BAS JAN ADER
In 1971, a performance artist by the name of Bas Jan Ader made an artwork titled “I’m Too Sad To Tell You”. The work is a silent, short black and white film of the artist crying for an unknown reason.
When I first saw the video, I couldn’t help but wonder, what is it about crying that is considered to be art? It reminds me of debates such as Jackson Pollock’s splash paintings, where people claim that it takes no skill. Or Richard Prince’s rephotographing, where he takes photos of photo’s and passes them off as his own. While some say it’s art, some say it’s stealing. Or John Cage’s 4’33, a musical composition without any music. Some arguing that it does not meet the criteria to be described as music.
Ader was born on April 19, 1942, in the Netherlands. He was the son of Bastiaan Jan Ader and Johanna Adriana Ader-Appels. Ader taught art at Claremont Graduate School. A fun fact I learned about Ader is that a friend by the name of Ger van Elk recalled that while Ader was taking art classes, he would “use a single piece of paper for the entire semester, erasing his drawings as soon as they were finished”. Perhaps this marked the beginning of many unusual works of his.
Other than “I’m Too Sad To Tell You”, he was also known for films he made of him falling in a different ways in works such as Fall 1, Fall 2 and Broken Fall (Organic), using gravity as his medium of choice. While some might interpret it to be depressing or a premonition of his tragic death, it could also be seen as embracing the fall as a part of life. But Ader didn’t speak much about his work so many thoughts of meaning and intentions are mostly speculative.
In 1973, Ader made the work “In Search Of The Miraculous”, which was to be made in three parts. For the first part of the work, Ader made a series of photographs of him wandering through L.A searching everywhere he went with a flash light. I wonder if he even knew what he was looking for. What is the miraculous and what is he hoping to find? I particularly like this work because I feel like we can all relate when we search for our own wants or needs such as love, happiness, and meaning as well as the lengths we’re willing to go to find them.
On July 9, 1975, Ader set off to cross the Atlantic on a 12½ foot sailboat named “Ocean Wave”. This was to be the second part of his work “In Search Of The Miraculous”. He estimated that the trip would take 2-3 months. Six months later his boat was found half-submerged off the coast of Ireland and Ader was never to be found.
Hearing this story, I can’t help but feel sad for him, and maybe now I can understand the effect “I’m Too Sad To Tell You” might have. As people empathize with Ader’s feelings perhaps we can learn more about our own and find some comfort in not being alone. Or maybe we’re not crying with Ader, maybe Ader is crying with us.