As part of its ‘FEATURED’ artist series for the Platforms Project in Athens, the Museum of Contemporary Cuts presents the international artist and activist, Willem Jan Smit.
“The choice fell on Mr. Smit,” explained the curator Lanfranco Aceti and the artistic director Artemis Potamianou, “since his practice has been dealing for many years now with issues of rejection, remainder, and reminder. Through a contradictory embrace of contexts, traditional structures, and processes of aesthetic production, Smit has addressed the relationship between the space and the object.”
His approach is a reinterpretation of journalistic and/or archeological practices, which— as an “instant romanticism of the present” as Susan Sontag calls it—redefines cultural samples and their inherent historicity. When people come to places often they are said to ‘be part of the furniture,’ or for the furniture to be part of people’s histories. The work stands between the process of documented quotidian history, undocumented people’s presences, and documented object’s historicity. Subsequently, by focusing on the being in the picture and through the transposition of culture samples into the gallery space, Smit communicates the translational nature of the aesthetic process, itself.
Challenging aesthetic norms of what sculpture or painting or installation or plain photographic documentation is, Smit’s artistic practice presents a series of new works that are the result of the serendipitous nature of life interpreted as an errare. An “errare,” in the definition given by the Harvard scholar Giuliana Bruno, is a process of s/he who straddles the worlds of aimlessly wandering and persistently blundering.
Smit’s process of aesthetic production becomes a work of art in itself—since his samples are steeped in a walking through the city of Athens, for this particular show, in order to transport what has been abandoned a sense of belonging and affection for the unloved, the discarded, and the no longer useful. “It is in this very approach that Smit’s works are no longer objects but people—not simply in a metaphorical sense, but in the sense of recording traces that have been left by the human presence over the object” explained the curator. “By touching them, using them, and abusing them, people imprint themselves physically and psychologically on everyday objects, which acquire in their scuffs, marks, physical alterations, and manipulation a reflection, an aesthetic aura, or an almost invisible trace not just of their owners but also of their intrinsic existence as objects.”
THEY WERE SHOWN THE DOOR IN A MATTER OF MINUTES is a borrowed sample sentence from the New Oxford American Dictionary. Language lends the opportunity of looking at his works as if they were constantly playing and shifting roles, therefore being at times objects and at times their owners, both reflecting each other in a permanent game of mirrors. Ambiguity must be at the centre. The vicious constant exchange of roles and parts, at times comedic and at others dramatic, to be played within the larger stage of society and life leaves the viewer with a different understanding of the mediocrity of everyday objects, actions, and people. By looking at the hyperreal of mediocrity—as the artist defines contemporary lives in Baudrillardian terms—he unveils the superficiality and hypocrisy of contemporary living, shifting words like vacuous, mediocre, and banal from the discarded objects to the so called ‘empowered’ lives of their owners and viewers.
Artist’s Biography: Willem Jan Smit (NL, ES, DE) is a contemporary artist and activist who has exhibited internationally. He has shown in Canada, Germany, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Greece, and the United States. His latest intervention was, ad nauseam, at documenta 14, shortly after a solo exhibition for the Museum of Contemporary Cuts, They Were Shown the Door in a Matter of Minutes, in Athens as part of the Platforms Project. Currently he is engaging in a series of public interventions and has been invited to participate in numerous biennials between 2018 and 2019. He studied in Vancouver, Canada with Liz Magor, Geoffrey Farmer, and Garry Neill Kennedy. Smit is preparing a series of performative and process works, as well as participating in a range of international exhibitions with his sculptures and paintings.
His artworks are held in numerous private and public collections.