Marc Bijl

K & S

Marc Bijl is a busy man. The Dutch artist, currently a resident at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, has been storming the city for the last two years with a series of public interventions that confuse cultural symbols and national political identities, both local and foreign. Bijl’s actions—mostly clandestine and always illegal—lie somewhere between performance and disturbance, installation and litter.

Take Symbolic, 2002: Bijl made cement casts of the German iron cross and the Nike logo and abandoned them at different points in the city. Lying alone on the pavement, the casts look like monuments that have been knocked off their pedestals and have settled in the city like the ruins of a bygone civilization. For Sauber Fegen (Brush clean), 2000, Bijl transformed a Berlin street sweeper truck into a secret agent of Dutch royalty; the vehicle, which is a bright shade of royal Dutch orange, was outfitted with the royal family’s lion emblem before tackling the local street grime. To protest the Sony Center’s privatization of public space at Potsdamerplatz, Bijl sang with an acoustic guitar at the busy complex until he was politely guided away by a security guard. The intervention, titled House Rules, 2000, was closely followed by Public Space/Private Property, 2001, in which the artist handed out postcards bearing his own rules for the complex, which encouraged the public to sing, sleep, drink, urinate, and beg. Or in his words, “Be good to other people in this area or get into a fight with them. It’s up to you. It’s Public Space. A jungle of freedom. Be careful. Take care.”

In the exhibition, one can take time to enjoy these interventions, which have been documented on video. But when Bijl takes his work from the public space of the city into the private space of the gallery, something gets lost in translation. To resist domestication, the artist seems to want to give the white cube the appearance of a dark alley. I’M TOO SAD TO KILL YOU—a sardonic play on one of Bas Jan Ader’s enigmatic messages—is spray painted across one wall like graffiti. The main installation, Never Surrender, 2002, presents a painting not on canvas but on a massive brick wall built in the center of the gallery and surrounded by refuse. Bijl uses the populist political art form of the mural to underscore the precarious and heterogeneous name of Dutch national identity, which is usually taken for granted. The Netherlands’ search for a flag as well as the struggles surrounding monarchy, class exploitation, and Europe are all cited on the wall through dates, images, and slogans, appearing as so many battles that never took place.

Throughout, Bijl deploys national cultural memory as if it were his own personal arsenal. His rebelliousness may have touches of romanticism, but it is definitely tainted by the failures of previous and current generations alike. In the video We Are the Revolution, 2000, Bijl can be seen striding calmly and coolly through Berlin, only to trip on an uneven sidewalk.

Jennifer Allen