Form Follows Garbage 

Rotterdam-based sculptor Jan Eric Visser (1962) is known for carefully creating challenging abstract sculptures from his personal everyday inorganic household waste. Thus he has been exploring an ecologically driven aesthetics respectful of earth’s resources and the cycle of nature and life from 1987. Aspiring for an artistic reconciliation between concept, matter and activism his oeuvre challenges our contemporary understanding of matter and existence. The alluring material presence of his works in terms of surface, colour, scale and shape is inextricably related to the ethics of their production.  Visser’s art practice may be seen as a unique personal footprint, raising notions of consummation and transience, enigma and exigency, art and life. In an age of ever-increasing pace and distraction, his captivating sculptures offer a place for sustained perception and thought.  

Visser’s sculptures are the result of a simple yet effective process, creating new shapes by assembling waste materials and wrapping them in waste paper pulp. Once impregnated with wax (i.e. votive candle residue) and softly polished, the objects take on a new identity. Though the shapes may look vaguely familiar, they never lose their enigmatic character.  

Visser’s working method opens the door widely to formal diversity.  Yet, the forms are hardly ever anticipated.  Although the garbage found in his bin or incidentally gathered outside is always the guiding principle, the art object as it were emerges from the waste and presents itself to the artist. Jan Eric Visser likes to refer to this procedure as ‘Form Follows Garbage’. Trying hard to keep up with the pace of his bin filling up, Visser considers his sculptures 'stages' in a continuous process.

In this respect Jan Eric Visser also likes to refer to the concept of ‘synchronicity’, a meaningful co-occurrence of two events surpassing mere coincidence.  Though the omnipresent lifecycle evokes a desire for explanation, Visser realizes that looking for causal connections will not solve the mystery of life and death. He therefore considers his choice of material to be “a metaphor for the inability of mankind to truly comprehend anything”. The objects are separate entities appealing to the viewer’s sensitivity and readiness to relate to the objects and make her own associations. For this reason Visser’s works are never titled: ideally his work goes beyond the domain of language and its conditioned response.  

Pursuing a reconciliation between tradition and innovation, culture and nature, Jan Eric Visser envisages a post-industrial future in which resources will be cherished and no longer incinerated as ‘waste’. According to Visser visual art and life are all about materialization and tangibility. If you do not connect to matter you do not connect with the world around you. You keep life at a distance and make it abstract, conceptual or virtual. This collective inability of modern man to relate to the world as a physical entity, enfeebles him and turns him into a mere consumer.

Visser’s art arises from his awareness of human inability, literally grinding the words of newspaper reports and turning them into matter. The conscientious labour he performs requires a form of discipline that verges on trance or meditation. The grinding and application of waste paper pulp is both calming and ritual, but also propagates a survival strategy in which all matter is valued and considered. With every new form there is a new outlook on a new life. Perhaps that is why he often presents his creations in unique self-made boxes that fit like a second skin. Full of care and respectfully like a Zen-buddhist at a new birth. 

Outdoor projects

Exploring modern aesthetics at the interface of tradition and innovation Visser’s outdoor sculptures offer a platform for newly developed recycling materials. Thus the artist realised a number of outdoor sculptures of assembled litter from the countryside covered in Aquadyne. This new material of recycled waste plastic, verified by University of Newcastle (UK), has micro- and macro pores that enable the rooting of plants: even vegetables may be grown on it! Similarly, he has been working together with Technical University Eindhoven (NL) from 2015 to create sculptures from a new type of concrete made of waste materials only. More over a photocatalytic mineral added to the concrete mix reduces air pollution degrading the small particles we breathe also known as nitrogen oxides.

Visser’s physical artworks stand as a silent testimony of nature’s circularity, confronting the beholder with the unanswered question of life and death. Thus, Visser engages himself with matters beyond recycling and its narrative of use. Please see: