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

The immense hangar, an old converted bread factory, is lined with market stalls where families sell their old wares: junk that, pulled from the bottom of cellars and the dark corners of garages and cupboards, momentarily regains value, however slight. Hands grope through second hand clothing, mostly chain bought and cheap, grouped in slightly musty smelling endless piles.

At the far end of a table covered in yellowing art books, old editions of classics frayed at the edges, and stacks of thriller pulp, sits a large folder. It opens to a collection of drawings, watercolours and sketches that are mostly abstract and frantically scrawled. I look up and catch the gaze of a tall, melancholy man with long mousy brown hair and silver rimmed circular spectacles. With a nervous excitement, the seller explains that these are the remains of his artist days that he sells alongside the used books. I buy an odd, demonic depiction of a creature drawn with Indian ink over a printed pencil drawing.

One late night sitting around my dinner table, a friend notices the ink drawing on the wall, and after taking a closer look, asks if it’s a genuine Han van Meegeren, the great master forger. As it turns out, the backdrop to the demon creature is a copy of Han van Meegeren’s most prolific pieces, namely ‘Hertje’ (or ‘Little Deer’), reproductions of which hung on the walls of thousands of Dutch homes in the 1920’s. But van Meegeren’s style was caught in the past and completely irrelevant in a world of Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism, and he was derided by the art world for his lack of originality.

At the start of the 20th century, detecting a forged painting was a fairly simple process: a swab of alcohol was wiped over the dubious canvas, a needle carefully inserted and checked for any oily residue. This would be the mark of a forgery, as an age-old canvas would be thoroughly hardened and deliver a clean needle.

Han van Meegeren bought cheap 17th century paintings to scrape off the original painting. Instead of oil, he used an early form of plastic named Bakelite to mix his pigments into paint. He would then bake his freshly painted antique canvas until the plastic fully hardened, and finished the simulated aging process by rolling the canvas and cracking its surface. Voila, instant Dutch Master!

Relatively few paintings by Johannes Vermeer have survived the ages. When in the 1930s a series of paintings began emerging from his supposed unknown religious period, they were eagerly snapped up by collectors, including the Rotterdam museum Boijmans van Beuningen, who paid what would today be more than 4,5 million Euros for Vermeer’s Supper at Emmaus. The painting, revered by art critics as Vermeer's masterpiece, was nothing more than a carefully executed van Meegeren.

Having foiled the art world that rejected him, van Meegeren lived a wealthy and lavish life all through the Second World War. But his life of decadence was disrupted when, after the end of the war, a Vermeer was found in Nazi henchman Herman Göring’s largely misappropriated art collection, and was traced back to van Meegeren, who refused to name his source. The outrage was immense: how dare he allow Dutch national treasure to fall in the hands of a Nazi? He was arrested for treason, a felony that at the time was punishable by death.

His plea to innocence was simple. He couldn’t possibly be a traitor, because the painting he had sold to Göring was not a Vermeer, but a forgery by his own hand. A sensational trial was carried out in a courtroom hung full of van Meegeren’s fakes. The art world was stupefied – how could they have been so utterly mistaken – and he was deemed to be a liar.

A space was cleared within the courthouse and fashioned into an artist’s studio where, in the presence of reporters and court officials, van Meegeren was summoned to forge his last Vermeer. This proof of innocence transformed him into a national hero, and he was championed for his trickery of the art establishment, but most of all for being the man who swindled Göring. Despite the many millions he cheated out of his customers, van Meegeren was only sentenced to a year of confinement for fraud.

As a free man, Van Meegeren passed away from a heart attack before he could begin his prison sentence, and after his death, his paintings became so desired that van Meegeren forgeries began to flood the market.

My own Hertje still hangs on my wall, covered by the market man’s inky black drawing. Is he still no longer an artist? A failed artist can become a most tragic creature, overcome by vanity, envy, and consumed by bitterness. But Han van Meegeren’s exclusion from the art world led him to what is probably the most extensive art scam ever. “But sir, I'm sure about one thing: if I die in jail they will just forget all about it. My paintings will become original Vermeers once more. I produced them not for money but for art's sake.”

I first encountered Aurie Ramirez’s work at a Madrid art fair at the stand belonging to the Jack Hanley gallery from San Francisco. As it turned out, she makes drawings within the context of Studio Creative Growth, the world’s largest and oldest studio for handicapped adult artists. Ramirez is autistic. The following questions have been interpreted by Jennifer O’Neal, the manager of her studio.

What does folk art mean to you? What relationship does your work have to folk art?

Aurie’s work is related to folk art in the sense that she never followed formal training, she’s an autodicact. She’s driven by the desire to create.

Do you think that in this world without borders, folk art can have an influence that rises above its own cultural territories and the context in which it was made?

Folk art definitely exerts an influence. After all, outsider art has long been collected by art institutes and private collectors, and has inspired generations of artists. Possibly, outsider art has had such a great influence thanks to its unmistakeable “enlightening” qualities. A strong capability to communicate with the viewer, the driving force behind its creation and its subject matters that are extremely personal and honest contribute to the work’s originality, in turn allowing it to enlighten the viewer.

Could you describe the folk art you grew up with?

There are many elements in her work that can be traced back to her youth and the parental home: family dinners, the band Kiss, the TV show The Addams Family, and punk inspired fashion.

As a curious teenager I read about Thought photography for the first time, in the popular science magazine KIJK. It centred on a ‘paranormally gifted’ American by the name of Ted Serious who was allegedly capable of fixing his mental images on light sensitive film. The article was illustrated with pictures of buildings and street scenes, blurry, hazy and tilted, exactly like one would picture a ‘thought photograph’. There was also a picture attached of the thought photographer in action: a contorted face, head aimed at the camera. Exactly like one would expect a thought photograph to come into being.

Ted Serious in action

I found it fascinating, and wholly convincing. These were, I have to add, the seventies, the times in which Uri Geller had a TV public of millions believe that he could bend teaspoons with his willpower, the times in which parapsychology could be taken seriously as a professional discipline, as far as within scientific circles. The New Age had started, with its unbridled embrace of mystique, astrology, crystals, flying saucers and whatever else is unverifiable. Previously ‘occult’ matters such as spiritism, auras, telepathy, and telekinesis seemed to have become phenomena that could be seriously studied and would even soon be explained and proved.

Big Bang thoughtograph

Telekinesis – the ability to move objects using sheer mental force, without touching. If one could assume that this phenomenon really existed, the conferral of a mental image onto light sensitive material should be one of its most easily realised forms. The defiance of gravity would not even enter into it; a subtle molecular change of some tiny sensitive layer would suffice. If the influence of even the smallest amount of light would be able to effectuate this change in the emulsion of photographic film, a concentrated thought, given extra focus by sheer power of will, then, should certainly be able to do the same.

Alas, paranormal abilities such as telekinesis and thought transfer remain unproven, and Ted Serios was exposed as a fraud even before Uri Geller (although some, of course, still challenge this). Although the New Age has really not quite ended, the idea of telekinesis seems to have almost disappeared from collective memory. As for thought photography, one doesn’t even come across the idea of it at all anymore.

Parthenon-thoughtograph

That might be quite a shame, since the ability to photograph one’s thoughts is extraordinarily appealing to the artist. To take a picture not of the outside world, but of one’s inner world. Not of what something looks like, but how one experiences it. In fact, it is precisely what artists have always been looking for in photography (and all other disciplines).

For what makes photography such a difficult medium for an artist? What is the cause of the debate that is held ever since its invention, namely whether photography can be classified under the arts?

Thoughtograph

The fundamental problem, I believe, is that a photograph depicts the visible world by means of a lens and light sensitive material, enabling it to present an astonishingly accurate image of what something looks like- but not much more than that. For a real estate agent who wants to sell a house, that’s perfect, but an artist searches for something else. He does not want to register the outer manifestation, but the inner experience. An artist tries to express the invisible by means of the visible.

Thoughtograph- Ted Serious

One could say: what the artist really and truly wants is to photograph his thoughts.

In my time in art academy, during my first skirmishes with photography, I renewed my interest in thought photography for this very reason. I did not regard it as a real phenomenon, but like a symbol, a symbol for the artist’s quest for the impossible. The ability to photograph one’s thoughts – it seemed to me a kind of Holy Grail, comparable to the secret procedure for transforming lead into gold, the potion that keeps the drinker young forever and ‘the book that renders all other books redundant.’

mental photography

Thus understood, only a metaphor remains of Ted Serios’ ‘thoughtography’ – albeit a beautiful one. A metaphor of the hardly realisable desire of the artist to capture the invisible in an image.

The idea has stayed with me ever since, and I think in a certain way all my work can be regarded as attempts to break through the impossibility of ‘thought photography’.

I believe that I can even say I was successful at some moments. But that’s another story.

Paul Bogaers

What does it mean to collect? And why do people collect? Is collecting a hobby, or is it a neurotic compulsion?

Instead of speaking of a neurosis, an art collector will speak of having a passion. When is a collection complete, when do you stop collecting, and when do you begin a new collection? There are a lot of things I collect, like super8 cameras, retro consoles, chairs, musical instruments and much more. Probably because I’m not good at throwing things away and I easily buy things at flea markets. I don’t collect art. I get art either through trading or being given it by friends and colleagues.

My largest collection is of wrapped scaffolding in front of the fronta of buildings. I started this collection after I installed a castle of 25 square metres for the exhibition “Het weiland dat beroemd wilde worden” (The meadow that wanted to be famous) at Dertien Hectare. This “castle” was wrapped in white “scaffolding” canvas.

It’s been years, but I still take a photo nearly every day while cycling, driving, taking the bus or the tram of canvas, often coloured, wrapped around a scaffolding in front of a building. My collection spans thousands of photos, and I find myself reaching for my phone whenever I spot a scaffold.

I’ve reached a point where my friends immediately recognise what I’m about to do, and sometimes even jokingly send me a photo they’ve made with their own phone. For me, it’s not about the photo, but about the action and the collection that ensues from it.

In my case, it truly is a neurotic compulsion and I simply can’t stop expanding my collection.

Making a snapshot of a new colour or colour combination against a facade gives me a sensation of pleasure.

Around two years ago, I started a new photo collection that I, once again, collect using my phone’s camera.

Often, when I’m standing or sitting somewhere, I’ll take out my phone, turn on the camera, and take a photo. The picture will always show my feet and possibly those of the person next to me.

Many of my shoes, trousers, and slippers have made their appearance, and the locations are greatly varied.

This collection, too, now consists of thousands of photos...

The key to being a good painter is by placing the last brushstroke on the canvas at precisely the right moment.

Will I only be able to stop collecting scaffolds if I make an artwork out of them? My wife has been telling me for years that I should make them into a publication.

I never started this collection with the intention of making an artwork, but because I simply felt the necessity to collect.

Often, neurosis, hobby, or passion will form an important part of an artist’s oeuvre. Sometimes on purpose, other times through intuition.

André Thijssen, Aksacoka, Turkey
André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2011
André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2012
André Thijssen, Aksacoka, Turkey

Is there any feeling, besides happiness, that surpasses the experience of adventure? Yes, the pleasant surprise of the new. This can happen even when well into old age and pockmarked by years bygone, if you remain open to the experience of receiving these novel encounters.

André Thijssen, Aksacoka, Turkey

As a maker of images, with the camera as my tool, I’ve done the necessary travelling in search of adventure. Awakening in a strange bed, in a new location, and entering a new world after breakfast, full of anticipation, is always pleasantly charged.

André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2011

One can avoid an expensive plane ticket by veering from your usual routine. Preferentially by walking, so that you’ll be able to catch details that may seem unimportant

André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2011

I find it an extraordinary sensation to glimpse an intriguing mystery in the corner of your eye that makes you slow your pace.

When the two dimensional reproduction of such a mystery still conjures that same enjoyable feeling of the inscrutable in both yourself and in others, one could say that you have a successful work before you.

André Thijssen, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2012

The images in my archive are not always of equal obscurity; some are of a more anecdotal nature. These photos are more about situations, sometimes puzzling as to why someone would leave a situation a certain way.

André Thijssen, Aksacoka, Turkey, 2011
For editorial commissions I often delve into this part of my archive first. An image placed next to text demands a different approach: an autonomous image applied associatively results in a more exciting interaction that a servile illustration spelling all out. Editorial images don’t always need to clarify but can, as I prefer, to evoke discussion.

Approaching the subject from an unexpected angle can result in new, surprising meaning.

André Thijssen, Rincon de la Victoria, Spain 2013

http://theotherpicture.com

http://fringephenomena.com

http://nl.blurb.com/books/4531276-fringe-phenomena-3

André Thijssen, Sania, Hainan, China 2007
André Thijssen, Haarlem, Netherlands 2012
André Thijssen, Haarlem, Netherlands 2012