10 may until 2 august – Exhibition Ruhezeit Abgelaufen

Hans van Houwelingen, curator of the exhibition Ruhezeit Abgelaufen:

A few years ago, I was suddenly confronted with the efficiency of death. I first encountered it at the care home that so quickly and effectively despatched my mother to the afterlife; and shortly afterwards I found myself embroiled in the Dutch economy of death, which will rent you a grave for ten or twenty years. If you cannot come up with the next instalment, eternal rest comes to an early end. Death, that profound mystery and inexhaustible source of inspiration for life and for art, has become a hard-headed commodity. Being dead is expensive. It is consequently a status of relatively short duration. “Rest in Peace”, the inscription that adorns many a grave monument, is not to be taken too literally.

Death is no longer one of life’s certainties. What will it be like when death ceases to exist altogether? These thoughts prompted me to make Sluipweg, a secret route along which death has succeeded in slipping away unnoticed. A footpath of hundreds of tombstones, obtained from recently disinterred graves, was built along the old artillery wall surrounding the nineteenth-century Fortress at Vijfhuizen. Surviving relatives had made the gravestones available for this purpose during the previous three years. Each of them had given up their claim to a personal monument so that the stones could be recycled as a single, large work of art – a work that calls attention not only to death but also to its absence.

The Fortress at Vijfhuizen invited me to celebrate the opening of Sluipweg by compiling an exhibition. Ruhezeit Abgelaufen, the title of this exhibition, comes from a notice placed on graves in Germany to indicate that the allotted resting period has expired, and that it is time for the departed to depart. The inscription has something almost cheerful about it, as though the occupant’s overextended lunch break has ended and an afternoon’s work still beckons. It typifies the paradoxical circumstances that beset death today; a point will come when it is time to take one’s leave of death.

Fernando Sanchez Castillo, Paul Haworth, Jack Holden, Hilary Jeffery, Rudy Luijters, Stani Michiels, Erkka Nissinen, Tommy Olsson, Ronald Ophuis, Berend Strik, Hans Venhuizen and Mu Xue are artists whose paths have crossed mine at some point. Death is not specifically a theme of their work, or is at most an indirect one. I offer no other explanation for choosing these artists than that their work has brought me face to face with my own temporary existence. The paintings of Paul Haworth, for example, exude a deliberate refusal to come to life, as though he forbids his subjects to be born. has The painterly technique of Ronald Ophuis reconfirms his acrid subject matter as pathological sculpture. In Open Sore 1985-1995 by Tommy Olsson, his complete video lifespan passes – a life, which could not possibly continue any longer. This contrasts with Berend Strik, who once observed that stitching a piece of cloth bore an analogy to sexual penetration and has since sewn an oeuvre that would make Cassanova envious. All the artists taking part in this exhibition touch a raw nerve in their work, up to the breathtaking Pegasus Dance Video of Fernando Sanchez Castillo. 

Perhaps the output of these artists is not about death but about life. In life alone death can be experienced, and art just opens our eyes to it.

Hans van Houwelingen