Liesbeth Bik (1959) and Jos van der Pol (1961) have been working together as Bik Van der Pol since 1994. The two Rotterdam citizens are not classical studio artists.
They often work on location, use, reuse and reactivate the work of others – be they from the world of art, journalism, media or history – and confront the visitors with situations in which they themselves have the last word. They are ‘occasional creators’ who enable a confrontation without wanting to control everything. They challenge and we, visitors, critics, artists, scientists, historians and curators, are asked to get involved. Without us, the work is incomplete. Bik Van der Pol’s oeuvre consists not so much of interpretations as of interacting elements that generate a communicative platform. They continually question the function and meaning of art and art spaces and repeatedly request that what we conveniently call history or general body of thought be updated and evaluated. Bik Van der Pol’s work contributes to the discussion that the Van Abbemuseum itself wishes to instigate all the time: what is the social significance of modern art museums and how can today’s art encourage the public to get involved?
‘Plug In #28 Pay Attention’ addresses the visitor as an individual and as a more or less conforming member of society. A museum gallery is turned into a temporary ‘public domain’ in which examples of freedom of speech related to censorship and private responsibility cause us to explore our own limitations. The desire for ultimate democratic freedom is duelling with the notion of what is socially proper or desirable.
Based on these notions and using a scenario, Bik Van der Pol display alternating presentations of works from the Van Abbemuseum collection, in different locations in the museum. In room B2.03, they present a selection of 140 books from Loompanics Unlimited publishers from Port Townsend, Washington. Out of business since 2006, this publishing house had for decades published manuals that ‘your mother and the state would rather you didn’t read’. Subjects varied from practical handbooks on ‘How to Develop a Low-Cost Family Food-Storage System’ to less generally acceptable publications as ‘Gourmet Cannabis Cookery’ and controversial self-help books as ‘How to Start Your Own Country’, ‘Homemade Guns and Homemade Arms’, or ‘How to Clear Your Adult and Juvenile Criminal Records’. On a crate next to it is ‘Little Liars (collection from Kiev, model 1-9)’, a series of bronze-cast radios from the former Soviet Union. These radios were found in every household (usually in the kitchen), were on all day long and were only received on the government-approved frequency. A weapons permit Charles Esche, director of the Van Abbemuseum, had to acquire to be allowed to display a work of art with a gun by Joseph Beuys, and Bruce Nauman’s litho ‘Pay Attention’, offer an ironic framework for this multitude of contrasts. In the midst of all this, visitors are free to pick up any book they like. And if we really want to take it a step further, we can use the copying machine that has been set up especially for this purpose.
‘Pay Attention’ is a presentation that develops in time and space and that constantly adds a different chapter or next ‘act’ to room B2.03. Previously, in ‘Act 1’ in room B0.08, Bik Van der Pol presented three works by On Kawara (‘13 Jan. 1973’, ‘July 4 1973’ and ‘Lat. 31°25’N, Long. 8°41’E, 1965’), and their own work ‘Kiev, 18-32006’ (slide version). The dates and GPS coordinates on Kawara’s paintings give implicit meaning to a certain day and location. We know what is meant by a certain date, even if we do not know whether it is relevant, and why. ‘Kiev, 18-3-2006’ (slide version) is about a specific event and its aftermath. Although it does not contain a direct reference to the specific location and time of this event, the work tells us about the production of information, knowledge and culture, and where the power to do so is vested.
Now, in ‘Plug In #28 Pay Attention: Act 2’, they present (also in room B0.08) ‘Wall Drawing No. 256’ (1975) by Sol Lewitt, and ‘Baldessari Sings Lewitt’ (1972). In it, Baldessari brings Sol Lewitt’s work into the limelight in a manner that does not detract from the strength of Lewitt’s concepts, but that does ‘humanise’ them. Humour, friendship, perhaps even emotion play a role. By singing Sol Lewitt’s conceptual principles, they register differently than when we read and reread them in silence. Here, too, the way in which the information reaches us is important. How is the information conveyed, in what ways can we see and hear it? And when do we not see or hear it, even though it is shown and said?