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Playing with the System

Thursday, June 4, 2015


In the Booijmans exhibition ‘Setting the Scene’ both a work of Joep van Lieshout and Bas Jan Ader are shown next to each other in the theme room System. Does it make sense to combine these artists and to place them in this category? We try to answer this question by looking at the oeuvre of both artists.


The work of van Lieshout  that is shown in the exhibition is 12 crates, 12 stones. By ‘accident’ van Lieshout found out that they exactly fit together. But this is not all that random, because almost everything around us is build according to a system of standard measurements.

But 12 crates, 12 stones is not really representative for the work of Van Lieshout, aesthetically it looks like an outsider. He does however frequently use the notion of System in his work, but rather in the sense of human systems.

Joep van Lieshout, 12 stones - 12 crates, 1987

A good example is his work slave city (2005-2008). In the concept for this city, van Lieshout  developed a system to re-use human bodies. The inhabitants that are not suitable for work can be recycled.

Van Lieshout, Zero Foot Print, 2008

Next to  this conceptual approach van Lieshout makes a lot of visual work showing the human system. In his organ sculpture series he took parts of this inner system outside of the body in a big and stylised form.

Van Lieshout, Organs - Penis XL, 2003

He also took the shape of organs into design and architecture. A great example is the CasAnus, a giant sculptural enlargement of the digestion system. The inside contains everything that a comfortable hotel room has, and for 120 euros you can spend the night in it.

Van Lieshout, CasAnus, 2007

If I reflect his work, I would say that Van Lieshout uses the human body system in two major ways. Both provocative (showing the inside, using body as flesh, focus on genitals) and functional (recycling, using shapes for design).



Bas  Jan  Ader’s  work  Primary  time  is  also  shown  in  the  the  room  System  as  wel. The   connection  to  this  video  with  the  theme  is just as  Van  Lieshouts’s  12  crates  12   stones-­  totally  obvious:  a  bouqetue  of  flowers  are  variously  arranged  by  variating   colour.

Bas Jan Ader, Primary Time, 1974

But  is  Bas  jan  Aders  further  ouvre  related  to  this  theme  as  wel  or  is  it  just  this   specific  work  that  fits  in?   On  fitst  hand  I tought  the last  example  was  trough.  But  when  I  made  a  small   investigation  on  his  work  I  saw  it  was  very  accurate  to  place  him  in the  room   “system”.   When  you  look  at  the  whole  ouvre  of  Bas  Jan  Ader  you  can  recognise  a  certain   struggle  with  the  system.  For example  in the  “fall”  serie”.  He  falls  from  a  roof,  from  a   bike,  from  a  brach,  etc.  He  puts  himself  in  situations  where  the  fall  is ineveteble,  the   gravity  wil  win  overpower  anyway.  In  this  work  he  is  dealing  with  the  rules  of   gravity:  a  deadlocked  system.  He reveals in  a metaphorical  way  how  this  system  is   overpowering  us.

Bas Jan Ader, Fall II, Amsterdam, 1970

The  work  “PietNiet”  shows  Mondriaan-­alike  paintings  with  no  horizontal  &  vertical   lines  but  only  diagonal  lines,  with  letters  in  them forming  the  statement  “piet  niet”   (what  means  “no  piet”).  Also  in  this  work  you  can  recognise  this  urge  to  uncover  a   system,  in  this case  more  related  to  the  artworld.

In  his  famous  and  fatal  last  work  “in  search  of  the  miraculous”  he  tried  to  cross  the   ocean  in  a  little  boat.  This  failed  and  he  died somewhere  on  the  the  atlantic  sea.  It’s   very  clear  that  he  challenging  mortality  here;  the  ultimate  system  that  we  all  obey.   Bas  Jan Ader  as  a  filibuster  who  used  poetic  metaphors  who  that  the  attempt  to   bring  down  every  system,  even  if  its  doomed  to  fail,  and maybe even,  especially   because  its  doomed  to  fail.



Bas  Jan  Ader  and  Joep  van  Lieshout  both  deal  with  systems  in  their  work.    At   van  Lieshout  work  this  is  more  a  fascination; he isolates  and  enlarges  certain   systems  in  a  -often  humoristic-­  visual  language.  To  play  around  and  to  investigate   them.  Bas  Jan Ader  is more  challenging  the  system,  he  tries  to  break  them  down,   what  gives  a  more  philosophical  note  to  his  work.  And  maybe, because  all his   attemps  fail,  you  can  even  call  it  romantic.

On  the  other  hand  is  there  also  a  big  thing   these  artist  might  have  in common;  an  awareness  of  how  many  systems  are  dictating   us. Bas  Jan  Ader  plays  around  with  the  systems  of  life  itself,  Joep  van Lieshout  is   finding  this  challange  maybe  more  in  the  artworld.  He breaks  the  distuigishment   between  art  en  design  and  he  makes  it inpossible  for  the  vieuwer  to  put  a  stamp  on   his  work.  Maybe  smart from  van  Lieshout  to  find  this  chalange  in  the  art  world  and  not in the real world, because – as Bas Jan Ader showed – playing around with the systems of real life can be fatal.


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