Visitors will no doubt be shocked, fascinated, intrigued and chilled by the spectacular solo exhibition of Atelier van Lieshout currently showing in Rotterdam's Submarine Wharf, The Netherlands' largest exhibition space.
'Infernopolis', an extensive solo exhibition of works by Joep van Lieshout currently showing at the abandoned submarine wharf in Rotterdam, deliberately features only a selected handful of pieces (160 works) from the artist's portfolio. Given Van Lieshout's vast oeuvre, it probably wouldn't be a big problem to fill another of these wharves - which is almost 5000m2 in size.
Situated on the former terrain of the Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij (RDM) at Heijplaat, the submarine wharf is now The Netherlands' largest exhibition space. The terrain is currently being developed into a cultural hotspot focusing on creativity, innovation and education. A partnership between the Port of Rotterdam Authority and Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, the temporary exhibition space will play host to a major show each summer. Curated by the museum's City Curator Saskia van Kampen, Infernopolis, the maiden exhibition, features new and existing works by Atelier van Lieshout (AVL).
The spectacular exhibition focuses on several themes, each corresponding to one of the voluminous halls. ‘The Technocrat’ easily fills one expansive space with its installation of containers, laboratory, distillation vats, water tower, silos, compostor and industrial feeder. Focusing on systems, in particular reducing humans to systems, 'the Technocrat is a closed circuit of food, alcohol, excrement and energy.' Central to the installation is the 'Total Faecal Solution' which processes faeces from ordinary citizens, each of whom is a 'biological cogwheel' in the system, into biogas. "And to prevent mutiny," Van Lieshout declares cheerily, "We pump nearly 2000 litres of alcohol into them!" Produced via the 'Alcoholator' of course, which distills alcohol from waste products from the kitchen. Van Lieshout says he's successfully produced the biogas on a small scale, however, "I never tested 'Total Faecal Solution' in real life because you need a lot of excrement and I'm afraid of leakage!"
In the adjacent volume to 'The Technocrat', are sculptures and functional units dealing with Life and Death and the human body. Seen among the various bodily sculptures are familiar design-based pieces including the 'Fossil' series of furniture ("I put a blanket on my interns and spray moulded them. A fossil of a human - very fast!") and the iconic 'Family Lamp'. While Van Lieshout says that he has always considered the "inclusion of function" in his work, he is adamant that he is an artist. "I don't think I'm a designer. I'm more an artist." We see here the larger structures like the 'Bar Rectum', 'BikiniBar' ('BikiniBar is the only female body you can enter without permission') and the purple sperm unit 'Darwin'. "It's a place for fertilization, so there's bed inside if there is a need, however it's normally used as an info stand," Van Lieshout comments. The 'Wombhouse' is a functional bedroom unit, where the womb itself accommodates the bedroom, one of the ovaries is the toilet and the other, what else, a minibar.
By the 'Heroic Entrance' are new works - still untitled - dealing with heroism and civil war. Central to this is the first sculpture from a new series of canons based around World Wars. The enormous abstract blue canon - 'WWIII' - is modelled on an American canon from the most recent battles of today.
In the last space, Van Lieshout saved the best for last. As the name suggests, 'Cradle to Cradle' emulates nature's closed-circuit system of recycling waste to feed new systems - only the waste here is human. Part of his SlaveCity project, 'Cradle to Cradle' recycles citizens from the dystopian city. 'Old, crippled, sick and bad tasting people will be recycled in the biogas digester. Healthy, not so clever people will be recycled in the meat processing factory. Young and very healthy people will be able to take part in the organ transplant program.' The semi-industrial human slaughterhouse complete with operating tables, human carcasses suspended like animals and bowls of organs is rather chilling. (more so because the expansive exhibition space is so cold). "It's not a comment on how we treat animals. I would treat humans in the same way," Van Lieshout says a matter of factly. "My work is never a political comment or a one-line statement. It's about humans, it's about our hyper-rational society, morality and the absence of morality, sculpture, beauty. If I had to condense my work into two words, it would be about the good and the bad."
Atelier van Lieshout, Infernopolis, Submarine Wharf, 29 May until 26 September 2010.
Exhibition views Infernopolis at Submarine Wharf, 2010, photography: © Studio Hans Wilschut
Main image and images 6-9: Heroic Entrance
Images 1-5: The Technocrat
Images 10-12: Cradle to Cradle
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