"I must be more than the idea of a Cherokee that the world has. Like I have to be more than the idea the Cherokee have of ourselves. I have to keep my head outside of the reservation." (JD)
Writer, poet, political activist, performance artist and sculptor, Durham’s practice is not one to be easily harnessed by the limiting categories of ‘western’ specialisations. His work is carried by a deep mistrust towards the achievements of western civilisation and characterised by an inexhaustible engagement to destabilise the mythical story of a western dominated culture. Razor-sharp wit, mockery and a consciously chosen formal awkwardness are shaped into a poetical expression, that is not afraid of disconnecting time and space and using them against all conventions. We, the viewers, are continuously misled and put on a wrong track and, as a consequence, obliged to shift our points of view and place ourselves in new contexts, as if we have to reinvent ourselves permanently.
The exhibition is called after the homonymous video ‘The man who had a beautiful house’ from 1994, which was produced and directed by Maria-Thereza Alves. The work is based upon a story written by Julian Villasenhor and Jimmie Durham. The cast includes one character, played by Jimmie Durham.
It is about a man, who speaks badly French –or even plainly talks gibberish- and who owns a so-called beautiful house even though he actually owns nothing…except for a brick in his pocket.
THE proof for ‘his house’ is a brick, which is carefully wrapped in cloth and proudly presented in front of the camera. Besides a kitchen, its tools (in silver!) and the furniture in oak (wood with a heavy weight!) the character calls upon this brick as an argument for the existence of his house; the brick as the basic element of a house and architecture. Since 1994, the year in which Jimmie Durham chose Europe as his residence, the stone –as a counterpart of language- has played a major role in his work. The more the artistdoubts about the possibility to free words from their ‘weight’, the more he attempts to relieve stone from it’s weight, stone as the smallest brick of our civilization. “I want to make different things with stone, to make stone light, to make it free of its historical weight, its architectural weight, to make it light…free of monumentality” (JD), so that we could be liberated of the mental rigidity, the discipline and the restraints that civilisation forces upon us.
And more: The video seems to be a metaphor that –as the artist states - “usually visual arts is presented within a system of believing” (JD, 1993). In ‘The man who had a beautiful house’ it is not merely the art-world that suffers hereof, but first of all the protagonist himself. Does this man actually believe he owns a house? And why do we develop sympathy for him, or even feel sorry for him?
The second work that is shown in this exhibition is ‘A long list’ from the year 1999. Durham writes (in different languages and with spelling mistakes) with different colour-crayons a hybrid list that looks like something inbetween a shopping-list and a cash-form. Like a good housewife, he has made an accounting of all the expenditures done and the purchases still to do: zoete uien (2x!), brood, tomaten, grey PVC, graniet, red stone, yellow PVC, rozemarijn, OK bananas, nails, saw, etc…However absurd the list may seem, we can easily presume he actually buys most of these ‘articles’ (except for the words maybe) to produce his work as an artist and get through daily life.
The banality (and humour) of this, does not feed the mystification of a contemporary artist, of which the art-world is often an eager accomplice. It is as if the work tells us: “No secrets, no magic tricks involved, you get what you see.”