Summer Newsletter: Art in Boijmans and in the port of Rotterdam
20 June 2010

The curator explains

Saskia van Kampen, curator of the City Collection, has written an essay about the exhibition. The full essay is included in the booklet that each visitor receives when they buy a ticket for the exhibition.

Booklet (detail). Design: Thonik
Booklet (detail). Design: Thonik


Atelier Van Lieshout’s (AVL) sinister installations and tableaux dissolve the boundaries between good and evil, life and death, reality and fiction. With Infernopolis, an exhibition consisting of two immense art works and a forest of sculptures, AVL has created a terrifying setting in which medical instruments, tubes and kettles, vacuum pumps, silos and sorting trays, lacerated bodies, skulls and skeletons, human faeces and giant sperm cells and organs are the main protagonists. A parallel world unfolds in which moral and ethical questions are posed from a different perspective, in which the exhibited art works form the links in a sophisticated rational system.

Infernopolis forms a new chapter in AVL’s interest in issues such as autonomy, self-sufficiency, power and economy. Since its inception AVL has set out to unravel these subjects in the hope of exposing a deeper structure: the laws and rules, the organisation and codes that are usually hidden from view. AVL’s artistic practice can best be described as a continuous process in which recently fabricated objects are anchored in earlier concepts and projects. As such, the art works in the Submarine Wharf should be viewed not as autonomous objects but as components of a group or a comprehensive whole, in which their (recent) history is incorporated.

The Technocrat
A good example is The Technocrat, an art work comprising apparatus, containers, beds and distillation kettles, grouped into four parts with obscure titles: The Feeder, The Alcoholator, The Total Faecal Solution and The Participants. Together they form a closed circuit of food, alcohol, excrement and energy. To function optimally The Technocrat requires a thousand people, or ‘participants’ as AVL calls them. They lie on bunk beds to save space and are stupefied by a permanent alcohol feed. Three times per day the participants are served a measured amount of specially prepared food, after which their bodies are sucked empty with the help of a vacuum pump. The yield then serves as the raw material for the following segment: The Total Faecal Solution, in which the faecal matter is heated and stirred. The gas produced by this process is then used to prepare a new batch of inexpensive food, with which the participants are fed, and so on.

The basis for The Technocrat was laid in an earlier art project: AVL-Ville. This anarchist Free State opened its doors in the spring of 2001 on a piece of derelict land directly adjoining AVL’s workshop. ‘AVL-Ville is not an art work simply to be looked at, but is intended to be lived in, with and from’, AVL announced in a press release at the time. The art work consisted of a community with its own flag, constitution and bank notes. AVL-Ville provided space to make art, free from laws and rules, and to live a self-sufficient and autonomous life. The residents operated their own hospital, farm, abattoir, restaurant, transport service and academy.