Foreword from the director
Foreword from the director


BAS JAN ADER WAS A MASTER OF GRAVITY,” writes UK artist Tacita Dean in the catalogue of a 2006 retrospective dedicated to the Dutch/Californian artist’s work. True as that statement may be, it is also testament to the fact that the perceived importance of an artist bears no relationship to the size of his or her oeuvre. Among Bas Jan’s official works we count a total of 7 short films and videos, in which he can be seen falling from a tree, the roof of his house in Claremont, or on his bike into a canal in Amsterdam, while in another couple of films he drops heavy bricks on “vulnerable objects” such as light bulbs and eggs. This handful of shorts represents the majority of the work Bas Jan Ader left behind in 1975 when he disappeared at sea in his final masterpiece “In Search of the Miraculous.”

Most of Bas Jan’s movies look like they were made with the same casual ease as the videos of today’s YouTube generation pointing a camera at themselves to capture their own performances. But in reality an enormous amount of work went into his art. Bas Jan studied philosophy for years and urged students in the art school where he taught to do the same thing before proclaiming themselves artists. Back then most people were not quite ready to fully appreciate a film in which a man drags a kitchen chair to the top of his suburban house, sits down for a moment, then slightly shifts his weight and tumbles to the ground. At the time the film was mostly perceived as irony, but recent retrospectives in major museums and a renewed interest in conceptual art films in general have greatly enhanced the significance attributed to Ader’s work, while a groundswell of young people is connecting with the artist, showing a much deeper understanding than ever before.

In the time it took to make Here Is Always Somewhere Else the total number of Google hits for Bas Jan went up from dozens to tens of thousands, and even before our documentary was completed we received an endless stream of inquiries from fans wondering how they could get their hands on the film. In the meantime we organized a number of successful exhibitions inspired by Bas Jan, showing his films in the context of work by other artists, from the ‘60s until now, who have been using gravity as their medium, which turns out to be a veritable sub-genre that can be categorized as Gravity Art. We also started to collect films from young artists showing a creative kinship with Bas Jan and posted them as Homages on the website we created (www.basjanader.com). On an almost daily basis we receive emails from students all over the world, whose research papers about Bas Jan explore such notions as “an in-between condition” or “the subjectivity articulated in In Search of the Miraculous. Others wonder why “Bas Jan chose himself as his subject,” or want to know “which books by the philosopher Wittgenstein he read.” It all serves as overwhelming confirmation that, more than 30 years after he disappeared, his work has finally come to resonate with all the philosophical meanings and sublimated feelings that informed the artist’s sensibility all along.


It makes perfect sense that Bas Jan Ader should so prominently enter the Zeitgeist in the age of the Internet, which gives its users unprecedented access to his mystique. For starters there is the YouTube generation’s identification with conceptual films in which artists feature themselves as the stars. But thematically there are also many points of reference. The irony of the work, tinged with a melancholy streak, has survived extremely well. And Bas Jan’s acts of defiance against elemental powers much greater than himself reminds us of the best slapstick comedy as well as the edge of impending disaster that is the lure of extreme sports. It appears that Bas Jan’s strategy to use gravity as a temporary relief from the everyday world takes on special significance for younger generations who increasingly live their lives at the intersection of a suffocating physical sphere and the disembodied virtuality of their online existence.

When Bas Jan sailed away in what would have been the smallest boat ever to cross the Atlantic, he took along a book by the German philosopher Hegel, who held the opinion that rather than intervening with reality through his work, the artist’s real philosophical challenge is to directly participate with the Truth. Seen from that perspective in these times, we cannot help but interpret Bas Jan’s search for the Miraculous as an essential escape from the mediated world, which today tracks our every move, online and off, and instills in us a deep-seated yearning to get lost.

—Rene Daalder, Los Angeles, 2008


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