Erik van Lieshout

The Dutch elections in 2002 caused a major discussion between Erik van Lieshout and his friend Geert, who to the indignation of van Lieshout voted for the right-wing party of Pim Fortuyn, List Fortuyn. Only now – in van Lieshout’s new film, Awakening, 2005 – the two friends are reunited. Between shots of the demonstrations after the murder of Theo van Gogh in November 2004, a social gathering of the van Lieshout family and interviews with right-wing politicians, Erik and Geert sit on a sofa discussing politics. But there are also shots of Erik talking with junkies in the street about the liberal Dutch narcotics policy and with Moroccan taxi-drivers about their view on the van Gogh murder. In between all this, Erik is also questioning his own sexual identity.

Awakening is about what happens to the famous Dutch broad-mindedness, when its progressive ideals are really tested – when the ideals are soiled by political radicalism, people taking the law into their own hands and religious fundamentalism. It is also about the broad-minded, semi-left-wing cultural elite who have the politically correct opinions, but who keep a safe distance from anyone ‘different.’ It is about the awakening of both the Netherlands and the artist himself.

The serious political agenda in van Lieshout’s films is always accompanied by a humoristic tone, which is often grounded in the fact that his meetings with ‘the different’ always take place under unconventional and not always unproblematic conditions – as when he is camping right next to a home for the mentally disabled, or when he taunts a Chinese woman because she has problems pronouncing the word ‘feminism.’

The direct confrontation with the weak points of society that are documented in the films of van Lieshout is always shown in a cacophonic and just as confrontational context of violent paintings and forceful drawings. The figurative paintings and drawings are often about violence and porn – but never without humour. In the installation made for Awakening, van Lieshout’s phone number is written on several of the drawings – as if he is trying to ‘pick up’ the viewer. Awakening is shown in a kind of living room, which one can also peek at through holes in the walls of the installation – an image of the laid-back role of the observer, who is intrigued by the unknown, but prefers to experience everything at a safe distance… a bit like those who boast about their open-minded attitudes until reality comes a bit too close and the vote goes to List Fortuyn.

By Pernille Albrethsen, translated by Eva May



(2005) (Dv on DVD 12 minutes 30 seconds)
(wood, curtains, furmiture, matrasses) Courtesy Stella Lohaus Gallery, Antwerp.