Opening speech of Dutch Art Critic Wim van der Beek on the occasion of overview exhibition 2007 in Gorcums Museum.
People who live in the comfort zone want the visual arts to be primarily aesthetical, evoking pleasant feelings. Looking at art should give the very same gratifying and comfortable feeling we also experience coming home to the place we wished for or dreamt of. But there are some hidden dangers in the comfort zone. As soon as the initial wonder has subsided, habituation appears. Things that seemed unique at first become customary and eventually inconspicuous. Ultimate beauty may furtively change into habituation and weariness. The trigger has gone, the sting has been taken out of life and the experience of life.
Contrary to the people living in the comfort zone are those who are looking for the trigger zone. There where experiences are neither comfortable nor comforting, but challenging or even ominous. There where new and unexpected sides manifest themselves continuously. There where the dimensions of events constantly change. That is where we find the visual arts that incite, wring and wrench. Life in the trigger zone makes people alert and sharpens their senses. The drawback is that the need for short kicks requires ever new stimuli. It may after a while become addictive, taking up the time we need for reflection.
If we apply the above to the art of Jan Eric Visser, it certainly holds true. At a first glance his objects appear to be solid sculptures made of sustainable materials, obliging the viewer’s bent for the comfort zone. Only at a second glance the singular friction becomes more manifest rendering the sculptures their unique status. Visser not only tries to please us, but also provokes our thoughts. He encourages us to discover the visual arts and the unknown territories he opens up. Peculiar finds have infiltrated his work. He discloses and relates the ORDEALS and EXPERIENCES he encounters during the creative process.
The derailment starts with his singular choice of material. It is clear that the artist has purposefully been tampering with the signals and switches of traditional sculpture. The wagons with familiar loads of bronze, stone, marble,wood and clay have been replaced by questionable loads of inorganic household refuse, newspapers, leaflets and wax. Traditional means are purposefully kept from us and we are deprived of our touchstone. And that is only the beginning!
Jan Eric Visser emphasizes that the preservation of household refuse may yield remarkable abstract objects that are both obtrusively and modestly present, playing the space of a room in a monumental way. His cyclic transformation of household waste is based on an approved technique. The time-consuming creative process is part of the total concept whereby Visser attempts to come to terms with himself and the society that surrounds him. He objects to the strained consumer behaviour that seems to strangle current society.
Jan Eric Visser combines fragility and solidity with actions that require manual skills as well as hold a ritual component. Physical presence is key to his sculptures. But their inevitable outward appearance also represents a purport that is at the least equally meaningful. Ideology even seemed to prevail over aspects of form in the beginning, but in his recent work Visser makes a connection between his visual representation of existential matters and his views of sculpturing. He no longer finds it difficult when people experience aesthetical pleasure from his sculptures as long as his commitment does not fully fall into the background.
The sculptures add to the process of awareness raising. In the solidly built objects we hardly recognise the mixture of newspaper, leaflets, inorganic household waste and wax the artist skilfully prepared. The making of pulp to Jan Eric Visser is an essential part of the entire creative process. He builds further on the principle of recycling, but it no longer is a goal in itself or a dogma. The objects claim their independent status without referring to the original function of the materials they are built of. Thus the boundaries between comfort zone and trigger zone are lifted imperceptibly.
The visual language of the sculptures is somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand they rub comfortably against familiar themes, on the other hand they make us put behind us all that appears familiar. We think we recognise things…but do we really? It strongly appears that all our deeply-rooted points of reference are being neutralised, washed away like the soil from under our feet. We feel obliged to look for a new way of thinking and unusual perception. We must cast off our predisposed viewing habits. If we do not, we get stuck
Jan Eric Visser objects to passive, indolent, unquestioning consumer behaviour. He lifts the barriers between traditional and innovative modern art and makes no arbitrary distinction between genuine and imitation. He confronts us with existential issues. Nowadays all sorts of newspapers and magazines tell us that social responsibility in businesses is a hot issue. Men like Eckart Wintzen and Al Gore are the new gurus of our days. Of course it is a good thing that idealistic entrepreneurs do business in a socially responsible way, making it HIP or HOT.
A positive development is also the attention fixed on HIP HONEST; a new generation of designers who are using honest materials and are exploring the possibilities of using nettle as a substitute for the polluting cultivation of cotton. But reading these articles my thoughts unwillingly wonder twenty years back in time. At that time I got to know Jan Eric Visser’s voice as the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Back then he already showed that the authentic artist sometimes is far ahead of his time, moving into the trigger zone forcing him in the predicament of a loner. Society needs these loners.
Wim van der Beek, art critic