‘Light Vulnerable Objects Threatened by Eight Cement Bricks’ (7-12 June, 2022) at Verein by Association in Zürich (Switzerland) is a contemporary re-presentation of the work by Bas Jan Ader originally conceived by the artist as a one-week exhibition – consisting of an installation and a final performance staged for the camera – at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1970.
Bas Jan Ader: Light Vulnerable Objects Threatened by Eight Cement Bricks 1970 and re-presented 2022. Verein by Association, Zürich (Switzerland), June 10, 2022.
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Light Vulnerable Objects Threatened by Eight Cement Bricks is a contemporary re-presentation of the work by Bas Jan Ader (Winschoten, Holland, 1942-lost at sea 1975) originally conceived by the artist as a one-week exhibition – consisting of an installation and a final performance staged for the camera – at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1970. The gallery Meliksetian|Briggs, Los Angeles re-presented the work between December 2021 and January 2022. The re-presentation of the work was developed under the supervision and direction of the artist’s wife Mary Sue Andersen-Ader, the head of the Estate of Bas Jan Ader. In 1970, she assisted on the original installation along with artist William Leavitt who run the Chouinard Art Institute gallery. The original installation is documented by 14 slides and 16mm black and white film footage shot by Mary Sue Andersen-Ader, the latter also on view in Zurich. The final act of the presentation of the work at Verein by Association will take place on June 12, 2022 at 6pm, performed by artist raúl itamar lima.
In a conspicuously literal way, the work displays and actualizes its title. Eight (types of) objects – three pots of flowers, some forty eggs, a boxed birthday cake, an assembly of empty beer cans in brown paper bags, two pillows, a string of illuminated light bulbs, a radio, and an amateur portrait of an anonymous woman – are scattered throughout the gallery space. The seemingly disparate objects add up to a typology, in which the tropes of comfort, homeliness, emotion, and sentiment – the utter ‘banality of good’ – can be recognized. Suspended on ropes, concrete cinder blocks precariously loom right above the objects, threatening to fall and crush them. Rather than being a fixed quality of the situation, the threat emerges as a relationship – constituted in visitors perception – between the objects and the bricks that hover above them. Io establish this relationship, a linguistic operation is automatically performed in the mind of the viewer, based on common knowledge and experience, as in the common saying: “what goes up, must come down.’ That this hypothetical threat – which at first might seem improbable in a ‘safe’ gallery space – can and indeed will be realized, is foretold by a documentation of the 1970 final act of the exhibition, in form of two digitized 16mm films, shown on monitor in the corner of the space. In the archival footage, the artist can be observed while cutting the ropes with a knife and causing the bricks to fall on the light vulnerable objects.
Bas Jan Ader is known as an author of photographs, films, text pieces, and performances, which count as seminal works of conceptual art. The artist went missing in 1975 during his solo crossing of the Atlantic he intended as second part of In Search of the Miraculous – a project that involved his entire existence. The notions of potential threat and vulnerability inherent to everyday circumstances and most mundane acts have been continuously explored and performatively enacted by Ader throughout his cut-short career in works that can be described as meditations on the generative power of meticulously staged accidents. As Bas Jan Ader once casually remarked: “when I fell, it was because gravity made itself master over me.”
The installation was first presented in 1970 – a significant and prolific year in Ader’s career. It was at that time the theme of the fall became a major concern of his art in seminal performative actions staged for the camera, including Fall 1, Los Angeles and Fall 2, Amsterdam. Parallels can be drawn between the installation and the 1971 film work Nightfall, in which the artist struggles to lift and ultimately drops concrete slabs on to illuminated light bulbs below, extinguishing them and letting the room fall into darkness. In Light Vulnerable Objects Threatened by Eight Cement Bricks Ader puts these ideas into a three-dimensional and sculptural form that extends over time and keeps the viewer in a state of suspense.