Continuing Kees’ Career: the Royal Edition

This is already the fourth iteration of this blog, but it was part of the interview that was conducted on the drowsy afternoon of the previous iteration, when Kees and Lars strolled through the archive on that small, white, chaotic attic. When I last wrote, we took a break after a strange visit from one of the fellow exhibitors of the Luminous Image exhibition. However, this was not the only strangeness going on after Kees’ career had properly taken shape. It is of no coincidence that this iteration is presented to you with Kingsday fresh in our memories, now that we finally report on one of Kees’ most iconic works. The one that was produced in the Royal Waiting Room of queen Wilhelmina at the central station of Amsterdam. During Kingsday, the Dutch celebrate the birthday of King Willem-Alexander (also known as Prince Pint among the Dutch people because of the considerable number of pints that Willem-Alexander used to drink). Practically, this means that high school students all across the country are getting bored at national obligatory sports days, and everyone has to ruin the color blocking of their outfit by including at least one ugly orange item. Kees did something a little different in relation to the Dutch royalty, though. His take on the royal waiting room left it more suitable for interplanetary space ambassadors than for any meagre humanoid king or queen with so-called ‘royal blood’. That royal blood however made it so that any human being with the non-royal kind would worship the former as if it had ascended straight from the cosmic heavens onto earth. Might that be the reason that alien reptilians love secretly taking the place of important human beings? Could it have been that queen Wilhelmina finally felt at home when she entered Kees’ royal waiting room after so many years of hiding in her human skin? 

Kees: so I was still touring with my band AUTOAWAC, for which we had expanded our activities from giving concerts to giving lectures at art academies all across Europe. We were invited to the big art- and video festivals where we showed the recordings of our multidisciplinary performances. We also did this on the World-Wide Video Festival of 1982, where we climbed the stage surrounded by piles of monitors in our own, wholly original manner.

Live at World-Wide Video Festival

‘’I would imagine Wilhelmina getting off the train, retreating into privacy to make use of the ‘little room’, and fall back in terror as soon as she witnessed the monstrosity of massive scale that I had constructed in her precious waiting room.’’

Due to the whirlwind of success that took me I jumped from exhibition to exhibition, always drawn in by the developments of that moment. I had become a full-fledged political artist and that became more visible in my work. Because of my past trip to Pernis, industrialization and science fiction had become a large part of the art pieces I made. After the nuclear disaster that took place in Chernobyl I decided to emphasize these two themes even more. Considering how they were presented in all the newspapers, talk shows, and talk of the day, it was evident that they had become crucial for the spirit of those times. I was provided with the perfect opportunity when the Royal Waiting Room of Amsterdam central station was suddenly presented to me on a silver platter. Sjarel Ex made it available to me for the manifestation that he had organized and I happily obliged. This space was a nineteenth-century former waiting room of queen Wilhelmina , including two towers and a parking spot for the coach and horses. It came with the flowery and frivolous decorations of artist Georg Sturm. I contrasted these images with my own futuristic installation of satellites and meteorite-like shapes.

Close-up of the view master that containted all the artworks of the manifestation

I can still remember vividly how I huddled around the transistor radio with my parents to witness the first landing on the moon. From that point on I was obsessed with everything that had to do with space travel and the forces of the universe. For this artwork in particular I completely abandoned my video art practice in order to focus on creating a futuristic immersive space. I wanted to reproduce the effects that video art has on the viewer, only now with exclusively analog methods in the form of 3D materials. The carbon shapes that I had made floated through the room as if part of a baby mobile, accompanied by wild lasers and stroboscopic lights. I would imagine Wilhelmina getting off the train, retreating into her privacy to make use of the ‘little room’, and fall back in terror as soon as she witnessed the monstrosity of massive scale that I had constructed in her precious waiting room. Coming back into the royal palace on the Dam in Amsterdam, she would be a changed woman.

My colleagues Rob Scholte and Georg Dokoupil did a somewhat lighter interpretation of the assignment that Sjarel had given us. After their artistic intervention in some of the love rooms of the Red Light District there were a few interesting names on the name plates of those doors… think names like ‘’Ruud Lubbers’’, ‘’Diego Maradonna’’ etcetera. Not everyone was so pleased with this artwork.

After my team and I had finished building my installation we were so tired that we couldn’t even get ourselves to join the opening ceremony anymore. At a certain point – I can’t remember when and how – I lay exhausted with my arms and legs spread on a table in our hotel. The next morning my crew came to wake me and told me that I had missed the item on the national news on my artwork. I was so tired I wasn’t even able to process the fact that millions of people had seen my work on TV.

‘’How to deal with the massive disembedding of the human condition that was set in motion by technology and mass production? I think this is a problem that the people of our time have to think about on a daily basis.’’

To my great delight, the reception of my work in the media was almost exclusively positive, despite the fact that I made works which some people took insult with. This probably had to do also with the fact that I was one of the first video artists, and part of the avant-garde of the Netherlands in that area. Our country produced the first VJ’s, some of the newest sounds as to be found in music, and provided a menu of drugs that was hardly incomparable to anywhere else. Alongside this positive reception came reviews in all the big newspapers of the Netherlands: Volkskrant, Telegraaf, Parool, I was in all of them. And ViaOral of Frank Morssinkhof and me also featured regularly in the different fanzines. Pretty soon after this media vortex, a work of Frank and me was exhibited at the Prinsenhof in Delft, right around the corner where our prince William of Orange was assassinated. Again, this work confronted its viewers with a great contrast: right around that corner a historical event that is part of all the national history books of the Netherlands. Right across from it a 3D work that was a maze of tubes, blacklight, and light effects which seemed to give a shit about the historical value of this site. Such a situation again shows the obsession around the rewriting of history in my work, and the mixing and matching of cultural symbols that prior to the war could have never shared the same symbolic space. Such is the epitome of what technology and capitalism are capable of. Despite of me making eager use of this new situation, seeing that my pastiches even stimulated and accelerated such loss of a symbolic order, I have to this day always questioned the implications of this. How to deal with the massive disembedding of the human condition that was set in motion by technology and mass production? I think this is a problem that the human being of our time has to think about daily. Anyhow, let’s return to some lighter material.

Buildup of Frank and Kees’ work at the Prinsenhof, right across from where William of Orange was assassinated

In the meantime I was being picked up for all kinds of other projects. I started to do even more with my music and founded the band the Rodriguez Brothers with some friends. It was a band that was influenced by guitar rock like Nirvana and Sonic Youth of the 80s and 90s; a logical substrate of the New Wave and punk of which I was always a part. We even produced an LP with the Rodriguez Brothers. Those songs were made in an awesome tempo. I would just play around a bit with the drummer, practicing riffs and before we knew it, we had some ten or twenty songs finished.

I had only just finished processing all the events of these past years when everything changed again in the 90s. In 1989 the Berlin Wall finally falls, the end of communism is nigh when under the regime of Gorbachev, the Spring Revolutions are making waves through Eastern Europe and even Africa. Then, the age of techno, DJ’s and – most importantly – the internet begins.

Next time, read more about this, more, and a trip to Tokyo when Lars continues his interviews with Kees.

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