FIU Stamp Transparant

Waldo Bien


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

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feat2_image1The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  Coal dust, aluminium powder and Adema brown on Sotheby’s Auction catalogue pages, 1996 N.Y.   Waldo Bien Archive: D1996-176

In New York Bien was the guest of Luk Darras, the Belgian Consul General, and his wife Barbara. On their 5th avenue apartment were meetings with Kloppenburg, Walter Hopps and his wife Caroline Huber, Virgil and Deborah Grotfeldt.  Grotfeldt had just moved from Houston to a studio in NY. They went to look at his recent works. Luk had visited the Auction a few days earlier and bought one of Jacky’s ashtrays, and brought the catalogue home. Bien than re-translated the textual descriptions back into pictorial imagination. A photo registration shows the series pinned up at Grotfeldt’s studio Heights Blvd. 1226, Houston, and a week later. Walter Hopps had come to look and called it ‘the Royal American Trash Trail Fries’. That’s the correct title. The coal dust used was supplied by Grotfeldt and from Philadelphia, with a brownish colour. The last 7 drawings form together a cruise ship, providing engine power and direction.  Waldo Bien Archief




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Aron RwandaBelongings, by Waldo Bien, Rwanda 1989

At the residence of the Belgian ambassador in Kigali, Rwanda, the household is taken care of by Aron.  Aron is a Bantu. Dressed in a white jacket with golden epaulettes he serves the meals. During the weeks that my friend and colleague Jacobus Kloppenburg and I were the ambassador’s guest (Link to K website 1989), I used to get up before sunrise, enjoy the waking of nature and have a swim. The residence is a luxury villa on a slope with outlook on surrounding hills. Behind and next to it is a little concrete building that houses Aron and the Ambassador’ cook. While swimming, I could see Aron coming out every morning with naked upper part of the body. For minutes he would stand on the concrete terrace stretching his lean body in the first sun. The way he performed this ritual had something catlike. After he put on his white uniform jacket, all elegance and grace would immediately be gone and he walked rest of the day like a stork, served food like a stork, stiff and insecure. Any unexpected gesture of a table guest could cause an avalanche of food, glass and Royal Belgian porcelain. When I entered the kitchen one day to fetch an early morning coffee, I saw Aron hassling with plates, carrying one by one to the breakfast table. As former Holland America Line steward I suggested him to teach him how to do that. As a demonstration I loaded everything he had put on the table the last 15 minutes onto my arm and hand; plates, cups, forks, knifes and bread basket and walk/danced, like on a boat in thunderstorm, around the table. Aaron’s eyes rolled from astonishment, broad smile. Could not believe me when I said that he could also learn this. From that day on we secretly exercised early mornings: serving, clearing tables, cutting meats etc. After a week he did quite well. Although, I couldn’t release him from formal stiffness. After dessert Aron served coffee. On the first day I had asked for a cappuccino and all at the table had started to laugh. Someone reminded me that this was the heart of Africa and a ‘regular’ coffee marked the boundary of what one could expect. Next morning I taught Aron how to make coffees; cappuccino, espresso,  latte and Liëgeois. Every time I introduced a new type Aron laughed in disbelief and would shake his head. Then, at the dinner table that evening, I asked for a cappuccino which everyone thought was a joke. Minutes later Aron served it, proud white milk foam topping, earning praise and applause and several more bookings. With a smile he confessed the secret teachings.

K, Niels and Mathijs Gomperts, Shopping, LondonSome days later he suddenly stood kind of shy in my bedroom door, said with a soft voice ‘ he wanted to ask me something’ and looked shy onto the ground, arms hanging down, hands crossed. After I encouraged him, he said (meanwhile almost sinking into the ground) ; “Je voudrais regarder vos choses” (I would like to have a look at your belongings). Because it was not clear to me what he meant, I asked “ What belongings?”
“All your belongings” he answered, pointed to our luggage and other stuff lying around on the desk.” Europeans always have so much belongings”
So I started to empty my pockets and installed everything on the bed one next to the other, explained what it was; Swiss Army knife, tablets, bandage, disinfection, magnifying glass, handkerchief, sunglasses, umbrella, pencils, binoculars, camera’s, film roles, travel documents, credit cards, shaving equipment etc. etc. everything passed the review. The bed was full so I continued on the ground with sketchbooks, notes, compass, maps, cloth, paint box, brushes, camping gear et. until the room and a good part of the long corridor were covered with goods. All this happened to his greatest satisfaction.
Then he stepped in front of me and wanted to know “why I had taken everything with me, left wife and children obviously behind in an empty house?” I smiled shyly. Or it would be possible that we would join him Saturday, his day of, to visit his family and make a photo. I answered that it was a nice idea.

Saturday, after a long and wild ride in one of those overloaded public taxis, we got of somewhere along the road and continued walking for some hours. Crossing plantations, forest and villages, huts spread among banana trees. Beautiful hills and landscape with to the northeast view onto the Virunga volcanoes and to the west to lake Kivu. All the time Aron had been wearing his white service jacket with the golden epaulettes. In the villages we crossed this gave him great respect and authority, like the ambassador himself had come to visit. Like a high representative he strode over little dirt roads, was greeted as “monsieur Aron” Then, standing on a hilltop, he pointed with a relaxed gesture to the direction of some clay buildings where his family lived. A group of children came running in excitement. Also a woman walked into our direction but she was not in a hurry. She, Aron’s wife, walked up to us slowly with an emotionless face. Without any sign of greeting between them she stepped behind him and took his jacket by both shoulders between thumb and finger like aristocrats lift teacups. Aron made a limber move with whole his body and released himself from official skin. Instantly he became the lean cat I had observed. In the mean time his wife Family Aron, Rwandawalked away. Her arms stretched forward to hold the jacket as far away from her as possible, she showed the powerful fetish to the crowd that followed in procession. She walked up to the main house, went in through a fence of children. We arrived just on time to see how she hung the jacket onto the only nail in the mid of a clay wall. That was that. The rest was as things are in Central Africa if one lives in clay huts; fire, children, animals and beautiful flowers all around. What surprised me was that from that moment on there was nothing that indicated that Aron had ever encountered western culture. That’s where developers don’t stop complaining about; if one turns his back all accomplished infrastructure paralyses, falls back into how it used to be. A fine example of successful resistance and cultural immunity against foreign influences from the outside, I thought.  After meals the table was cleaned with a whipping move of the arm. All the remains would fall onto the ground where dogs and chicken swallowed it. The tall wooden spoon, used to steer the sticky mash, was after been used thrown through a small window opening without glass onto the courtyard, where kids and animals than cleaned it. If the spoon was needed one knew where to find it, somewhere around the house and always clean. All this was very practical and convincing.

The family photo I had promised to make was a kind of a drag but great fun as well. Aron was wearing a dark blue suit from the ambassador, a gift. Every 15 minutes there turned up more people and they all wanted to be on. Some had to be constantly removed, like Aron’s crazy brother who took care of the large vegetable field and laughed and danced uncontrollably. Waiting took most of the day. The whole group would freeze everCollected rocks, Rwanda02y time I came near to the camera. They froze in seriousness. No smile could be seen. We than used three cameras; one on a tripod, one in our hand. They focussed on the tripod camera as the ‘official’ one. After I stepped back they instantly relaxed. Unnoticed we took freehand photos. In the afternoon we prepared to return home. The jacket was taken from the nail again and the ritual proceeded in reverse. When Aron slipped back into it, the tiger was gone and stork -stiffness back in place.

On the way back we passed through a settlement where we noticed several persons with mutilated arms or hands. I ask Aron or this was the result of ethnic violence. He starts laughing: No, no, monsieur, not at all. He pulled me on my arm to a nearby shed where old-fashioned heavy carpentry machinery was lined up, imported by a Belgian missionary to start the future. Machinery with all unnecessary safety parts stripped of. Covered with ‘touch ups’ in various coloured paint. The original light green machines had become a jungle look.
“ Yes”, Aron laughed pointing, “ they are far more dangerous than wild animals” But there had been justice: The missionary’s hand had been the first to be devoured. The hand that once blessed the machine.