Bed-Henge Project, Yet to Be Realised

bed-hengephoto by Sebastien Fouet, intermittent artist, with permission

Looks real, doesn’t it, until you stop and think about how those skinny mattresses are standing by themselves. It was a thought while doing housework: beds are rectangular–there has to be a bedhenge. And there it was, on the first page of the search. When we asked to post the picture, Monsieur Fouet, the impudent Frenchman said, “Well, Yes, You can use my stuff for your fetishist Henge web site 🙂 , no problem.” Ouais? Eh bien, merci, mon petit chou!

But then he emailed again, telling us what we should have known– that this arrangement of mattresses is virtual, existing only on computers. So should we post it? Well, why not? We haven’t had a French one yet. There’s something about beds in a park that seems so very French. And we must say that the shadows of the mattresses are nicely done.

You can see another construction, named Document but nick-named Mattresshenge, in the fifth picture down on this page. Nice, but not meant as a Stonehenge replica. It was the only other thing we could find.

So what about the image above? It is almost all trilithons, understandable but not optimal. Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is his inclusion of the center trilithon horseshoe, which seems to be taller than the others, just  as in the original.

Score? We give it 5 druids. Let us know, Sebastien, if you ever get your project off the ground. [How does that idiom read on Google Translate?!]

Oh, yeah, we almost forgot–Yarr, mateys. Shiver me timbers. Avast ye scallywags. And the like. Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day, a bit late!


2 thoughts on “Bed-Henge Project, Yet to Be Realised

  1. If you want to make a shorter version of that comment and break it up with line spaces, you’ll have better luck getting people to read it. Bu thank you for sharing!

    Internationally renowned artist draws East and West together for his big, edgy installations By Robert Moyes

    BOULEVARD MAGAZINE is designed to capture the personality, culture and vitality that is Victoria by focusing on the Arts, People, Trends, Food, Architecture and Design. page: 20 Art Time: with photographs

    The article is reprinted with the permission of Robert Moyes and we would like to thank him for his kind contribution to our site. Robert Moyes

    Art Time:
    For Buddhism-influenced artist John Orser, West and East have intermingled

    By Robert Moyes

    Out along Old West Saanich Road it didn’t take long for the tongues to start wagging as a strange apparition took shape at the lower edge of the 11-acre property where artist John Orser has lived for many years. In a cleared field just down from rows of apple trees and garlic plantings, a 50-foot-diameter circular enclosure was erected. Built of used mattresses standing eight-feet-high on end and secured in place by stakes and thin cables, these 26 oblongs became unconventional canvases, their entire surface painted in styles reminiscent of everything from Haida iconography and Japanese tattoos to Polynesian patterns and Abstract Expressionism. Officially named Document but dubbed Mattress-henge by scoffing neighbours, the evolving artwork was recorded on a website and it became famous – or notorious – enough to attract visiting artists from as far away as Europe and Australia.
    In situ for well over a year as it went through various phases, this Shadbolt-meets-Oldenburg installation was then “skinned” by nine volunteers armed with exacto knives as a camera crew recorded it for a documentary to be shown on the Bravo network. The denuded mattresses were then individually attached to large metal supports and excavated down to the springs. Simultaneous to this, both the “skins” and what was left of the mattresses were being photographed as separate pieces of art. And all this creative ferment – much of it improvised – was just a prelude for the work’s disassembly and transportation to a gallery in New York, where it will assume yet another incarnation (the work may also travel to two other galleries, in Australia and Paris).
    Document had its unlikely origins halfway around the world in the nightmare that was Cambodia under Pol Pot, murderous leader of the Khmer Rouge. “When we entered Cambodia in 1998 it was one of the poorest places I’ve ever seen,” says Orser. “The country had been smashed like a carton of eggs.” Orser, who has studied Buddhist philosophy since the early 1970s, was part of a muddy caravan traveling during monsoon season. He was in the first wave of outsiders to travel into what had truly been a heart of darkness. Unable to process what he had encountered there, Orser returned two years later, and used his camera to record indelible images that would later become a photo project. He visited the notorious “killing fields,” as well as the capitol city of Pnom Penh, where he toured Tuol Sleng, the fearsome high school-turned-prison where 20,000 innocents were tortured and murdered.
    “There was commemorative artwork made out of human skulls,” recalls Orser. “But something I remember so vividly was the cells where the prisoners were kept – all that was left were the frames and springs of ruined beds.” That image of decay stayed with him, and eventually became a central image for what is now the biggest art project of his career. “Everybody has a bed, and I wanted to find a common and universal object that could be used to show the passage of time,” says the artist. “Objects evolve, deteriorate, break apart and change their meaning,” he adds. “Without trying to control all the different subtexts, I wanted to explore how man and nature are always in flux.”
    Although Orser regards war as a hideous failure of imagination, he isn’t interested in making art that is polemical. And so the moral outrage at the heart of Document is covered by many other layers of meaning, including big themes such as the nature of time and what it means to be human. Mostly, though, it’s about understanding art in the postmodern world. “Art is a process, it’s not just about looking at an object,” says Orser, adding that his art attempts to draw the viewer into a conversation about aesthetics, and about how an artist attempts to appreciate and re-imagine the world. “Artworks confined to a museum are artifacts that have stopped being part of the ‘passing parade’ of our ordinary lives. Contemporary art practice takes a broader view of culture, one that is experiential and provides an opportunity for fuller engagement,” he contends. “Think of it as the democratization of our artistic landscape.” Adds Orser: “If there is any success to this work, it will be through the many collaborators and what they took away from the experience.”

    A visual artist for over three decades, Orser is little known in Victoria as he typically sells in galleries in London, Toronto, and San Francisco. He has had a lot of involvement with Open Space over the years, however, and one-time director Sue Donaldson remembers Orser for his “incredible support for contemporary art in Victoria.” She also heaps praise on the artwork itself, both the paintings and his newer installations. “John has always worked big,” says Donaldson, currently employed by the B.C. Arts Council. “He is really bold, in an expressionistic style, and you can see his emotions and his spiritual convictions in his work. And John has always incorporated the political into what he does – it’s not overt, but it’s clearly there,” she adds. In some ways a larger-than-life figure, Orser strikes many as rollicking and irreverent. “John loves to epater le bourgeoisie,” grins Donaldson. “He likes conversation and lots of laughter, but he will challenge you if you say something unconsidered.”
    Orser’s studio walls blaze with colour from the many paintings that hang there. There are a few ornately geometric Tonka paintings from Buddhist colleagues in Asia, and a little mandala-influenced piece by revered modernist Jack Wise, but mostly it’s Orser’s own work – virile, boldly expressionist – that crowds the walls. Their confident abstractions seem quite a distance from his current interest in evolving forms of installation art – what Orser calls “intermedia practice.” And the story behind it all is this artist’s penchant for globetrotting, which often has more in common with foreign aid than someone wielding a paintbrush in the solitude of his studio.
    Orser had first traveled in Asia in the 1980s, attracted by the many historic temples and evocative remnants of that continent’s profound early culture. He made return trips to many different countries, and was increasingly struck by how modern technology such as cell phones and Internet cafes had been so easily incorporated by this ancient and still-primitive world. “Mass media had arrived, and it was shouting over the heads of government and local culture,” explains Orser. “Suddenly there was no more ‘lost world’ as everything became ultra-modern and technologically sophisticated.” As a longtime Buddhist, Orser felt at home in Asia, and also felt a need to establish lines of connection with its citizens. He initiated his Path of Thinking project in 1998, which is now an umbrella group for many smaller initiatives.
    “My life has become a marrying of my career as an artist with social and political ideas,” explains Orser. “I think it is crucial to express empathy and to put into practice humane principles of altruism.” Take his recent trip to Nepal, where he met an American woman who works with kids. She was interested in fundraising and talked with Orser about her idea of marketing a line of art cards. “At first she thought the kids could do the selling, but then we realized that in order for them to stay in school then other arrangements would have to be made,” recalls Orser, who facilitated those children’s designs being made by professional Nepalese artisans. “We are producing about 50,000 cards this year and distributing them widely across North America,” he adds. Orser is also assisting traditional Nepalese artists to get into newer and alternative mediums (at present, Nepal has no national gallery to show contemporary art). Other projects include helping the fiber and paper artists of Laos to use their traditional skills to create contemporary art objects. A third major initiative involves working with a famous puppet troupe from Thailand. “They tell folk tales with these gorgeous life-size puppets, and we’re planning to bring them on a tour to North America,” he says.
    “One of the main lessons of Buddhism is that of compassion,” explains the typically passionate Orser. “And in my travels throughout Asia I kept seeing profound challenges and profound changes, of the sort that would inspire any artist – or any human – to want to be involved.”

    Local writer Robert Moyes has long admired John Orser for both the depth of his humanism and his skills as a visual artist.

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