The Tear that Tears the Ocean: Bas Jan Ader and the Search for the Miraculous

Alifuoco, Annalaura (2019) The Tear that Tears the Ocean: Bas Jan Ader and the Search for the Miraculous. In: Liquidscapes., Devon, England, pp. 49-54. ISBN 978-0-9957196-7-5

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This paper takes conceptual artist, performance artist and filmmaker Bas Jan Arden’s film I’m Too Sad to Tell You (1971), a three-minute close-up of the artist heaving in the overflow of watery tears, as a starting point to reflect on the leakages and blockages intervening between the human (and humanism) and the elemental world. This affective form of minimalist rupture, metaphorically and physically, depicts an activity that exceeds the artist’s own body and ability to communicate. Moreover, the larger corpus of Ader’s small oeuvre, like his feelings here, spills over into a series of destabilising acts in which the subject attempts to extend the material limits of ‘man’ into (often liquid) environments.

In the short film Fall 1, Los Angeles (1970), the artist sits on a chair straddled across the top of the roof of his home before falling and crashing into the garden. In Fall 2, Amsterdam (1970), the camera pans over a canal bridge, path and trees, before the artist rides into the frame, appears to lose control of his bicycle and plunges into the water. Referring to these famous ‘falling’ scenes Ader said: "I do not make body sculptures, body art, or body works. When I fell off the roof of my house or into a canal, it was because gravity made itself master over me."

Being fully immersed in the activity or situation at hand – crying, falling, drowning, failing, gravity, water – the artist gives in, with calculated abandonment and absorption, into forces and elements that are not under human control. These acts both estheticise and rhythmicise the movements, ruptures, rumblings and passions that override the state of solipsistic immersion to acquire an ‘inhuman’ dimension of affectivity and interaction. But what happens to the subject in this complex field of forces and flows? According to Rosi Braidotti it becomes an expanded relational entity.

In 1975, Arden disappeared into the Atlantic whilst trying to cross it with the smallest boat that ever tried to sail the Ocean. The gesture of putting oneself at the mercy of the sea ‘in search of the miraculous’ (this was the title the artist gave to his last known feat) painfully reverberates with more recent stories and histories of being at sea, at large, and literally overcome by the waters. In the language of Braidotti’s nomadic theory, these movements express both the crisis of the ‘majority’, who spill over, and the patterns of becoming of the ‘minorities’, who overflow. The challenge of this study is to discern between some of these different ebbs and flows.

Hence, I want to read Ader's cool anti-subjective aesthetics alongside Braidotti’s passionate quest for a radically immanent philosophy of relations to explore experiences that would seem to overpower the subject, and the subjective, with the simultaneously tragic and miraculous condition of being in a liquid scape or state of immersion, in the incontrollable flow of things inhuman.

Item Type: Book Section
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > School of Creative and Performing Arts
Depositing User: Dr Annalaura Alifuoco
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2021 14:23
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2021 14:23

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