The artist Rene Rietmeyer (b. 1957, Netherlands) creates abstract, three-dimensional wall objects, which he calls “Boxes”. These Boxes address his own, personal existence within time and space. His work is about expressing his existence, about living out the consequences of his thoughts, about living a conscious life, and creating an awareness about this in others. In his work, Rietmeyer focuses on his own personal life, his own existence, and is unapologetically straightforward about this: “My objects become what they become. Always. They do not aim to be ¬”beautiful” or “ugly”. Each Box I make is an honest result of me, a reflection of my existence, of me at that moment in time and space, an object from that specific time in my life.”
Rietmeyer’s Boxes contain his thoughts and express his experiences of a certain region or a specific person he met at a particular place and time. They address serious ¬topics, highlighting the artist’s emotional relationship to his surroundings. “My main concern is the process of realizing what exactly I want to express, how to communicate and how to realize this in the best way possible with the available material. Once each Box gains physical reality, the perception of its meaning and emotional impact are up to the spectator, including me. Only by realizing my ideas in the object and the completion of a series of Boxes, my thoughts are made visible and can be perceived.”
These thoughts and emotions are expressed through the abstract means of a.o. shape, size, color, texture, composition, and choice of materials. According to Rietmeyer, this type of working is not so radically different from the paintings of Van Gogh or Nicolas de Stael. Only abstract language itself has developed through time. Nowadays, you can think of a subject in terms of color or texture, there does not necessarily need to be a figurative image anymore. The formal elements determine the surface of each Box or installation, but they are not only the form of the artwork, they are part of the content or meaning, too. Take for example the surface structure of “EL HIERRO 2011“: it has different colors of red, partly also black; it is rough, lively, wild, and gives the feeling of fire. Of course, it stays a personal expression, but you can understand a feeling that fits to the compact, volcanic island of El Hierro (part of the Canary Islands in Spain). The surface structure itself gives a certain feeling that differs from “Portrait of JK and Rome 2010”, in which Joseph Kosuth is portrayed by a thick, strong white that is covering an initial vibrant red surface color. The color and structure that are visualizing Joseph Kosuth varies from that of El Hierro. Comparing the two installations, however, it is clear that Rietmeyer himself is very much in these objects. It is he who makes the choices for the materials, structure, color etc. The work – as everything we perceive in life - is personal.
The artist considers each Box, each work, as a unique moment of his autobio¬graphy: “[The work] is an encounter with myself, with me as a person, with my past and my reflections.” Rietmeyer’s oeuvre reflects an accumulation of impressions of a specific time and location – a life. But the work is not only about the choices that are particular for the person Rietmeyer, choices that he – coming from the Netherlands, from a particular generation, having traveled to certain parts of the world, etc – makes and that someone from, for instance, Brazil would have chosen differently. Each Box is also the result of the situation Rietmeyer was in at the moment of creating the work: whether it was hot or cold, his own physical state, if he could afford bad or good quality materials, etc. “That ‘same’ experience at another moment in time, the creation and execution of the series shortly after or much later, would unavoidably lead to a different result.” The Boxes are a combination of predetermined choices and the situation during the actual making of the work.
Besides these particular moments in his life that are reflected in Rietmeyer’s various installations, the artist concentrates on the passing of his lifetime. This tension between moment and passage brings with it an awareness of how short life actually is. He described this awareness as we were standing together in front of the house of the American artist Robert Rauschenberg in Captiva Florida, USA, in 2008, just a few days after his death: “An intense consciousness about Time, Space and Existence puts your own existence in a larger perspective, shows you how small you are, makes you realize the importance and beauty of being alive and makes you aware and accept the ‘finalness’ of death.” Rietmeyer related how Rauschenberg once told him something that had left a deep impression: when Rauschenberg was younger, he had believed that there was not enough world for him to discover. During his conversation with Rietmeyer and conscious of the fact that he would soon die, Rauschenberg admitted: “I am running out of time.” Rietmeyer adds: “Time itself does not stop. We just cease to exist.”
Time – Space – Existence
Time – space and existence matter to Rietmeyer not only in each particular situation that is expressed by his work; they reach far beyond that and Rietmeyer considers them the most important concepts to think about for mankind in general. For example at symposia in Tokyo, New York and Amsterdam, the artist discussed these concepts, aiming to reach a greater awareness in others. However, for Rietmeyer it does not seem possible to see each concept separate from the others, all are interlinked. Rather than focusing on their separate meanings, time – space and existence seem to be important for Rietmeyer in the sense of creating an awareness about life. “If we would experience, perceive, materials and our surroundings more consciously, and if we would integrate the concrete application of these thoughts to our everyday lives, we would be more aware of our own existence.” Nevertheless, we would like to shortly discuss the meaning of Time, Space and Existence for Rene Rietmeyer.
Rietmeyer sees his human life as a miniscule part of an ongoing, continuous, linear time line. Time is infinite in both directions: there is no end, nor is there a beginning of time; time has always been there and will continue to exist. The focus on his lifetime within this infinite time, for Rietmeyer, means an awareness of his position within time. “With this position within time, I mean: knowledge about the thoughts of other artists I communicate with, but also the know¬ledge about thoughts and works of artists who are already dead. Knowledge about us, mankind, about the world and the space and time we live in. The thoughts standing at the origin of the intellectual decision about how to construct my work come from somewhere. That origin is to be found in the time that has passed.” Expressing all these thoughts, means that Rietmeyer not only expresses the time he experienced himself, but also the time he has not witnessed himself: it is a combination of what he calls “self-experienced” and “non self-experienced time”. “All the know¬ledge I gained from such people who lived before my personal, consciously experienced time, have helped me in creating my own thoughts about all the formal elements I use to make my works.” Referring to others with his work, is not an expression of something romantic or sentimental. Rather Rietmeyer describes it as a realistic awareness of ‘time’ and the progression of his experiences.
However, the way we perceive time is influenced by the emotions of the moment that we are perceiving it, and the same counts for space. The visual and/or tactile perception of the space that surrounds us makes us aware of the relative position of our own body as opposed to the objects around us. It provides us with dimensional coordinates such as height, depth and distance. This perception of space provides us with information concerning the spatial forms in which we manifest ourselves and that is essential for our movement and orientation within our surrounding environment. When looking at a work of art, we always perceive it within its environment, within the space it exists. The way we perceive a work of art therefore always stands in close relationship with the way we perceive the surrounding space. Because of this dependence on the space the work is perceived in, Rietmeyer created his work as flexible installations: each Box stands on its own, but can also be installed in various numbers of Boxes.
According to Rietmeyer, our existence has to be seen within space and infinite time. That is why he mentions that we should not only look at ourselves, but also to the time we did not experience ourselves. Through communication and living together with others, we have been able to develop ourselves. Seeing our existence within an infinite time makes clear that our life has no sense. “But being aware that there actually is no reason for our existence does not exclude that we could, or even should, do something beautiful, something good, with our existence.”
To widen his reach of creating this awareness, and trying to do good to others, in 2002 Rietmeyer initiated the project PERSONAL STRUCTURES. This project centralizes the concepts of Time – Space and Existence within contemporary art and tries to make them more “en vogue”. “An intense consciousness about Time, Space and Existence puts your own existence in a larger perspective, shows you how small you are, makes you realize the importance and beauty of being alive and makes you aware and accept the ‘finalness’ of death.”
PERSONAL STRUCTURES became an open platform for artists from all over the world and from different generations, who are all sincerely working and very dedicated towards these concepts for a number of years. In group-exhibitions, such as at the 54th Venice Biennale in Palazzo Bembo, and group-publications these artists and their thoughts are highlighted in order to stimulate a dialogue and to heighten the spectator’s own awareness of his own existence as part of this world, and this counts for the artist himself as well: you have to keep encountering yourself in a fresh way.
Regardless the beauty of all these thoughts, projects and the experiences gained in life, in the end, what you have is your own life and you have to make it as interesting as possible. For Rietmeyer, making his artwork and living interesting moments is primary. The interpretation of it, the experiences that resulted in the work matter only during life; he is very well aware that after his death this will all be gone. As he states: “Ultimately, my work is nothing other than the proof of my existence.”
Karlyn De Jongh and Sarah Gold are independent curators and authors from the Netherlands, working with the project Personal Structures. They organized symposia and exhibitions in a.o. Amsterdam, New York and Tokyo as well as at the 53rd and 54th Venice Biennale. With the Global Art Affairs Foundation, they publish books and document Art Projects, in coöperation with a.o. Lawrence Weiner, Hermann Nitsch and Roman Opalka.view all articles from this author