Berend StRIK

How is art transcending the artist’s historical and physical creative action? Dutch artist Berend Strik’s ongoing project Deciphering the Artist’s Mind is the unfinished travel initiated in 2012 around past and present art memory, taking form in an immense body of photography artworks.

Since the visit of Manhattan studio of Marcel Duchamp, Strik has been taking for photography subjects these particular private places, where the energies and vibrations of the creative process suddenly reveal their history through the eyes of the Dutch artist. Photographing parts of the studio architectural space, Strik prints his work and adds multi layered narratives through coloured textiles stitched on the surface, composing a completely transformed work. Informative, interpretative, a tribute to influential figures, his three dimensional photographs are like a mise en abyme, the capture of an exclusive moment of exchange between Strik and the different artists while conveying a personal theoretical reflexion on art.

The international artists of each 68 studios visited by Berend Strik, – be them contemporaries or renowned past art history figures, like the studios of Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, John Baldessari, Martha Rosler and others – are dimly present in the works at a phantasmagoric level. He demonstrates the intemporality of the creator’s soul, absent from the studio but still existing in the dialogue he establishes with the electrifying resonance of the studios’ creation memory.

Revolving his problematics around the myths of art creation, he endeavours to converse with the genius consecutively coming into being, artwork after artwork, in an intimate physical setting. The magic of the studio appropriated by the photograph is thus an endless investigation of the artistic mind projected into reality, and the seemingly impossible quest to conjure up the artists’ essence.

In the continuity of the ambitious photography project, Berend Strik is pursuing the project with a book Deciphering the Artist’s mind designed by the internationally famous Dutch graphic designer Queen of Books Irma Boom. Promising to be a real oeuvre d’art, the illustrations of the book associated with Berend Strik texts and with Marja Bloem will offer new narratives and a complementary outlook to his artwork. Completed with conversation of Berend Strik with selected artists, the book will be published in spring 2020. 

Corinne Timsit and Berend Strik are announcing their collaboration on current and future projects.

Berend Strik was born in Nijmegen, The Netherlands in 1960, and lives and works in Amsterdam. He has exhibited in numerous art galleries, solo exhibition shows and major art institutions (Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Tilton Gallery: New York, 5th Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon…) and is present in large collections (The Centraal Museum, Utrecht; Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden and Haags Gemeente Museum, S’Gravenhage)

SELected artworks

coats and iron 180 cm by 120 cm. 2022

Semiotics of the Needle

Dutch artist Berend Strik has triumphed in establishing an artistic expression for the chemical property of thixotropy. By intruding on the silence of photography with dark Indian velvet, transparent Japanese organza and multicoloured threads, the artist changes the state of the form. His stitched photography marries art with science resulting in an expansive possibility of thought. The fluidity of reality glides between materiality and immateriality. 

On the greyscale background, strings of colourful threads jump around the lacquered surface of the photograph. Berend Strik’s Decipher the Artist’s Mind…(Studio BJA) (2016) is the mysterious result of the Dutch artist’s visit to Bas Jan Ader’s atelier in the United States. The stitched photograph is enticing and inviting. Not unlike the effect of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, the oddities and organised chaos in Strik’s composition, along with his curiously palpable technique, arrest the viewer’s attention. The act of stitching marks this work of art permanently and continuously. The three-dimensionality of the textiles painfully underlines the flatness of the photograph. What is Strik trying to do here? What do these threaded disturbances amount to? What are the ramifications of punching holes and manipulating the integrity of the photographic medium on the spectator’s experience or the art form in itself?

Decipher the Artist’s Mind is an on-going series initiated in 2012 in order for Strik to rekindle his interest in the art world. To counter the estrangement sprouted from the domination of capitalist ideals, the artist visited his like-minded predecessors and peers in their creative space. The subjects of his photographs are never the artists themselves but walls, floorboards, a painter’s jacket, etc.  More often than not, the setting becomes unrecognisable since it is of little importance to Strik, just as the amorphous smudge of light in Decipher the Artist’s Mind…(Studio BJA) (2016). The photographic signal and its messages stay in the “then and there”, the instant of actuality is empty in past tense. 

From this disposition of photography, Strik’s preoccupation turns towards reactivating the moment of the “here and now” in his multidisciplinary method. Creating since the 1980s, the artist has honed his stitching approach into a transformative expression. Invariably philosophical, there is much to be decrypted from this instinctual act of pushing a needle through another matter. The effect of Strik’s technique on photography is almost Einsteinian. E = mc2: material is converted into energy. It is this additional kinesis that the artist has captured in his work, which unequivocally accords, in Kubler’s words, “the shape of time”. 

If paintings are corridors from the moment it represents to that when the viewer sees it, then Strik’s textile photography is the on-switch that reboots the historical timeline when the picture was taken and continues its narrative from the moment the viewer is standing in front of the artwork. No longer a constant, the message becomes transmissible and highly fluid. 

The instantaneous connection happens so quickly that time is stretched. What is so effective about his idiosyncratic style is that it taps into human being’s innate imitative resonance behaviour. The downward force generated by the pulling of the threads is the language of possibility or what Strik calls “reverie” (more accurately the Dutch word mijmeren). The spectator is welcome to muse over the stitched photographs while our biology completes the puzzle. The artist’s work relies heavily upon the automated response system embedded in mirror neurons, synapses that are argued to be the neural basis to a greater channel of human emotional discourse such as empathy. Such is the reason that seizing the viewer’s gaze is all the more important for Strik. The artist’s oeuvre essentially participates in the philosophical riddle of “can something exist without being perceived”. 

It all seems Darwinian on paper. The evolution of his stitched photography demonstrates the balance of human intuition and artistic invention. No gesture in this piercing intervention is an accident. Remembering his earlier works, which involved found photography like those from a family album, advertisement or erotic materials, a strong sense of strangulation restricts any possibility for imaginative expansion. This is perhaps resonated in Strik’s choice of ready-made images, which he used as a sort of canvas to a painting. Yet, the artist’s recent oeuvre utilising photographs taken during his travels communicates with further dexterity the hidden photographic spaces in the creative continuum. The photographs in Strik’s works are not canvases, nor are the perforations the brushstrokes. His masterful expression should not be seen as an amalgamation of the two media but rather the rewriting for a new form.

Tracing back to the various categories of the history of humanity, the authoritative source has always been documentation. There is a thread leading the “here and now” to the “then and there”. To quote the text on John Baldessari’s Painting for Kubler (1967-68): “This painting owes its existence to prior paintings.” Strik manifests such ideas quite literally, as do the patches of deep, dark fabric woven seamlessly into the dripping patterns by the hands of Jackson Pollock, or emphasising depth and the void in the cracks and peeling wall at Vito Acconci’s studio. The danger of this literality is evaded by Strik’s integral function as an artist, as an individual in the universality of the humankind.

The laborious practice of stitching in Strik’s textile photography generates an artistic symbol from a useful invention. By virtue of repetition, he amplifies the association of meaning to form. No man is an island. Strik mends the contemporary chasm in the fabric of art history. There is pure harmony and at the same time, eruption of emotions in adding foreign materials onto the incongruous images.