241 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

By coincidence, I stumbled upon a big slide archive that contained more than six hundred old Kodachrome slides. The owner, a blonde lady, who I estimated to be her forties, and who I previously contacted about picking up some vintage audio equipment, saw me looking at the big pile of yellow squared boxes and asked me, ‘Are you interested in this photography stuff?’

‘Yes I am very interested!’ Inside my hart almost stopped, knowing these boxes must be full of slides.

‘Okay, you can take them,’ she replied, ‘the person who was supposed to pick them up never replied.'

I continued the conversation and explained that as an artist, I work with found footage. She replied that she understood the importance of saving cultural heritage. Happy as a child, I left with my newfound treasures: the boxes of Kodak slides, some 8mm films, analog film/photo cameras and the audio equipment.

Looking at the first slides from my projector at home I recognized her on the family photos, they contained a big part of her childhood. I wondered if she had made a mistake by giving them away? Suddenly this question felt awkward for me, usually I don’t have contact with the owners of my found footage and they remain anonymous for me. I wondered if I should return them but my curiosity won me over.

After carefully reviewing all of the images, I selected, re-arranged and scanned nine photos in a period of two weeks. I sent them to her via a private message as a surprise, thinking she would like seeing the photos. But it also felt weird to not ask her permission before publishing them.

This situation in which I had to ask permission proved to be a nerve wrecking experience, because there was always the possibility that she’d want the photos back! After a while she replied, a bit shocked, because in a quick glance all she had seen were the pictures of herself. She wrote me: ‘Who are you and why do you have photos of me!?’ I can imagine it’s kind of creepy, seeing pictures of yourself sent to you by a stranger!

After reading the full message with my concept in it, she luckily replied that she was fine with me making a series of the slides. Still, I felt puzzled as to why she gave them away, but who am I to disagree? She felt that it wasn’t important for her to be mentioned in the credits and asked me to remove the last photo in the series. It's been three months now and she hasn't showed any interest in the slides at all.

So here it is: the series titled ‘A.k.a. the life of’ tells the story of a young child growing up into adolescence seen through the lens of her parent(s). The photographer, I think it’s her father, made an effort framing, staging and capturing the child’s discovery of new things, holidays, road trips, playfulness, love for animals and finally as a teenager looking into her own reflection, slowly forming her identity as a young woman.

I have a background as an experimental filmmaker and believe that each image contains its own story and I treat the found images as if they were frames from a film that is in the making. By thoroughly scrutinizing flea markets, second hand shop and even waste dumps, I find, collect and scan photographic and slide images. By re-arranging this media I try to create new narratives to give existing material a new context.

A pieta (from the Italian word ‘pieta’, meaning ‘compassion’) is an image of Mary grieving the deceased Jesus Christ. A desperate mother cradling her murdered son. The image remains recurrant in art today. We made a selection of images that we found particularly striking:

South West Pieta (Arizona)
vroege 14e eeuwse Pieta uit Duitsland
Venetie, op straat
Joseph Beuys, Pieta, 1952, steel relief with black patina
Stephan Balkenhol
Matthew Day Jackson
Jacques Frenken
Erzsébet Baerveldt: Pietà, 1992.
Jan Fabre

Visual artist Jorge Sattore speaks about his project, National Balloon.

In 1971, Chris Burden performed a work in which he asked his friend to shoot him in the arm.

March 4th 1980. At a festival in Florence, Chris Burden performs another work, “Show the Hole.” True to these words, Burden shows his scarred arm to 300 art students, in sessions of one minute per person.

Jorge Sattore: “’Shoot,’ performed by Chris Burden 35 years ago has always fascinated me. But what’s fascinated me even more is how ‘Shoot’ was contextualised within the art world. The many stories, documentation, and articles have given the work a mass amount of attention. But the image of what happened at the moment of the performance keeps shifting. These filtered bits of information create a new image of the work within the viewer’s imagination, time and time again. Burden refers to these viewers in relationship to his work as, ‘the first and secondary audience.’ With this, he differentiates between the position of those viewers present during the actual performance and the viewers who only know the work through stories, images, or text.

My trip to LA began with the goal to break from my position as ‘secondary audience’ and to somehow become a first hand witness to ‘Shoot.’ In order to realise this, I wanted to meet with Chris in LA. It was tough. What I thought would be the most important moment of the project turned out to be a fruitless endeavour. Burden is tired of the attention the performance keeps getting.

Just as I had decided to pay a visit to his home my friend told me of a young couple who called at Burden’s door. As Burden opens the door, the visitor shoots his girlfriend in the arm. Throughout the years, many such incidents have occurred in which students and artists perform their own version of ‘Shoot,’ some of which match the violence of its original. For Burden, I’m just one of many. And each attempt to try to bring the matter up with him proves abortive. Even Burden’s friends are impossible to reach or refuse to co-operate.

I started looking for the location of the performance, exhibition space F-Space. Every contact with the institution became part of a lengthy bureaucratic procedure. They didn’t seem to understand my purpose, and why should they co-operate?

My stay in LA ended up consisting of endless hours driving through the city, brief encounters, short conversations, and visiting places. Without having realised it, all these moments became part of my experience of ‘Shoot.’ I was continuously confronted with the question of how I could contextualise the work within my own practice. When the goal to my trip established itself as unattainable, it was difficult to know whether all was lost within a grand failure, or if there was still sense to my endeavour,

My desire for the position of first viewer that I’d felt so strongly about had changed. The mystery had disappeared. The failure to meet Burden and the impossibility of making contact turned out to be prerequisites for allowing something new and unexpected to enter the stage. I understood that to truly err within this project would be to fail to acknowledge this.

I decided to, from memory, draw the experiences I encountered during this trip: a combination of situations, persons, conversations and locations. I let go of a linear representation of time and place, and let them fade to a setting in which impressions, fact, and stories crossed one another. This became my working method. In this fictional representation of reality I leave the viewer to fill the gaps in what I omit. In a way, this mechanism in ‘National Balloon’ is precisely what I attempted to dismantle in ‘Shoot.’

What I love about folk art is that it doesn’t pay attention to the restrictive notions of contemporary art. Actually, it’s a bit of a shame that spending years at the art academy means that my work no longer holds the true naivety that I yearn for. Still, I make use of easily available unorthodox materials like hand-painted advertising signage and posters for events and fast food restaurants. Simply because they embody different aspects of contemporary culture.

My grandfather used to make beautiful garden gnomes and animal sculptures in plaster and concrete. His garden was full of them. I also remember the beautiful windmill that he built in wood and concrete, in the exact style of the mills in southern Sweden, where I grew up.

page from Folk Archive
Snowdrop the Mechanical Elephant by the Clare Family, Egremont, Cumbria, 2004.
page from Folk Archive
page from Folk Archive

The book, Folk Archive, by artists Jeremy Deller (1966) and Alan Kane (1961) is a true feast for the eyes and radiates the pleasure of making. The publication documenting the exhibition on folk art showcases the artists’ love for the phenomenon. Over a period of seven years they collected all they could on “British creativity”. On the BBC’s website, you’ll find a number of video clips in which Jeremy Deller, an attractive young man with long hair, the winner of the 2005 Turner Prize, walks through the exhibition, enthusiastically explaining: “There are two hundred and fifty artworks in this show, and they’re all very different in nature.” He shows a drawing by a prisoner, envelopes for sick notes scrawled daily by a guard who also happens to be an amateur tattoo artist, but also eggs hand painted with eerily realistic clown portraits.

Exhibition view, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2008.

With great pleasure and fervour, Deller and Kane collected a range of anything they could find on the broad topic of “contemporary popular culture.” They took photos and videos , received documentation from others, as well as found historical footage of celebrations that have been part of tradition for centuries, such as the World Championship Silly Faces or the Egremont Crab Fair, a week long festival in Cumbria that occurred in 1387 and included a pipe smoking contest, a vegetable show, and an apple-giving parade. Among the exhibition were objects they collected, like embroidered underwear used at certain festivals for wrestling matches. The last retrospective on British folk art had taken place in Whitechapel, meaning a more modern perspective was very welcome.

Tom Harrington, Cumberland and Westmoreland Wrestling Champion, Egremont, Cumbria, 1999.

For a year, the Folk Archive exhibition travelled from museum to museum. Luckily, we still have the wonderful catalogue comprising of a colourful collection of photographs, texts, and screenshots. Each time you page through the book, you’ll come across something you hadn’t noticed before: a giant bear made of straw walking through the high street, an old Cambridgeshire custom in which the villagers would be expected to dance for this “bear” on the town square and feed him honey. Or an old forgotten tradition in Blackpool that prompts young girls to dress as old women for a celebration.

The book has been divided into different categories such as performance (like the silly faces competition) but also into politics, life and death, animals. Included are Ed Hall’s beautifully painted signage and banners used by members of the trade unions during demonstrations. The forward begins on the cover, in which Deller and Kane start explaining their methodology: “a personal selection of images and stories that excited or amused us.” They refrain from using the term “outsider art”, a term used profusely in their art world. These artists shift their choice, their archive, from one context to the next, from the street to the museum.

Deller and Kane explain that they were searching for humour, modernity, a new perspective, refreshing directness, and much more: “We find ourselves in an area between art and anthropology. As artists, we’re going on an optimistic journey of personal discovery (often close to home.) As anthropologists, we hope to describe and experience something worth seeing. For those interested in anthropological approach, we must apologise for the term ‘archive’ which is so often misused. Also, we’ll have to apologise for the artistic nonchalance in relation to details. (Artists have been using the term archive left and right recently, it’s a fashionable term that’s sometimes used to describe meagre collections. Archive apparently sounds interesting. To all those involved in folk or regional cultural scenes, we’d likewise like to apologise for that cheap term, ‘folk’ as well as plundering whole worlds.”

Folk Archive is a journey full of surprises through an unfamiliar England.

Folk Archive, Contemporary Popular Art from the UK by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane (2005).

Pizza Rut, Blackpool, Lancashire.
Tar Barrel Rolling, Ottery St Mary, Devon, 2004 © Jessica Mallock.
Speaker Stack, Notting Hill Carnival, London, 2003.
Line of beasts
Snowdrop the Mechanical Elephant by the Clare Family, Egremont, Cumbria, 2004.