Hammer Projects: Erik van Lieshout

Hammer Projects: Erik van Lieshout

With his camera always on, Dutch artist Erik van Lieshout sets out on spirited journeys, turning whomever or whatever he encounters into subject matter for his social documentaries. His endless curiosity and his disarming personality encourage strangers to share their intimate feelings and politics openly with him. In his drawings, paintings, and collages, van Lieshout continues this ferocious exploration of the behaviors of people he meets with aggressive, sometimes violent, sexual imagery. The artist produced a new video for the Hammer Museum while living in and learning about Los Angeles.

Biography

Erik van Lieshout was born in 1968 in Deurne, the Netherlands, and currently lives in Rotterdam. He studied at the Academy for Art and Design in 's-Hertogenbosch and at Ateliers ’63 in Haarlem. Recent solo exhibitions include a major survey show at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, which travels to the Kunsthaus Zürich and the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. Following his American museum debut at the Hammer, he will have an exhibition at Mass MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts, in April 2007. Selected group exhibitions include Populism at the CAC Vilnius, the Frankfurter Kunstverein, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and Ethnic Marketing at the Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva. In addition, his work was featured in the Fourth Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art (2006); the Gwangju Biennale (2006); and the Biennale of Sjarjah, Dubai (2004). In 2003 Van Lieshout presented a special installation and video for the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. His films have been screened at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival and the Frieze Art Fair in London.

Interview with Ali Subotnick

Erik van Lieshout always seems to wind up in unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and often confrontational situations, and it’s not unintentional. As the artist says: “My challenge is to lose control. . . . Because it’s only when you lose control that you have the feeling of freedom. In fact I am a control freak who is trying to lose control in order to get himself into the craziest possible situations, and thus get over his fear.”

Once people understand that Van Lieshout is not trying to exploit them, they more openly share their opinions with him—however controversial or off-color they may be. Whether visiting a house full of crack heads, teaching female Chinese students words for feminism and empowerment, or having coffee with former Nazi sympathizers in Germany, he treats all his interlocutors with the same respect and consideration. In his videos these interactions are collaged together with more intimate views of the artist, in which we see him enraged, hopeless, crying, laughing, and running scared. This heightens the intensity of Van Lieshout’s hyperactive adventures, and viewers often become uncomfortable watching the display of raw emotion and politically incorrect behavior. This is the point where the artist loses control and lets the situation take over, and his unfettered vision rips open polite society’s shielded, festering wounds.


Van Lieshout usually plays the central role in his videos: he’s the victim and the hero. “Sometimes . . . it’s better to have a look at subjects . . . as they relate to oneself first, before saying anything about other people. That’s why I appear so frequently in my films.” And he is able to get away with more as the director and star, but in his work for the Hammer Museum, he is experimenting by using his longtime collaborator and film editor Core van der Hoeven as his costar, a situation that is challenging and exciting.

After Van Lieshout had spent a few weeks in Los Angeles (with Van der Hoeven by his side), I sat down with him to find out what he had been doing and where he is going.

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Erik van Lieshout: 

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Ali Subotnick is adjunct curator at the Hammer Museum.

Quotations in the introductory text are from an interview with the artist conducted by Rein Wolfs and Miriam Varadinis, “Cut the Performance in the Edit,” in This Can’t Go On (Stay with Me), exhibition catalogue, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Kunsthaus Zürich; Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich (Zurich: JRP/Ringier, 2006).

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Hammer Projects is made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, Fox Entertainment Group's Arts Development Fee, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, members of the Hammer Circle, and the David Teiger Curatorial Travel Fund.

Hammer Projects: Erik van Lieshout was created during a residency this winter at the Hammer Museum. The Hammer Museum’s Artist Residency Program was initiated with funding from the Nimoy Foundation and is supported through a significant grant from The James Irvine Foundation.

This exhibition also received support from The Consulate General of The Netherlands in New York.