| The Single Art Work (SAW) project
Realized at various locations, 1986 to the present.
In a Single Art Work (SAW) exhibition, a small group of people spends three or four hours with a single, uniquely embodied artwork, for example, a painting. The event's basic duration and behavioral expectations are given by the conventions of a dinner party, a familiar situation, not attracting unnecessary attention to itself. My interventions in the situation are guided by the analogy between how persons know one another and how they might get to know a painting. I remain alert to possible coincidences and combinations between the two kinds of encounter. I understand the viewing of a painting in this situation as an accumulation of glances and longer looks, and of moments it is touched on in conversation, directly, indirectly. The conversation, full of unconscious mirroring of what is seen, and of indirect reference, beside the direct commentaries, becomes itself a means of relation to the artwork, both in sight and interpretation. The artist of each exhibited work participates in the event. At a later date, all participants meet again with the project's initiator, together or individually, to describe and discuss the experience of the painting in the project situation.
SAW events have been held in Amsterdam , Breda , Rotterdam , Basel , Mettmann, Kassel, Seoul.
Artists who have exhibited work and participated in Single Art Work , 1988-2006
1. Marlene Dumas, Amsterdam, 1988
2. Jan Dibbets, Amsterdam, 1988
3. Marien Schouten, Amsterdam, 1988
4. Jürgen Partenheimer, Amsterdam, 1989
5. Markus Raetz, Amsterdam, 1989
6. Elsa Stansfield and Madelon Hooykaas, Amsterdam, 1989
7. Helmut Dirnaichner, Amsterdam, 1989
8. Morgan O’Hara, Amsterdam, 1989
9. Jan Beutener, Amsterdam, 1990
10. Hans Aarsman, Amsterdam, 1990
11. Anselm Stalder, Basel, 1990
12. Anselm Stalder, Basel, 1990 (2nd)
13. Marianne Eigenheer, Basel, 1991
14. Marianne Eigenheer, Amsterdam, 1991
15. Dagmar Bauman, Rotterdam, 1991
16. Franz Immoos, Amsterdam, 1992
17. Daan van Golden, Rotterdam, 1993
18. Henk Visch, Rotterdam, 1993
19. Philip Akkerman, Rotterdam, 1993
20. Nan Hoover, Breda, 1993
21. J.C.J. van der Heyden, Breda, 1993
22. Marian Breedveld, Breda, 1993
23. Thomas Huber, Mettmann, 1993
24. Jonathan Bragdon, Kassel, 2002
25. Dam Sa Baek, Seoul, 2005
26. Raimer Jochims, Nürnberg, 2006
It had been my experience that in conventional exhibitions paintings did not come fully alive. Visitors were left with at a suspicion of what was possible, and accepted having the suspicion as being the equivalent of having seen a painting. In comparison, someone who had read the first few pages of a novel would not say they had read the novel. Painting was, in my experience, an art form that could, in its best use, continue to develop in complexity of meaning and depth of presence over years of daily viewing.
In the normal museum or gallery situation, only unusually disciplined viewers could give more than a few seconds of attention to individual painting, and even such a viewer rarely reached the exhibition exit without seeing many dozens of other artworks, with memory overlaying memory. Of course, some painting-like art forms had been evolving to occupy these short attention spans. As well, art forms seemed to be increasingly dissolved into a universal category of "artwork", understood as idea or image or situation detachable from specific media. In other words, "an artwork" was becoming defined as a bodiless cause of experience, for which concrete specifics of material, object, discipline and place were the incidental and disposable means. My interest went to those artworks that barely start to exist in a brief look, and require a continuing relation, in a real time and place and embodiment, between a viewer and a medium. Such a requirement that was at once the means of the artwork, and inseparable from that artwork. It seemed to me that my paintings were of such a kind, and that their mode of existence was in analogy to a human person's own embodied life. That analogy became the seed to my imagination of an exhibition situation natural to that particular kind of artwork. The situation should be conducive to persons getting to know a painting as if getting to know a person in the flesh, I believed. Many persons, I also found, assume that artwork, including the artwork that is a painting, exists solely in their experience of it, which can easily be re-lived via memory and/or a documentary reconstitution aided by photographic reproduction and text. In art critical or theoretical work concerning painting, as well as in public custom, reproductions seemed to have become widely accepted as the practical equivalent of their originals. A conceptual, snapshot-based theory of art seemed indifferent to this phenomenon. Retirement of attention from the unique amplifies the influence of a general flux of impressions. A museum is visited for a general museum experience, a restorative Sunday morning atmospheric tonic. A later leafing through the catalogue carried home completes the art experience. For the museum director whose idea of direction is to create Gesamtkunst, the phenomena are welcome. An individual painting, which demands serious attention, becomes a disadvantage, an obstacle to the flow. The SAW project is a practical and philosophic exploration of that disadvantage, of the limitations that create the possibility for individual human life and individually reflective artw ork.
I assumed a definition of painting derived from experience of both sides of painting, from a painting being made and being used. This definition became the paradigm of selection of artworks for exhibition. Taking as guiding analogy that of an art form to a life form, it was a question of arranging an environment suitable to the life form, like understanding that to see a hare being a hare, it needs to be put in a field. The definition of a painting was that of an artwork needing a generous duration of attention in a real presence, a presence formed by nexus of dimensions, from semiotics to physicality and metaphysics. What seemed to hold them all together was a sense of location in place and time, or time as substantial form. The definition became a prediction of what a painting could do with its viewers, for example, as being simultaneously object of sight, medium of conversation, and adding to the present the past of its being painted.
I decided to exhibit a single artwork, to clarify the viewer's focus, and to ask for a longer duration of the viewer's presence to allow for a buildup and interaction of perceptions and affective responses, and a development thought in relation to the artwork, before it had become a memory or reproduction. A small group of persons was to be invited, to broaden the range of interaction and add sources of perception and knowledge. The resulting conversation could and usually did manifest in microcosm the artwork's contemporary cultural context. But it also served as a medium for glimpses from multiple points of view, increasing the paths of exchange between viewer and artwork. The social protocol I chose to organize the passage of time in the exhibition situation was that of an intimate dinner party.
The degree of difference, from the paradigm of painting, among the exhibited artworks, has contributed in my understanding to a secondary aim of the project, a reassessment of differences among art forms.