Jeroen Eisinga
16 October 2011 – 26 February 2012

Jeroen Eisinga (Delft, 1966) is a romantic in present-day art, an equilibrist, someone who measures his power against a Higher Plan. His oeuvre is a man-to-man contest, a consistently changing duel with himself. It is an activity in which he tempts fate. Although he fearlessly stages and implements his personal rituals, this takes place beyond the spotlights, with the utmost concentration required. The version that ultimately emerges is then presented to the public, which, in the footsteps of Eisinga’s alter ego, empathizes with him on the thin dividing line between ambition and helplessness, between courage and fear.
Take, for example, the early work 40-44-PG, named after a red Volkswagen, a Beetle, which rides rudderlessly round in circles on a parking lot while Eisinga himself, blindfolded, also walks around in circles there, but in the opposite direction. Exactly how this hazardous choreography ends is just as unpredictable as it is unknown. The threat unfolds to the soft hum of the engine, which also stealthily colours the mood of the viewer.
Springtime is the title of the latest film performance that, again with Eisinga in the leading role, will be on show in the exhibition of the same name in the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam this autumn. In close consultation with the artist, the museum has made a selection from his oeuvre. The solo exhibition is presented with great pride, all the more so because Eisinga’s work has only been on display on a small scale in the past few years.
After a much-eulogized start to his career in the Netherlands, with acquisitions by and presentations in various museums, Eisinga completed a follow-on study programme at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. His work has been represented at group exhibitions at home and abroad. However, this is the first time that the increasing intensity of his work comes to the forefront at museum level: the tight, self-reinforcing interplay of his diverse films and film performances. Early examples such as 40-44-PG and Night Porter (both dating from 1993) and The Most Important Moment in my Life (1995), are combined with later work, including Sehnsucht (2002) and the newly completed Springtime (2010/2011).
Eisinga goes for high stakes, as the title The Most Important Moment in my Life indicates. This is also the work with which the exhibition opens. Humour and tragedy compete for supremacy. The ‘most important moment’ is destined to elude the artist but, in his deliberately chosen duty to pursue it, his willingness even to share it with us, there is an ode to human aspiration, not to mention art itself: to the seriousness of this discipline that extends to the meaning of life.
Eisinga incorporates highly-strung expectations in his work but also, as a consequence, the other side of the coin: the chance of failure. In this context, he manifests himself as a kindred spirit of Samuel Beckett, the playwright, who specified: No matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better. In Eisinga’s performances we encounter the fool and the genius. They go hand in hand and, two-in-one, they are the artist himself who opts for the beauty of danger above mediocrity, and consistently undertakes new attempts to rise above himself, above gravity, above the limitations and the vacuity of life.
In Springtime we see him sitting at the table, motionless, in a full frontal shot. Set in front of a wall full of bees, in a growing swarm, he himself becomes enveloped by the bees. Slowly but surely they cover his whole bare torso, his shaven head and finally his face, like a single pulsing organism, in a ritual that evinces a shudder from the public and has an effect upon their respiration too.
Springtime is a variant of the ordeal called bee bearding that takes place incidentally among beekeepers when they allow themselves to be covered by their own honeybees. Eisinga, a layman in the domain of beekeeping, has thoroughly sublimated the ritual. In stylistic terms, his work is deceptively simple. The frontal pose of the man, a classic example of courage and suffering, evokes Christian iconography. But the physical intensity of the film images in black-and-white also calls to mind the legendary performance art from the sixties and seventies by Chris Burden (Shoot, 1971; Trans-Fixed, 1974) or by Marcel Broodthaers who, in La Pluie (1969), writes a letter on a table outside, without paying any heed to the rain that immediately erases all his sentences.
Springtime is one of those rare artworks that immediately fastens on to a web of other images and sentences that have gained a place in art and cultural history, while all those associations and references fall away at the moment you look at them. Then only the ritual itself is important, the unity of man and animal. Springtime is sensual and oppressive in equal measure. The bees enclose the body, but also flow around and over it. It is Kafkaesque, literally and figuratively.
The quest that Eisinga actively undertakes in The Most Important Moment in my Life, across fields, water and roads, culminates here in a test of one’s own mental prowess, stamina and physical resilience in an overwhelming world. Or, as Kafka wrote: ‘You don’t need to go out. Remain at the table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait. Just be completely silent and alone. The world will present itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will writhe in ecstasy before you.’

Wilma Sütö
July 2011
Translation Dutch – English: George Hall