Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bas Jan Ader - Death is Elsewhere" by Alexander Dumbadze

ISBN: 978-0-226-038537 The University of Chicago Press

"Bas Jan Ader: Death is Elsewhere" by Alexander Dumbadze (The University of Chicago Press)

I think partly due to the deaths of David Bowie and Tony Conrad, I felt great sorrow reading this book on the artist Bas Jan Ader.   I only came upon his work maybe 20 years ago, which is odd, because he was very much of a Los Angeles based conceptual artist.   A lot of work deals with space and falling - meaning that gravity itself pulls you down.  On one level, he is sort of a Buster Keaton figure, but instead of laughter, his work is profoundly sad.   He has documented his "performances' in photographs as well as on video/film.  

"Death is Elsewhere" is half biography and the other part is a critique of his work.  It's fascinating to know about his Los Angeles existence, and how he mixed in with other artists of that time and place. He had one foot in Holland, and the other in Los Angeles.  There is something very European about his work. Yet, I can see the Los Angeles side of his work as well.  Place or location is always interesting or important. It is not actual locations, but the state of his mind or the state of his work and how that works within an American or Europan context.   The author Alexander Dumbadze does an excellent job in placing Ader's work in the context of 1970s America as well as noting the mysterious aspect of his work.  On one level, it is quite emotional, due to his death by being lost in the sea.  For an art project (or was it?) he planned to take a small sailing boat from the east coast of the U.S. to Holland or Europe.  Which sounds crazy, but Ader was an experienced man of the high seas, so if anyone could have done this, he could.  Sadly he disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean.    

What I find interesting about his work, is that it does remind me of Keaton, who I think is the great American artist of the 20th century.  I don't think Ader meant to address or comment on Keaton's method of working with machine and weather / nature, but there are similarities with Ader dealing with gravity or fighting against the urge of gravity.   So, that alone is quite moving - yet, we know he died a very young man, and therefore we're just capturing a moment of time of this artist.  He should have a longer career or life - because the work, although it hints of failure or even death, I don't think that is what his work is really about.  I think he was working on something much longer or long-term, but alas, nature took him perhaps by surprise.   Fascinating critique/bio on what I think is an important artist. 

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