Gruesomely Beautiful
Retrospective Exhibition Jeroen Eisinga

In his gruesomely filmed performances, Jeroen Eisinga(1966) straddles the border between life and death.

It’s a busy day in the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. Visitors try to find a places to sit. They won’t leave the darkened room after they’ve watched the 20 minute film, ‘Springtime,’ in its entirety. With bated breath they witness how bees swarm the artist’s naked skin. At first there are just a few, but very soon more follow, until practically his entire body is hidden underneath a throbbing living pelt. It’s gruesomely beautiful. Eisinga has sprinkled an attractant onto his skin and becomes one with the swarm.

Springtime refers to death, and to new life as well.

The artist gazes at the viewers for as long as the squirming bees allow and the visitors empathize with him. As the bees cover his eyes, the audience quivers. What happens afterwards, the film doesn’t show, when the sixteen beekeepers off camera intervene. They wipe the bees off of Eisinga’s body with goose feathers and rush him to the local hospital. The artist vomits. He’s stung thirty times. The astonished doctor on duty decries, ‘You’re crazy. You need a shrink, not a doctor,’ as he administers an antidote. Is the doctor right? Why would someone do this? Why would he defy death? And why do we love to watch it?

In 1991, Damien Hirst exhibited his shark in formaldehyde, with the rock-solid title, ‘The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. Yes, we will all die one day, but none of us has the faintest idea of what things are like ‘on the other side’. The border is inexorable and yet we’re extremely drawn to it. In his work, Eisinga explores this border. He films himself while asleep. He tries to evade an unmanned car while blindfolded. He films a gasping sheep, lying on its back in a meadow, causing consternation and dismay in the Animal Party.

‘Poor Sheep’ confronts us with the animal’s struggle for life, but also with our compassion and our impotence, as a contemporary version of the suffering of the Lamb of God.

‘Things which we fear and loathe, evoke in us the strongest emotions that the mind is able to endure. They are the source of the sublime experience’, Edmund Burke wrote in 1757 in his famous treatise on The Sublime.

This British politician and theoretician demonstrates that an appeal to our existential fear triggers the audience’s attention more than anything else. Every living creature strives for self conservation and is fascinated by the forces that threaten his life. In Hollywood they know this. People love to watch horror and disaster movies because they know it’s fiction. They’re scared to death while safely eating popcorn. With Eisinga a good conclusion isn’t guaranteed, just as it wasn’t with his fellow-thinkers Guido van der Werve (who walked in front of an Icebreaker in 2007) and Bas Jan Ader, who tried to sail across the ocean in 1974 in ‘In Search of the Miraculous.’ Ader’s little sailboat was later found off the shore of Ireland, but the artist was gone. In this risk lies the challenge. ‘It was daunting’ says Eisinga. ‘The muscles of my chest started to fail. I had trouble breathing. Death was close by, but I never felt more vital than I did at that moment. All my worries dissolved. It was beautiful and peaceful. For the first time in my life-

I was not afraid to die.

Anne Berk,

T/m 26 feb. Springtime, Jeroen Eisinga. Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Hoogstraat 112, Schiedam, 010-2463662,