25 July 2009


Bas Jan Ader was a Dutch artist (nee 1942) who spent the majority of his lifetime producing work in LA. Much like Acconci, Ader focused his career on film, photography, performance, and installation. Ader was most prolific during the 1970s, and is grouped with the conceptual artists of the time period. A lot of his pieces strongly depend on the strange dynamic created amongst audience and performer. Ader also explored ideas of emotional vulnerability on display; in particular, themes of searching, falling, and embarking on journeys prevailed in his pieces. As many artists do, Bas Jan Ader chose an art of self-depiction, psychological portrayals, and introspection of the human condition. 

(this is not meant to have sound)

The piece that the Artbook chose to use, and is probably his most famous, is a film still from the above performance, "I'm too sad to tell you." In a graphic display of human grief, Ader films himself up close crying in silence. No storyline. No dialogue. No explanation. I've found a number of interesting reviews on this piece; the Artbook gravitates towards a more serious and somber critique- highlighting the effects of Ader's loneliness and despair on his audience. According to the book, he created postcards of the film stills and mailed them out to his friends, informing them that this was real, raw emotion, completely genuine. He did not give a reason. Meant to be disturbing? Maybe not. Another review suggests that there is an underlying tone of irony, even dark comedy. 

There are two pieces in particular that I found alluring. The first is an installation entitled "Please don't leave me," in which these words are scrawled largely in black paint and illuminated by a central lightbulb. This piece is incredibly moving; the phrase speaks of a universal fear of emptiness and alienation. Please don't leave me, simultaneously silent and screaming, is a muted cry for companionship that falls on deaf ears. Though the audience may not want to, they inevitably must walk away, leaving the plea behind them. This interplay between what Ader is asking and what he knows will undeniably happen is an incredibly powerful example of one of the many human conditions we all must grapple with. In the end, the audience must come to terms with their own solitude and the unmovable barriers to human connection. Truly amazing piece.

The work shown directly above is the culmination of all Bas Jan Ader's work: his death. Ader set sail in 1975 from Massachusetts in a performance piece he called, "In Search Of The Miraculous." Whether planned or unplanned remains a mystery, yet Ader never returned from this trip. Two weeks into the voyage his radio cut out, and soon after his ship was found abandoned on the coast of Ireland. This mysterious end to his life could be considered yet a mere extension of his greatest accomplishments as an artist; in searching for the "miraculous," he found death. Ader never failed to incorporate his life in his art, and even in death crafted a beautiful performance, reminding his audience that life is a continual series of journeys, one leading to another, with death not being an ending but instead another commencement of exploration. 

If you find Ader's obscure death interesting, you should also check out Ray Johnson. He is not mentioned in the Artbook, but was an incredibly influential artist of the 50s and 60s. He lead an amazing life, and is worth reading up on.

Finally, there is a documentary on Ader that I will be watching today entitled Here Is Always Somewhere Else. If you like Ader's work, I recommend you watch it, too.

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