30 January - 7 March 1999
A simple sign. This, she decided, was all that she would take to AVRO's Kunstblik (1998) - a television program by the presenter Angela Groothuizen and museum director Liesbeth Brandt Corstius, in which the audience is allowed to state its preference concerning works brought in by artists. An art program where one can sign up for a favorite painting or tempting piece of sculpture. And where a number of chosen individuals (who drew lots after having providing the right answer to a quiz question) are to consider themselves lucky to have just won a costly object. There stood artist Birthe Leemeijer (1972) with her sign amid the enticing canvases. Among the paintings and sculptures, she offered a fragile promise: on her sign, in Dutch, stood the phrase "I'll show you the most beautiful thing I know." To what place would she take you? What new thing would she show? And what would you yourself choose as the most beautiful thing you know?
Perhaps Leemeijer would lure us to the beach near Vrouwenpolder and invite us to take a seat on the enormous swingthat she placed there, in the surf, in 1996. Who knows, she may just get you to shear across the tops of the rugged waves and whip up high to see across the sea. Or (as with her contribution to the Rotterdamse Architectuur manifestatie) she might take you on a balloon ride to enjoy the passing land-scape from a great height. She may. Or may not. The winner to whom Leemeijer has redeemed her promise keeps the experience to himself. Nor does the artist say anything. Her work existed only for a short time; the special experience is shared only by two people.
Her work thereby seems to be linked with the 'new or social performance' with which a flock of young artists attempts to intensify personal contact with the audience. One such project was Dreamkeeper, where the Spanish artist Alicia Framis presented herself as a guardian of dreams who would be at one's side while one sleeps. Another was the exhibition held in Maastricht De koffer van de celibatair (The Celibate's Suitcase) (1995), by which Suchan Kinoshita invited visitors to sign up for a 24-hour trip with her.
For Leemeijer, however, the promise has already done its job even before it has been redeemed, even before the encounter with it takes place, even before she has shown the most beautiful thing she knows. Once the audience has produced its own mental picture of her promise - once the work has been completed, in other words, in the audience's imagination - then Leemeijer has succeeded in her objective. To arouse the imagination she needs no canvas, paint, marble or photographic paper - nor does she need the closed space of a museum or gallery. Reality itself serves as material for Leemeijer.
A single remark is sometimes enough. Just as, during the mid sixties, Stanley Brouwn asked passersby to show him the way by drawing this on paper for him (This Way Brouwn) and thus prompted them to imagine the streets used by them every day, Leemeijer asks one to picture the most beautiful thing one knows. And just as Brouwn and other artists of the sixties refused to acknowledge the dividing line between art and reality, Leemeijer asks for a consideration of experiences in reality. After all, the experience that a 'work of art' offers one can also be found in reality. The world, the landscape - these are the sources from which Leemeijer draws directly, without the intervention of paint on canvas or paper.
For the Prix de Rome of 1997, Leemeijer asked four residents of Hoorn to take her on a walk through the town. The descriptions of these routes were compiled by her into four brochures that can be obtained from the VVV (tourist board) in Hoorn. Unlike Brouwn's request for route indications from passersby, that of Leemeijer focuses not only on stimulating the imaginations of the four walkers. Leemeijer takes this further: with her walks she entices anyone and everyone to place themselves in someone else's shoes, and she attempts to provide an alternative to the city's existing approach to tourism by discovering other forms of beauty in the urban realm. Take the route, for instance, that has been mapped out by a blind person (indicated in the guidebook by the number of strokes with a stick and the ridges along the way). Experience the way in which the stench of a urinal can help in finding one's direction. Allow the meteorologist to show the way via the clouds. Or follow the route described by a paver of streets - looking down all the way. Leemeijer deals in experiences - those of others or her own. She gathers them, and then passes them on. Leemeijer merely creates the conditions for others to participate in these. In Uitzicht (View) (1997), she asked three pedestrians to select the bench with their favorite view. At set times Leemeijer could be found sitting on the benches, ready to talk with others about the view. During Rotterdam's architecture event AIR Zuidwaarts/ Southbound (1998), she was asked to inspire architects for urban development in the direction of 'de Hoeksche Waard'. Leemeijer conferred with them on descriptions made by inhabitants of this island; these had been written down during a balloon ride over the area. Whether or not the offered experience should be regarded as art - that makes no difference to Leemeijer. So long as the view provides insight into a new experience or a passing moment.
Anne van Driel.