A Prior: Erik van Lieshout

Issue no. 12 of the magazine A-Prior, which was published in March 2006, contains my short text “Erik Van Lieshout’s Video Shacks” (pp. 6-9) discusses the installations in which Van Lieshout screens his videos. An extract:

“In the 1960s, the rise of Minimalism led to increasing references to 'the beholder', or sometimes the 'the viewer' or 'the spectator', in writings on contemporary art. Since the physical experience of the work was an essential part of Minimal art, art critics created a disembodied and universalized spectator to represent the 'typical' response to Minimalist works. An artist who not only participated in but also reflected on the emergence of art that demanded a physical response was Dan Graham: with his use of video cameras and monitors, glass, and one-way and two-way mirrors, Graham subjected the viewers to a series of tests, both making them aware of the other viewers and suggesting that (post-)Minimalist art strives to create precisely the sort of homogenous, abstract and universal beholder referenced in art criticism.

Van Lieshout's video installation Happiness (2004) recalls some of Grahams work, especially his 1981 Cinema project and his pavilion structures. Van Lieshout's construction looks like a cheap knock-off combining elements lifted from Graham and Frank Gehry: it consists of a wooden structure supporting an undulating skin which is transparent from the inside but mirroring from the outside. Standing inside the structure, watching the video, one can also watch the surrounding area and see if anyone is approaching. The video focuses again on Van Lieshout and his brother; this time, the siblings are not on Rotterdam's mean streets but in the countryside, in the sylvan surroundings of a psychiatric institution, where they - especially the brother - are grappling with their dysfunctional behaviour. Standing inside, watching both the behaviour in the video and the highly codified and disciplined art space and art-world people surrounding it, one is in a strange limbo - Happiness is an impossible panopticon that shows two incompatible spaces at the same time. Like most of Dan Graham's works, and like most Expanded Cinema pieces, Erik van Lieshout's video pavilions are in fact seen by a relatively homogenous group of art-world denizens, but they also point towards the possibility a more inclusive audience.”

The complete text can be found here: http://www.aprior.org/lutticken_lieshout.htm

Image: Erik van Lieshout, Happiness (2004)