Guido van der Werve | Magnus Logi Kristinsson

2. Apr - 13. Mai 2005

Guido van der Werve

Why Does Anything Happen At All?

Nummer Twee - just because I’m standing here it doesn’t mean I want to (2003): A young man walks backwards down a street, gets hit by a car, and is left lying on the street. A blue police van comes by and stops. But no policemen come out of it: instead, five ballerinas, who then perform a ring dance on the street to the music of Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. No one takes care of for the injured man, played by the artist himself.

Nummer drie – take step fall (2004): 
On the gallery in a Chinese restaurant, ballerinas dance a minuet in historical costumes. “Madrigal”from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet is heard. The camera moves slowly to the lower level, where the guests of the restaurant are sitting or standing, among them the artist: but they keep still, as in a tableau vivant. They stare at the floor in front of them, and do not speak with one another.
In the second part—step out—a man, once again Guido van der Werve himself, stands on the balcony of a building on a busy street at night. What’s going on? Is he about to fall down? We don’t find out, because before anything happens, the third part begins: fall over.
Nighttime illumination penetrates the darkness of a winter park. A ballerina dances in the icy chill, this time on her own, to Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor, op. posth. Suddenly, behind her, a tree falls onto the path, but she continues to spin on, undaunted.
Guido van der Werve’s short films seem on the one hand like spontaneous, surreal inspirations, brief daydreams that in the next moment disappear like a soap bubble. They could be little notes, or aphorisms, that are not captured in words, not with the pen, but with the camera. But the opposite is the case. His films aren’t spontaneous sketches, nor spontaneous impressions taken with the hand camera, but precise choreographies, staged with great effort. For Number Four, for example, he builttogether with many assistants a barge-like platform: this then floats on the water, he himself sits on it and plays Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9, No. 1.
Van der Werve’s subtle poetry has been compared to the “romantic conceptualism” of his fellow countryman, the legendary Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared during his crossing of the Atlantic in 1974. Ader’s obsessive occupation with the issue of falling as well as the often self-ironic, carefully staged performative use of himself as a figure seem in fact comparable. So when Paul Adriesse wrote in 1998, "Unlike much conceptual art, the work of Ader is not the recording of a normal occurrence from reality but constructed. This is where poetry creeps in,” this could today also be read as a characterization of the work of Guido van der Werve. 
The comparability is limited to the atmospheric level. While Bas Jan Ader is not a typical “conceptual artist,” it is meaningless to place Guido van der Werve in this category. There’s no “idea” that could be described as the “concept” of a possible realization. The linguistic reference, the most important characteristic of any approach that it would make sense to call conceptual, also in Ader’s work, is entirely lacking.
Van der Werve’ does not combine image and text, but image and “classical” music from the Baroque to the twentieth century. They are not realizations of a verbal concept, but in a sense precise realizations of a score. His approach is distinguished from the design of standard music clips in that the image, not the music, forms the starting point. The greatest value of its own is given to the music in the above mentioned sequence from Nummer Vier, where the artist, an outstanding pianist, himself appears as a musician. The camera is directed unchanged at the floss on which he sits at the piano, until the last note dies out. As a whole, the use of music is more reminiscent of the use of classical sounds by original film directors, as when Stanley Kubrick has space ships float through outer space to unexpected waltz sounds in 2001.
Van der Werve's films are “miniatures,” not only due to their brief temporal span, but also because they suggest a world of smaller dimensions than our usual surroundings. It is a surreal, displaced reality, in which the usual physical and psychic laws do not seem to apply. The dream-character of his scenarios, however, dispenses with any hallucinatory opulence. No drug-induced, intensified state of perception lies at its basis, but a more sober, distanced view and the bizarreness and the little traps set in everyday life, as found in Rene Magritte. Many of Magritte’s pictures are mental games in the sense of “What if…” Magritte precisely follows the rules of naturalist representation, but silently, the laws of nature are suspended. Van der Werwe seems to film everyday life, but there’s nothing everyday about it, especially not in the behavior of the figures. Their lack of concern for the accident victims is reminiscent of the emotionless and distantiated figures that Magritte for example presents in The Threatened Murderer.
Emotional distance and restraint are always called for when the precise execution of a form is at issue. Many artists are interested in the critical and analytic interrogation of staged stereotypes. A well known example can be found in Stan Douglas’s short films, called Monodramas. While Douglas usually breaks the usual course of action in advertising spots and film scenes with surprising turns, Van der Werve allows the borders between genres and art forms to playfully mix. Is it video art or filmed performance art? Are they brief narratives, “existential dramas,” or more “pictures” that develop in time? With all their playful slightness, Van der Werve’s filmed mental games never leave the fine line on which with Jean-François Lyotard one could ask, “Why does anything happen at all, and not nothing?”

Ludwig Seyfarth