Staff # 53. 92cm/ 36 ‘
It’s probably one of the most contested debates of our time: movement and mobility. Who has the privilege, right documents, ethnicity, gender or background to traverse geographical and other boundaries, and who doesn’t. In a way the “art world”, the latter already a denomination of territory, operates as a microcosm of global politics. Those of us working in the art field like to think of it as progressive and critical, and therefor often fail to see how its institutions too are very much defined according to class, colour, professional status and conduct, facilitating those who can easily pass the proverbial walls of the white cube and curbing those who will remain outsiders and not exactly belong. It perhaps makes Frank Bezemer, a white middle-aged man, an unlikely candidate and yet I would argue that in many ways he occupies a grey zone of belonging and un-belonging.
Bezemer’s staffs probe the porosity of institutional possibility, or for that matter the structural lack thereof. And while it is true that Bezemer might easily gain access to art events because he is a white man clad in a suit and does not look out of place at exhibition vernissages, he does smuggle an alien object in what is a carefully choreographed setting; a setting that has strictly defined which objects of art are on display for the viewer’s gaze and which ones are not. Often working with smaller staffs that can be concealed and pass security, Bezemer becomes more conduit than artist. By bringing artworks from his studio to exhibitions in which he is not officially participating, he disrupts – however momentarily – the focus of attention and the order of things. The staffs, and Bezemer alike, cross visible and invisible institutional thresholds, hacking the system, if you will. And yet, this infiltration is subtle and short-lived; performing more an act that measures how susceptible the context is to stretching its own parameters than radically and loudly tearing through it.
In fact, the staffs are in and by themselves transplants: branches, selectively pruned from a tree, then cut up and meticulously reconstituted into an artefact that still represents its woody source. The reference to the branch, the tree, the living organism, remains strongly present. The staffs travel to environments of artifice foreign to their “treeness”: the studio, the museum, the art gallery. To an extent one can always argue that if an object is placed in an art context, that very object will be transformed into a work of art. In other words, lean a stick against a wall in a museum and it will be seen as part of the institution’s collection. However, the same argument can be made to suggest the exact opposite: it is actually the object transforming its surroundings.
It seems to me that Frank Bezemer plays with these confusions of perception, following the staff – a hypermobile object – to wherever it will take him. As such the staffs are perpetually in transit and in transition, and the perfect measures for a time marked by unruly questions of what art is, should do, and can or could be.
Nat Muller is an independent curator and writer. Her main interests include: the intersections of aesthetics, media and politics; food and contemporary art in and from the Middle East.
The work of Frank Bezemer (Helmond, 1956) is centered around the power of colour, the beauty of diversity and the strength of union and connectivity. He explored these premises by painting colour fields and arranging pieces of construction wood into new compositions. Since 2011, Bezemer has been making ‘staffs’, recognizable sculptures constructed from parts in ten different colours. With these works. He explores the effect and interaction of colours. The artist deconstructs an existing branch into cylindrical shapes of equal size. He then paints these parts, before putting them back together. The traditional travelers’ tool, the staff, is reinvented in this way. The staffs refer to the walking stick, but also to the magic wand, the antenna, the scepter, and the pole. The works seem to have the potential to guide us and give us advice. Below the exterior of the (bright) colours and surprising colour combination, one can sense the natural strength of the staffs. The artist is fascinated by the notion that new shoots can suddenly develop from a stick or piece of wood. The staffs embody this potential of new life.
However different the seventy or more bars may be that Frank Bezemer has created in recent years, they are all captured, or perhaps better said: encapsulated, within a single system. A system that is deeply rooted in Frank’s conviction that ‘diversity is beautiful.’ And the same interpretation may certainly be applied within a societal context.
As a starting point for diversity, Frank chooses the colours for which one word exists in the Dutch language: blue, brown, yellow, grey, green, orange, purple white and black. Rose (the Dutch word for pink) is excluded because it sounds too French.
For the artist, the next matter is to decide how these colours should be combined; and thus it becomes a question of form. It is André Cadere who, with his “Round Bar of Wood”, inspires Frank. Not only by using the bar as his form, but also by his systematic approach to arranging its components.
Each bar is divided into 28 segments, with the height of each segment always equal to the diameter. The length of the bar depends on the thickness of the branch from which the bar is made. The 28 parts are the result of the system in which the colours are arranged on the bar. The centre of the bar contains the ten colours whose names are arranged alphabetically. First four, and then two of these ten colours are mirrored on both sides and interrupted in fixed places by the colour at the front or back of the series of ten colours. Within this approach, Frank permits one error in each bar to break the dictatorship of the system.
Naturally, the art academy impressed upon Frank that an artist should be original, but the direction that Cadere points to regarding this question is too convincing to ignore: the bar as a vertical painting, in which Frank can add his colours as a cohesive whole, thus expressing the beauty of diversity.
There is still another step to go. From personal preference to organized coincidence, from an arbitrary to a systematic approach, because diversity only gains colour in cohesion. Beyond this, indifference rules. Which is why Frank has designed a system that defines how the colours should be arranged on the bar. The system gives Frank a guideline for working freely, without having to think about choosing between green or red, blue or brown.
Once the basic colours, the shape, and the system have been determined, Frank can concentrate purely on the colour nuances. Also, by literally changing language, he is able to alter the sequence of the colours, thereby giving each bar a different identity, just as each language also expresses its own individuality.
Frank glues the segments of the first bar together. This also makes the final result a gamble, however, as once affixed, the bar is a given. Since Frank also wants to view the bars as an artist, and although it is not the order but the colours that he wants to be able to nuance as such, the bars become dismantlable, so that corrections are still possible; the parts are connected using dowels and wire ends.
Although the system initially serves as his guideline, in time Frank comes up against the limitations of the choices he has made. He thus becomes fascinated in the streetscape by the never-before-seen colour combinations in the Somali women’s clothing. But he is unable to translate this within his system, which he developed for the precise purpose of expressing his starting principle ‘diversity is beautiful’. One initial way around this is to make the leap to English, which has its own descriptor for the Dutch word rose: pink. He also replaces yellow with gold. This enables him to enrich and deepen the colour palette available to him.
The Art of Seeing
The scent of freshly baked bread, music that moves you, a loving caress, the serene beauty of a painting; the basis of my life and work are sensory experiences. And I use colour to pass on these sensations. The precise colours, I find in an instinctive, intuitive and meditative way.
A way which is limited on all sides. And which also requires some preparation: It starts with the choice of the branch. The shape and size of the branch is often inspired by a tool. Do I want a staff, a cudgel, a sceptre, a yardstick, a dipstick, an antenna, a ranging pole or something else entirely?
The ranging pole is the tool of the surveyor. On the photo, taken a hundred years ago in Idaho, the ranging poles still looked slightly more complicated. Now, it is the familiar red-and-white pole one pricks into the ground. Incidentally, the surveyor is a special observer, because he looks without judgement and sees without wish: he sees what is there, accepts everything and rejects nothing. That is why I connect the ranging pole with independent perception, with the true art of seeing, without influences or limitations. And look what pleasure that brings to this female survey crew!
The title for the series, I borrowed from a book I read forty-five years ago, which, back then, was already old-fashioned and tough. The title: The Art of Seeing, remains a current issue. Current, because perception in the age of digital memory functions differently.
In fact, it seems that the behaviour you are tempted into in the 21st century, automatically makes you visually impaired. The book made a big impression on me at the time. It might not be all that useful to people with genetically determined myopia. But for me it was true that with three instructions from this book, I could correct my own behaviour at an early stage. It has greatly improved my own perception, literally opening up a world to me.
Frank Bezemer 2018
1) Relax! Do not overload your eyes. Blink regularly, always allowing your eyes a moment of rest. If you are in total darkness and you see purple, yellow or other coloured spots, this is a sign of serious fatigue. Rest your eyes until the spots are gone.
2) Move! Just as staring is the way to make the image slowly but surely fade, so moving (the eye) keeps everything sharp. So park your laptop in front of a window with a (preferably panoramic) view and consciously enjoy this regularly: follow a person, animal or object present in that view. If you are in a train, you can try to focus your attention on a point on the horizon. If you are reading a book, you can try to follow the lines of one letter. The finer you can make the movements of your eyes, the sharper the perception.
3) Improve your memory! Memory is the basis of all seeing. The eye is no more than a transmitting channel. For example, by comparing old observations with recent ones, we do not see a green spot but a tree, or not a tree but an oak. An example of a memory exercise is: First close your eyes and then open them only for a split second. Now describe what you have seen, check what you may have forgotten and realise how much you can see in a split second. Keep making the exercise more difficult.