. The two tricky question for these kitemakers is always :”Why did you make this kite?” and the other one “Why do you bring this kite in for a competition? ”Do I turn the question now back to you? But there is hope: Why not let kiters make their own kite at a festival in a competitive way? Who can have it quickest in the air? Or, like I saw in Pasir Gudang (Malaysia), where people in groups make the nicest Wau in technical and artistic and traditional way.

You can let group of people create kites, so that the audience can see how it works. Or the action of the Drachen Foundation in Cervia, where they putted down some EDO’s and had people painted them. That gave a colourful extra to what Art and kites can be. If a competition is an extra way of expression of feelings and this is presented in a positive way, I think great results can be expected. At the same time you give something for the kiters and the audience.

What would you recommend to people getting into kite making for the first time?

Don’t make that kite too big and let your heart out in all kind of skills and creativity. It is “YOU”, who is creating something. Let everybody have their thoughts. As soon as it flies, people will remark your new hobby to be different from anything else. Only for technique and materials, it is nice to talk to other kiters as you may not loose, what you are doing. It is okay to learn from others how they work and why, but then one should stop learning. Just stick to your own ideas and make the world happier.

Aside from kiting, what other hobbies/sports/activities are you involved in?

We can make a wonderful day, which has all my hobbies combined. Getting up on a sunny day with a nice swim followed by a british breakfast with lots of ham and eggs and juices of all kind and sweet things to make the appetite grow for some Asian hot noodles with fine Indian sauce. Then drive away in a 60’s British made sports convertible (I used to restore these types of cars as a hobby) to go out sailing in an open dinghy (sailing was my big hobby for about 10 years). Go kiting at the afternoon at a beach. In the evening a nice bbq in a garden at an ancient castle with lots of fine veal and mutton, lots of fruits with a lot of friends with fine classic piano music played live. The evening starts with a band playing music of the 70’s or lets make it mad and invite the Rolling Stones to be followed by Sting and Elton John. And for the night a nice loving …. well… not all hobbies need to be described, do they? The idea

“After having learned “never be too late” to start on a new theme, I started to develop my new theme during 2004. It started flying from 01.january, 2005. From 01.august full concentration was on that new theme. I had a nice theme, but found it not to be complete. At my stay abroad during the late summer, I was meeting very many people, who gave with their heart and mind and to whom I was allowed to give with my heart and mind.”

“That gave the idea and name for BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE.”

Is there anything you’d like to say to the kiting world as a whole?

Start kiting and remember that when you are on a festival, you are there to present something and not to chat days with each other and not to drink coffee for hours. Alcohol should never be on a kitefield (think about the children and don’t learn them you can only fly kites, when you drink whisky). It is also important to make the audience part of the festival. So talk to them or go fly with them. Don’t let them just be the walking-around-tourists.

What thoughts do you have on kiting’s influence on global culture?

This question puts on many question. What is kiting? What is the difference between kiting and many other happenings, which attracts thousands of people ? Kiting has different ways of getting to it. Is it pure technique ? Is it just a toy ? Is it the game between you and the wind? Is it the joy of colours? Is it art in an other way? What is the difference between looking at a football match and a kite-festival? I think that if kiting would become the no. 1 activity worldwide, we for sure will have a much better world.

Look at India. Everybody flies kites. From poor to rich. Cutting of each others kite is one of the habits. But, people enjoy their kites. You can make yourself or buy for a few rupies. And the good thing about kiting is that you can almost do it anywhere outside. Nobody hates kiting and that is one of the biggest advantages, kiters have. That could be used in some way to make it a nuisance for a bigger public. Kitefestivals can be a start for that as they already attract many people. Perhaps this western world is spoiled too much with computergames etc. It seems that people have a better day, when they killed 150 people on their computer instead of making one other person happy with a selfmade kite.

Global culture? What a pity most people are so spoiled and don’t even remark themselves. That kiting will never be the number 1 activity worldwide has its base in what people find important and behave after that. Still the main-feeling is that flying kites is for children and that is the biggest pity. Perhaps we must take the initiative, like organising a kite-festival on the grounds of the White House or for all deputies of the UN. Why not organise a kiteday in Irak for peace ? I let kites flying on a place , where they had an important football match. The colours of the kites, were the clubcolours. The astonishing effect was, that people kept on staring at it, instead of going to the toilet or buy drinks. For me that is a prove that masses of people are interested in “something nice happening” and that could well be kites.

Do you see any differences in the way festivals are done in the USA, compared to other countries?

This is an open shout from you, which I take directly ! YES !! I WOULD LIKE TO COME TO A KITE FESTIVAL IN THE US, So… thanks for the invitation !!! And, oh by the way… Canada would be nice, too…

The kites

“A unique concept, which is being reflected in the kites by means of material, expression, construction and artistic design. The colours of each kite is a mix, depending on the favourite colour of the person shown. The kites will show easy they are different at least by there unique use of prints. Many have other specials, like brand new constructions or form. Most of them will carry tails in a mix of original Indian fabrics in honour of my own experiences with the people of India. All people shown, are dear friends of me and have given their OK to be a member of the theme.”

What are some of your favorite kite festivals, and why?

There is a difference between what is a good festival for me and what is a good festival. Organisers want to attract masses of people or / for commercial succes. For me that is different. For me a good festival is when many people have understood what I mean with my kites and start talking and acting like that. A nice sunny day with a nice wind just is not enough. Some favourite festivals are those, which give that little extra, like Cervia (the only festival, which combines art and kites), Marseille (the only festival, which combines children, grown-ups, kites, personal view on kites by kiters for the audience and good ambience) and all festivals in Asia for their joy and human respect, with the masses of tradition. Give people a smile on the face and heart. Then you are succesful in kiteflying.

Do you think that the kiting scene will ever become mainstream, and how might we go about making it happen?

I already gave the idea away…. Read my booklet about BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE and you know what you can do. This is just an example and probably I get a new idea in the coming time, which gives it even more away. Kiting is something from the mind. It is not like sports and not just something technical. So, I hope kiting will never be a mainstream as such. Look at India , where it is a mainstream, but there kiting means something totally different from the rest of the world. In India everybody can fly kites. I don’t hesitate to give my kiteline to any India man or woman as they will take care of it like real parentship. It looks as if they pray it in the sky and it will stay there as peaceful in right atmosphere. Perhaps that is what most people in this world are missing….. the passion.

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences with our readers Otto… As I’ve said before, you are a real pleasure to travel and share the skies with, I hope to have the chance again very soon.

Click here to see Otto’s Creations!