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Waldo Bien


  Art in the future tense.   Interdisciplinary Research.   Social Sculpture.

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Chapter 5

D.R.I. 1985-006 - 00302

I came back from a foreign country to my own country and I became a stranger. Boundaries. I was alone here more than I ever imagined. Everybody was busy with the image, with the surface, with the illusion of painting and design. I wanted to work a another level. I became resistant to this culture of the surface.”

   Thanks to the research of H.M.A. Hollanders it is possible to trace again the biographical details which help one understand the background to the most significant work, probably of the 1980’s, made and exhibited by Bien, and now known under the title, The Death Room Interior.1 Hollanders’ is also the first attempt to situate Bien in an art historical context, and one chapter of his doctorate is dedicated to an account of De Sterfkamer van een mijnwerker (The death-room of a mine worker).

   Born in 1949 in ‘S Gravenhage, the Bien family moved to Zuid-Limburg, in 1952, where his father was the manager of a casino which serviced the state mine of nearby Heerlen. The family home was situated closest to the mine Emma. Bien had daily contact with the children of the mineworkers, and knew of intense rituals associated with mining and the dying of miners in the pits as well as of work-related illness. As Bien’s work deepened in its poetic making, with a complex web of personal associations and symbol being incorporated into projects, the observation made by Georges Devereux that ‘Jede Beobachtung ist eine Beobachtung am Beobachter’ brought him increasingly closer to himself even as the scope of his journeys widened. Hollanders’ description is that the Sterfkamer van een Mijnwerker is an autobiographical and commemorative work, commemorative in the sense that it referred to a disappearing way of life which Bien had once known intimately.2

   The Dutch government had made the decision to close the Limburg coalmines in 1965. _It may very well be that the encounter with the lost and extinct culture of the Selknam and Yamana had also triggered in Bien a memory closer to home, where statist intervention had literally destroyed a whole community way of life economically, socially and culturally.

   The autobiographical element is best described in Bien’s own words of 1997; “I was invited to do a show in the Rotterdam Art Space, an initiative of two people who had worked in the Boymans Museum.3 It was in a private house. They used to mount exhibitions there. When I first visited the house, I just took the rooms in, a normal living room and back room connected with sliding doors. I got stuck within the problem of the room, or, I should say, of a house like this. Then I remembered whether I had ever been in a room or house like this, and my childhood in the coal mine area came back to me, that most of my childhood friends were from coal mining families, and that they lived in similar houses. It was in November I saw the house, and I remembered that the day was the feast of All Souls, and also that I had seen coal miners dying, in rooms like this, with their bed in the window area, visited by the priest bearing the sacrament of extreme unction, and the viaticum of the sick. The lady who owned the gallery asked me casually what I was going to exhibit there. I just said, hardly without thinking, a death room interior. I told her I wanted to reconstruct the room I had in my memory. In my mind I thought of carbon.”4

   Bien reports a whole confusion in his mind. He recalled specific scenes; the priest and altar boy walking through the streets carrying a cross and a pail of holy water, the purple stole over the surplice, the biretta, the placing of the cross near the front door, where the dying miner lay, the silence of the community; a pall of silence slowly descending, the sick man, visible through the window, and the overpowering sense of what was being guided into the unknown, the reduction of all movement and speech to what was essential, the unspoken commoness of everyone’s concerns, even some of the words of the funeral liturgy, and the ceaseless tolling of the bells as the burial was prepared, the evergreen graveyards, and his own sense that the coal face was a history of life and death, the possibility of reading down into the earth.5

   The notion of the reading of the stones is an old romantic trope, the lapides literati. Novalis, whom Bien had quoted to Peter Heynen in a review based on his Tierra del Fuego works, had developed a concept of historical lithology in his Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Beliefs included, that the caverns contained eternity, or, that time stood still. In chapter 5 of that novel, Novalis characterises mining as the symbolic introduction to the world of nature and transition to the dimension of history. A parallel romantic view is of the sexualising of the earth, and the tellurian depths as the place of chthonic forces, and a journey there is a search for hidden lore. There was initially a misunderstanding as to his intentions, with one of the organisers thinking that he had in mind a theatre decoration in the room. His very first idea was that he needed a sculptural expression in carbon, and he needed a bed and a seat. Choosing a material, like carbon, and requiring it in 6 to 8 cubic meter blocks was to prove complicated. It was not clear that carbon was a tractable material, and even if, where would a supply of blocks of such size come from because Bien had never seen such blocks. He had never seen or heard of large carbon blocks.

   Initial enquiries proved frustrating. It happened that an official at the Dutch Embassy in Bonn helped, and had drawn mostly negative reactions. Flustered, he finally handed a card with the name of a coal mine director and wished Bien the best of luck. Glück auf!

   The director of the coalmine Fürst Leopold Wulfen in Dorsten, Dr. Kleinschmidt, invited Bien, after an initial telephone communication, to attend a meeting with fellow directors and explain his request. The coal was excavated on the advice of the engineer Schwartz, from the H carbon layers. Four coal miners and a foreman took 2 weeks to quarry the blocks. Bien had rented a studio in Amsterdam and the material was transported there. Photographs survive of the excavation process. A laconic note was sent to Bien by the Bergbau Lippe AG; “Sie erhalten von uns eine Anzahl von Kohlebrocken aus unserem Flöz H 1, die Sie für Ihre künstlerischen Arbeiten benötigen. Wir wollen Ihnen die Kohlestücke schenken und berechnen Ihnen keine Kosten. Wir hoffen, damit einen kleinen Beitrag zur Erstellung eines Ihrer Kunstwerke leisten zu können.”
   The company had spent in the region of 50,000 DM in securing the blocks for the artist. Their patronage was without fuss and with no expectation of reward. Bien invited Rutkowsky to come from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam and see the blocks. He felt thrown back to a very traditional sculptural situation, studying the blocks and considering the materiality as resistance. It wasn’t possible to carve the block or to chop it. Because of the pressure the blocks had been under it was necessary to make an iron corset to maintain its stasis. It was also obvious that to create the elements he needed he would have to sand the blocks down. His first choice was to make the chair. The individual items needed to be a choreography. The Catholic liturgy of the Mass, if viewed in terms of its movements is a kind of sacred ballet. The _funeral situation of the laying out of the corpse and burial could also be read as choreography. Joyce interpreted it as pantomime. The most difficult part of the work was the making of the bed. Sanding down the three blocks created an enormous amount of dust. Neighbours complained and the landlord and police were called. Washing that had been left out was soiled by the fine dust, and taut diplomacy was needed for Bien to continue with the work.

   The grinding down of the blocks for the bed reduced the blocks from 80 c.m. to 25 c.m. The bed was a problem in terms of the idea of animal static which is identified in the four legs. Bien wanted the shape of the bed to have a crouched placement which would allow entry. The idea of a camel with its crouched fore-legs is kind of idee dirigeant. Whilst standing and sanding the block the trope of the lapides loquens became literally topical, as fossil and plant forms were revealed.

   Bien explained the shape of the feet as ‘sich hingeben’, a movement away from the interpretation of gravity in the relation of the horizontal and its support, and a sudden dynamising of the amorphous and immobile space. He also integrated the pillow as a form of asymmetry.

   Again he imagined within the thinking of the lying down and rising up that the pillow supported the return to the embryonic state, the curling back to birth of the dying body. _The relation to hearing was caught up with the distinction Novalis had raised, which, by transferred epithet Bien associates with the pillow – the ear that listens to the history of the past and nature as a pressured sedimentation on the process of hearing. The putting of the head down to rest is a suggestion towards strata sedimentation.

   In a toolbox under the table, Bien placed a hammer. The hammer has a very interesting provenance, it had come to Bien via a friend of Kurt Schwitters to whom it had belonged, and Schwitters had had it from Lehmbruck.

   One of the most difficult concepts in relation to the work is the relation to what the artist calls color theory. The apparition of the iron clad blue canvas as provoked by the desire for light while working in the studio that became black. It can also be that the black and blue were themselves much closer than one thinks. The tightness of the black made it difficult to think of light or color. With the coal the color theory was leaving the track, as Bien puts it, of the physical and optical recognition. The best analogy for the idea of recognising the idea of color and light as the source for carbon, was in the idea of the photo negative, where the very black appears as a light source. What Bien takes as evidence of this is the imprints of plants on the coal mine. For him, the real death room interior, was the space in the earth left behind from taking out the block. The ‘negative way’ opened up the transformation of many fundamental categories. Taking out the blocks could be described as a sculptural attitude towards architecture, as the negative of architecture, the architectural as the result of the sculptural within material. What Bien wanted to achieve was to give proof to the idea of light on another scale and dimension. He makes the telling observation as a kind of hypothesis; if you brought someone into the forest of the Amazon and said on this spot in x number of years it would be excavated to the Death Room Interior then they would realise that the place of extraction was a kind of magical spot. For Bien color theory was intimately connected with chlorophyll and blood.

   “Being busy with photography, especially black and white, and developing my own film, I had discovered the equivalence of positive and negative, even sometimes how the fullness of black could be warm and suggest a deep unity. It was very logical for me to read the Death Room Interior from the light source point of view.“ The problem of boundaries, which had occupied him since returning from Tierra del Fuego, was in that of defining zones. The real movement of the flower is ultimately toward light in the of manner the sedimented plants. The side cupboard which initially he had thought of in terms of its traditional association and function, he started to read as a border stone. The dynamic action of the sluice in the billiard table had also been an attempt to move between the public and private sphere. The liminal was transgressive, and within the marking of a rudimentary territory, there was the shifting sense of the boundary, the body itself, which was condemned to labour, sweat and die because of the mortality of knowledge. The biblical phrase; ‘by the sweat of your brow / Shall you have bread to eat, / Until you return to the ground – / From there you were taken. / For dust you are, / And to dust you shall return (Bereshit 3, 18 f), indicates that by choosing knowledge man attained death, even tough in the Midrash Tanchuma there is a speculation that the Angel of Death was created before man, thus relating death to providence itself. What is rich in suggestion is that the return to dust is related to the eating of the fruit from the “Tree of Life”, thus light, plant, knowledge, death, dust, or earth from which ‘man’ is first fashioned, a circularity to the breath, the acoustic shaping, and the problem of transgression within the bounded existence of the living being.6
Bien would have it: you indeed are light, and unto light shall return. It is a more Platonic inflection, and indeed one is reminded that for Tolstoy, the concept of dying was a form of hallucinated geometry. For Bien, and this is fundamental, the border stone is the principle of metamorphosis.

Other elements which are included relate to the specifics of Bien’s own memories of liturgical furniture.

   “The window has a grill. Once again I realised the relationship between the confession grill and the light theoretical level. I thought of absolution as a light source. Within the screen I integrated a chair. One part became filligrain, half transparent one could look through, for me a site of the future. By setting up the boundary in the sense of the screen I realised here was a movement of integration within spheres.”

   During the 6–7 weeks of the sculpting process news came that Beuys had died: “… then I heard that Beuys died, and I don’t know, from that moment on there was this idea of light, a desire for light, to bring light into it, in an optical visual way. There was a desire for the blue, a desire for blue to appear. I needed to find the source of the woven light.”

   “I wanted a form that was square. I wanted square as non-form. You can realise this when you study the Platonic figures (Timaeus) the only difference between square and circle is direction. I wanted no dominance of any kind. I did not want it to expand or compress. I wanted to make sure you could recognise that I had, with a razor, cut a piece out of space, but, that the space, the spatial exposure I was showing, could also be recognised as a piece of a larger canvas. Then one is in the drama of the canvas.”

   Bien constructed an iron frame around the canvas but again wished to state the frame as boundary with an opening, and so on the top left the lines extend over each other and move out of the territory of the canvas. This breaking of the frame may be interpreted as a typical fauvist gesture, although the idea can be found early in Bien’s work, in a work related to the static pedestal. That is his cupboard with the hare and dog [_1982-003_], where the motoric action of the signature becomes sculptural. It was an effort to create also a form of dramatic contrast, where the dominant mineral existence of the carbon has the apposite countering of the liquid element. In a highly Goethean formula Bien refers to “mineralising of the form process going from sprouting plants into mathematics” Thus the direction in which the blue was moving was, in one way, as a blue still related to the mineralisation and crystalisation, he wanted the understanding of the process of liquid dynamics.

   The inner aesthetic processes were also leaving from one ‘field’ to the next, a kind of inner homology to the presence of the work and its physical situation. Here was a ‘moving across’, that was the idea of the internalised journey, the innerness itself is the ‘interior’. The phrase has echoes from spiritual literature of the 17th century, especially French devotional writing on the ‘interior life’. In his first detailed conversations about the work with Hollanders, Bien had emphasised this aspect.

   The blue of the canvas had a traditional transcendental referent.7 The blue of the sky and the blue of distance Hollanders maintains, was painted in response to the news of Beuys’ death on 22 January, 1986, “... als eerbetoon aan hem heeft Bien toen een doek van 1.50 x 1.50 meter met regelmatige lichtblauwe toetsen tempera geschilderd en in een ijzeren lijst ingeraamd.”8

The essential dynamic is the movement of space and counterspace. The ‘cupboard’ mark the anchoring of the territory. Initially conceived in a literary form as a cupboard, Bien destroyed the definition of furniture and left on the block the traces of excision and compression. He placed an iron corset on the block which he felt held a tension in which the transforming tracks were visible. Not only is the notion of journey and boundary interiorised, but the transformative creative process is indicated in the materiality of the work.

   Again Bien describes what the border stone is not in order to suggest what it is, “The border stone is not about geography, geology, or topography. In this setting the border stone has mobility. It is the border stone of the principle. I placed the border on the kind of support I associate with Egyptian furniture.” [_1982-004, 1984-011_]

   In one sense it is possible to relate elements from all the preceding works of Bien to the Death Room Interior. It occupies a pivotal position in his entire œuvre, and in the traditional language of value-ascription, is his masterpiece.

   The reception of the work has to date been fitful. Initially in Rotterdam it provoked confusion, being interpreted in as a form of social melodrama. According to an interview which appeared in De Limburger in 1986, it was a farewell to Beuys. The exhibition in Rotterdam attracted the attention of Hollanders, who under the direction of Ron Manheim, then teaching at Nijmegen University, to write a Doctoraalscriptie on Bien with the title De Spirituele Kunst van Waldo Bien, een hedendaags plasticus – a typescript of 82 pages including bibliography and some illustrations in black and white. Two other notices appeared, one by Kusters in the De Limburger newspaper for 21 March 1986, entitled ‘De mijnstreek als sterfkamer’, and a further one in 1987 – ‘Ode aan de mijnwerker, Rotterdams Nieuwsblad, _23 January. Hollanders’ thesis has not been published nor has he contributed any articles.9

   In the immediate period of the work, it returned Bien back to his own past, to the territory of childhood and youth, it was as if two spirals of motion had been created; one out from his home which went North and then West, now, his journey would take him South and then East.

   The problem of territorialisation is central to an account of the Death Room Interior. While it can be shown that different thematics announced in earlier works are re-situated in the Death Room Interior the multiple overlapping and use of transient, even ephemeral, discords (such as the confessional grill) point to complex re-territorialisation where there is no fixed centre. Like a fugue it is as if the dissonant emergence of different themes can be shown to exist harmoniously if one takes a particular cross-section. In one sense it could be argued that one is faced with a baroque territorialisation, thinking of what Heinrich Wölfflin states about the baroque, ‘Line as boundary is eliminated and so much movement is introduced into the surfaces that, in the impression of the whole, the quality of tangibility more or less vanishes.10 In a very specific way, there is a geometry of position which has entered into multiplicative relations. Daniel Klébaner, speaking of Bernini, offers an interesting point of reference, he argues the insecurity of boundary between interior and exterior, due to the hidden lighting, and also the re-territorialisation which insists that the exterior/interior is constitutive.11 In the Death Room Interior its very visibility may be its most problematic aspect; the threshold of invisibility. This would link Bien to Richard Serra and Robert Morris and to what Lyotard has identified as ‘neo-baroque’ strategies in which there is a complexification of the theoretical transformer between the subject and its environment.12

   After all that, there is the stark fact, that Bien, at the age of 37, started to recall something long since buried, the Catholic heritage of the southern Netherlands, itself the main source of sculptural production in the history of the Netherlands, and secondly and specifically, the casualties of capitalism; the miners whose wage labour was exchanged for their very life in some instances, young, and literally put on the scrap-heap of history, their memory abandoned.

   The most extensive interpretation of the Death Room Interior is that of Leonie See written in Berlin in 1993–94. The text has not been published; its running title: Text für Waldo Bien The Death Room Interior (July 1994).13 See had visited Bien in his Atelier in Adalbertstrasse in 1991. The studio was in the Berlin-Kreuzberg. See had been writing on an artistic Aktion in the Urals and when photocopying her text met Bien in the photocopy shop. After her first visit or as she was leaving during her first visit, Bien showed her a photograph of the Death Room Interior which had only been exhibited once previously. She thought to write about the work, and found sometime later that Bien had gone to an enormous amount of trouble to make a miniaturised version of the original, later she visited Amsterdam and saw the original.

   “… nur ein Bild hierfür, als inszenierter Raum, der schnell erklärt ist, ein Symbol, eine Metapher für das Ende? Ein Verweis auf ‘die letzten Dinge’? Vielleicht auch der Versuch, das Übersinnliche zu begreifen. Eine Hommage gar, aber an wen und wozu und warum aus Kohle und Eisen?”14

   Drawing on a text of Rudolf Steiner, Kunst und Kunsterkenntnis, Neun Vorträge, 1888–1921, where Steiner argues that the artist must give a necessary shape to that which in nature cannot happen, to crystallise the tendency of nature in his specific work.

   She identifies the Kristallisationspunkt as being rooted in the encounter with the small artisan dwellings around Heerlen, and extends her conception by concentrating on the description of a fundamental characteristic of the dying person, the breathing process diminishing, interrupted, contact with the outer world diminishing, and the collapse of basic physiological functions. She parallels the work of bringing coal, warmth and light, to others, with the failure within the body itself, and the binding element of human life as giving and taking, the rhythm in which we live. Breathing is the taking in of spirit (Geist), and blood the means human living. Again following Steiner she argues for the cosmic connection of breathing. For Steiner this has the consequence that man must learn, in a conscious relationship, to connect with the cosmos.

   Describing the elements of the work, See takes the position that the screen is ‘Schutz vor fremden Blicken’. The seat is seen in an hieratic and archaic fashion. The corset element read, as with the horns of Michelangelo’s Moses, the seer’s contact with God. The very shape of the block for the seat opens the waiting to the above, by virtue of its non- specific being.

   Steiner is central for her account of the work and the understanding of the process of the ‘color theory’ on which he had been working. See assumes throughout that Bien is familiar with Steiner, and indeed both Kloppenburg in Amsterdam and Bien’s partner Eliane Gomperts were consistently involved with Steiner’s teaching; Kloppenburg through private study, Elian Gomperts as a teacher in a Steiner Waldorf school in Amsterdam. See’s essay is the first and most complete anthroposophical ‘reading’ of a work of Bien, and brings a crucial documentary source to light which undoubtedly influenced the intellectual context of the works of Bien at this time.
   Wouter Welling in an article in 1990 was to make a further explicit interpretation of the work.15 Firstly, he observed that the ‘vegetation’ idea which runs through it concerns unending life, or, metamorphosis, and secondly, that the cross and confessional screen place the overall setting into a Christian context. Welling, valuably, draws attention to drawings which he had seen at the Gallerie Holleder in Amsterdam, “I saw the drawings which Bien had produced underground and which relate directly to the project. They were chalk drawings on carbon paper. I particularly remember a resting figure with a floating triangle above the body [_1985-023_].

   One of those drawings, with a subscript, Neues Hirn, alte Masse [_1985-013_], done in white chalk on carbon paper, seem to represent a pair of struggling figures lightly outlined, and to the left a strong phallic projection. The drawings introduce the erotic as part of the work. In the Dag Nacht drawing [_1985-015_], a long figure of spiralling flesh hovers over a bird’s-eye view of perspective landscape. The ribbon effect gives a kind of intestinal feeling and the technique of the drawings is fluent and schematic. The light/dark polarisation reverses the concept of the photo negative, and the use of carbon paper extends the material resource. The drawings also suggest the repression within the space of death, the ambivalent and powerful relationship of sexuality to dying.

   For Bien the problem of body is not abstract. There is no ‘the body’ as there is no ‘the object’. He refers to ‘my body’, and this is always being expressed. That process indicates the relation to nature, and through the interrogation, more than nature. In speaking of ‘my body’ then, the act of symbolising refers to the self, and that is achieved through ‘my body’. Kalyankumar Bagchi raises the point well in his ‘Man-in-Nature as a phenomenological datum’; ‘But in the case of the self-symbolising of consciousness there is a deeper necessity. Such necessity is not formal or analytical. For in the context of self-symbolising the “form” is nothing apart from what the “form” stands for. The form or symbol is understood as though it is consciousness. Self-symbolising through the body constitutes the peculiar reality of “man-in-nature”, a fact which makes him spirit incarnate in nature.’16

   The object too does not stand over against the subject. The interlacing and research of the world has its own existential implication, if the expression ‘my body makes sense ‘my world’ also has the possibility of meaning. The search for meaning is through a multiplicative and interactive approach which refuses to dichotomise, i.e. interior/exterior, communication/_alienation. The human search can proceed within the existential situation of self-interpretation. This also raises the double problem of nature, and man as nature who questions the nature of nature and himself, therefore engaged in the search for meaningfulness as direction for existence.

   The search itself may confirm the existence of nature as radically objective, yet only insofar as the subjective research is constantly individualising itself, by emphasising what Tymieniecka calls ‘individualising virtualities’; ‘Through the rational articulation of his mobility, the existential route not only offers an access to the working of Nature itself, but it exhibits the territory of external objectivity.’ In this relation she places the essential spontaneous, generative correlation between nature and the living individual.17

   As Bien’s interdisciplinary work demonstrated, anthropology is the question of nature raised again in the nature of man as questioning, of what gets asked. The concepts of self and world are then translated as polar, or poles within the existential situation, in which the reflection takes place, thus part of the nature of the one who reflects is the capacity to be an ‘object’ for self-reflection, the objectivity of nature towards which the self, nature, world, cosmos, is questioning, also raises the meaning of nature within Nature. The nature of nature for man is placed in an intermediate situation, either res cogitans or extensa. Thus the anthropological problem of the world leads to the question of self-experience. 18



Mother Bien with both husbands
Bien’s mother with her two husbands



Family 1957 (Bien Center)



Colemine Emma



D.R.I. 1985-006 - 016
Death Room Interior Sizes not specified; Interior carved in coal (H5), iron, wood, pigment on canvas Waldo Bien Archive (Detail)



Map of cole mine



Bien in cole mine



D.R.I. 1985-006 - 017 work in progress



DeathRoom Detail 1



DeathRoom Detail 2



DeathRoom Detail 3



DeathRoom Detail 5



DeathRoom Detail 6



D.R.I. 1985-006 - 014 detail



Deathroom Interior



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D.R.I. 1985-006 - 00102



D.R.I. 1985-006 - 007



Selfportrait as Scull Undated 10,5x16cm






Vom Mineralischen her verstanden (Hochdruckzeichnung) 40 x 50 cm; Siberian chalk on coal dust (H5) prepared board, iron frame Waldo Bien Archive



Neues Hirn, alte Masse (Hochdruckzeichnung)



Alte Landschaft (Hochdruckzeichnung)



Embryonal Development (Hochdruckzeichnung)



Salve Unto II 105 x 154 cm; Photograph in whale oil and plexiglass Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam


Chapter 6


His work after the Death Room Interior can be followed by analysing the interlacing of biography, form, and material. The search for forms was to intensify. The material shift is specifically from carbon to chalk. When speaking of shift it is not suggested that carbon is abandoned, rather, that other questions are raised and solutions sought, in some cases to questions that have been raised and refined over a period of years.

   Laurent Jacob, the brilliant and maverick curator of Espace 251 Nord in Liège, invited Bien to show there. This involved Bien travelling through Maastricht and the area of his childhood wanderings. He had once spent whole summers in the area exploring caves.1

He started to collect flint in Eben Emael (Belgium) only a mile from the grave of family members, (some of which stood standing from the 18th century). Jacob also introduced Bien to Garcet in Eben Emael and informed him about his mysterious collection from the caves. It was often the case that Bien travelled with Jacobus Kloppenburg, the Amsterdam born artist, with whom he has had close ties since their early meeting in Düsseldorf in the 70’s.
   “The flint stone had served the evolution of the human spirit since the earliest time. A very important stone, as important as a horse. We were amazed by the forms, and that they looked so organic, that they were embedded in the organic. Their forms were different from layer to layer, different in size and in shape. We started to look at it in all kinds of different ways, even to the frequency and sound of the stones. Then we discovered that this Garcet had been busy with the stones all his life, and he had the idea that you should look at it as art, as a product that was caused by meditation powers, by a pre-physical man. He was not very communicative, and until today he refused to show us his museum of silex. I think he rarely wants to talk to others, and he prefers monologue. He was not interested in what we were thinking. Nevertheless how much of it is a private mythology or reality, the result of that – the tower, the books – shows he was highly creative.

   We were astonished that whenever you opened a geological book on the subject there was never any study on the form, so the form as a source for determination was ignored. Nobody ever paid any attention to the form, and we think that the form can give us the solution. If you look at it from the point of view of music and you would ask a musician to look at the strata and the specific forms of the embedded stones and play the partitur, then it could have been sounded.
   Kloppenburg and I shared those interests. Before it had been a dialogue and a different activity. His mathematical knowledge was serving us well by dealing with the form of flintstones. I suppose one can speak of Goethe; the study of form is the relationship to the development. We had been busy with that for years, we walked all over the coasts of Dover, Rügen (DDR) and Normandy. We would have needed a lot of help to dissolve the problems which a proper research would request. It wasn’t forthcoming. What we had in mind, was to do a type of archaeological survey, to work down through the 23 meters so we could get an overview of how the forms are developed through the layers, and repeat this research on several locations in the world to have a reference. It appears over the whole world, and despite differences of frequency and morphology, different viscosity and resistance. But the people we needed to talk to were not there. We could have asked John Cage, but we were not far enough on, and also the problem with Garcet was that he would not talk.

   Now we come to a work I used as an artefact, sculpture, and it appears many different times Les Pierres Sont Là Pour Nous these are flintstones from Eben Emael, and the only thing you can say without doubt is that they were Made in Belgium [ 1995-025_].That distinguishes them from those in England or anywhere else. The work Made in Belgium emerges from this initial exploration. The collaboration with Laurent Jacob led to an exhibition which was to see Bien appear with some of the leading sculptors of his generation. The exhibition organised by Jacob was accompanied by a publication.2 Heynen’s added to the identification of Bien as working in the context of arte povera, “sculpturen van Bien kunnen gemakkelijk worden genoemd als ‘poor art’ objecten of beelden die herinneren aan de hoogtijdagen van de arte povera.3

From the documentation of this show one can see that the Múmö Sˇkúla piece has been changed since its earliest appearance, and that Bien has added and subtracted from the work. This feature of his method makes it difficult sometimes to identify the ‘chronology’ of works, and also points to the transforming process in which he is engaged. Coat hangers were formed into overlapping circuits, Bien also exhibited photographs which he had retrieved from Iceland. They had been floating in a cave in icy water for some years. He had placed them there. They were presented in Liège under glas on copperplates, as male and female territory, much later. They were originally taken in Tierra del Fuego, showing male and female groups of natives. In 1997 for example, Bien used again a series of photographs from Tierra del Fuego. The context of making determined them as works from 1997, nevertheless there is an interval of 12 years that is part of the work.

By examining the following works of Bien – Design for a Shipwreck in the Strait of Le Maire [ 1985-008_], De Wrede Zee [_1986-003_], The Universal Bank [_1986-015_], Nova Zembla _[_1986-004_], Pair [_1987-008_] and concluding with Dynamic Pedestal [_1989-013_], it will _e possible to trace and retrace the contours of his activity during the remainder of the 1980’s, in some cases the chronology has to move back and forward from the early 70’s to the late 90’s.

Design for a Shipwreck in the Strait of Le Maire has been described by Hub Hollanders and Wouter Welling.4 Welling describes it as a monumental sculpture in precise equilibrium. Arrows point towards the sky and weights dangle from cords towards the earth. A shipwreck takes place in the field of tension between these light, ethereal forces and gravity. Hollanders supplies a more detailed account.

The original idea for the sculpture comes from Bien’s stay in Tierra del Fuego. The Estrecho Le Maire lies between the Cabo San Diego and the Isla de los Estados. The strait was named after the Dutch explorer Jacob Le Maire who made the discovery in 1616 for the western world. Because of the South Pole winds in the area and the difficult seas, there have been an enormous number of ships wrecked. The strait is a marine graveyard. Bien took a photograph from the Monte Negro, near Cabo San Diego, of the Isla de los Estados, on a day when it was visible.

   The photographic negative was to form the centre of the sculpture, placed in between glass plates and hanging on the wall. The photo is visible through a double window frame of 100 x 65 cm, which projects about 15 cm from the wall, and on the upper part the frame is 10_cm above the placement of the photograph.

   Above the double frame there are 20 small arrows placed in different directions along the edge, and below with clamps, the hanging serge blue bags of sand are balanced from twine attached to the edge of the clamps.

   The long horizontal axis of the work is made up from two steel rods, of 3 meters length each, which are placed to the left and right of the large double frame, and create the illusion of a continuous line. The piece on the right tapers towards a point. Once again Bien is negotiating a complex spatial territory, distancing himself from the sculptural proposition that everything should be in the sculpture, or, the proposition that the sculpture permits everything outside itself, Bien, has again taken up the problem of the billiard table, the creating of a space of constant modulation, and the issue of the frame of the blue canvas from the Death Room Interior, whose overlapping and space-breaking device at the upper left corner, has led in one instant to an iconographical interpretation attaching to a Christian context. The dynamic of the arrows as a movement out and the descent of the tongs, or clamps, which are inverted, both re-situates and de-stabilises. Once again Bien does not want to privilege a ‘centre’ nor indeed suggest that every vertical and horizontal overlap is a Christian cross. The long steel rod has the function of a trapeze pole, and the balancing movements within the work depend on complex spatial dynamics which are not resolved except optically. The sand filled bags are placed as a logical spatial counterpart to the arrows. The clamps which hold to the frame also function as a spatial anchor, the content of the bags and their specific matelet color allows a reading which also explains in part the spatial distribution.

   Where the placing of the photograph might invite a literal sense of topography, and a reading of the whole work as threnody on the death by water of vessels and sailors, one must hesitate to accept the invitation. The photograph negative is made of two different plates, one of the interior of a local carpenter’s workshop, where in the developing process the image looked like driftwood, and secondly the photograph taken of the Islas de los Estados. There is also and apart from what as a Dutch artist who had been a sailor describes as the Ur-Angst of the sea, a highly aestheticised and complex artefactual consideration, the problem of the sea as surface, or the problem of the canvas. When Lucio Fontana opens up the canvas, it raises the question of whether there is any longer painting. For Bien he wished to read the sea as a landscape, but one hidden beneath the surface. By negotiating the various and multiple directions of forces, of weight and abstraction, Bien, through the introduction of an abruptly terminated verticality, and an illusion of continuous horizontality, touches on the double experience of viewing the sea in respect of the horizon and with regard to the sea floor. Indeed in the original exhibition of the piece there was a continuous relation to both floor and ceiling.
   Many of the component elements of the work are objet trouvé. The finding of these objects, and their combining and re-combining, becomes a distinctive feature of his sculptural practise as is best evidenced in the work Universal Bank [_1986-015_].

   As with the parallel research on the flint stones, the relation of the various works of this period can be understood in terms of ‘color theory’. Bien described it as the movement to the grey zone, where things get together, things shift. It is for Bien the connection of the physical and the non-physical, and he described the horizon line as the place where the spirits meet. This phrase had also been supplied to Hollanders who used it in his exegesis of the Death Room Interior. Hollanders also contributes a symbolic reading of various parts of the work; ‘De met zand gevulde zakjes zijn gemaakt van de stof van een origineel matrozenpak en representeren de in de Estrecho Le Maire verdronken zeelieden.’5 Hollanders also opens up the possibility of the work as a reference to a “grootse periode uit onze vaderlandse geschiedenis.”6

   When the work was exhibited in Venice it was accompanied by a smaller work, which was placed in relation to Design for a Shipwreck in the Strait of Le Maire [_1985-008_], as a pendant. This work has the title De Wrede Zee_[_1986-003_].

   From a nail on the wall hangs an untreated wooden plank, 90 x 25 cm, supported by pieces of steel wire. On the plank a small white sack filled with sand and against the wall rising into the triangular space defined by the supporting wires, an arrow, to the right of which Bien has written text, like a commemorative inscription, “For my young friend Mikel, swollowed by the Atlantic Ocean 1986.”7 Mikel was a six year old son of friends of Bien’s who had fallen overboard and drowned. His body was never recovered.

   Hollanders reads this simple and delicate work as a commemorative one, and also interprets the element of the arrow and the triangle as referring to the hope for re-incarnation. The white arrow point was made from part of the bone of a young guanaco. _The white bag relates to the idea of the innocence of the death of the young man, and in Bien’s searching through the world and finding objects he has created within his mourning _a resource to allegory. But the problem of the allegorist is blocked by the minimalist working method. It is slightly inflected allegory where a double loss is invoked; the unspecified _source of allegory, the poetic encounter with the world and the limitation of expression, is part of the allegorical in a time of technical dominance.

   However, Bien’s work does not progress along a simple line of continuing investigation. It is worth observing that at the edge of these works Bien moves away from his own obsessions and leaves the very tracks he has been laying down. As he is involved in the works, which, tentatively perhaps, allegorise death, he also moves into a liquid, social aspect. While the material which he had collected was always potential and required different and varied contexts to be incorporated, with the work of the whale oil and The Universal Bank – both in the same year as Death Room Interior – Bien has looked towards the social and liquid in his works. One could imagine that the Ocean Harp [_1986-006_], constitutes a threnody for the whale, and the threat of extinction.

   Both The Universal Bank [_1986-015_], and the work Nova Zembla [_1986-004_] indicate a move out of the personal and commemorative to the social sphere, economy and society. These works occur in the end of 1986, and The Universal Bank was shown at the International Monetary Fund Building in Washington D.C. What Bien displays are the accumulated objects for his own work, his bank, his resources. With Nova Zembla and Ocean Harp Bien returns to the use of materials from his Iceland travels; the Nova Zembla work incorporates whale oil and introduces the warm/cold polarity and the problem of survival. Nearly all the works of the year are taken up with the themes of death and survival, and in the case of the whale oil works, the issue of preservation and change.

   In ascribing the process of thematics to the sculptures, there is a danger of reducing them to an illustrative site of intellectual propositions. This is always a problem with retrospective reading. The line being developed is much more out of an internal logic, sometimes just happenstance, and the mysterious process of creativity.




Laurent Jacob



family photos Eben Emael





Bien and K, 1982 Lauriergracht Amsterdam





“Made in Belgium”



isla de los estados



1985-008 Design for a Ship Wreck in the Strait of Le Maire (Collectie Nederland)a
Design for a Shipwreck in the Strait of Le Maire 300 x 700 cm; Iron, glass, photo, arrows, blacksmith’s pliers, cotton bags with sand and rope Collectie Nederland



1985-008 Design for a Ship Wreck in the Strait of Le Maire (Collectie Nederland)
Design for a Shipwreck (Detail)



The Universal Bank 300 x 400 cm; On display at IMF, Washington DC, USA; Dismantled and transformed in other works-in-progress



De Wrede Zee (For My Young Friend Mikel, Swollowed By the Ocean) Appr. 100 x 80 cm wall space; Wood, metal, guanaco bone, cotton bag with sand and rope Private collection; (Distracted from 1985-008)



Ocean Harp 165 x 180 cm; Whale ribs, whale hunting tools (wood, iron) Waldo Bien Archive



Nova Zembla 300 x 400 cm floor space; Iron, wood, geosurvey instruments, whale oil blanket, electric heating element, tar Waldo Bien Archive


Chapter 7


“The most sublime thing to understand is that everything that is of the order of fact (faktisch) is already theory. The blue of the sky reveals to us the fundamental law of chromatics. One does not have to search behind phenomena, they are themselves the doctrine.”

   Commenting on Goethe’s theory of art Georg Simmel points out that there is a tragic element in Goethe’s position.1 If the obligation of man is to develop as totally as he can his possibilities, then there is an awareness, inevitably, that this is unreliable within the limits of the human condition. For Goethe, the progression of the soul to a transcendent state is a progression without change of direction, a simple liberation of existing forces. Goethe has a conception of the lived truth which passes beyond the opposition ‘true’ and ‘false’. There is a ‘second truth’ which depends on that which renders life possible. The co-incidence of thought and intuition is the a priori of the artist. In Goethe’s vitalist epistemology, knowledge is an immediate organic function of life. The world is an animated unity. Reality and value are one. This notion of unity includes polarity, of the systole and diastole. The idea is visible in phenomena.
   In one sense it can be argued that, for Bien, his entire personal relation to the world rests on the spiritual character of nature and on the natural character of the spirit. It is from there that much of the understanding of the idea as the intimate essence of the object, perceived in an intuitive manner derives.

   Bien searches from his vitalist position for an explanation of the way in which life in its multiplicity seeks forms, for its coherence, arrangement and organisation.

   Simmel explicitly opens his anthropological view of man as Mittelstellung, the being-between, ‘Damit, dass wir immer und überall Grenzen haben, sind wir auch Grenze.’_2 The awareness of the limit is one of the means of surpassing it, but it also deepens the limit. Self-transcendence is immanent within life.

   “Indem es Leben ist, braucht es die Form, und indem es Leben ist, braucht es mehr als die Form. Mit diesem Widerspruch ist das Leben behaftet, dass es nur in Formen unterkommen kann, und doch in Formen nicht unterkommen kann.”_3

   The key work for understanding the next movement of the development of Bien is the works with photographs and whale oil that were to be exhibited in 1987 during the months of April and May at Espace 251 Nord in Liège.

   Jacob did not have the resources to provide a catalogue for the show. Only a poster could be provided. A poster was made showing the first large work done with photographs and whale oil. The background to this was a poster of whales which Bien had printed as a negative, the plates had been glued together, and the space between filled with whale oil. The latter part of 1986 saw a shift. This can be attributed to the return of drawing which took place during the period of the IMF show at which The Universal Bank was displayed. The problem of the bank was also paralleled in the work on the Archive for the Future, and with a new development in Bien’s activity.

   “I had not been drawing. I had been studying phenomenology but on the chain of research there was to  little freedom inside. There were too many consequences. The real process of drawing, which didn’t end up as a problem of mass and countermass. I delivered a senseless, boundary-less territory of free expression. I realised I could draw without being chained up in my research. I could cut the line and go into free activity on the paper.”

   Bien’s own analysis is that the accumulation of photographs, and the exhibiting of the whale oil work, of which there are 35 in existence, led to a liquidity, so that the end of ‘86 could be said to be in complete contrast to the work at the beginning, that within the process there was a need to move in simultaneous and opposite directions to the initial momentum, a systole and diastole was achieved within the continuum. The problem of the archive also loomed. Part of his collaborative work with Kloppenburg was involved with the Archive for the Future.4 The archive was not just a reserve that could be used, as the work The Universal Bank suggests. There was a current disposition and also, through the reflexivity of their shared discourse, a movement to the past, a sense of an ‘historical’ dimension. However, that ‘historical’ sense depended on a projection to the future; when one might ‘look back’ and see that the materials and objects were of an archaeological kind, even as they were being made and placed. The archive is also textual, Kloppenburg’s recent ‘statement’ directly encompasses this linguistic dimension of the work: the sculpture, Archive for the Future. The site is always proleptic, the tenses in a continual shifting mood and voice. Foucault’s description of ‘archive’ helps one understand some of the issues involved.

   For both artists it was the formation of the archive that had to be discussed, and the general system of formation and transformation to be specified, then they needed to analyse what strategies allowed it to be stratified, and what allowed it to be, and to no-longer be, what forces it to be de-stratified, to become other. The archive has other modalities; it is audio-visual, audio and visual.

   There are then, two regimes, the system of language and of light, words and things, which emerge as statements and visibilities; the archive initiates a mutation in the possibility of its own statements, it is necessary to set aside a synthetic operation in understanding this. What can be seen and said split apart in the archive. The outside exists to the archive of the future. It cannot stabilise itself by reflexivity. Only continuous work can help the ‘process’.

   It is precisely the intractability between the two ascribed regimes of light and visibility that becomes an issue for the archive, by turning constantly back in on itself, its own enfolding, it gains a form of unity and self-subsistence, it becomes a work of sculpture. It is not that there is an operation of pre-established harmony which holds this together, rather there is an inclusion of the fragmentary as the ‘real’ space of the work. The unity of the sculpture is not diminished by the problem of disjunction, or even the split that Foucault insists on, which is more of the order of knowing than that of Being, rather, the ‘closure’ of the work is its determining relation to infinity. Parts of the archive are numbered, and sections contain within the whole work, parts, that are related to other parts. Thus at No. 32, _a folding and unfolding chair, entitled A Study in Entlechy alongside 33, rudimentary territory, nearby a mosquito screen in brown paper wrapping, called Tropical Night, an upside down sink is table plateau, No. 80 a brown wooden chest with objects, a voodoo suitcase, rusted metal petrol lamps called Mars Red, stellar of objects, a list of cards with picture names, entitled History of Art, a wooden container with sliding boxes called Hare-Innerung, a punning title in reference to memory and a hare and clock which are indicated but missing, an oven with an ostrich egg, an Ei-Schrank, back to back two motor car hoods, a football drawn on and placed as a Platonic installation, because of Plato’s comment he had seen a man playing with a ball that had twelve pieces, also a work called Grey Bucket with arctic color scale, Bone rhythms, foam mattress, a styrofoam temple, Jacob’s ladders, stacks of wood fagots, the 4 long boxes with botanical notes of plants, Hortus Botanicus, a flower weighing scale, Dyeary, text rolls, works called Ascendant and Descendant Messages, a piece with suprise squares and miscellaneous object placement, in pigeon hole arrangement, rolls of synthetic felt, loose feelings, and so forth, a paratactic parade.

Housed in an attic atelier close by to the studio of Bien, there was a constant ferrying back and forth by the artists, perhaps the most emblematic work being the folding and unfolding chair.

   In Merleau Ponty’s sense the fold is the anonymous visibility which opens up intercorporeal being, the word and what is seen are located in the fold, what the philosopher calls the chiasmus, yielding a reversibility of words and things, “we do not have to resemble them into a synthesis, they are two aspects of the reversibility which is the ultimate truth.”

   Within the archive there are thousands of drawings, architectural studies, sheets with figures, large pastels, canvases, boards that have been covered with traces and marks, an entire laboratory of visual research. Also part of Bien’s work over 15 years was photographing the archive, and the light conditions within it, these series of photographs are essential to the process of study which the archive requires. The sculpture creates its own modalities of time and space, of belonging and communication.

   The liquidity of the photographs and the return to drawing, indicates the re-emergence of another emotional direction. It is possible that Bien was experiencing a form of nervous collapse during the early part of ‘87, accentuated by a trip to Tasmania and Australia, a journey, which like the ones to Argentina and Iceland, would open up further resources for his work.

While works continued in ‘87 that related to earlier studies, for example, the piece specifically called Tierra del Fuego [ 1985-004 ], Amanuensis [ 1987-004 ], Salve Unto I, II _[ 1987-005 and 006 ] there was in the creation of the Tectonic Pedestal [ 1987-007 ] a return to the problem of the pedestal, in this instance an analytical interior. The Study for White I and II [ 1987-009 and 010 ], the first of which is made of whale and seal bones, and in study No. 2 the forms are presented in the same shape, with the addition of an Antonian bust above it, the skull is also placed to have a bird’s eye view. Vox Arborum [ 1987-013 ] is one of the most engaging works form these series, clearly directly related to Múmö Sˇ kúla, except that the movement is back from the anthropological to the botanic, three endangered species were presented in a vocal context. Themes and variations from earlier works can be traced for example in the whalebone works, which initially start off from the static, skeletal point of view, and are then moved towards an architectural and sculptural route, discoveries are made between the marrow and the white of the bone (see Pair and Kopf und Kragen 1986-002 ), and ultimately the discovery of the marrow leads to a further development in the last major work of the 1980’s, the Dynamic Pedestal [ 1989-013 ].

   What unites the work on the problem of the Archive of the Future, and the journey to Tasmania, is the problem of the visible and the acoustic, or even the textual. Voice as in Vox Arborum is the non-linguistic side of speech; it has the possibility of endless variation and un-mediated presence.

   “The lady who invited me Frieda Beukenkamp was a print maker. I printed several sheets of paper with a metamorphosis of image. Because, I didn’t want to see the same thing twice. My attitude was not directed towards the market. I printed a series of sheets with the skin of a blue tongue lizard, and I printed for the first time the python as landscape. I printed it in a geographical context. I analysed the movement of the snake from handwriting, written text, up to construction and architecture.” [ Walls of Jerusalem, 1997-071 ]

   “This implies that I see the text as a motorical event: this is my idea of an archaic stage of the text. It is not text understood from the point of view of an alphabet of constructed signs and combinations. It is text understood from the nomadic point of view, as track, as a continuous line, horizontal, and it shows us the written text. I was very involved in geography at this time in Tasmania, and sailing along the coast. I also read the rolled out stretched out skin of the snake as a landscape, and as a coast line.”

   What is obvious is that for Bien the snake is anti-tectonic power. The old linea serpentina concept had been deployed by mannerist artists as the line of beauty, also a familiar concept from Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty, who as part of Slaughter’s set in the St. Martin’s Coffee House, developed the sinuous line as part of the rococco style. Mannerism and rococco depend on the snake, on the concept of ophic meandering. The non-tectonic aspect encourages reversals of categories. Where, for example, one can see that a small element of ornament, _is treated as a pictorial subject, and the ornamental itself becomes built as architecture and _so on. Bien’s investigations seem caught up in similar stylistic problematics, so that the stretched element of the snake has a cartographical, typographical and topographical existence.

   The interest in the motorical event of writing “Written text, topography, all that is contained in my response to the snake. When I had it lying on the ground as a stretched element, I cannot deal with it as a repressed corpus. It was a very important element. You could either build with it, or you could construct with it, and you would get into engineering; it has all the secrets of the dynamic pedestal. You could also recognise it as being implicated in the Pillar of Brancusi. Brancusi’s snake is alive. The column is a highly dynamic form.”

   Bien did not return to the snake work for many years. This may be seen in the Dynamic Square [ 1996-026 ] where the muscular dynamics of the snake have been brought into the highly immobile square. By recognising the inner movement of rotation Bien constructed a motor, and creates what he terms an engine room.

   The interest in the motorical event of writing, has been there from the time in the Düsseldorf academy. Rutkowsky and Schönenborn had discussed this problem of the ductus of the hand and the implication of the motoric of writing for a dynamic conception of space. Kloppenburg was also busy with a similar problem, there, through his work of design, and on text and alphabets, he achieves an elimination, in which the snake is the supplement. Rutkowsky, Bien and Kloppenburg have been busy with the ophic dimension and the motoric of the hand, and all three artists have provided intricate and different solutions over the years.

   The problem of text also involved for Bien the problem of translation. The sculpture Pair is a translation of the figures of the embracing Tetrarchs on the corner of Saint Mark’s in Venice, not a translation from forms but of the archaic impression which he received. The work in the caves, the age of the levels from which the carbon came, the long arc of time, of durée, impressed Bien as the real continuity of artistic practise, that the most modern engagement also is the oldest activity. This sense of continuity is seen in the issue of the availability of meaning from works made long before text is established, that art works are the oldest human documents, and that their making sense is the line man writes to another.

   Something of the problem of translation was engaged during the architectural project undertaken with Kloppenburg at OIBIBIO, and the full extent of the significance of text after the work in Tasmania, Walls of Jerusalem, has to be traced in the dialogue with the artist Joseph Semah, which began in that year.


Bien had written in the Makkom Foundation Exhibition on his own drawing, “I often _find the drawings of sculptors irrelevant, because they are so mineral, so much studies in volumes, and therefore so sculpture oriented. For me drawing is something different, something more stenographic. For years I tried a certain starting point for my drawings and the results were nearly always disappointing. But one day I was studying Goethe’s chromatics and how important, I realised, for the painter to use color as inspiration instead of working from a certain idea. I took this to heart and banned all ideas from my mind whenever I was drawing.”

   Semah’s interest in the problem of text, mother tongue, the word and the problem of sculptural space is well attested in his many publications.5 One example must suffice, the remarks made around his works Jom Aleph. A good example is the Asymmetric Typography work of 1985. Made of wood and with a ram’s horn used as a pivot, the high crate structure seems balanced in the skew of the twirling horn. By a process of substitution and synecdoche the implications of the work related to liturgical features described in Leviticus and also indicates the sense in which the typographical is itself implicated in the visualising of the tradition of the West, the Christian tradition. Sacrifice is substitution, sheep for the human, the structure is a kind of mediated altar, this relates to the word which is engendering and dying, at least cultural topography acts as the political control of such fundamental discourse. It is not that visual forms illustrate an allegorical or metaphysical reading, the activity of sculpture re-questions the inside and the exclusion and inclusion of living speech over against the violence of sacrifice, the mysterium tremendum, the numinous. In certain Cretan texts the earliest arrival of the alphabet is closely linked to human sacrifice at Mount Ida, _and indeed, writing may be the form by which cultures abandon such a practise.

   Seven years after that first meeting with Bien and Semah tried to translate at another their interaction and dialogue into a series of works which presented their conversations _as images and text. Pretexts and footnotes. The results have recently been exhibited at Amersfoort with an accompanying publication.

   W.A.L. Beeren, Frits Bless and Evelyn Beer were writing in the same year on the integrity of Bien and that his sculpture was a form of physical reproduction of a spiritual process, his travels had truly taken him to ‘another’ culture, that he had searched for the essence of things, W.A.L. Beeren did not risk an opinion, saying that he was not going to speak ex cathedra about the work but indicated simply that in his capacity as director of the Boymans van Beuningen museum (in ‘87 the Stedelijk) he had exhibited Bien. That exhibition had been in 1984.

   Bien was to make further extensive travels, and the conclusion of the 1980’s was to result in a work which responded to the Static Pedestal of the 1970’s, and would see a shift in the production towards paintings, drawings and actions.

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K in Phonebooth



Artchive for the future concept



K with Knochen Brille



Lauriergracht sky with planet



Múmö  Skúla 1985-004 a
Múmö Sˇ kúla   Size not specified (8 x 10 meters floor space); Sound sculpture with bellows, organ pipes, stone (basalt from Isla de Navarino), whale bone, nothofagus beteloïdus; Source: Tierra del Fuego Waldo Bien Archive (Detail)





1987-004b new
Amanuensis (tryptich) 300 x 350 cm; Photos in whale oil and plexiglass     Waldo Bien Archive



1987-007 Tectonic Pedestal 117 x 49 x 63 (h) cm; Wood Waldo Bien Archive



1996-026 Dynamic Square
1996-026 Dynamic Square (Cylinder 1) 300 x 300 cm; Prints with python skin, ink on paper, metal frame Waldo Bien Archive



Blue Snake Sequence Engine Room 1997 all



D 1991-122



Waldo Bien  Lauriergracht 123






Martin Schönenborn





1997-120 Gral-Menora F131,2



Bien-Semah parallelle discussie 1