Bik Van Der Pol


Catching Some Air, 2000–2005, was a good way to get a whiff of art history, both old and new. Bik Van der Pol—Lisbeth Bik and Jos Van der Pol—call their installation “an informal archive for referential material.” The duo took 143 images—mostly of artworks and artists, plus some texts—from art-history books, journals, and magazines, including this one. There is Lynda Benglis’s infamous Artforum ad from 1974, her nude selfportrait with dildo; David Hammons selling snowballs in the street; Piero Manzoni’s Socle du Monde (Base of the World), 1961; and an Angela Bulloch text piece from 1992. The images have for the most part been reproduced in pencil on white tracing paper; the sheets were hung with clips in neat rows, like books packed into shelves, making the gallery, a closet-size white cube sealed behind a glass door, look like a cross between a private library and a Minimalist vitrine. The air of the title comes from a moving fan, which makes its presence visible when the edges of the images lightly flutter.

Bik Van der Pol treat their growing archive not as a critical reflection on history but as an active reference tool for producing contemporary art—a visual dictionary filled with old images that can be consulted and used in new contexts. Each row seems to function like a definition that offers idiomatic expressions while tracing the etymology of Bik Van der Pol’s own interventions. A still from Andy Warhol’s Sleep, 1963, appears in a row alongside a mobile home by Michael Asher, Rachel Whiteread’s House, 1993, and Japanese hotel capsules—a morphology of (un)rest and architecture as well as inspiration for Bik Van der Pol’s sleep-in installation Capsule Hotels for Dreams, Brilliant Thoughts and Other Things, 1999, and their Sleep With Me, 1997, which added beds to a screening of Warhol’s film.

Like the American artist Matthew Antezzo, who used paint to immortalize journalistic images from art magazines of the ’60s and ’70s, Bik Van der Pol not only collect but also transform their arthistorical finds with a painstaking method. Copying images onto tracing paper—instead of scanning or photocopying them—is an exact yet rudimentary act of appropriation, which binds the fleeting glance of the eye, if not the instantaneity of the camera’s shutter, to the slower speed of the artist’s hand. This labor-intensive method portrays art history as a collective craft handed down from one generation of artists to the next, like a knitting pattern or a recipe for local fare, refreshed for new situations. With its suggestive combinations, the archive invites viewers to find their own visual idioms. The oscillating fan, by setting the images into motion, prevents them from becoming static icons for adoration. Fluttering together, each row starts to look like a comic strip transformed into a rudimentary film, where the frames are connected by the viewer’s associations.

Free-associating is an important form of labor: impossible to measure yet extremely productive—of dreams, brilliant or banal thoughts, and other things. Bik Van der Pol have made other accumulations of art-historical materials, like The Bookshop Piece, 1996, their reconstruction of the London ICA bookstore at Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Each archive, however vast and exhaustive, is not a document but an homage to the strange labor of association that drives every collection—and every collector—into endless production.

Jennifer Allen