jenseits – Beyond the Body

Art as a source of reflection in the post-secular age

Anne Berk


‘Art is there to reveal man to him self’
Henk Visch, sculptor

Humans have always made art to ‘grasp’ reality in the widest sense of the word. The physical, often intuitive act of creation results in an image that functions as a mirror for the maker and the viewer.

Artists are antennas of the ‘Zeitgeist’. And working as an art-critic for 25 years, I saw the art-climate change: abstract formal art made way for figurative, narrative art, modern for post-modern art, and now you can speak of ‘post-secular art’. I research this change in my book Bodytalk, the New Figuration in Dutch Sculpture (2004) and its sequel In Search of Meaning, the Human Figure in Contemporary Sculpture (2014).

‘God is dead’, announced Nietzsche, but it is not easy to live on one’s own. Death is gaping emptiness that fills us with panic, and faith gains a new force of attraction. In this vacuum, in this ‘religious deficit’, artists pose existential questions. What happens when our body stops functioning? Do we have a soul? How to tame our fears? How to console the survivors?

Artists reflect on these questions in their art and hold them up as a mirror to us, without being able to give an answer. Is there something beyond the body? We don’t know. We can only use our imagination. And that is what art is about.

In jenseits - Beyond the Body, you find different approaches to death and the afterlife. I’m thankful to Wolfgang Schaefer, who wanted to host this exhibition the new WELTKUNSTZIMMER of HPZ-Stiftung in Düsseldorf. And I want to express my gratitude to the artists, who searched their souls, offering us reflection, consolation and beauty.

We are all part of the stream of life, subjected to its dynamics and constant change, and death is the ultimate moment of transformation. Thus the exhibition will have the character of a passage. In different spaces and levels the visitor can experience the ‘rites de passage’ – rituals that mark the progress from one phase to another - and the emotions that they conjure. We wish you a challenging journey to the jenseits.

Anne Berk

Erzsébet Baerveldt, Martin uit den Bogaard, Célio Braga, Esther Bruggink, Jeroen Eisinga, Judith Maria Kleintjes, Mark Kramer, Ida van der Lee, Alet Pilon, Jaap de Ruig, Brele Scholz, Jan Thomas, Roy Villevoye.

jenseits – Beyond the Body
Art as a source of reflection in the post-secular age

‘Everything must change: but nothing perishes. The moving soul may wander, coming from that spot to this, from this to that—in changed possession live in any limbs whatever. It may pass from beasts to human bodies, and again to those of beasts. The soul will never die. It is always the same spirit, though it passes into different forms’ wrote the Latin poet Ovid two thousand years ago in his Metamorphosis

Man can switch back and forth with his thoughts. We can remember what happened before and envision what might happen in the future. This fantastic capacity has one disadvantage: other than animals, humans can foresee their own death. We are mortals and we know it.
How do we deal with the transience of our body? How do we envisage death? Is it an end or a new beginning?

Memento Mori
In the second century BC Tertullius told the tale of a Roman general parading through the streets in his victory wagon, with his slave behind him, whispering in his ear Respice post te!

Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori! (Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you'll die!), a notion that is expressed in the sculpture of Jan
In our hedonistic society, death and decay are a taboo. Health is an important topic. With fitness we try to keep our bodies in shape. Advances in medical technology enable us to extend our lives. Plastic surgery helps us to mask the traces of time, trying to live up to the ideals of perfect beauty and eternal youth that are represented in the media. Until we cannot ignore the aging of our bodies any longer. Until one day, our heart stops beating.

Death - jenseits and the Hereafter
What does it mean, death? Is there something beyond the body? Is there a soul?
These questions have engaged man since time immemorial. People pondered about it in philosophy, religion, art and science, without being able to find a definitive answer (those who think they found answers, are called ‘believers’).
According to the British program How art made the world, the first cult object that’s ever been made, is a skull covered with clay. Was it a desperate attempt to undo death? A magical act trying to achieve resurrection, anticipating on the idea of the resurrection in Christianity?
Skulls also figured in the Dutch ‘Vanitas’ paintings, that became popular in the Calvinist 17th century. ‘Remember, earthly life is transient. One day, you’ll have to appear for the Throne of God’. A place in Heaven wasn’t guaranteed then. But nowadays, the hope for an Afterlife is lost in the process of secularization, leaving us empty handed.
If death is The End, we prefer to ignore him, which challenged Roy Villevoye to face his own death in The Clearing (2011). And in 1991, the British artist Damien Hirst confronted the public with a dead shark in formaldehyde, with that had the compelling title The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.

Approaching death
From the day we are born, our death is a certainty. One day we will pass this door of no return, and no one came back to tell us what happened. When the Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader (1942-1975) sailed away to cross the ocean in a tiny boat, In Search of the Miraculous, he vanished. The border between life and death is inexorable, trespassing is lethal. And yet we’re drawn to ‘the sublime’, like flies to the lamp. In Springtime Jeroen Eisinga risks his life, while having him self covered with a pelt of bees, to overcome his agony.

Things which we fear and loath, evoke the strongest emotions in us that the mind is able to endure. They are the source of the sublime experience , as the British politician and theoretician Edward Burke (1729-1797) concluded in his famous treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful.
Every living creature strives for self conservation and is fascinated by the forces that threaten his life. In Hollywood they know this. People love watching horror movies, because they know its fiction.

Near-Death Experience
Scientists try to get as close to death as possible as well, studying Near-Death Experiences (NDE). An almost fatal accident inspired the Swiss geologist Albert Heim (1849-1937) to collect data. ‘I saw my whole life passing in many images from a distance, as in a theatre. I saw myself as the protagonist of the performance. Everything was beautiful, without sadness, fear or pain. (…) I felt no conflict; struggle was transformed in love. Everything was bathing in light, as if in heaven.‘Others reported similar feelings, that offer consolation in themselves, as Heim underlined in a lecture in 1892. But what does it tell us about jenseits?

The American physician Raymond Moody (1940) considers NDE as a preview of heaven. In Life after Life (1975) Moody interprets the ‘bathing in light’ as the reminiscence of the Christian God, while he considers experiences of afterlife as an indication of the existence of a soul. Brain researchers as the Dutch neuroscientist Dick Swaab (1944) however, argue that this state of mind is the result of endorphins, opiate like substances that are fabricated by the body when the body is in danger. The NDE is a hallucination. ‘The soul is a misconception. Our mind is the result of the interactions of our 100 milliard brain cells. We are our brain. Death is ascertained by the absence of heartbeat and breathing. When we ‘give up the ghost’, then our brain has stopped functioning.’

To ‘Pass’ Away
Though the brain research of Swaab seems sound to me, a Near-Death Experience is not the same as death and in science something is true until new research proves the contrary. Furthermore, our findings will always be limited by our senses. ‘What you see is not what you see’, said the Spanish artist Juan Muñoz (1953-2001), creating blind figures in illusionistic, unfathomable spaces. We cannot know death. We can only intuit other dimensions, as Esther Bruggink and Judith Maria Kleintjes experience.

Our imagination is limited by our bodily and sensory experiences. Always, our point of departure is our physical body, being here in this time and this place. Living and dying are ‘transitional’ phases. We describe dying as ‘passing away’, suggesting that there is a soul that literally ‘passes’ to another ‘place’ and time dimension.
In various cultures, the ‘passage’ to jenseits, is symbolised by a boat. The cycle of life is represented by the ancient symbol of a snake that bites its own tail. On Christian paintings God figures as a father with a long beard. If there exists something like a paradise, then probably not in the form of a summer garden.
Interestingly, the journey to jenseits is a one way ticket to heaven, that reveals a chronological, linear way of thinking, while the life cycle considers life and death in a cyclical way. Creation and destruction form a unity, an idea that is characteristic for eastern religions (e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism). In this perspective, life is just a stopover, a phase of transition between form and formlessness, which is expressed in the work of Esther Bruggink and Judith Maria Kleintjes.
You don’t have to worry about what comes after death. You already know it. It’s the same as before you were born.

Beyond the Body – The Cycle of Life and Death
‘Although The Netherlands is one of the most secularised countries in the world, the majority of the population thinks there is ‘something’ after death, this is not connected to a god or religious institution, ‘says Babs Bakels, curator of the Dutch funerary Museum. ‘There is a need for meaning and people look for solace that life is connected to a larger, immaterial whole in which there is a form of immortality. Such as the idea becoming part of an energetic universe, the transformation into a spiritual entity or the merging with an animated nature. Others tend to ideas about rebirth.’

It looks like discoveries in science influence our ideas about a Beyond the Body. Some people find solace in the idea of evolutionary continuity through our genes:
‘Death is for me the end. There is no emergency exit. But passing life to the next generation, and feeling that you are part of a chain of thousands of individuals is one of the deepest emotions I know’, according to artist Roy Villevoye.
Others find consolation in the fact that on the level of the building blocks of the molecules, the atoms, we fully reincarnate. ‘Atoms have such a long lifespan that every atom that we consist of, has passed millions of atoms, before they became part of our body.’
This continuity is reflected in the work of Martin uit den Bogaard, who attaches electrodes to decaying animals, suggesting that dead matter emits energy. The cycle of life is also expressed by the Brazilian artist Célio Braga. In the performance sequence Full Blown the malleable wax is analogous to the alchemistic ‘prima materia’, the alleged alchemistic formless base of all matter.

Beyond the Body –Nothingness
‘Often we refuse to accept the irreversibility of life, because we are afraid for death, and that also hold true for me,‘ Mark Kramer confesses. ‘In my art, I try to handle my fears. Creating it brings me in a meditative mood, ‘enlightened’ or ‘empty’, you could say. I’m not religious, but I do want to let in doubts. Tracing out the Void reflects a state of nothingness, a cradle for potentiality. It is an architectural space, both empty and immaterial. It hints at the void, an endless dimension beyond place and time.

Beyond the Body –Transcendence
In many of the artworks in jenseits, death is related to transcendence, from the Latin transcendere, ‘going beyond’ the confinements of the body. Form becomes formless. Transcendence can be experienced as a liberation, a release from suffering, like the blissful state of Nirwana in Buddhism.
In The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874) the lifelong work of Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), the character of Saint Anthony experiences a similar delirious, blissful feeling of unification with the universe. But this state formlessness or nothingness can also be perceived as fearful. It comes down to the loss of self as we know it. Our individual personality, that is treated as a key value in the Western world, will vanish. How to reconcile ourselves with our own disappearance?

The French author Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) considered death as The End. The inventor of existentialism encouraged people to take their life in both hands, and make the most of it. But what if life is over? Sartre’s contemporary Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) tried to reconcile us with our ‘finiteness’ in her novel Nobody is Immortal by illustrating that immortal life isn’t desirable. Eventually, you get weary from of the repetition of events. At a certain point your life is ready. This is an issue, now people live longer and longer by medical progress. If you feel you are tóó old, how can you end your own life?

Dealing with Fear and Suffering
The prospect of death has an immense psychological impact. Death evokes our deepest, existential fears. Every living creature is driven by survival. When it’s in danger, the alarm bells ring in the form of pain, which the body eschews at all cost.
How to tame our fears? How to deal with pain and suffering?
And how to console the survivors?

Christianity harbours our fragility and suffering, and offers the hope of resurrection, that is embodied by the crucified Jesus. And you can identify with the Pieta, mother Maria who mourns over the loss of her Son. Religions meet psychological needs, that are neglected in our secularized society, according to the Swiss philosopher Alain the Botton. In his book Religion for Atheists he encourages us to revaluate the Christian rituals, to find insights that can be of use in secular life.
‘God may be dead, but the urgent issues that brought us to invent him, are not fulfilled by secular society. We have invented religions to take care for two essential needs: in the first place, in spite of our deeply rooted, egoistic and violent inclinations, to live harmoniously together in communities.
In the second place, to deal with the suffering that is caused by our failures in our relations with others, and the vulnerability and mortality of our bodies. Atheists should find a way to untie ideas or rituals from the religious institutions.’

Healing and adjuring death
Artists react on this vacuum, this ‘religious deficit’. They show our fragility and trigger our compassion, like Jaap de Ruig and Brele Scholz. And they channel our fears, adjuring death, like Célio Braga and Alet Pilon. When Pilon got cancer, she created a pile of bodies with telling title Not Me. And when he saw his friend suffering from illness, Célio Braga embroidered his shirt, infusing it with his love.
The physical act of creating can be like a magical act. You project your emotions on an object outside of yourself, hoping to achieve something. And even it you don’t believe in it, you create a ritual to deal with your compassion and grief.

Remembering the dead - new rituals
It is one thing to die, it another to live with the gap your beloved one left behind. With Pietá, Erszébet Baerveldt made a heartbreaking film about mourning. Ida van der Lee was inspired by the festive All-Souls Day in Mexico, where death is part of life. In Allerzielen Alom (All Souls Everywhere) she connected a collective of artists to a group of survivors, who invented personal rituals that were shared with others during a nocturnal All-Souls event.
Since the first event was held in 2005, Allerzielen Alom ceremonies spread like a virus over The Netherlands. And it is extraordinary and hopeful that one artist has been able to invent a collective ritual, which fulfils the needs of many in our secularized society.

The key to the success of Allerzielen Alom lies precisely in the psychological, personal approach, according to religion scientist Thomas Quartier and anthropologist Eric Venbrux, who researched mourning rituals in The Netherlands. ‘In old religious rituals, the emphasis lies on the journey of the soul of the death, now the focus lies on the mood of the survivors. The traditional idea of a hereafter is replaced by memories to the life of the deceased. We try to keep the deceased alive in our memories, which explains the personal character of the new rituals.‘

Contemporary artists shape our deepest fears, intuitions, and longings. They give form to the unspeakable. And they create new collective rituals to remember the dead, keeping them alive in our minds, offering the survivors warmth and consolation.
Artists pose questions about existence. Who are we, where do we come from, where are we heading? Today, it is up to the individual to give meaning to life and death. Art can help us to reflect on ourselves and accept that there are no definitive answers.

Anne Berk Oostzaan 23 September 2012


Passage to the jenseits

Before Death

Approaching death

In his gruesomely filmed performances Jeroen Eisingastraddles the border between life and death.

In Springtime (that won the Tiger Award at IDFA 31st of January 2012) we witness how bees swarm the artist’s naked skin. At first there are just a few, but very soon more follow, until practically his entire body is hidden underneath a throbbing living pelt. It’s gruesomely beautiful. Eisinga has sprinkled an attractant onto his skin and becomes one with the swarm. Springtime refers to death, and to new life as well.

‘It was daunting. The muscles of my chest started to fail. I had trouble breathing. Death was close by, but I never felt more vital than I did at that moment. All my worries dissolved. It was beautiful and peaceful. For the first time in my life I was not afraid to die’.

Jeroen Eisinga Springtime 35 mm-flm transferred to HD 19 min. 2010-11

Memento Mori

We try to ignore our own mortality and finiteness, but Jan Thomas brings our deepest fears to the surface. Though not religious in the traditional sense, Thomas is interested in the issue of the Hereafter in Christian representations and tomb culture. In his stunning Black Master he shows the triumph of Death, to which we all must succumb. Thomas chooses for wood a symbol of the continuity of life, ‘to console the viewer’.

‘Black Master acts as a guard on the threshold of the Before and After.

It also refers to the Occidental Hell mysticism. The snake shaped, multi headed creatures that stand next to the skeleton might represent Messengers of the Beyond, or the chimeras of our deceptive unconsciousness.’

Jan Thomas Black Master poplar wood 
200 x 120 x 80 cm 2010 Photo: Jochen Ehmke
Courtesy of the artist


As a child, De Ruig saw the cows in the slaughterhouse where his mother worked as a administrator, waiting to be slaughtered. One moment there is life, the next there isn’t. In his video Man Jaap de Ruigshows how small and vulnerable we are, like wriggling maggots at the mercy of a big hand. Maggots are humble animals that prosper by eating cadavers. There’s nothing scary about that, it’s part of the cycle of life.

In another video, a dead mouse is being released from a mousetrap. With a toy bulldozer, a man slowly but surely pushes him over the edge of the table. In this seemingly playful act, each plays its inevitable role: that of victor and victim in the struggle for life.

‘In my work I investigate the dark side of life: suffering, death, the battle between man and nature and between individuals. I try to convince myself of the beauty and obviousness of what I can hardly accept. In my early work, I animals offered me a way to visualize the suffering of human beings. But humor is not lacking, it makes life bearable.’

Jaap de Ruig Man video DVD 1999
Courtesy Maria Chailloux Amsterdam

Jaap de Ruig Mouse video DVD 2000
Courtesy Maria Chailloux Amsterdam

Saving your soul  

Roy Villevoye travels for about 20 years to a small village of the Asmat tribe in Indonesian Papua. He puts our western culture (and himself) in perspective by creating a dialogue on the basis of equality with the Asmat, who have hardly left the Stone Age. For Villevoye one culture is not better than the other. No matter how and where we live, we’re all humans that have to deal with the same questions around life and death.

The film Phantom, a collaboration of Villevoye and Jan Dietvorst, shows a Papuan in the jungle constructing a cross. Is it a Christian cross, with the promise of resurrection after you die? What about the title, Phantom?

Roy Villevoye & Jan Dietvorst Phantom HD Video 7 min. 2008
Courtesy the artist and Motive Gallery Brussels


Facing death

In The Clearing Roy Villevoyetouches on the contemporary taboo on death. He imagines the unimaginable: his own death, by reproducing his own dead body and that of a Papuan friend. As if to convince himself he confronts himself and us with death as a three dimensional tangible reality. It looks like the dead bodies fell victim to a crime. But The Clearing could also be explained positively. Death, the Great Reaper, creates space for new life. 

‘For Papua’s, life and death form a continuity. The spirits of the ancestors live on, and at night they use their skulls as a pillow. For me death is the end. There is no emergency exit. But knowing that life passes on to the next generation moves me deeply. I feel connected to the chain of thousand individuals before me.’ 

Roy Villevoye The Clearing silicone rubber epoxy textile hair
185 x 100 x 25 cm each 2011 Photo: Mike Bink
Courtesy the artist and Motive Gallery Brussels

Surrendering to death

In her Movement studies, Brele Scholz investigates our basic emotions. Life implies action, movement in space. But this hanging body can’t move. It’s tied up at hands and feet, surrendered at the mercy of others, which reminds me of the crucified Jesus. Or is it locked up in its own body, writhing to transcend its physical borders?

Brele Scholz liberates her figures from trees. Wood is a living material. Grained, gnarled and scarred, bearing the marks of its struggle for light. Both humans and trees reach out, striving to surpass their earthly bonds.

‘I look for the primal forces in every human being, unmarked by civilisation, a power that knows neither good nor bad, beauty or ugliness, health or disease. My figures address the gift of life and the power of death. I think there exits no dead material. All material is soul.’

Was ich tue
Womit ich mich umgebe
Maßnahmen gegen die unendliche

Mein Körper
Das Schnitzen meiner Skulpturen
Meine Liebe zu Paul
Die Pflege meiner Freundschaften
Meine Katzen
Der wunderschöne Garten
Überhaupt die Schönheit
Der Bäume
Der Blumen
Der Landschaft
Des Himmels:
Die Sonne
Der Mond
Die Sterne
Die Stille

Alles dient
Der Fesselung meines Geistes
Damit dieser
Der Sehnsucht widerstehen kann
Sich auflösen zu wollen

Wann endlich
Unendliche Freiheit
Unendliches Nichtsein’

Brele Scholz 2009

Brele Scholz Study in Motion 3 hornbeam coloured robinia (mask) rope
150 x 90 x 40 cm hanging about 220 cm above ground 2008
Photo: Brele Scholz

Brele Scholz Study in Motion 3 hornbeam coloured robinia (mask) rope
150 x 90 x 40 cm hanging about 220 cm above ground 2008
Dancer: Britta Lieberknecht Trombone: Paul Hubweber Aula Carolina Aachen 2009
Photo: Brele Scholz

Fearing death

Horsetails and bandaged limbs hang down lifelessly. Heads are missing. Pumps remind us of a cheerful past, but have become useless. This pile of bodies unites man and animal in their – and our- common fate. They died.

As the daughter of a physician who had his practice at home, at an early age Alet Pilon witnessed the fragility and finiteness of life. When she fell ill herself, and got cancer, she bandaged her creatures to beseech her fears. Not Me is a three dimensional nightmare, a fetish to adjure death. Wish I could, which is also on show, could be considered as its antipode.

‘In Not Me I try to deal with my fears. The bandaging is an attempt to preserve life, the horsetails I discovered in a butchery.  While a row of beautiful tails were displayed, the horse itself was laying in pieces in the shop window. These horsetails are charged with meaning. They have experienced death.’

Alet Pilon Not me horsetails chicken wire plaster cast paper mache tulle blankets pumps wooden standard 160 x 160 x 350 cm 2011 Photo: Hein van den Heuvel


‘The contemplation of things as they are, is a nobler thing than a whole harvest of imagination’, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) said. Martin uit den Bogaard opts for a concrete investigation of the transformation of life and death. In 1990, the same year as Damien Hirst, Uit den Bogaard showcased the decomposition process of a death cow. In later works, he attached electrodes to dead animals and a human finger and connected them to a computer program. You can see the moving graphics on the monitor. And you hear the changing sounds of The Singing and Painting Finger in real time, suggesting that dead matter emits energy.

‘Life is a cycle. I don’t believe there is a soul, but I’m fascinated by the life in seemingly dead matter.’

Martin uit den Bogaard Painting and singing finger human finger, glass, electrode, computer 45 x 120 x 60 cm. Photo: Martin uit den Bogaard

Beyond the Body

Beyond the Body – In between states

White on white. The shape of the head is a whisper in space. You can barely perceive its contours, its personal traits erased by death, dissolved before taking shape again?

Thousands of finely spun metal threads unite their forces, an energy that rolls itself up like a fern in springtime, before unfolding in space.

The work of Judith Maria Kleintjes is highly abstract. Rather then copying the individual manifestations of life, she gropes for the underlying process of change and transformation.

‘Things are not what they seem. Our senses are limited. How can we know reality?

I try to be open and susceptible. This sculpture reflects an in-between phase before coming to life. The white head a phase after death, ‘beyond the body’. Just like Buddhists, I feel that life and death are transitional stages, an intuition that is also expressed by the poem It of the Danish Inger Christensen.’

‘’It. That’s it. That started it. It is. Goes on. Moves. Beyond. Becomes.
Becomes it and it and it. Goes further than that. Becomes
something else. Becomes more. Combines something else with more to
keep becoming something else and more. Goes further than that. Becomes
something besides something else and more.

Something. Something new. Newer still. In the next now, becomes as new as it now can be. (…)
So changed now that it’s begun. So transformed. Already a difference between
it and it, for nothing is what it was. Already time between it
and it, here and there, then and now. Already the span of space between
it and something else, it and more, it and something, something
new, which now, in this now, already has been, in the next now is and
goes on(...) "

Fragment of poem It (Det) Inger Christensen (1935-2009) New Directions 2006 translation Susanna Nied  


Opheliaconsists of red shards of clay scattered on the floor, reminiscent of flower petals or drops of blood, as material traces of lost lives.

Beyond the Body – In between states

The ephemeral beauty of Rusalka is deeply moving. She belongs to a twilight zone between life and death that lies beyond our perception. Like an unborn baby, she seems incapable to breath, as the oxygen tanks on her back suggest. Or is she waiting to be revived, like Snow White in her glass coffin?

‘Rusalka is the name of the little mermaid in the eponymous opera of Dvořák. Is her translucent body waiting to be ensouled? Or did her soul escape when we drew near? 

If you’re sensitive to it, you intuit shapes, before they are visible and tangible to others. Energy takes on shifting forms. Chaos and order, creation and destruction dance together, and if someone dies, the energy that converged in the shape of a specific person, is transformed and dispersed. Then chaos has won, at least temporarily. I choose to believe that outside of time, these forces reached a perfect balance in a world of eternal beauty.’

Esther Bruggink Rusalka polyesterfilm embroidery silk glass metal
80 x 140 x 70 cm, 2006. Photo: Simon van Boxtel

Beyond the Body - Release

The swan is a symbolic image with many meanings, that is also used by Alet Pilon in Wish I Had. The white bird can cover large distances with its large wings and might even fly to heaven. How would it be to become a swan? Pilon tries to experience this by creating a costume of real swan wings. By printing the picture on transparent film the winged creature becomes weightless and immaterial.  I wish I could stems from a longing to be liberated from the burden of the physical body, as a soul taking wing to the sky.

Alet Pilon Wish I had photography on Dura-trans
120 x 260 cm 1998. Photo: Cord Otting

Beyond the Body - Transformation

In Catholic Brasil where Célio Braga grew up, people donated Ex Votos to thank the Lord for the recovery of their illnesses. Originally they donated their body’s weight in wax for the candle production. In respect of this ancient tradition Célio Bragaturned 65 kilo of wax - his own body weight - into a field of flowers, Full Blown. During a performance in the Old Church in Amsterdam in 2011, he destroyed the flowers with his body, assembling the crushed leaves and melting them into a block again.

‘My choice for flowers is inspired by the 17h century Vanitas paintings. Flowers, fruits and insects show

beauty of life but also its fragility. The word Full Blown refers to the moment when the flowers begin to wilt. It also describes the moment when a disease spreads over the body.’

Wax can melt and solidify into ever changing forms. Walking on Flowers embodies the cycle of life and the transformation of the body, which flowers and vanishes, and provides the material for new life. Death means surpassing the confinements of the body, which also can be experienced as a release, like St. Anthony in the book of Flaubert.’

‘O joy! O Bliss! I have beheld the birth of life. (…) I long to fly, to swim, to bark, to bellow, to howl (…)

Divide myself everywhere - be in everything - emanate with all odours - develop myself like the plants - flow like water- vibrate like sound – shine like light – assume all forms – penetrate each atom – descend to the very bottom of matter – be matter itself!’

Flaubert, Gustav. The Tempation of Saint Anthony, 1874, quoted in Van Alphen, Ernst. Célio Braga, Deliriously, Hein Elferink gallery, Staphorst, 2006, p. 42

Célio Braga Walking on Flowers Dvd 15 min (loop) 2012 Performance of walking on a carpet of wax flowers with the weight of the artists body (65 kg) 2004/2012

Beyond the Body - Not being

In the installations of Mark Kramer, mankind is represented by tiny figures adrift. Individual faces can’t be distinguished, as if our individuality doesn’t matter in the larger framework of time. In the installation Tracing out the Void Mark Kramer tries to visualize the absence of life. Tiny perforated ovals reflect the light, suggesting an endless empty space. There’s nobody to be seen. What happens when our body stops functioning? Will our personality dissolve in an invisible energy? Will we go to another dimension where time doesn’t exist?

‘Our bodies are fragile and transient. I work like a monk, in solitude, patiently drilling small holes in paper, wood or other materials. Searching for silence, I create empty spaces that reflect the ever-present emptiness of space.’ 

Mark Kramer Tracing out the void paper iron wire rubber
installation dimensions variable 2012



Every organism is driven by the urge to survive. How keep death at bay? When Célio Braga’s friend fell ill, he asked him for a white shirt - their second skin - folded it, embroidered it, folded and embroidered it again and again, until it resembled a body part. In his installations for WELTKUNSTZIMMER Braga repeats this ‘magical’ act, empowering the object with love in the hope to undo the illness.

Endless Column is a pile of medicine bottles sowed in textile. Connecting heaven and earth, just like the eponymous work of Brancusi.  Unveil consists of a huge curtain made of the medicine package leaflets that he got from friends and family, to shield them against diseases and bad luck.

Célio Braga Unveil (curtain) medicine information leaflets and clear tape 350 x 350 cm 2006/2012

Mourning – reviving?

In the heartbreaking film Pieta of the Catholic Erzsébet Baerveldt tries to revive a human sized, clay figure. Tenderly she embraces the body that lays on the platform. Attempts to erect one leg, then another. Puts her arms around it, cautiously lifting the torso, but in vain. No love in the world can reanimate the dead.

Or can it? Is dead irreversible? Baerveldt tried to reanimate women of bygone eras, like Mona Lisa, Maria Magdalena, and in particular with the Hongarian Erszébet Batory. This 16th cenury ‘blood countess’ was (incorrectly?) accused of using the blood of young virgins, to achieve eternal youth. Baerveldt strongly identified with her. She changed her name Elizabeth into Erszébet and dressed like her. She crawled into her skin, acting as a medium, to harbour Batory’s wandering soul?

‘While man is driven by the pursuit to power over himself and others, he overlooks the existential questions like the mystery of death.’ Erzsébet Baerveldt 21 Rozendael, Enschede, NL 2011

Erszébet Baerveldt Piéta film 13 min. 1992
Courtesy Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem (MMKA)

Commemorating the dead

Starting her professional life as a nurse, Ida van der Lee witnessed death, and experienced how difficult it is to deal with this in our secularized society. She was inspired by the festive Dias de Los Muertos in Mexico, and created Allerzielen Alom (All Souls Everywhere) to ‘celebrate the dead for what they were during life.’ She went to look for the survivors of a graveyard in Amsterdam, and created collaborations with artists to invent new commemoration rituals in which art plays a pivotal role.

After the success of first edition in 2005, Allerzielen Alom is extended to other graveyards, resulting in Studio Ritual Art, in which artists assist the people to create a ritual with everything that it takes.

‘The French poet Francis Ponge (1899-1988) once wrote that a plant grows in two directions: one force that pulls it down to the darkness of the earth, and the other that reaches upwards for the light. Similarly, we can delve into our memories, searching for the stories of the dead, uncovering the way they shaped us and survive in us. Thus we keep the dead alive in our memories, and reflect on ourselves as well. The dead can be a source of inspiration.’

Van der Lee, Ida. De muze van het herdenken (The Art of Commemoration), The Netherlands/Zoetermeer, Uitgeverij Meinema, 2010, p. 13

You can make a choice out these photo’s
Foto 1:
Ida van der Lee Allerzielen Alom Art for Commemoration Graveyard Castricum NL
Paraffin sculpture: Alphons ter Avest. Photo:Max Linsen

Foto 2.
Ida van der Lee Allerzielen Alom Art for Commemoration graveyard Santpoort NL
Boat with trumpeteer Mark Nieuwenhuis  Light design: Ronald Tebra Photo: Johan van de Wijngaart

Foto 3.
Ida van der Lee Allerzielen Alom Art for Commemoration Graveyard Blaricum NL
Mosaïc lamps design: Aida Rifai Photo: Max Linsen

Foto 4.
Ida van der Lee Allerzielen Alom Art for Commemoration Graveyard Castricum NL
Scenography Hereafter Ida van der Lee Harm Hajonides Photo: Max LInsen