BRING YOUR OWN BEAMER @STEDELIJK DOOR DAN DICKHOF (JEGENS & TEVENS DEN HAAG)
Sinds Beatrix Ruf aan het Stedelijk verbonden is, is het weer bijzonder leuk om er te komen. Zo ook tijdens de spontane BYOB-party (Bring Your Own Beamer) afgelopen donderdag 2 september. Het fenomeen bestaat al een tijdje en werkt als een pop-up expositie voor een avond.
Het Stedelijk Museum had kunstenaars uit heel Nederland uitgenodigd om present te zijn met eigen beamer, laptop en uiteraard kunstvideo. In het Teijin Auditorium toonden zij hun video’s alsof het een negentiende-eeuwse salon van schilderijen betrof: op ooghoogte en tot aan het plafond. Grote en kleinere projecties wisselden elkaar af. Het bestond overigens niet alleen uit officiële kunstvideo’s, alles was welkom: ‘…van VJ sets en Kinect systems tot slideshows en homevideos,’ zoals het museum zelf aangaf.
Het was wachten tot acht uur, toen de deuren open gingen en iedereen nieuwsgierig en verwonderend naar binnen stroomde. De overweldigende projecties en geluiden werkten als een visuele waterval. Landschappen, surrealistische filmpjes, scènes in- en onder water, psychedelische beelden, close-ups van gezichten en beelden waar met computer-geanimeerde teksten en woorden werd gespeeld. De ogen werden continu verleid door de veelvoud aan kleuren en beelden.
Wat bij binnenkomst al intrigeerde was het werk van de vorig jaar aan de Academie Beeldende Kunsten Maastricht (ABKM) afgestudeerde Hester van Tongerlo (1991). Zij zelf of, liever gezegd, haar lichaam, was onderwerp van de getoonde opname. Gevangen binnen het kader van de cameralens zag je een kwetsbare jonge vrouw in bikini, met haar rug naar de dreigende golven gekeerd. Het beeld vertoont een hoge horizon, waardoor de zee alom aanwezig is, alleen in de verte vaart er een groot schip in de smalle strook lucht die nog binnen het beeld valt. Het geheel zorgde voor een beklemmende situatie en door het gekozen standpunt werd je blik vastgehouden.
Hoewel je aanvankelijk een glimlach moeilijk kan onderdrukken, Van Tongerlo lacht zelf ook nog even, verlies je die vrolijkheid snel (als je de golf ziet opkomen) als duidelijk wordt hoe heftig de gefilmde ervaring is. De opname is in december gemaakt, bij een temperatuur van -3 graden! Ze trotseert de koude zee een kwartier, dat lijkt kort, maar duurt in die kwetsbare omstandigheden een eeuwigheid. Een gevaarlijke tijd zelfs. Haar gezicht verkrampt, evenals haar lichaamspose. Op haar bleke huid ontstaan rode vlekken. Ze maakt stuitende bewegingen en grimassen. Ze staat er moederziel alleen, alleen de camera ziet haar, de mensen op het strand liepen door.
Één passerende vrouw trekt zich er wel wat van aan. Hoewel dit puur een videofilm was en niet zodanig als performance werd georganiseerd, was de reactie van de vrouw een extra toevoeging voor Van Tongerlo (hoewel niet gefilmd). Deze vrouw werd boos, uit pure bezorgdheid, op de kunstenares. Ze had wel een hartstilstand kunnen krijgen! Dat had Van Tongerlo zich niet gerealiseerd, maar het maakte de video nog dramatischer, dan hij al was. De hele film kenmerkt zich door een ingetogen dramatiek, vertolkt op een visueel aantrekkelijke wijze. De kleuren zijn koel, het kader heeft geleid tot een interessante compositie, met name ook door de traagheid van het voorbijtrekkende, maar o zo verre schip. Van dat schip hoefde het meisje niets te verwachten.
Van Tongerlo maakt films die voortkomen uit voorafgaande projecten en aan de basis van haar artistieke onderzoek staat haar studie naar het omgaan van mensen met hun eigen lichaam en de reactie van het menselijk lichaam op bepaalde situaties. Hoewel dit sinds de zestiger jaren al vele malen is gedaan, slaagt Van Tongerlo met deze film toch tot een waardevolle aanvulling van deze conceptuele praktijk.
THE ARTIST’S TRAGIC SOLITUDE BY ROB VAN GERWEN
In the footage, we see Van Tongerlo on her knees in the cold, cold sea, her gaze toward the camera. She suffers. The sea scourges her—and always from behind, unexpected. The shaking, the cold, her checked resolve. The artist, her work, her business, her body. We watch it for minutes on end, it is fascinating. Then, far off in the background, a ship smooths along—unplanned, unexpected, unnoticed by the artist.
The image that we see in the video, reminds one of the famous painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Icare’s Fall. In it, we see Icare tumble into a river—that is to say, we see a tiny leg stick out of the water. The farmers on the land, and the boats around him go about with their daily business. Icare goes down after a heroic act, but fameless and honourless—that is what Brueghel wants to tell us. The painting makes one ponder.
In the old Greek myth, Icare was imprisoned by king Midas, in a labyrinth with his father Daedalus, and he tried to escape by flying away with wings glued with wax to a rickety structure. Ignoring his father’s warnings not to fly too close to the sun because the heat would melt the wax, Icare, in his youthful hubris, climbed too high nevertheless. And so his wings melted and he fell into the Aegean Sea.
One can easily view the belittling of everyday limitations as art’s substance—Icare symbolises the artist. The artist, too, tries to cross the limits that life confronts her with. And the artist is as vulnerable as Icare was, as well. In Brueghel’s painting, Icare does not drop into a desolate, empty sea, but into a river abundant with life—the theme of his painting is no longer merely the artist’s elation, but the solitude of his struggle to overcome the limits of the everyday. Brueghel turns all this into a painting. With him, art still has faith in its own creative force.
The lonely struggle is clearly present in Van Tongerlo’s work. But what is her work? To sit on your knees in the cold sea and look the limitations of your bodily endurance in the eye. Typically, the work is seen only by the camera. Without the camera no other persons would ever have seen it. But then the ship passes along, unbeknownst by the artist. Thus, in the video, a clear reference to Icare surfaces, via Brueghel’s painting—strengthened by the fact that, apart from the interaction between the sea and the vulnerable woman on her knees, nothing else happens in the video. But there is a clear difference with Brueghel’s painting. With Van Tongerlo it is the world that makes this image of the artist’s solitude, not the artist herself—unlike the writer of the myth, or the painter. And it is being recorded by a machine. The footage has not been edited. The world did make this image of the artist’s solitude.
It is for reasons such as these that I think that in this work we can, also, see the state that contemporary art is in. So, there, Van Tongerlo is sitting, within the confines of her performance, in the sea; there she is, being a work of art, experiencing what Icare must have felt falling down. As a third generation, so to speak, this work addresses the tininess of creativity; art’s quietude. Art’s essence is too small to be put centre stage. But mind, the work is not the video that we are watching; it is the event itself: Van Tongerlo’s struggle with the hostilely cold sea, and the silent witness in the background who notices nothing of it all.
“AN AFTERNOON WITH HESTER” BY GIORGIS KARRAS
Talking with Hester van Tongerlo in a quite empty room in her art-school, I had the opportunity to ask her about many things and find out about even more. We talked about the ways she comes up with her ideas and how these are transformed into artworks. Unavoidably the discussion led us to somewhat more abstract waters as we also touched upon her views on art as art. But a talk on art for her is secondary and what really maters is the whole artistic process. Art is not simply one object but Art blends with ones life-style. It is a process of imaginative thinking, creation and reflection. An artwork is simply an object that pinpoints a certain moment within that artistic process while the different mediums are simply the means to communicate this moment to an audience. “Everything I do is always in a movement” she told me. “You cannot isolate a work. For me, the process is really important”
Also according to Hester, we cannot talk of an atelier either. At least for one that is limited to a single geographical location. This is for the simple reason that stages of the artistic process take place in random moments while as human beings we are moving entities. It is inevitable then that a moment of artistic creation and birth-moments of ideas will take place in unplanned locations. The Supermarket, a bar or a highway can all function well as ‘potential ateliers’. In Hester’s view one finds him/her-self practicing art anywhere and at all times. Only necessity is the awakened artistic eye or mind that scans its surroundings in order to find a material or a transcendent entity that for whatever reason interests it. The job of the artist then is to highlight these entities and by choosing the most suitable of the artistic means to present them to the world. “Influences can come from anything,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be from an artwork. Anything can influence me equally as art. I don’t value a painting more than I value a philosophical idea or an image that drags my attention while I am driving my car. The beginning of the idea can be in a bar, if I see someone with really weird beard or just watching television by myself. It is something that triggers me. I write it down, draw a little sketch or take a picture and leave it on the side for a while. You always need that little distance from the first idea in order to proceed making something else with it. In the beginning it is all about the feeling you get from things. It’s like an instinct. Sometimes you don’t even know why you chosen to do something but then you return to it and see the reasons clearly.”
From a similar perspective, Hester also looks upon the way she transforms her ideas into artworks. This is to say that her works are not overly planned beforehand. Rather, as she explained to me, there is something more instinctual that leads her artistic process. A push from a creative drive without a conscious end. However, ultimately all happens for a reason within her artistic process. As she explains, these reasons are recognized by her only after the artwork is complete: “You have people who calculate everything and know exactly what they’re doing when they do it. For me it’s just happening. Everything is just happening all the time. Sometimes I believe an idea is really silly and think ‘why I would do that’ but then I just do it because I have that feeling that tells me so. Then afterword’s when all is done I see why I did what I did. Also only coming back I see what the work is worth to me and why I had to do it. It can be really weird sometimes. It all starts with a feeling. Only later you can see what was all about.” And she adds: “In whatever you do, sometimes its scary to always see yourself coming back. But the difference with art is that an artwork is only part of your process and never the end of it. You can always think about it and learn from that, it is never done.”
Noteworthy, for Hester, what we call here ‘the artistic process’ does not stop once the –interesting for the eye entity is highlighted. Rather in the artistic process we include also the actions of artistic communication, criticism from the audience and re-evaluation and reflection upon an artwork that from within it, the next artwork will be born. One could say that it is all an artistic loop. Everyone and everyone’s thoughts are welcome in the artistic process of reflecting and re-evaluating the artworks. Hester sees the audience as a necessary element in the artistic process: “I cannot tell I make art,” she said. “Art needs interaction. Audience is necessary. I just do work of course with what keeps me busy at the moment. But its not me who will decide whether this is art or not”. But for Hester, the interaction between the work and the audience does not stop on a simple criticism of the piece by the ones who see it. Rather the viewer is in a way pushed by the artwork itself to include his own self into it. This is for Hester a very interesting part of the whole process that can be even proven very rewarding. As she said: “I don’t see my art as conceptual. There is space where the audience can put their own vision into my work. I prefer if people first see my work for themselves and then come and talk to me. Their ideas can even make me see my own work differently. Discussion on what I do is always welcome and it helps me develop further my work. Take the sea movie for example, maybe you thought it was about suffering, or you thought of feminism, anyone could project whatever in it. It is always nice to see what other people can see in your work. Often I come across ideas that I never thought before. I don’t like to include these projections into my work. I prefer to put them next to it. I think like that my work gains more layers. In a way the audience is a part of the whole process. For me, there are no boundaries to that. It could be interesting to see even someone screaming at me, or even in the sea-movie trying to get me out of the sea. A lady even got very angry and told me that I could have died there. I found this very interesting. Even if they scream or get mad, it is always a reaction, and that’s how you know it does something.”
Thinking of the artwork as a deliberately highlighted moment, Hester works with many different artistic mediums. I wondered how she is matching these moments with the different ways of capturing them. This is what she told me: “The choice of the medium depends on the idea. It is about where do you want to put the emphasis on. You have to take in consideration the context of where your presentation will be as well. This is especially true for the performances, as when I do them I never rehearse beforehand. I think it doesn’t make sense with what I do to rehears. It would not be honest anymore because I would have expectations about it and that would put me in a role. Also for this reason I always have someone who takes care of my safety. They don’t touch me, they just look if I faint or something. About the pictures is a deferent story, I like to drive in my beetle car. I have my camera always with me. When I see something I stop and get out. I see it like I am just catching a moment of humanity there. There is a temporary installation that I notice and I have to capture it on camera.”
Finally, human nature and the limits of human body, is a reoccurring theme in Hester’s artworks. When I asked her what kind of superpower she would choose, she told me that: “I am not sure if I would like to have a superpower. It is a difficult question. But having one would completely change the theme of my work. For me human nature and its limits is a big motivation for doing things and I am not sure if I’d like to lose that.”