In 1975, a young artist – just a few years over 30 – disappears at sea during a transatlantic crossing conceived as part of a project entitled "In Search of the Miraculous." The sea has been his passion, his interlocutor, and at times his home, since his mother first stamped her approval in his boyhood sailing permit of 1959: "Mrs. J.A. Ader Appels gives her son, Bastiaan Johan Christiaan Ader, permission to go to sea."
Artist Bas Jan Ader's work and myth are increasingly coveted following his quiet elevation to the status of an underground "artist's artist" in the 1990s – a status which threatens to expand into downright cult-figuredom following a recent European traveling retrospective of his work, MoMA's current "In & Out Of Amsterdam" conceptual show, and a large-scale upcoming exhibit at the Claremont Museum. In 2007, the seemingly official website run by Ader's estate posted an image of his "recently resurfaced" Dutch sailing permit – one more fragment of documentation to add to the slow trickle of recovered, reprinted, and rediscovered articles which make up the material history of Ader's life. Legend has it that Ader's slim output – primarily photographs, films, and performance-based work – would have been lost to posterity if four loyal friends hadn't searched down all of it they could find following his death.
Artist David Horvitz's "Rarely Seen Bas Jan Ader Film," on show in Second Cannons Publications' micro-gallery/public vitrine, includes a film clip, a newsprint photograph of the sea from the location of Ader's projected landing spot, and its own small myth. Uploaded onto Youtube in 2007, the film was deleted by the site at the request of the gallery calling the Ader film a hoax, ostensibly for copyright infringement. The scratchy, black and white clip – only a few seconds long – shows a young man bicycling directly into the sea. It cuts off just at the instant before we see him actually fall, reverting to a flash of blank film frames. It is accompanied by an unattributed text, presumably Horvitz's, detailing the trip to the site where the photograph and film were shot.
Uncannily, the clip seems to provide the perfect missing link between the concept-images that are now emblematic of Ader's own life and death (a young man disappears into the sea); and several of his actual (all silent) films. In Fall I (1970), Ader sits on a chair perched atop the roof of his Inland Empire house, before slowly tumbling off, onto the ground – the sort of performance which, putting Yves Klein's 1960 Leap Into the Void in its place, Ader excelled at. In Broken Fall (Organic) (1971), the gangly artist drops from a dangling tree branch into a country canal, while in Fall II (1970), he rides a bicycle into the watery depths of an Amsterdam canal.
The clip has been rightly attributed to Horvitz, but it plays dexterously with the layered imagery of Ader, his myth, and his art. Ader didn't set out to be a legend bound to the sea. Horvitz couldn't have asked for a more acute illustration of the ways such myths develop, and are imposed: Youtube's cancellation of the video attests to the tiny grain of doubt – and belief – at the heart of it all.
The clip can be seen here.
(Images: David Horvitz, Rarely Seen Bas Jan Ader Film (installation views), 2009. Courtesy of artist and 2nd Cannons, Los Angeles)