Here is Always Somewhere Else: The Disappearance of Bas Jan Ader

The story, if you’re unfamiliar, goes like this: Young Dutch artist, son of preachers who hid Jews in their house during the Holocaust, father executed by the Nazis, studies at Rietveld Academy, hops a sailboat America-bound, settles and gets married in LA, produces a small but significant body of performative works. Later, despondent with a bout of existential flu, he endeavours to sail across the ocean back to Europe in a tiny sailboat armed with Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, as the third part of a larger artwork. He is never heard from again, and his boat is found months later, half-capsized, bobbing off the Irish Coast. Cue the mythologizers.

The unresolved nature of his disappearance and resultant legacy has been one that has hung over corners of the art world for a while now. And for good reason. Partially a Kurt Cobain for the third-year art school set–tall, handsome, chiselled European features, romantic and sensitive, making earnest work in a time of Pop and proscriptive conceptualism, willing to cry on camera–Ader’s icon status falls neatly into place. I can’t be counted among the ranks of the cult of Ader, but he is one of few artists, where once you get into his work–or more so the biographical angle–ideas of what actually constitutes a work in material, philosophical or theoretical terms may shift a little: spin it one way and his exit ups the ante for what art is, isn’t or may be. The other side of the coin: Tell that to those he left behind.

Seen through the eyes of fellow Dutch expat Rene Daalder, and at the behest of Bas Jan’s widow Mary Sue, Here is Always Somewhere Else attempts to reconnect the dots with scant material with which to work …

Here is Always Somewhere Else: The Life of Bas Jan Ader, directed and written by Rene Daalder, American Scenes, usa, 78 minutes.

Volume 28, Number 2

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #110, published June 2009.

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