The entertainment value of this new trend was discovered already a while ago by commercial broadcasters: ‘Back to Basics’ was ‘Big Brother’s’ subtitle, and last autumn Net5 (a Dutch cable station) launched the series ‘Expedition Robinson’, an engrossing game show in which 14 contestants are dropped off at a deserted island and then have to manage to survive, bereft of all mod cons. It seems as if we – over-civilised, controlling human beings, surrounded by cases of BSE and foot & mouth – need to rediscover ourselves in the most primitive conditions.
Maria Pask shows her view on the primitive human being at Ellen de Bruijne in Amsterdam. The space is filled with a configuration of different objects. To give you an idea: there’s a rattan screen; an – unused – sledge-hammer; a black concrete basin filled with large bunches of grapes; a cave-like sculpture that reaches up to the ceiling; several monitors showing video footage; the façade of a house made out of multiplex; there’s a rotating plateau on which the unfinished plaster casts of two legs; a settee on its side; a ladder and lots more.
The presentation carries the subtitle ‘A new fresh free fall from over the top, or, A challenging task for my family to live this show ’, signed EdB (Ellen de Bruijne). The phenomenon of a gallery in someone’s front room isn’t new, but given the artists De Bruijne works with, it seemed inevitable that one day work and private life would collide. Some of the objects in the installation, such as the ladder, the settee, the roll of carpet, were appropriated by Pask from De Bruijne’s household.
At first glance it seems an incoherent mess, but once you start walking around and take the time to look at individual objects, an image starts to emerge. One of the rooms contains three monitors with on each screen a video of a naked model. Distinct parts of the body (back, shin, lower arm) are covered with excessive hair growth. The reference is clear. We’re looking at our primitive predecessor: the proto-human, depicted in stereotypical poses, on all fours or with clenched fists. They seem to have been taken straight out of their natural surroundings and put into the photographer’s studio, naked against a white wall. At about a metre’s distance from the monitors there’s the Neanderthal’s props; a star made out of little sticks and a small bowl.
In another room a monitor shows a loop of a limb – unclear which one – similarly covered in hair, making small abrupt movements. Yet another monitor shows a naked woman running around madly with a big axe. The hand-held camera movements resemble those of the cult-film The Blair Witch Project. On one of the walls a large print that shows this Nite-mare hippy girl in front of a car, awkward, as if she feels caught by the intruder with his camera.
A performance was staged during the opening night; two actors got into the grape filled basin and started a dance that bore most resemblance with a mating ritual. Dressed in white t-shirts, the one with ‘mum’ on the front, and the other with ‘dad’, the couple turned around each other as if heavily in love, whilst eating from the grapes and uttering debauched, primal noises. The inevitable mess of the grapes they trampled on can still be seen rotting in the gallery. The couple’s childlike happiness reminded one of theatre workshops for disabled people, but their complete lack of inhibition and total devotion made me envious. Who doesn’t know the urge to sing along on the top of your voice with the music on your walkman in a busy supermarket? Of course the symbolism is very straightforward: the bunch of grapes is Dionysos’ (Bacchus) most obvious accessory, and Dionysos in turn – according to Nietzsche – represents the uninhibited, thoughtless and natural in us humans. So it seems as if Pask is trying to promote the idea of liberating the proto-human in all of us with her performance.
Maria Pask was born and raised in Cardiff and came to Amsterdam in 1995 to study at De Ateliers. Since then she has exhibited at different venues, both in Holland and abroad. Most reviews of her work highlight the fact that so much of it is based on and comes out of her personal experiences. Possibly not always literally, sometimes autobiographical details are transposed to a more fictional level, but the personal narrative is a recurring theme.
The problem about such prior knowledge is that one seems to immediately forget ones own interpretation and starts looking for the autobiographical dimension almost instantaneously.Is Pask simply trying to conjure up an amusing image of the primitive proto-human with some props from his natural habitus, like in an anthropological display in a Natural History museum, or is there another, personal dimension? We’re used to Pask referring to her personal history through very direct and explicit references. The installation ‘State of the Estate’ however, is more cryptic when it comes to personal references. When I asked her about it, she replied that the installation refers to her roots: the Welsh folklore of stories and legends.
For those who are wondering: the settee is for sale as well.
Christel Vesters “Tubelight” April 2001 (original text translated into English)
Exhibition: 17/03/01 – 14/04/01