“I’m not happy and I’m not relieved,” Katinka Simonse (better known as artist Tinkebell) told the judge on Tuesday morning. She is in the Amsterdam court as a victim of threats. The suspect is a young woman. She has already confessed. And she’s sad too.
Late on a summer evening in 2021, the woman wrote a personal message to Simonse on Instagram. It read: ‘You deserve DEATH and it’s a miracle you’re still alive! (…) Cancer bitch I hope they’ll turn you into a work of art when you’re dead too!’
Bag with killed cat
Artist and columnist Simonse (43) will appear in court for the first time on Tuesday as a victim of threats. Yet she has been receiving nasty messages for almost twenty years. Especially the art project My dear cat Pinky, from 2004, provokes angry reactions. Simonse then killed his sick cat Pinkeltje and made a bag from the skin. She was (among other things) concerned about the hypocritical way we treat animals: you can make a bag out of a cow, but not out of a cat.
When the project got some attention online, angry reactions quickly followed. Social media didn’t exist yet, but tens of thousands of emails came in from all over the world. There was no point in reporting it, she says: ‘Threats on the internet were not taken seriously for a long time. Sometimes I was told I brought it on myself. It’s also too much work to report every threat.’
In 2009, Simonse together with the artist Coralie Vogelaar made an anthology of the curses, the count now stands at around two hundred thousand. Vogelaar had investigated the threats: personal information about the senders and pictures could be found online. They also have a place in the book Dearest Tinkebell. Often they look completely harmless. Like the young woman in court Tuesday who says of her and her husband: ‘We’re just normal citizens.’
In his latest art projects, Simonse is no longer concerned with animal welfare, but with among other refugee reception and environmental pollution. Still, the threats continue: “There are still people who find out that I exist.” They no longer send angry emails, but find Simonse via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and send messages via anonymous accounts.
Because of all these threats, the artist is constantly on guard. She avoids busy places, her home address is strictly confidential, and she maintains close contact with the police. Cultural organizations regularly doubt whether they dare to cooperate. The artist’s friends are also sometimes harassed online.
In 2021, the threat became very serious. Simonse’s passwords were hacked and her home address found. A document called “Operation Kill Tink” circulated online and claimed that Simonse made millions from abusing animals. And her address was there. Simonse received several threatening messages from the hacker group Anonymous: ‘This is Operation Kill Tink. You can’t escape us, you can’t go anywhere. We will be there.’
“Operation Kill Tink”
Simonse decided to file a report again. Twice the Attorney General wanted to stop the investigation; at the artist’s insistence and after mayor Femke Halsema’s intervention, the prosecution continued anyway. With this lawsuit, the investigation will now close. According to Simonse, it is unjustified: ‘I think that this threat was simply highlighted because the sender was easy to track.’
In any case, the suspect has nothing to do with ‘Operation Kill Tink’. She had seen something about the artist on TV and was upset about it: ‘I also have a cat myself.’ That evening she wrote her message: “I wanted to write off my irritation.” Then she forgot again. Six months later, when ten policemen raided her house at six in the morning, she had ‘no idea’ what they were looking for.
The prosecution demands a conditional community service of twenty hours and a compensation of 200 euros, but the judge acquits the suspect. In her opinion, the message is too general to legally count as a threat. “I would never do it again,” he said. Simonse is not finished with the threats: ‘I think this case will make things worse again.’
Why a cat bag?
About the artist Tinkebell and her cat bag (My dear cat Pinky) many fake stories are circulating online. After the trial, the artist dedicated an episode of his podcast to it How it all went wrong. She describes to co-host Chris Aalberts why she made the bag, how she did it, and what happened next.