239 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

239 Things

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.’

We live in a time where perfection is king. Our computers exist to help make everything they process perfect, even the cameras on our phones record the lightest light and the darkest dark. And if something isn’t perfect we have numerous tools to touch things up and make them perfect.

For these reasons, I’m interested in ‘imperfections’ and the quality of making mistakes. It sounds strange, but if everything is perfect, there is no creativity anymore. New ideas spring from failures or mistakes. These errors can change previous perceptions and open up new ways of looking at things, thus making the mistake something to strive for.

Failures and inspiration from mistakes can be found pretty much everywhere. Just by walking down the street and keeping an eye open often works. The most funny and ridiculous mistakes are often made in constructions or road works. A classic is the letters STOP stencilled on the road. There are numerous examples where road workers did not really get the idea of how to do it. It’s remarkable how many mistakes one can make with this four-letter word.

Another classic mistake, but more rare, is to find things that can go wrong in constructing a balcony. How can you build a balcony when the door isn’t yet ready? Or how about having a lovely balcony, the only problem is that it’s built right above a train track.

Frequently these construction mistakes involve toilets. A bathroom is usually a small space to construct, so a mistake is often quickly made. There’s for instance the difficulty of a toilet door opening so the inside can be a problem. The only solution here is to carve a piece out of the door, so it won’t bump into the toilet seat. Things get even funnier when the toilet seat and cover are constructed in the wrong order. You feel the confusion and desperation of someone confronted with this situation.

André Thijssen,Grünau, Namibia 2000

Often there’s no need to go out looking for these mistakes yourself. There are hundreds of people online, all on the hunt, photographing and sharing these errors. The ones that I find the most myself are situations with trees. A tree is a big thing that is difficult to move from its place. This can be a problem. Especially when this tree is standing exactly in front of a parking spot. In this way it’s totally impossible to enter the parking spot, even though the parking spot is inviting you by the letter P standing on a sign. In the same category you find a tree standing in the middle of a cycling path or staircases.

An artist and photographer who has a brilliant eye for mistakes is André Thijssen. For many years he searches all over the world for images that are slightly off. The only images he’s interested in are the ones that show something not natural in a natural environment. The classic example is a car parked with his wheels right in front of two concrete balls on the pavement. The balls make the new wheels of the car.

André Thijssen, New York City, USA 2002

Maybe the best example I found representing mistakes is an album of an American family fighting against the biggest mystery in photography: How to shoot my black dog? They failed all their lives to document their dog and as a result of that, the dog appeared as a black shadow on every image.

A black phantom in front of their house, on their sofa, in the garden and on their bed. In the end the family got really frustrated and started to over-expose the images. As a result of which there’s one image where you can see the dog. Finally.

Making and finding mistakes is something to wake up for, it’s shines a light on the difficulties in a creative process. By looking at them and embracing them you will end making unexpected and wonderful discoveries.

Long live the Mistake!