Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Talk is Cheap

In 2009 I was 19 years old and I visited the city of Paris with my then girlfriend. We of course did all the touristy things and at the Notre Dame I was struck by some of the niches that were made almost completely in granite. At the time I was building little models of spaces and I thought it would be interesting to create a space where there was no color, where everything was grey.

Guus van der Velden
Of course to make such a space requires time, money and, uh, space, which are all things I didn't have at the time, so the project never materialised into more than a simple idea and a simple maquette. As time went on, I didn't think much of the project, the idea seemed to me too obvious, too commonplace to really put any long time effort towards and thus it just became one of many things that I would never get to realise. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I came into contact with the work of Hans op de Beeck, who has been making a steady career out of building grey landscapes since the early 2000's.

Hans op de Beeck
I don't want to judge the work of op de Beeck too harshly, as it takes a considerable amount of craftsmanship that I probably don't even posses today, but it came as quite a shock when I first realised that other people can capitalise on what you might consider a lacklustre idea just by executing it better, or even executing it at all.

Since then this has happened quite a number of times to me, where I've made an attempt at a work and abandon it, only to find the exact same principle shown in a museum or celebrated at some other large exhibition.

de Rijke / de Rooij - Guus van der Velden
Ger van Elk - Guus van der Velden
Silvia Bächli - Guus van der Velden
Charbel-joseph H. Boutros - Guus van der Velden
This last example is particularly interesting because I had the idea of overlapping a great number of images during my first year of art school. I worked on it a bit before enthusiastically presenting it to my teachers, who immediately shot it down as being too straightforward and without any redeeming visual aesthetic qualities.

It must also be said that I haven't always had the best documentation of these ideas, as I most commonly wasn't particularly enticed by what I have done. I mean, finding that straight copper can be bent easily by hand isn't exactly the kind of discovery that every artist hopes to find one day.

Chaim van Luit - Guus van der Velden
Of other ideas I have no documentation at all, so the only thing that is left is an anecdote. Like when right before leaving on a trip to Canada I had the idea to crumple up a canvas, then paint it and let this determine how the painting looks. I did some tests on paper and left them lying on the floor of my studio before I got on a plane the morning after.
Upon arriving in Montreal, the first museum I visited was the MAC and there they had a big work by Simon Hantaï hanging in their lobby.
So when I got home, I crumpled up my paper once again and threw it in the trash.

Jac Leirner
I also had this exact idea Jac Leirner had, albeit with a different intention. I wanted to make a lamp with a wire long enough to lose a significant amount of power in the process, so that the lamp would shine slightly less bright than it normally would. I had calculated I would need about 20 kilometers of wire before this would noticeably occur and I decided it wasn't worth it to spend a few thousand euro's on making this a reality.

It has been somewhat difficult for me to write this post, as it meant that I had to showcase some ideas that never left the studio and often were never meant to leave the studio. At the same time this post can easily be mistaken as a way to belittle the ideas of other artists, by claiming that I had similar ideas when I was sometimes very young. I don't believe that this is the case though, as material execution still is the most defining characteristic of a work and in almost all cases my own execution has either been lacking or was non-existent.

Nevertheless I must admit that in the past I have at times felt frustration about these occurrences, although now I see that it is a simple and perhaps unavoidable consequence of my own approach when conceiving work. I nearly always try to see all the possibilities of a certain material or situation, to then try and find an alternative or uncommon way to approach the subject, while still retaining some amount of internal logical consistency. As I also believe that this a common practice of art in general, I shouldn't be surprised to find that some other artists have found similar and somewhat commonplace possibilities to what almost always are readily available materials.